Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (TV series)

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Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
BuckRogersDVD.jpg
Region 1 US DVD cover (2004)
Developed by Glen A. Larson
Leslie Stevens
Starring Gil Gerard
Erin Gray
Tim O'Connor (Season 1)
Felix Silla
Mel Blanc
Eric Server (Season 1)
Thom Christopher (Season 2)
Jay Garner (Season 2)
Wilfrid Hyde-White (Season 2)
Composer(s) Stu Phillips (theme), Johnny Harris (theme),
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 37 (List of episodes)
Production
Running time 60 min. (with commercials)
Broadcast
Original channel NBC
Original run September 20, 1979 (1979-09-20) – April 16, 1981 (1981-04-16)

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is an American science fiction adventure television series produced by Universal Studios. The series ran for two seasons between 1979–1981, and the feature-length pilot episode for the series was released as a theatrical film several months before the series aired. The film and series were developed by Glen A. Larson and Leslie Stevens, based upon the character Buck Rogers created in 1928 by Philip Francis Nowlan that had previously been featured in comic strips, novellas, a serial film, and on television and radio.[1]

Concept and broadcast history[edit]

Inspired by the massive success of Star Wars, Universal began developing Buck Rogers for television, spearheaded by Glen A. Larson who had a production deal with the studio. Initially, Larson and Universal had planned on making a series of Buck Rogers TV movies for NBC. Production began in 1978. The pilot for Larson's other sci-fi series, Battlestar Galactica (1978), had been released theatrically in some countries and in key locations in North America, and had done well at the box office. Universal therefore opted to release the first Buck Rogers TV movie theatrically on March 30, 1979. Good box office returns led NBC to commission a full series, which began on September 20, 1979 with a slightly modified version of the theatrical release (see below).[2]

The production recycled many of the props, effects shots and costumes from Battlestar Galactica, which was still in production at the same time the pilot film for Buck Rogers was being filmed. For example, the "landram" vehicle was made for the Galactica series, and the control sticks used in the Terran starfighters in the pilot movie were the same as those used in Galactica's Viper craft. The Terran starfighters were also concept designer Ralph McQuarrie's original vision of the Colonial Vipers.

The new series centered on Captain William Anthony "Buck" Rogers, played by Gil Gerard, a NASA/USAF pilot who commands Ranger 3, a spacecraft that is launched in May 1987. Due to a life-support malfunction, Buck is accidentally frozen for 504 years before his spacecraft is discovered drifting in space in the year 2491. The combination of gases that froze his body coincidentally comes close to the formula commonly used in the 25th century for cryopreservation, and his rescuers are able to revive him. He learns that civilization on Earth was rebuilt following a devastating nuclear war that occurred on November 22, 1987, and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Directorate.

The series followed him as he tried to fit (not always successfully) into 25th-Century culture. As there were no traceable personal records for him, he was uniquely placed, due to his pilot and combat skills and personal ingenuity, to help Earth Defense foil assorted evil plots to conquer the planet. In many respects, this version of Buck Rogers was more similar to James Bond or Steve Austin rather than Nowlan's original character, and Buck would often go undercover on various covert missions. Buck is aided in his adventures by his friend and semi-romantic interest, Colonel Wilma Deering (played by Erin Gray), a high-ranking officer and starfighter pilot. He is also assisted by Twiki, a small robot or "ambuquad" as they were known. Twiki was played mainly by Felix Silla and voiced mainly by Mel Blanc (who had previously voiced Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers in spoofs of the early Buck Rogers and other science fiction serials) using a gruff voice very similar to the one he used for Barnyard Dawg. Twiki became Buck's comic sidekick and communicated with an electronic noise that sounded like "biddi-biddi-biddi", but also spoke English. Also aiding Buck was Dr. Theopolis or "Theo" (voiced by Eric Server), a sentient computer in the shape of a disk, approximately 9-inches wide with an illuminated face. He was capable of understanding Twiki's electronic language, and was often carried around by him. Theo was a member of Earth's "computer council" and one of the planet's scientific leaders. During the first season, Buck and Wilma took their orders from Dr. Elias Huer, played by Tim O'Connor, the head of the Defense Directorate. Some episodes suggested Huer was the leader of the entire planet, though this was never made completely clear.

