Television as a medium has become the place to tell long-running stories and translate novels into a visual medium, but it wasn’t always that way. For the majority of its life, television was the place for simple, self-contained episodes that were easy to jump into at any point without knowing what happened before. There were several shows that broke new ground in the way television works, but none so game-changing as Babylon 5, a creation from the mind of J. Michael Straczynski that would change in how audiences watched TV.
AND SO IT BEGINS…
Straczynski started out as a writer on various cartoons including He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power, eventually making it up to head writer on The Real Ghostbusters. He left the show due to creative differences, and went on to work for the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, and Murder She Wrote to name a few. After Captain Power was cancelled, Straczynski started working on an idea for a new TV series. He actually had two ideas: one was a huge epic story about the rise and fall of Empires and interstellar war, and the second was a smaller show about a Space Station where people worked together to survive. One day, while he was in the shower, he realized that both shows were in fact the same show. He leapt out of the shower and wrote down everything that he could on a notepad. That notepad contained the blueprint that would eventually become Babylon 5.
Straczynski wanted to do something different with television. He wanted to adapt the five-act structure of a novel to fit the television model, with each act being one season of the show. Introduction, rising action, complication, climax and denouement, all within five seasons. Nothing like this had ever been done before. Characters and situations would evolve and change over time, there would be no reset button at the end of each episode. This made for an incredible epic story; however, it would also make it difficult for people who hadn’t started watching from the first episode to really get into the show.
One of the things that Straczynski wanted to incorporate into his new series was a sense of realism in regard to the way technology worked. The Starfury fighters had engines on the top, side, back, front and bottom, which allowed them full maneuverability. The design was so realistic to the point that NASA approached Straczynski about using it for a space-based forklift. Another important element in the series was that the humans were one of the least advanced races in the galaxy. This was something very different to how most Sci-Fi series portrayed humanity.
It took five years to sell Babylon 5 to a network. Straczynski and his partners, John Copeland and Douglas Netter, went to every major network asking for five years to tell the epic story. They were turned down from every single one. With the exception of Star Trek, no American space-based Science Fiction show had gone longer than three seasons and here was a first-time showrunner trying to sell a show that had a five-year plan.
Eventually he and his partners were able to arrange a pitch meeting with Warner Bros for their new network the “Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN).” Just before going into the pitch Straczynski was incredibly nervous, so much so that he cracked his molar due to grinding his teeth. Despite the incredible pain he went into the pitch, he knew that if they left at this crucial time they might not get another opportunity to sell the show. After the pitch, Warners bought it and commissioned a TV movie with the chance of it going to series.
THE DAWN OF THE THIRD AGE
Once the TV movie was commissioned Straczynski, Copeland and Netter started working on assembling a cast and crew for what was then subtitled The Gathering. Throughout the whole casting process, Straczynski wanted to cast people who had a part of their characters in themselves.
Michael O’Hare was cast as the station commander, Jeffery Sinclair. Of Michael, Straczynski said he had a strength of personality and gravitas in his performance and the perfect command voice. Michael O’Hare made two requests on the decoration of Sinclair’s quarters: to have bookshelves with books on them, and African art. He wanted the audience to pick up on the set decoration and think about what it represented: that he was a quiet, contemplative person who was dealing with some serious issues like survivor’s guilt and PTSD from the Earth-Minbari War.
Jerry Doyle was very much the character of Garibaldi, the blue-collar beat cop of Babylon 5. When he turned up for his audition, they asked him which role he was auditioning for, to which Jerry replied, “The role I’m going to get.” He was cocky, arrogant and self-assured, everything that Garibaldi was. His social and political views even matched up with Garibaldi. Straczynski once overheard Jerry talking during lunch ended up putting that in the show.
What Jerry brought to the role was not only a tough cop character but one that really had a softer and a comedic side too. The character could have easily have fallen into the stereotypical “tough guy” role, but there was more to Garibaldi than that. He went from being the beat cop to a CEO of a huge corporation.
