Tag Archives: tv

“The human race might have one more chance…” – more of why I love sf/f

(l to r) Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck. Promotional image from the original series. © 1978 Glen A. Larson Productions & Universal Television.
(l to r) Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo, Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, and Dirk Benedict as Starbuck. Promotional image from the original series. © 1978 Glen A. Larson Productions &
Universal Television.
Almost everything I thought I remembered about the original Battlestar Galactica television series was wrong. I started working on this post after Richard Hatch, the original Apollo passed away. I’d written some thoughts on my memories of the show, and was doing some research to put dates and context to my memories and discovered that my brain had apparently retconned lots of things. Since part of that post had involved recounting discussions that my old friend, Doug, and I had had about the show, and I had recently re-told the story of Doug and the Train Crossing to a friend, I decided to set the Galactica post aside for a while and write about my friend, instead.

Now, the things I misremembered about the series had almost nothing to do with the episodes or the storylines. And I’m at least a little bit curious as to why my brain made the changes in recollection that it did. The gist is: my recollection was that the series premiered shortly before my mom, sister, and I moved out to the west coast following my parents’ divorce (when I was 15 years old), that I initially liked the series but became dissatisfied with it as the seasons went on, and was slightly curious years later when the follow-up series Galactica 1980 was released, but was even more disappointed in how poorly the show had aged.

Which is all very, very wrong. And some of it was wrong in ways that are kind of flabbergasting. The original series premiered the same month as my 18th birthday and a little over a year after the worldwide premiere of the original Star Wars. It was only on the air for one season (24 episodes). And the gap between the ending of the original series and the premiere of the follow up was only 8 months.

Glen A. Larson originally conceived the series in the mid-sixties as a group of about three television movies called Adam’s Ark. It was a synthesis of space opera themes with Mormon theology (Larson having been raised in the Church of the Latter Day Saints). Larson had been unable to sell the idea to anyone. Even when a couple years later Star Trek became briefly a minor hit series. (Star Trek, of course, wouldn’t become a sci fi behemoth until later, after reruns had been running in syndication for several years).

Then, in 1977, the movie Star Wars was a worldwide blockbuster hit, and suddenly every network, movie studio, and anyone else in the entertainment/media/publishing world was looking to cash in on its incredible success. Larson’s pilot script looked very attractive.

They filmed the pilot, ABC bought it, put the series on the air with an incredible budget that wouldn’t be exceeded by any other TV show for many years, and we were off. The show did incredibly well in the ratings for the first month or so, until CBS shifted its schedule to put the very popular All In the Family and Alice up against it, causing Galactica’s ratings to slip a lot. Of course, the series might have slipped anyway. The initial spectacle of billions of people killed in the opening battle (not to mention the show’s willingness to cast more famous actors in roles that died within the first several episodes) really seized the imagination. Whereas a lot of the filler episodes were, well, pretty bad. And some things, like the robotic dog pieced together from parts to replace the real dog (killed in the pilot) that had once , were very cheesy.

And while those special effects were lightyears beyond anything seen on television before, they were very expensive. So the network expected not just good ratings, but unbelievably good ratings.

Still, the show had a lot going for it. It didn’t hurt that I had a big crush on Starbuck, of course. But I also had a different kind of crush on Apollo. It wasn’t until some years later, when I got to rewatch some of the original series after I had actually admitted to myself that I was gay that I realize I had the hots for Starbuck, but Apollo was who I wanted to fall in love with and settle down.

Hatch’s character was different than the typical leading man at the time. Unlike the reboot series, Apollo had a warm relationship of mutual respect with his father, Commander Adama. In the pilot he met and practically adopted Boxy (the young boy whose dog had died) helped reunite the boy with his mother, prompted fell in love with said mother, married her, and even though she is killed shortly after the wedding in a Cylon attack, remains a good father. Heroes had been family men before, of course, but unlike some previous fictional fathers, Hatch made you believe that he loved his stepson.

There was a lot to like about the original Galactica. Cool space battle, for one. The Cylon Centurions were a bit cheesy–their chrome colored bodies were always so shiny and unscuffed, even after tramping through a sandstorm on yet another planet that looked like a Universal blacklot generic Western landscape with inexplicable lights added to make it look spacey(?), for instance. But both individual Cylons and the fleet were appropriately menacing. The show did a good job of making it feel like the stakes were real. And the notion that even after the mass murder of billions of people, a group of survivors would claw hope out of disaster and look for a new home was more than just heartwarming.