The series' chief villain (at least in the first season) was Princess Ardala (played by Pamela Hensley) whose goal was to conquer the Earth whilst making Buck her consort. She was aided by her henchman Kane (played in the pilot film by Henry Silva and in the series by Michael Ansara). All of these characters were featured in the original comic strip, except for Dr. Theopolis and Twiki (whose closest counterpart in earlier versions would likely be Buck's human sidekick Buddy Wade). Kane (or Killer Kane as he was then known) was also featured in the 1939 film serial and was actually the chief villain himself, rather than Ardala's henchman (Ardala did not appear in the film serial).

The pilot film depicted human civilization as fairly insular, with an invisible defense shield that surrounded the entire planet, protecting it from invaders. Civilization was restricted to a few cities, the main city seen in the pilot and weekly series was New Chicago, which was also known as the Inner City. Travel beyond the Inner City was hazardous, as much of the planet was said to be a radioactive wasteland inhabited by violent mutants (as Buck discovered when he visited the derelict remains of old Chicago).

The movie[edit]

The first made-for-TV movie was released theatrically in March 1979. The movie made $21 million at the North American box office, prompting Universal to move ahead with a weekly series later that year. The movie, which was also released internationally, featured all of the main protagonist characters who would be seen in the weekly series, as well as the series chief antogonist, Princess Ardala of the planet Draconia, and her associate/henchman Kane.

The series[edit]

The movie also served as a pilot and two-part first episode for the series, entitled "Awakening". Several scenes were edited, some in order to remove the more adult dialogue that was in the film (including when Buck refers to Wilma as "ballsy," and a comment by Twiki about "freezing his ball-bearings off" was altered), and a scene in which Buck kills Ardala's henchman, "Tiger Man," was deleted in order to allow the character to return in later episodes (the TV version of the pilot for Battlestar Galactica had similarly removed the death of a supporting character (Baltar) in order for the character to become a regular in the TV series). There were also some new and extended scenes for the TV version, including several scenes within Buck's new apartment which was the setting for a new final scene in which Dr. Huer and Wilma try to persuade Buck to join the Defense Directorate. This scene ends with Buck actually declining their offer, though he opts to join them in an unofficial capacity by the first episode of the series proper, "Planet of the Slave Girls".

Including the two-part pilot episode, the first season comprised 24 episodes, with four of the stories being two-parters. The tone of the series was lighter than the pilot movie, and showed a more positive picture of future Earth. The Inner City was now known as New Chicago, and it was established that human civilization had spread once again across the planet, and also to the stars. After the movie pilot, no reference to barren radioactive wastelands was made, and in several episodes, the world outside is shown as lush and green. The mutants seen in the pilot film were no longer seen, and Buck sometimes ventured outside New Chicago with no hazards encountered. As opposed to the isolationist planet seen in the film, Earth no longer has an invisible defense shield surrounding it and is shown to be the center of an interstellar human-dominated government, sometimes called "the Federation" ot "the Alliance", with its capital at New Chicago. During the first season, references were also made to other "new" Earth cities such as New Detroit, New Manhattan, New Phoenix, New Tulsa, Boston Complex and New London. A "City-on-the-Sea" was also seen, mentioned as being the former New Orleans.

Wilma Deering and Dr. Huer were the only Defense Directorate personnel seen in every episode, though several others were seen in individual episodes. Most Defense Directorate personnel regard Buck as being at least an 'honorary' captain, in reference to his 20th-century American military rank, but his membership in Earth's defense forces is unofficial. Nevertheless, Buck often flies with the fighter squadrons, and uses his 20th century U.S. Air Force background to assist in their training. Dr. Huer regularly meets, greets, and otherwise deals with representatives of other sovereign powers. Huer was also seen in military uniform (at formal occasions), thus indicating that he is or was a member of the military.