The look of Delenn in the TV Movie was drastically different to that of her appearance in the series. Originally, she had been designed as a male character who would later emerge from the Chrysalis at the beginning of the second season as not only part human, but female. There were complications in the sound dubbing stage where they couldn’t get the voice to sound convincing enough to be male so they abandoned the idea and looped every actor’s line that referred to Delenn as a he to a she.
Mira Furlan was a recent immigrant to the US from the former Yugoslavia when she got the role of Delenn. Her natural accent was a perfect fit for the character whose race combined an Asian sensibility with the caste system of Medieval England. Delenn was such a varied character, tough but also sensitive and vulnerable. She could be militaristic yet act as a pacifist. She was intensely stoic and spiritual, but surprisingly humorous and funny at times. Mira described her character as extraordinary.
When Peter Jurasik auditioned for Londo Mollari he was the only actor who did any kind of accent. Most of the other actors just talked as they would normally. Peter came up with an accent and dialect that was a mixture of Czechoslovakian, Irish, and a character called Mr. Deltoid from A Clockwork Orange. Londo as a character started out as a buffoon before he in affect sold his soul and became quite a villainous character. He would eventually redeem himself and come back around to more of a protagonist than antagonist; however, he would always skirt the fine line between the two. Even though he changed so much throughout the series there was one thing that remained constant, he was a hugely patriotic individual who loved his people and his home world more than he had loved anything or anyone in his entire life which is why he would eventually become the reluctant leader.
Jurasik was the whole reason that the Centauri had the huge “sunrise” hairstyles. The original idea for the hair was that it would come back with a slight rise to it, however during the initial makeup stage they had a huge hairpiece that they combed up to, then cut to the right length. Peter went to see Straczynski with the huge hair piece and jokingly suggested that it looked great and that they should use it for the show. To Peter’s utter shock Straczynski said OK.
The character of G’Kar initially started out as the villain of the series, but then throughout the course of the show turned into a freedom fighter and then religious prophet. He was portrayed beautifully by Andreas Katsulas. Unlike a lot of the actors on the show, Andreas loved his mask. He felt sexy as G’Kar and would wear the mask longer than required. He brought a lot of himself into the character and gave G’Kar a strength of will and fierce presence that made him a truly memorable character. The scenes in which G’Kar (Katsulas) and Londo Mollari (Jurasik) interacted were fantastic, and it was wonderful watching their relationship evolve throughout the series from antagonistic to fanatical hatred and then eventually to friendship.
Straczynski was a huge fan of horror films, particularly zombie films. This was how he found and cast Patricia Tallman as the character Lyta. He had seen her in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead and admired her strength in the film. When she was cast, he made adjustments to the character to fit her and include Patricia’s stunt performer background. Her character was originally supposed to continue onto the series from the movie, but due to some bad advice Tallman would not return until Season 2.
The Gathering premiered on February 22nd, 1993 to a mostly positive reception, and due to that success Warners ordered it to series. Straczynski wasn’t particularly happy with the results of the TV movie. He felt that he had dropped the ball on several aspects and decided that he had to learn more about the process of making a show before they fully started production on the first season of the series.
A SHINING BEACON IN SPACE; ALL ALONE IN THE NIGHT
When it came to start working on the series, some changes had to take place. Instead of shooting on the Warner Bros lot like a lot of other shows at the time, they moved the operation to a converted hot tub factory which allowed them to build static sets that could be left up throughout the whole season. Filming away from the Hollywood studios left Straczynski free to make the show that he wanted to make. However, there was a sense of isolation that came from being away from Hollywood. Whenever guest stars would come on the show, the cast would joke around and ask them what Hollywood was like now.
There are a lot of visual differences between the TV movie and the series, the most obvious one being the prosthetics and makeup on Delenn, G’Kar and Londo Mollari. Delenn’s appearance was especially softened as the character was now female. Her cranial bones were smoothed and not as aggressive as they had been in the movie, and her facial features were left more feminine. Another change was the design of the Earth Alliance Uniforms; the colors were more pronounced, and the collars and shoulder strap material were changed to leather. A strip of leather also went down the right side of the chest.