The show had some problems, as well. Some of them are typical problems of producing a weekly science fiction television series with 1970s technology and practices. Others were more thematic. The fundamental premise from the beginning was that contemplating disarmament as a step toward peaceful co-existence was the most foolish thing people could do. Given the nuclear stand-off between the U.S. and our NATO allies on one side, and the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies on the other, and the very active policy and treaty debates going on at the time, the show was staking a blatant political position. Related, throughout the original series, the military leaders were shown time and time again to always be right, while civilians (particularly any who advocated non-violent philosophies) were always wrong–and not merely wrong, but naively and disasterously wrong again and again.

Remember that the next time someone claims that sci fi has only become political recently.

While caught up in an individual episode it was easy to ignore those problematic elements. Besides, I loved Commander Adama, he was a hero and a great leader! And his son, Apollo, respected him, and we saw a lot more of Apollo in action on screen and he was clearly a good man, brave, loyal, and so forth. Even the sort-of-rebellious Starbuck respected Adama! Therefore our affection for Adama was not misplaced, right? Except, of course, that the examples of civilians who had a different opinion than the military command tended to be one-dimensional or transparently designed to either be unlikeable or pitiably naive.

So Galactica was hardly nuanced.

I liked it. The idea of fighting on against impossible odds is almost always appealing. People who snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with nothing more than hope, courage, and a bit of cleverness are fun to root for. And Galactica gave us that aplenty.

And you can hardly fault a story for that.

How do you figure?

A week or so ago a prominent anti-gay person stated in an interview that 30% of all characters on TV shows now are gay. That’s horrible, he said, in part because clearly no more than 4% of the population is gay, and the huge numbers on TV were there to desensitize normal people to the existence of gay people. He also talked about how happy and loving gay people as shown on this TV shows are a myth, and went on to assert the gay people are too busy bullying kids to be living productive lives.

Setting aside the fact that even when a Republican administration looked into the issue of kids being bullied it found that the vast majority of the bullying was from straight-identifying adults and kids, and that it was directed at kids who were perceived as being gay or were otherwise non-gender-conforming, his claim is so ludicrous, I’m surprised that even the conservative publication who conducted the interview managed to recreate it without dying of embarrassment.

Also, we’ll just ignore the 4% assertion, as that topic is worthy of a post all of its own.

There are reasons I majored in Math in college, and one of those is that I can’t just leave wrong-sounding numbers alone. I feel compelled to try to figure out just how wrong they are.

I could simply accept GLAAD’s (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) report last year that found about 4.4% of regular characters on scripted network shows this last season were Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender. If GLAAD is correct, than the anti-gay guy’s number is nearly 7 times as high as it ought to be.

But I wanted to dig into the numbers a bit more.

So, I searched the web for listings of prime time network television shows this last season, and tried to figure out which ones should count (it seems obvious that sports and news shows shouldn’t be included, but then I noticed in the interview that the bigot seemed to be including contestants in talent shows as characters, so it wasn’t completely clear that only scripted comedies and dramas were what he was talking about). I decided that my calculations based on web searches weren’t very scientific on my own, (at one point I had a number of 4224 regular and recurring characters, and that seemed as ridiculous at the bigots numbers).

The GLAAD study has slightly more rigorous methods. They came up with 97 scripted programs on the five broadcast networks, and they only counted characters whose actors qualify (under union rules) as playing regulars. That led to a total of 701 characters, of which 31 were identified as non-heterosexual. If the bigot’s percentage was correct, that should have been 210 non-heterosexual characters.

Which next made me wonder where the bigot was getting those 179 characters from?

It’s possible, of course, that he simply made up the number in order to shock the ultra-conservative people from whom he is constantly pleading for donations. But since he’s the president of a federally registered non-profit that identifies itself as promoting morality, that can’t possibly be the case, can it?

Then I thought about what his life is like: giving all these interviews, sending out the constant emails and mailers pleading for money, leading protestors outside legislatures and such, staging press conferences in front of civil rights offices, pretending to be addressing a huge crowd of sympathizers as his employees record the speech for YouTube, and carefully hiding the fact that the number of reporters covering the event far outnumbered the crowd (and most of the crowd were his employees!), and thinking up new ways to repeat the same tired, debunked lies on cable news shows. All of that takes an enormous amount of effort. There is no way he has the time to watch TV shows!

Which led me to realize that he probably spends more time reading LGBTQ news sites and blogs than I do. And it is the case that when they cover pop culture, those sites disproportionately focus on queer characters, or actors and actresses who are either gay or allies. So if one’s primary source of information was from those, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that nearly a third of the characters in all these shows were non-heterosexual.

I hope he doesn’t ever wander into somewhere like FanFiction.Net or the like! Because if you believed all the fanfiction out there, less than 3% of any characters in any show or series in exclusively heterosexual. That possibility might give him a fatal shock!