Travel between the stars was accomplished with the use of stargates; artificially created portals in space (similar in appearance to wormholes), but referred to as "warp" travel on at least one occasion by Wilma Deering. Stargates appear as a diamond-shaped quartet of brilliant lights in space that shimmered when a vessel was making transit. Some people find the transit through a stargate to be physically unpleasant (transit resembling a "spinning" of the spacecraft). Buck's dislike of them is shown in Part One of the episode "Planet of the Slave Girls" and again in Part Two of the episode "The Plot to Kill a City".

To portray futuristic-looking buildings on Earth, the show used stock shots of the remaining national pavilions of Expo 67, particularly the French and British pavilions as well as shots of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Juanin Clay, who played Major Marla Landers in the first season episode "Vegas in Space", was originally cast as Wilma for the TV series (Erin Gray had initially opted not to return after the pilot film, but she later changed her mind). A relationship between Buck and Wilma was hinted at but rarely expanded upon and, in the first season, Buck was involved (to some degree) with a different woman almost every week. Producers demanded that Wilma have blonde hair and dye jobs were needed to lighten Erin Gray's brunette locks. During the final episodes of the first season, Gray was allowed to return to her natural hair color, and Wilma was dark-haired thereafter. Buck's best-known enemy during the first season was Princess Ardala, played by Pamela Hensley, whose desire was to conquer and possess both Earth and Buck himself. She appeared in four separate stories, including the pilot film, two single episodes ("Escape From Wedded Bliss" and "Ardala Returns"), and the two-part first season finale ("Flight of the War Witch").

The opening title sequence for the series included stock footage from the Apollo 4 and Apollo 6 launches.

The series had an overall budget of $800,000 per hour of air time, according to Starlog issue #32 (March 1980).[3] Former actor Jock Gaynor served as producer for twenty episodes. Although reasonably popular with viewers, the first season failed to receive much critical acclaim. One vocal critic of the series was Gerard himself who pushed for more serious storytelling and often clashed with the producers and the network (NBC) over the show's tone and handling. In the November 1980 issue of Starlog, even Gerard himself said that he had hoped the series would not be picked up for a second season because he had no wish to go through another season like the first one.[4]

The second season[edit]

Production of the second season was delayed by several months due to an actors' strike. When production resumed in the fall of 1980, the series had a new set of producers (headed by John Mantley who had primarily worked on television westerns) and the format of the series was changed. Instead of defending the Earth from external threats, Buck, Wilma and Twiki were now a part of a crew aboard an Earth spaceship called the Searcher. The Searcher, which displayed the Latin motto "Per ardua ad astra" ("through adversity to the stars" or "through work to the stars") on its side, had a mission to seek out the lost "tribes" of humanity who had scattered in the five centuries since Earth's 20th Century nuclear war. (This is a theme present in Glen A. Larson's previous science fiction television series, Battlestar Galactica.)

Another notable change in the second season was the disappearance of many of the regular characters of the first season, such as Dr. Huer, Dr. Theopolis, Princess Ardala, and Kane. However, several new characters were added:

  • Admiral Efram Asimov (Jay Garner), commander of the Searcher and a descendant of the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov.
  • Hawk (Thom Christopher), an alien character who represents the last of the nearly extinct bird people.[5]
  • Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White), an elderly scientist with insatiable curiosity.
  • Crichton (voiced by Jeff David), a snobbish robot, built by Goodfellow but who finds it difficult to believe that lowly humans could have ever built him.

The character of Wilma Deering was "softened" in the second season as the producers attempted to tone down the militaristic "Colonel Deering" image, who often gave Buck orders, and tried to make her more "feminine."[6] Another change in the second season was the sound of Twiki's voice. Mel Blanc left the series after the end of the first season and another actor, Bob Elyea, supplied Twiki's voice. Blanc returned for the final six episodes of the second season, though no explanation was given for the change in Twiki's voice.

The opening narrative was also modified for the second season, both in terms of the narrator's voice and content. In the first season, William Conrad delivered the following opening narrative:

The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William "Buck" Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later.