On top of the design changes there were also changes to the cast. Tamilyn Tomita, Patricia Tallman and Johnny Sekka would all be replaced during the production of the series. Originally, the character of Laurel Takashima (Tomita) would have stayed on the station as the executive officer with Susan Ivanova (played by Claudia Christian) as her third in command. The plan was to reveal over time that Takashima had a sleeper personality that was activated throughout the series. At that point Ivanova would have become the executive officer.
Patricia Tallman had apparently received some advice to not continue her role as Lyta, which she took to heart. To explain her absence, it was written into the show that Lyta had been recalled to Earth after her experience of being the first telepath to read a Vorlon’s mind. Her character was replaced by Talia Winters, played by Andrea Thompson. The showrunners didn’t want Talia to be Lyta by a different name, and Andrea Thompson was more than up to the challenge. Her character was more feminine and softer-spoken, and built relationships with several of the characters quickly, Ivanova and Garibaldi in particular. Eventually, and perhaps ironically, Andrea would move on from the show, allowing for Lyta to taker her place. By Season 4, Lyta would become a series regular.
For Johnny Sekka, it was health issues that kept him from continuing on with the show as Dr. Benjamin Kyle. He would be replaced by Richard Biggs, who played Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Stephen Franklin. One of the first things that Richard asked was whether or not his ethnicity as an African American man would come into the story at any point. Straczynski told him that it wouldn’t, citing that by 2258 humans were past all that and race did not matter anymore. Richard loved that, he loved that he would be treated just like any other member of the crew of Babylon 5 and that there would be no heavy handed “look at how far we’ve come” notions. It was just a non-issue anymore and it was never brought up once in the whole series.
The character of Susan Ivanova was partially inspired by Straczynski’s own Russian heritage. She had the voice of doom and gloom on the show but also a strength and power to turn around and strike fear into the hearts of her enemies. Claudia Christian was able to portray all these elements with a level of authenticity that no other actress could have done. There is a speech she has about being the right hand of God, which is an incredibly powerful speech and the way Claudia delivered it sends chills down your spine; you believe her. She also managed to balance a dark sense of humor with a softer side that really made her character shine
Straczynski liked casting actors who had elements of their character within them. The best story around this philosophy was of how Stephen Furst was cast as Vir Cotto. Stephen hadn’t been briefed on the audition regarding the look of the character and when he turned up to the audition and saw a lot of other actors with their hair up, he panicked. Rushing into the bathroom he tried to get his hair to stand up using the liquid soap from the dispenser and in doing so the soap got in his eye. It was then that he was called into the audition room. He frantically tried to explain the situation, speaking quickly and in a panicked tone. When Straczynski saw this he exclaimed, “It’s Vir,” in the middle of the room and Stephen was cast on the spot.
Another change from the movie was the addition of The League of Non-Aligned Worlds, which was made up of independent worlds and minor species who were given a voice on the Advisory Council of Babylon 5. These characters added a larger ensemble cast for the show to utilize, and in doing so gave a grander scope to the world. Through their delegates, however, The League had only one vote as a whole rather than individual votes for each race. These new characters were introduced slowly to allow each new character to evolve naturally and not throw them all into the picture in one go.
The first season of any show is a difficult one because you have to get it right in order to capture your audience’s attention and retain them. What made things more difficult for Babylon 5 was that they couldn’t just throw in an episode to capture the audience’s attention as there was already a well-defined story arc which had to play out. It was tasked with introducing story elements that wouldn’t be paid off until the third and fourth seasons. Episodes such as Signs and Portents and Babylon Squared laid the seeds that would grow into the larger Shadow War story arc.
Michael O’Hare departed the series at the end of season one and the reasons behind this were never explained fully until a few years ago. Part way into the filming of the first season Straczynski started to notice problems with Michael, not problems with his acting or personality per se, but rather a few things that didn’t add up. Straczynski brought him in for a meeting one day before filming and everything seemed fine, and then at the end of the day he brought him back in, at which point he noticed Michael was showing signs of delusional behavior; he spoke about receiving messages in newspapers and that he had a feeling the FBI was following him.
