Sources:Interview with Allen Cole, Staff Writer, December 1997 (1980)
- [ Allan Cole was one of the story editors on the Glen Larson's ill-fated Galactica 1980 series, which was a sequel to the original Battlestar Galactica series. What follows are excerpts from an email conversation I had with Allan in December 1997, focusing on his exeriences with the show. -- John Larocque, February 28, 2005 ]
A Helluva Experience
It really was a helluva an experience. Glen Larson (GL) was in a death fight with the network censors. Writing all the scripts in his luxury condo in Hawaii. Sending us mysterious notes. One fight with the censors went so late that GL refused to release the episode for broadcast. The censor finally caved in moments before the broadcast and the thing went on the air via a last-minute satellite link. I kid thee not. The fight, if I recall correctly, was over a joke (not a very good one) about meatballs "The Night the Cylons Landed, Part II". The censor was convinced that GL was making a dirty. GL revenged himself by putting in six or seven more meatball jokes. And they stayed!
You have to realize that GL was really, really hot at the time. Had about six prime time shows on the air. Nobody, but nobody, could tell him what to do.
Basic rule of special effects. If you are going to burn something, you only get one go. And if you recall, there was a big damned fire scene. You should have heard GL scream at Vince for the slow pace of the direction. But he really blew his top in the big explosion scene. There were about three major bits missing, including a beam that collapses, mushing the whole bridge. I personally witnessed this. Vince cues each special in turn, cues the stunt men, cues the blast, and then the stunt men (standins for Kent, etc.) stand up, scratch their heads then trot off. Vince shouts cut. Then walks out onto the set, puzzling. "Hey," he says, "wasn't there supposed to be a beam?" Up above, a prop guy thinks he's just gotten the cue. "Beam!" he shouts. Said beam slams downward, narrowly missing Vince.
Vince also had the brainy kid [ Patrick Stuart ] terrified. So scared he was frozen and wouldn't move his head during the whole episode. During dailies, GL kept muttering loudly, "What's wrong with his neck? Call his teacher! Call his mother! Call anybody who can fix his neck!" Making things worse was the fact that the frightened kid's voice was changing. So every time he said, "Adama" there would be this big falsetto crack. Very, very, funny. Too bad it wasn't intentional.
ABC strong armed them into it
Let's face it, Galactica 1980 was an awful show. It deserved to be dropped. At the time, I remember that I posted a big sign on my office door with the number 13 on it. We had been told if the ratings dropped to 13 or below that we would be cut. Every morning my then partner, Chris Bunch, and I would chant "Come on, 13!" Must have been a great mantra, because the show dropped steadily, week after week. (so much for the nice writer's comments about building an audience.) Of course, Chris and I wanted out of our contracts in the worst way. (we had just sold the Sten series and were desperate to get started). Because of the "family hour" timeslot, the censors were always making us put in "educational beats" for the kiddies. I personally told Susan Futterman, then head of the network's program practices, that they ought to open every episode of the show with an "educational" tag that read: "Why aren't you little bug snipes watching 60 Minutes." (our, ahem, competition in that time slot) Susan wholeheartedly agreed with our sympathies.
I noticed from the FAQ that there has been quite a bit of revisionism going on. Poor Kent McCord, for instance: "Universal and ABC felt it was too good an idea to let go. They really wanted to make it work, but they needed a way to economize."
First off, Universal did not, I repeat, did not, want to do the show. ABC strong armed them into it. They knew very well that Glen never met a budget that he didn't hate. And Glen certainly didn't want to do the show, because (among many other reasons) he hated the kiddie hour timeslot.
Anyway, from the very start, G-1980 was the most expensive series ever done on television. And there was never any attempt to economize. For example: there were almost as many producers listed on the show as secretaries. I mean, every day we'd be introduced to another guy who had just joined the staff as a new producer. I don't know what any of them did -- we rarely saw them again -- but they sure were collecting the bucks. Can't blame Glen entirely for all the producers. Many of them were pushed onto the show by Universal, who figured if they were going to eat the big green slime anyway, they might as well take care of some obligations and dump all their losses into one (overflowing) bucket.
There were three story editors -- me, Chris and Bob McCollough (Space Croppers). Bob was a heck of a nice guy, on loan from Lorimar. In fact, he's so nice, that he is probably the anonymous writer quoted above. There were a whole host of writers called in to write free lance scripts at ten grand a crack. We went way over budget on the scripts. Sometimes it seemed as if GL was handing out scripts to everybody and her sister. Very few of them were ever shot, because GL just kept on writing. Sitting in his luxury condo overlooking the beach in Hawaii. Without an idea in his head he'd hit the typewriter, do a Fade In, then steam on until he had sixty pages. (a one hour episode, if you cut sixteen pages for commercials) Then he's say, I'm out of time. So he'd type -- End Part One. And then he'd go on to Part Two and so on. I mean, it was so crazy that one time he hadn't finished a part yet, so they had to show something else. Then the following week you got the conclusion. Of course, who would have noticed? Nobody, but nobody, was watching!
I also got a kick out of the following: "We needed more time to establish and define our characters, and to plan our next moves. Instead of canceling Galactica, I feel the network should have moved the show to a time slot where we could explore more mature themes and concepts. The series format was, and is, incredible. I don't think [viewers] have seen the last of Galactica. The Galactica universe has endless story possibilities -- like Star Trek."
