Today 20 years ago on January 26, 1994, Babylon 5 kicked off it’s first season. Almost a year before that, on February 22, 1993, the pilot The Gathering aired and it took almost a full year before Babylon 5‘s first season began. Since about 1987 Creator J.M Straczynski had the Babylon 5 universe in his head. Five or six years before anybody heard of a Narn, a Minbari or a Centauri, they were already alive in Straczynski’s mind. He and Douglas Netter tried to sell it to various networks/companies but nobody seemed interested. At the time there was not a lot of sci-fi on TV, only Star Trek: The Next Generation. Networks did not see the need to create another sci-fi series since there already was a Star Trek series. As if Hillstreet Blues was the only cop series.
J.M. Straczynski also tried to sell Babylon 5 to Paramount, who also had Star Trek under it’s wing. Paramount held on to the script for months before deciding not to go forward with it but later on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was created. J.M. Straczynski always said the DS9 concept was stolen from his Babylon 5 concept and seeing there are a number of similarities, I think he’s probably right. As I said earlier this month in my DS9 blog, I’m glad it turned out that way because Babylon 5 as well as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are my all time favourite TV series. There always was a lot of animosity between Star Trek and Babylon 5 fans, which I never understood. I love them both, both sci-fi, both different, what’s not to like! J.M. Straczynski stayed determined and finally got the series sold to Warner Bros. Domestic Television.
What is unique about Babylon 5 is that J.M. Straczynski said from the beginning that Babylon 5 was a five year story with a beginning, a middle and an end. This is probably one of the reasons why networks also were reluctant. Babylon 5 was a heavy serialized sci-fi drama, it was not TNG where you could miss several episodes and still know what was going on. In the first season for example, hints were dropped which were being followed upon in the second, third or even fourth season. Babylon 5‘s first season had, in my opinion, like the Star Trek series, a bit of a rough start but halfway trough the first season it became clear Babylon 5 could become something very special, which it ultimately did. J.M Straczynski also wrote most of the second, third and fourth season himself which is also very unique to say the least.
The 90’s was a decade in which sci-fi flourished and Babylon 5, as well as Deep Space Nine, The X-Files, Stargate SG-1 and others are the pillars of serialized sci-fi as we know it today. The remake of Battlestar Galactica should show it’s gratitude to those TV series from the 90’s. I can honestly say that the 90’s were the richest decade regarding sci-fi and it only helped the sci-fi series that followed beyond the millennium.
What is also remarkable is that Babylon 5 was completely released on VHS video in the UK, every month a VHS video was released with two new episodes, which was very convenient for myself because Babylon 5 had a very irregular broadcast schedule in my country. After the first two seasons it took almost two years before it was continued with the third in The Netherlands. At that time I was so addicted to those fantastic stories I needed to find some other way to watch Babylon 5. Thankfully I was able to purchase the UK imports in some local stores in my country.
What also could be considered remarkable is that in the UK and later on also in North America, a monthly Babylon 5 magazine was distributed. For about two years, each month, you could pick up a B5 magazine at your local comic or regular bookstore. I am the proud owner of every edition, still have them and I will never dispose of them. It was “normal” for Star Trek to have it’s own magazine but for Babylon 5 it was almost miraculous!
Babylon 5 had it all, of course serialized drama, which meant ongoing story arcs, characters whom were allowed to develop, some great guest stars for example Majel Barret Roddenberry, Melissa Gilbert, Michael Ansara, Brad Dourif and Michael York, to name a few and besides the wonderful regular cast they also had a very impressive recurring cast like Walter Koenig, John Schuck, Marshall Teague, John Vickery, Ed Wasser and so on.
It may not have had the budget Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had but they made it very believable with the budget they had. Babylon 5 also launched a new era of television CGI visual effects, which earned them multiple awards. Of course now some say it looks dated but I personally still enjoy the CGI sequences, okay, I would love to see those upgraded too but I still enjoy it.
Another difference with Star Trek was that Babylon 5 each year had to fight cancellation, each season it was praying to get renewed. This was no different in season 4, J.M. Straczynski had the feeling they were really going to be cancelled this year and decided to wrap up most of the storylines. This time however they were saved by TNT, who wanted to have the last season on their schedule. So the fifth season is seen by many as unnecessary, not as good as seasons 2, 3 and 4, which in my opinion, is true. If J.M. Straczynski had known in time he would get his fifth and final season, the season 4 cliff-hanger would have become “The Face of the Enemy”, episode 4.17. Now he had to think up a new storyline for the beginning of season 5, the telepath storyline and indeed, it wasn’t that interesting. But by the second part of season 5, the quality, which we were used to from the earlier seasons, surfaced again.
Babylon 5 is a rich universe, which, if you ask me, could be much richer. I think that there still are a lot of B5 stories to be told, now we have five seasons, 7 movies, the pilot and The Legend of the Rangers included, and the follow-up series Crusade, which was already cancelled before the first episode aired. In 2007 B5 fans all around the world got hope again when J.M. Straczynski announced direct to DVD movies, but unfortunately we only got one DVD which contained two stories of which I really love the one with Sheridan. J.M. Straczynski hoped to get more budget for the second one, but when he did not get that, he did not want to make another one because he wanted quality and he could not guarantee it with the budget he got. Hopefully someday Babylon 5 will return to us in some form but preferably on TV!
Finally there probably isn’t a series from this era which has lost so many of it’s stars and crew already. The first one of the main cast to go was Richard Biggs, after the passing of Mr Biggs there is a long list of regular and recurring cast as well as the crew. The other ones from the main cast who passed away are Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway and last year also Michael O’Hare who played Jeffrey Sinclair, the first commander of Babylon 5. They all will be missed but they all also will always have a place in the Babylon 5 universe where they will be loved continuously by the million of Babylon 5 fans.
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