Straczynski realized that Michael was heading towards a psychotic break. He faced a tough decision on whether or not to go to the studio, because not only would something like this ruin Michael O’Hare’s career but it would effectively shut down Babylon 5. When Straczynski came to the conclusion that he had to go to Warners Michael pleaded with him not to, he didn’t want to be responsible for everyone else losing their jobs. “Give me a chance,” Michael asked, and Stracynski complied. Whenever someone asked to give them a chance, he always gave them that chance.
Over the next several months, Straczynski worked with Michael to help him get through the rest of the season and Michael held on like a man clinging to a ledge by his fingertips. At the end of the first season he brought Michael into a meeting and told him that they both knew that it wasn’t getting better and that he needed to find someone to replace him as the lead. However, Straczynski continued to work with Michael and his family to get him the help he needed, covering his food and rent while he got back on his feet. Eventually, when Michael was in a better place, they were able to bring him back for a two-parter to finish off the story arc for Sinclair.
The last time that Straczynski and Michael talked, they discussed his condition. Straczynski told him that he would take the secret to his grave, to which Michael replied, “No, just take it to my grave, because people need to know that if something like this can happen to the commander of a space station it can happen to anyone.” When Michael passed away, Straczynski kept his promise. At a convention he told the audience about what happened, citing them as the reason Michael was able to keep going throughout the filming of the first season.
NOTHING’S THE SAME ANYMORE
With the first season ending on a cliff-hanger, the premiere of season two had a lot of work to do in continuing the plot threads from season one as well as introduce a new lead. Bruce Boxleitner was brought on board to replace the departed Michael O’Hare as the new station commander, Captain John Sheridan. Bruce was an experienced television actor who had also made a foray into Science Fiction in the 1982 film TRON. He brought an energy to the role that was the opposite of Michael O’Hare’s more subtle and contemplative station commander. This was something that really helped the character to assimilate into the show as a brand-new character and not a carbon copy of Sinclair.
Season two continued the story that had been set up in the first season with the coming of the Shadow War. The narration in the opening credits mentioned a great war that would have its beginnings in season two; however, the actual war itself wouldn’t kick off until well into season three. What is so remarkable is that even though the entire season ended up being setup, it wasn’t a frustrating wait. The second season was really where the characters of G’Kar and Londo Mollari switched places as antagonist and protagonist. Londo showed a villainous side to him that made it hard to believe he was the same character from the beginning. There’s an excellent speech that G’Kar gave about freedom and standing up to tyranny. Andreas Katsulas really shined in the scenes where he got to monologue. His performances and the way he spoke were so honest, and he brought a deep characterization to G’Kar. The war between the Centauri and the Narn would become a huge plot point that would last well into the fifth season.
Season two began to explore the characters in many other ways that we hadn’t seen in the other seasons. The characters of Ivanova and Talia Winters were revealed to be in a sexual relationship, which was a ground-breaking thing to have on American television at the time, especially with the realization that Ivanova was actually bisexual. Straczynski noted that unfortunately due to Andrea (Talia) wanting to leave the production, he had to rush the revelation about the two women instead of letting the reveal happen later on in the season. He also didn’t want to revisit that kind of relationship again with a new partner for Ivanova because he felt that it would be unfair to do so and that they would just be a Talia replacement instead of a fleshed out character.
Season two ended with Babylon 5’s mission of peace seemingly over. It was a somber ending to the season, but there was also a renewed sense of hope. Ivanova’s voice over stated that even though the mission of peace had failed, it had become the last best hope for victory because sometimes peace was another word for surrender.
By the time season three went into production the team had become a well-oiled machine. They worked efficiently and effectively to the point where they came in under budget. This would continue to happen as the show progressed. Being an off-studio lot operation helped build a sense of camaraderie between the cast and crew. On most TV productions the cast would eat separately from the crew but on Babylon 5 cast and crew ate together. In doing so the cast and crew had much closer relationships than most shows which in turn helped with the efficiency of the work.
Season three introduced another new main character in the form of Ranger Marcus Cole, a human trained by Minbari. The character had a dark past, one that wouldn’t be discovered for awhile. He quickly formed relationships with the main cast, particularly Ivanova and Dr Franklin. Marcus was played by Jason Carter, who recalled that once he was cast as Marcus, he started to worry about how he would be able to play the role. As he put it, he looked terrible in Lycra. However, when he was shown his costume he was blown away by how elegant and Shakespearean it looked. The character became a fan favorite due to his sense of humor and honorable demeanor.