This is total bees wax. The characters stunk. The whole premise stunk. It may be okay to do a "Day The Earth Stood Still" MOW or movie. But what do you do on the second day? And the third, and so on. GL's series answered that question... you keep standing still! Boring! I mean, looking for Earth is fun. Adventurous. But once you find it, and it is the same place and time we all live in, who the hell cares?
Budgetary shortfalls and Larson's involvement
- Here Allen answers my question as to whether Universal would have hired someone other than Glen Larson if he refused (with GL taking on role of a non-contributing "supervising producer" such as on Buck Rogers.)
That's pretty much the size of it. Although it sort of "evolved" -- if you know what I mean. Universal wanted to keep the rest of its ABC schedule safe -- and obviously hoped to sell more. But they knew they were going to take in the shorts with the programming fee. And so they were very reluctant. As it turned out, ABC resisted all efforts to boost the programming fee. If I recall correctly, it was about $600,000 or $700,000 an episode. (A prime time show would have been about $8 to $9, but this was the 7 p.m. kiddie hour, remember?)
The show came in routinely (if any GL show could be called routine) at $1.2 million to $1.5 million. My memory is a little hazy on the exact numbers. But I know I'm not too far off. That $1.5 number would have been for the school ship fiasco I mentioned before. The most ever spent for a TV episode at that time. Anyway, that meant Universal had to eat the balance. Which is okay, if you are pretty sure you are going into syndication eventually. Then you get your money back in spades. But we're talking a bottom-line 100 episodes shot, before the Gods Of Syndication smile on you. And no one honestly thought that would happen with Galactica. As it turns out, their expectations weren't low enough!
Still and all, GL was a very talented producer, creator and salesman. So everybody wanted to keep him happy. Just like they did on "Magnum, PI," which he co-created.
Everything came apart piece by piece
Everything came apart piece by piece as they moved toward the airdate. Partly this was because of the budget. For example, everyone thought Dirk Benedict was going to be a big star and so his price was set accordingly. Schedules conflicted. That sort of thing. One of the big problems when you cancel a show [like Galactica] and let everyone go home, when you look for [the original actors] again, they aren't likely to be available. All shows are shot pretty much during the same season. So the good people are usually working the closer you get to that time.
But there were even deadlier things at work -- such as the censor. Dirk Benedict smoked a cigar!!!! This is not good for the kiddies, the censor said. And the action on BG was too "gritty" for kids, they said. We want nice, clean-cut people. (One-Adam-12) And we want lots, and lots of kids. And so forth. The day I reported to work no one had the faintest idea what the series was going to be about. And it changed every day -- even while the scripts were being written. Major characters disappeared. New ones appeared. Then were gone again.
It was a real mess when we finally got on the air, and it never got better. We were rewriting on the set -- handing pages to the actors to memorize moments before the scenes were shot.
The network never really liked the [time travel] idea. They didn't get it. For budget reasons there was also a mad scramble to find footage of old sword and sandle movies. So they could piece in things like the Trojan War, or whatever. But when the network censor saw those scenes, with blood all over the place, they freaked big time!
I'll give you kids crawling out of your ears
The kids on the show drove us all nuts. Shooting with children is probably the hardest kind of series to do. There are many, many restrictions. Plus they all have to have a teacher and if the kid is a star you have to listen to the teacher as if she were speaking from on high. And then there are the stage moms, all of whom ought to be locked up. It's a wonder any of the kids escape with a shred of sanity. If you have children, do not -- I repeat: do not -- urge them to take up a show biz career. Do you recall the episode where all the kids from the mother ship troop into the Observatory? That was shot at night. And the only thing harder and more expensive than shooting at night (except for water, never, never do a water show) is shooting at night with children. They can only work a few hours at a time as it is. And night is golden time when it comes to wages -- for both them, the teachers, and, obviously the rest of the cast and crew. This also means you can't shoot anything early the next morning. So if you don't have enough night stuff in your script to warrant another setup the following evening, you lose a whole day. The only way around it is to shoot on Saturday night, which gives you a natural Sunday "break."
In this case, because of the craziness on the show, neither option was open. Plus the kids were either all sleepy, or hyper -- laughing hysterically or weeping; no inbetween. Or getting lost and you had to track them down again. Driving the planetarium staff out of their gourds.
I forget how many kids were in that scene, but the only way we could get it to work at all was to cast as many sets of twins as possible. Some kind of record -- for casting twins -- was probably set by that episode and the school ship episode.
But "Program Practices" was all over GL for not having enough kids. So, he said, "Okay, I'll give you kids crawling out of your ears." And he did!
Basically, GL was tired and pissed off. This was never the show he wanted to do. And he and Dirk Benedict were always pretty tight. He talked Dirk into coming back to do one last episode. Which was basically a two-man radio play. Personally, I think it was the only decent episode in the series and showed what GL could have done if they had let him alone.
And before I sound too cuddly -- there was also the budget. They were flat out of dough and knew the series was going to be killed. That episode was the only one that came in under the license fee. >grin<
He deliberately and openly patterned it after "Hell In The Pacific," which he very much admired.