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Old January 8th, 2004, 02:40 PM   #1
peter noble
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Default 10 year old interview with Glen A. Larson

This interview originally appeared in Epi-log magazine, the interview was conducted by Doug Snauffer.

"God, it's amazing to me!" proclaims writer-producer Glen A. Larson, his voice ringing with a resonance of genuine awe and pride. "Absolutely amazing."

He's referring to the fact that his late '70s creation, Battlestar Galactica, is among the elite class of television series whose fans have remained active and loyal well beyond the show's initial network run. This past October, these same devotees paid further tribute to the series by gathering in Universal City for a fifteenth-anniversary convention.

Battlestar Galactica, with Larson at the helm, hit the airwaves on the evening of September 17,1978, with a special three-hour premiere telecast that arrived with a fanfare unheard of in the television industry to this day. A summer long publicity blitz which had put stars Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict on the covers of TV Guide, People, and Newsweek, paid off and the ratings were stellar.

Anyone even remotely involved with the show seemed to be on top of the world.

And yet somehow, this series, considered to be a monumental step in television production due to it's grand scale and state-of-the-art special effects, faded into history at the end of it's first season. ABC cited, over the long run, lower than expected ratings; Universal Studios complained of the show's astronomical budget; and the producers and actors chalked it all up to industry politics.

So what happened?

Early last August, Glen Larson sat down with Epi-log and discussed his long voyage aboard the Battlestar Galactica. Clearly, this man, a prolific, veteran writer and producer with over twenty prime-lime series to his credit, has a special attachment to Battlestar Galactica. He fought to gel it on the air and stuck with it through as many bad times as good.

"We realized early we were taking on a great deal. Science fiction had always been very difficult in television," he began. "There are television shows and there are television shows, and this one was of epic proportions."

Larson always had a basic interest in science fiction and actually began developing an idea in the genre in the mid-1970s.

When he first went to Universal Studios with the intention of doing a science-fiction series, he tried to sell them on a project called "Adam's Ark". He had been inspired by a Time Magazine cover in which the top people from our planet in a variety of fields - from science to medicine and so-forth - were assembled together for a group photo.

He explains, "I had this idea in which a group of such individuals could be gathered together in some sort of super auditorium in the middle of the desert under the aegis of Howard Hughes, one of the pioneers of aviation, only to learn that it was a space launch because computers had projected the end of the Earth. And you would end up with this ark travelling through space to find another place to start over."

That evolved in his mind to just the opposite, of starting somewhere out in space and coming back and trying to find Earth. It was a progressive idea he worked on for a number of years without any real luck with the networks. One network head, Fred Silverman, expressed the general opinion when he pointed out that Star Trek hadn't worked, so why risk big bucks on another science-fiction show.

Larson explains, "Star Trek had been taken off the air fairly early. It generated interest, but from a core group. And in those days, networks were only interested in real overwhelming numerical supremacy. They weren't interested in satisfying splinter groups."

The breakthrough came in 1977 when Star Wars hit theaters and became an enormous hit. Science fiction was big and everyone in Hollywood suddenly had similar projects popping up on boards all over town.

On the small screen, the scale and scope of science fiction had always been kept in check by limited budgets. But after Star Wars, Larson realized that fans wouldn't settle for the same old television treatment of the genre. "Industrial Light and Magic had pretty well set the standard with Star Wars. You couldn't just put a rock on a soundstage anymore and hope it would hold an audience," Larson said, adding that the stories and the characters are and always will be the most important factor.

Once the network OK'd production on the Battlestar Galactica pilot, Larson realized he had to work fast. "To embark on that kind of an adventure was very tricky. It took lots of effort, and time, and help. We moved very quickly to see if we could get the same kind of quality people on board so our project would be on a par with what the audience was expecting."

It happened that Twentieth-Century Fox was looking for a way to advertise Industrial Light and Magic at that time, and they must have felt that television could provide the mass viewing audience they hoped to impress with their rapidly advancing technology. And after all, it could have been years before another film such as Star Wars including its sequel, would be viewed by audiences. Because of this, John Dykstra and ILM came aboard Battlestar Galactica, becoming "a major piece of the puzzle".

Larson went on to explain that once a science fiction or fantasy show gets past the pre-production phase things get a little easier. He cites the initial research and development costs as a major hurdle in getting a series up and running. "Once you're past that stage, its not so expensive," he says.

"But getting them up and getting them to look good is a real job. We sort of had a reputation for having heel marks all the way to the lab because I wouldn't let go of the damn negative. I kept trying to make it better."

He believes that one bad special effects picture can ruin the entire project. "If it didn't work, you've got to pull it out or redo it or do something unless you just don't give a dam. And unfortunately when you're competing with George Lucas, who you know really had a chance to do it right, you just can't show up second best."

During filming of the Battlestar Galactica pilot, however, Dykstra and George Lucas had a parting of the ways. Fox originally controlled ILM, and then the organization changed hands and Dykstra's group splintered off and became Apogee. Larson got Dykstra, his crew, and Richard Edlund, while Lucas re-established ILM and went to work on The Empire Strikes Back.

The separation of Dykstra and Lucas may have been what lead to an eventual lawsuit filed by the Star Wars producers against Universal and Battlestar Galactica.

Larson admits being a bit stunned by the legal situation. "I always considered it very unfair because we had met with people from their show and agreed not to do certain things and they were in agreement not to take any action. After all Fox had leased us their facilities and we even did our scoring on their stages.

"We thought that we were behaving according to certain parameters that were laid down and agreed to," continued Larson, who had met with Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz. "I agreed not to use certain effects including laser streaks from our guns." Instead, Colonial pistols emitted an actual flash from their muzzles that was in sync with the camera lens, to insure the shutter would be open at the right second and the effect would not be missed.

The two camps eventually ended up in litigation and Larson remembers it as a very distracting element, tying up the time of Dykstra and members of his team. In any case, he concludes, "It was a major distraction and a disappointment because I thought we had an agreement that that wouldn't happen. I don't know what it absolutely did to the outcome of our show."

Larson remembers the casting process for Battlestar Galactica as "a long, harrowing experience. There was a lot of fighting back and forth. We had one guy fly in from New York and get into costume, only to replace him the night before shooting began. It was up and down and back and forth, but I think we wound up with a pretty good group of people."

Once production got underway on the series, the shooting schedule proved to be a logistical nightmare in itself. Larson remembers one instance when the pressure may have gotten to him and he got a little crazy.

One Sunday afternoon, he caught a glimpse of several people walking around the Universal lot in Colonial uniforms and Cylon armor. At the time Universal had been plugging Galactica heavily on its public tours. He immediately ran in and began lodging a major protest with the studio: "I told them 'I really resent this because it's hard for me to mount the thing with you guys borrowing all of our stuff."

"When I finished, they looked at me, and said, 'We're not borrowing them, you're shooting down on stage 12'." Larson laughs, "I didn't realize that we were so far behind schedule that we had to shoot on a Sunday in order to make an airdate."

After the huge Nielsen numbers drawn by the pilot, Battlestar Galactica continued to rake in impressive ratings in its Sunday Night time slot. Even so, after one season, ABC cancelled the series, sighting ratings and budgetary problems.
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