Season three really raised the stakes for each of the characters, escalating everything that had been set up in the previous seasons. Babylon 5 would break away from the Earth Alliance and declare independence, and the Shadow War would finally start. It was also the season where Straczynski started writing every episode. He would go on to write the rest of the series, save for one episode in the fifth season. Themes of fascism and xenophobia were brought to the forefront during this season. The Night Watch started to become a Nazi-like group, shutting down shops that didn’t capitulate to pressure from them to stop voicing their opinions. Propaganda posters promoting the Night Watch were very reminiscent of the Nazi propaganda posters. It also introduced the story line of President Clark being in league with the Shadows as well.
During the third season they were able to close off one of the lingering story arcs, the Sinclair arc. Michael O’Hare returned for a two-part episode entitled War Without End to complete the newly constructed character arc which saw Sinclair go back in time to become Valen, the most significant figure in Minbari history. Season three ended with an even more somber tone than the second. G’Kar’s final voice over in the season is powerful and moving, and it really gets across the sense of dread the characters were feeling.
Somewhere between production ending on Season three and production starting on Season four Straczynski was told that Season four would be the last season of Babylon 5, so he had to condense two more seasons worth of material into one. Some story lines were discarded and others were cut back. Originally, the fourth season was supposed to end with Sheridan captured and tortured by Earth Forces. The Shadow War ended sooner than originally planned and the escalation of the Earth Civil War brought on the Minbari Civil War, the latter of which was originally intended to be a much bigger story. A lot of the arcs were satisfyingly concluded and with a series finale Sleeping In Light shot, at the eleventh hour the TNT channel took over and renewed Babylon 5 for a fifth season. Sleeping In Light was shelved and an alternative season four finale was shot to replace it so they could save the episode for the end of the series.
BEYOND THE RIM
Season five was a difficult season to produce, with a lot of the material already used in the fourth. Straczynski needed to come up with new stories to fit alongside plots that he hadn’t been able to finish in the previous season. Another issue was that Straczynski had made some extensive notes on the plot for Season five in a hotel and they were accidentally binned by the cleaning staff, which meant he had only what he could remember to work from. And to top it all off, Claudia Christian did not return for the fifth season. The real truth of why she left will likely remain unknown, with pay and contract disputes the rumored reasons. So, in the final season they had to introduce a new character to replace Ivanova who would unfortunately come across as just another Ivanova copy, but not nearly as compelling.
Tracy Scoggins, who was a big fan of the show, was cast as Captain Elizabeth Lochley, a no-nonsense Earthforce officer with a hard as nails approach to command. The biggest mistake that Straczynski made with her character was making her Sheridan’s ex-wife. Because of the similarities to Ivanova and the mistake of making her Sheridan’s ex-wife, Lochley had to fight a huge upward struggle to capture the audience. In the latter half of the season her character had improved, but by this point the audience had already made their mind up about her. Tracy Scoggins even said at a convention that when she saw herself on the show she thought “Who the Hell is this bitch?”
The series finale Sleeping In Light made up for all the mistakes of the fifth season. This episode took a time jump 20 years ahead and gave us a beautiful conclusion to the series. It was directed by Straczynski himself, and he even appeared in a cameo as the man who turned off the lights on Babylon 5 at the end. It’s hard to watch the episode without shedding a tear, to see everything the characters have gone through come to such a poignant end. It bookended the series in the perfect way.
Psych! The story didn’t actually end with the series finale. Four TV movies were produced, the final of which lead into the spin off series, Crusade. While the TV movies had a bigger budget than the episodes had to work with, they lacked the depth of the series. This was mainly because they had to be stand alone stories. “In The Beginning” used a lot of footage from various episodes of the series, which made it feel a little cheap at times. However, there were also some wonderful moments in the film including a beautiful montage of the war with an incredible piece of music by Christopher Franke.