In the second season, Hank Sims (best known for his announcing work on many of the programs produced by Quinn Martin Productions) delivered the following alternate narrative:

In the year 1987, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes. Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut, Captain William "Buck" Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension. In a freak mishap, his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit one thousand times more vast, an orbit which was to return Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later.

These were abbreviated and altered versions of the narrative heard in the original pilot movie, delivered by Conrad:

In the year 1987, at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes. The payload, perched on the nosecone of the NASA rocket, was a one-man exploration vessel: Ranger 3. Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut, Captain William "Buck" Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension: an awesome brush with death. In the blink of an eye, his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit a thousand times more vast, an orbit which was to return the ship full circle to its point of origin, its mother Earth, not in five months...but in 500 years.

For 500 years, Buck Rogers drifted through a world in which reality and fantasy merged into a timeless dream.

The introduction narrative from the pilot episode ("Awakening") was also different:

For 500 years, Captain William "Buck" Rogers has been miraculously preserved, frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Now, in Earth year 2491, he is rudely awakened by the sinister forces of the Draconian realm.

The substance of the storylines also changed in the second season. Less emphasis was placed on militaristic ideals and, with a few exceptions, Gerard scaled back the humor in the second season in favor of more serious episodes. Buck's and Wilma's relationship became slightly more romantic during the second year, though most romantic activity was implied and took place off-screen.

Moreover, the second season deals with more serious concepts such as evolution, ecology, racism, pollution, war, nuclear power, identity, the self, and religion. It also draws on mythology as exemplified by Hawk's people, which are a variant on the Bird people found in mythologies around the world and makes special reference to the moai of Easter Island. An episode also included a story about mythical satyr creatures.

As well as its parallels to Larson's previous television series Battlestar Galactica, the second season is similar in theme to Star Trek, with the Searcher roaming through space much like the U.S.S. Enterprise had, Buck being the maverick explorer true to the style of Captain James T. Kirk, and the serious, rather stoic Hawk being a revamped version of Mr. Spock. Even Wilma had, to some extent, been remodeled after Lt. Uhura from Star Trek, often dressed in a mini-skirt uniform and regularly sat at a communications console on the bridge of the Searcher.

Ratings dropped significantly after the season premiere. NBC canceled the series at the end of an eleven-episode strike-abbreviated season. No finale storyline was produced, with the final episode broadcast being a normal standalone episode.

International broadcast[edit]

The series was shown in the UK by ITV, beginning in late August 1980 with the feature-length two-part episode "Planet of the Slave Girls" (the pilot film, which had been released theatrically in Britain in summer 1979, was not actually shown on British television until 1982). ITV broadcast Buck Rogers in an early Saturday evening slot, where it competed against, and beat, the BBC's long-running science fiction series Doctor Who, which started its 18th season on the same day. As a similar effect had occurred a couple of years earlier when several ITV stations screened Man from Atlantis against Doctor Who, this prompted the BBC to move Doctor Who to a new weekday slot for its next season in 1982 (even though Buck Rogers had actually been cancelled in the United States by that point). Ironically, the BBC would repeat the Buck Rogers series themselves (on BBC Two) in 1989 and again in the late 1990s.

DVD releases[edit]

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the complete series on DVD in North America (Region 1) on November 16, 2004. While it does contain every episode (from both seasons), the pilot episode included is the theatrical version and not the TV version. The set contains five double-sided discs.[7][8]

The series was released on DVD in Europe (Region 2), though each season was released separately as opposed to in one set like the Region 1 release. Season 1 was released on November 22, 2004 and season 2 on October 31, 2005, neither of which had the same cover artwork or menu screens as the Region 1 release. Notable differences are the addition of subtitles for various European languages, and translated text sections on the DVD boxes. The back cover of the European season 1 box set also erroneously shows the character Hawk, who did not appear until season 2.