Franke’s contribution to the series was undeniable, producing a cinematic score that elevated the series to something much grander in scope. He composed the music in LA and conducted via a live link to Germany where the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra would play the instrumentals, which would then be sent back to LA to be inserted into the edit. This was a unique method of music composition and not one that has been done since. Being able to use a full orchestra for the music gave the series an epic scope, which made it feel like a much bigger budget production than it actually was. Each season had a completely different theme and a different opening credit sequence.
In general, when TV shows changed their opening sequences, they would just update the clips of the show with newer ones, but the sequence itself would remain the same. Babylon 5 had completely different credits with different voice overs and theme songs from season to season. Babylon 5 separated each of its seasons out as a different part of the story, and the opening sequences were designed to give you a sense of where you were in the story. Season one’s opening sequence was more introductory in nature, giving you a full overview of what Babylon 5 was and a background of the world. The third season’s opening was bleak, yet hopeful, and season five was the evolution of all of it.
After Babylon 5 concluded, Straczynski returned to make Crusade, a series that was set up with the Babylon 5 TV Movie, Call To Arms. The production on Crusade was a different beast compared to what it had been on original show. On Babylon 5 he had been left to his own devices, but on Crusade the network had constant notes. Unbeknownst to Straczynski at the time, TNT wanted to cancel the show and were looking for any excuse they could find. In one such notes meeting the network asked that Captain Gideon set up one of his own crew members to be sexually assaulted in order for him to blackmail someone. Straczynski drew the line and was told that if he didn’t comply then the series would be cancelled. His reply: “Then it’s cancelled.”
Straczynski returned to the world of Babylon 5 two more times with two TV movies. The first was planned as a pilot for a series that never happened called The Legend of the Rangers and featured Andreas Katsulas’ final appearance as G’Kar before his death. The TV movie did not do well with the fans and was criticized for poor acting, poorly written characters, and terrible CGI. It’s a largely forgettable film, which I only watched once. I haven’t gone back since. The second TV movie was The Lost Tales, which was two different stories. It was an interesting project with the vast majority of it shot against green screen. Intended as the first of many, it was unfortunately not as financially successful as needed to merit a follow up. This was the last Babylon 5 project Straczynski worked on.
Every now and again there is talk of a reboot/remake/sequel, but nothing ever comes from it. Right now, I would be happy with an HD Remaster of the original series but unfortunately without something new to rejuvenate interest in the series there is no chance of that happening. The original CGI models were lost long ago, so all the effects would need to be recreated from scratch. That would cost millions of dollars and no one is chomping at the bit to spend that kind of money on this.
TO ABSENT FRIENDS, IN MEMORY STILL BRIGHT
Richard Biggs was the first main cast member to die at the untimely age of 44. Everyone who worked on the show had nothing but kind words to say about him. He was charming, funny and a dear friend to all. Jason Carter at a convention gave an emotional speech about his friendship with him and it was clear that he was still sorely missed to that day. Richard died suddenly on May 22nd 2004 from an undiagnosed heart defect.
Andreas Katsulas passed away at the age of 59. Not long before he died, he had one last meal with Straczynski and a few others and asked them to tell him all of the dirt about what happened behind the scenes. He wanted to know, and as Andreas himself said, who would he tell? So, they told him everything, and at the end of the night when they were leaving Straczynski and crew all looked at each other and realized that it would be the last time they would see Andreas and he them. It was a sobering end to a wonderful night. Andreas passed away on February 13th 2006 from lung cancer.
One of the most tragic deaths in the Babylon 5 family was Jeff Conaway. When Jeff was cast as Zack Allen, he had been struggling to get work and had a reputation as being difficult to work with. In the audition he asked Straczynski to give him a chance and whenever anyone asked him that Straczynski would always back the person and give them that chance. Jeff worked incredibly hard during his time on Babylon 5 and would regularly bring Straczynski vitamins because he was worried about him. He struggled with addiction to pain killers due to injuries sustained while performing. He went into a coma on May 11th 2011 and died on May 27th after his family terminated his life support. He was 60 years old.
Michael O’Hare had struggled with schizophrenia for decades before his death at 60. He died September 28th 2012 from a heart attack. After his death, Straczynski fulfilled his promise and told people about his condition and about how the fans were the ones that kept him motivated in the days that he struggled on the show.
Jerry Doyle was found unresponsive in his home in Las Vegas on July 27th 2016, just eleven days after his 60th birthday. Several cast members expressed their condolences, and I remember seeing a Facebook live stream from Patricia Tallman after news of his death broke. She was in pieces about the news. Straczynski released a statement about Jerry after his passing that said no matter what he was going through he always showed up on time, knew his lines, and knew what he was doing.
The most recent cast member to pass away, and hopefully the last one for a long time, was Stephen Furst. He passed away June 16th 2017 at the age of 63. As well as his role on Babylon 5, Stephen was known for his comedy roles and was outstanding as Flounder in the 1978 hit Animal House.
OUR THOUGHTS SHAPE THE UNIVERSE
Babylon 5 was truly ahead of its time. It was the first show to tell one long, continuing story throughout its run, something that would inspire much of the serialized storytelling we enjoy now. It took the vision of J. Michael Straczynski to look at the current production model of television and see if it could be done differently. Without Babylon 5, shows such as 24, Lost, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Westworld, Battlestar Galactica and so many others would not exist as we know them, and the landscape of television would not be the same. I’m certain that the makers of the popular Mass Effect trilogy were inspired by Babylon 5, as the Reapers in Mass Effect are very similar to The Shadows.
25 years on, Babylon 5 is still being celebrated for its ground-breaking achievements in production, story and character development. Not many shows can boast the type of characterization that Babylon 5 achieved. It also holds the record for number of episodes written by a single writer. Straczynski personally wrote 92 out of 110 episodes of the series, an impossible feat, but one that he managed to do because of his passion for the project.
I feel that the only thing preventing Babylon 5 from being a hit again in this binging age is the lack of an HD remaster. If the time and money were put into remastering the series then I am certain that it would get a brand-new audience. Even if the remaster does not happen Babylon 5 will still endure because of the deep story lines, compelling characters and the detailed planning that went into constructing the entire series. It was the story of the last of the Babylon stations, and it was a story that changed Science Fiction as we know it.
Matt is a huge film and TV buff who studied film and moving image production at university. In his spare time he enjoys reading comics and books, the occasional gaming session and writing novels.
Great article. Full of the love we all have to the show and the people involved, and informative behind the scenes anecdotes.
(Could use a copy editor.)
Your article is very detailed and we can feel your passion for the series in it. Congratulations.
Thank you. I love the series and after starting to write this I went back and rewatched it all again. Sorry I haven’t responded sooner I don’t get notifications of comments.
I AM ONE OF THE MOST PASSIONATE FANS OF BABYLON 5, IT IS PART OF MY DNA, AND I LOVE YOUR ARTICLE. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR IT. TO ME, ITS THE BEST SF PROGRAM EVER. I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO MEET MOST OF THE CAST, AND I WELL. JUST FELL IN LOVE WITH IT. THE LAST SHOW CRACKED ME OPEN, SOBBED. AGAIN MANY THANKS AND IF WARNERS HAS ANY BRAINS THEY WOULD HAVE IT IN CONTINUOUS RERUN ALL THE TIME.
I would love to meet the surviving cast members. I’m glad you enjoyed the article 🙂
Outstanding article about a show that deserved it.
Thanks. I really appreciate your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article 🙂
Excellent article. Thank you! I watched the series when it first aired and have it on DVD. It’s one of the few SF series that is clearly more inspired by SF&F novels (and not just in structure) than by other SF&F movies and TV.
Babylon 5 was probably the best series of it’s category, right up there with Star Trek. I especially liked the G’Kar – Londo plot.
Thank you so much for this look back at a show so many of us realized was groundbreaking at the time. This article is well-researched, but still affectionate. I’m moved by how this might help others to look past CG effects produced in the ’90s (a frequent complaint heard from new people being introduced to the show) to discover the richness of character development and themes in B5. For my money, it is still one of the top SF shows ever produced for television.
Great article, makes me want to re watch the series.
A perfect show to binge during this troubling time.