On January 24, 2012, Universal Studios re-released Season One by itself in North America, as a six disc set. The discs were single-sided for this release, in contrast to the double-sided discs released in 2004. Season Two was re-released with single-sided discs on January 8, 2013. As a bonus feature, the second season set includes the television version of the original pilot film, "Awakening", the first time this version has been released on DVD.[9]

Cast[edit]

Gil Gerard's title card for Season 2

Guest stars throughout the series included Jamie Lee Curtis, Markie Post, Dorothy Stratten, Leigh McCloskey, Richard Moll, Jerry Orbach, Gary Coleman, Jack Palance, Sam Jaffe, Vera Miles, and Buster Crabbe (who had played the original Buck Rogers in the 1930s film serial). Joseph Wiseman also appeared in one episode of the series, and was also briefly seen in the theatrical version of the pilot as Emperor Draco (Princess Ardala's father), but his appearance was edited out of the television version. Several actors who had played villains in the 1960s Batman television series also guest-starred, including Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Roddy McDowell, and Julie Newmar.

Episodes[edit]

Merchandise[edit]

Two novels were published by Dell Publishing based on this series, both by Addison E. Steele. The first (ISBN 0-440-10843-8) was a novelization of the pilot film. The second, That Man on Beta (ISBN 0-440-10948-5), was adapted from an unproduced episode script.

A fumetti book entitled Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was published by Fotonovel Publications in 1979.

Gold Key Comics published fourteen issues of a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century comic book based upon the show. The first couple of issues adapted the movie, but picked up the numbering from a Buck Rogers revival in the 1960s. The comic books started with issue number two, because issue number one was published in the year 1964 in the style of the old comic strips. Starting with issue five, new adventures were created in the series continuity. The first three issues (two - four) were reprinted in a "Giant Movie Edition" and was distributed by Marvel Comics. Artists on the series included Al McWilliams, Frank Bolle and Jose Delbo. Ironically, the comic outlived the series by several months. Issue number ten was never published and this comic book series was cancelled after issue number sixteen. The comic book remained within the continuity of Season 1 and did not feature any characters from Season 2.

A strip based on the television series also ran in two publications in the UK: 'Look-In' with 64 weekly installments covering 10 separate adventures between autumn 1980 and early 1982, and 'TV Tops', which picked up the rights from 1982 for two shorter runs. Both were based on the format of the first year of the series.

Two sets of action figures were produced by Mego, including a 12" line and a series of 3.75" figures and scaled spaceships.[10] Milton-Bradley produced a Buck Rogers board game and a series of jigsaw puzzles. Other companies produced a variety of tie-ins, including model kits of the spaceships from Monogram, die-cast toys from Corgi, Topps trading cards, and a painted metal lunch box.[11]

In 2011, Zica Toys began production of a new line of action figures based on the TV series. These 8" action figures are loosely based on Mego designs, but as noted above, Mego did not produce an 8" line of Buck Rogers figures, so Zica's line is actually the first line of 8", cloth-costumed action figures based on the TV series. Characters planned include Buck Rogers, Hawk, Killer Kane, Tigerman, and Draconian Warriors.

The popularity of the TV series led to the revival of the Buck Rogers newspaper strip, daily and Sunday, drawn by Gray Morrow and written by Jim Lawrence. The strip ran from September 9, 1979 to October 26, 1980, and was reprinted in its entirety, with the Sundays in color, in a large trade paperback.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: The Complete Epic Series". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2011-09-14. 
  2. ^ Houston, David (April 1979). "Buck Rogers Becomes The Movie". Starlog (Starlog Group, Inc.) (21). 
  3. ^ Houston, David (March 1980). "Paul Peter: Art Director for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (interview)". Starlog (Starlog Group, Inc.) (32): 41–45. 
  4. ^ Willson, Karen E. (November 1980). "The 25th Century That Almost Wasn't - An Interview with Gil Gerard". Starlog (Starlog Group, Inc.) (40): 52–56. 
  5. ^ http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=0bCxW4fs_BwC&pg=PT96&lpg=PT96&dq=Erin+Gray+-+Colonel+Wilma+Deering&source=bl&ots=2pGpb1kIja&sig=yf0j9hGs_0boF1b5N2Vsp9JAqYg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=e-kUVJiBEM7iat3agJAG&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAThQ#v=onepage&q=Erin%20Gray%20-%20Colonel%20Wilma%20Deering&f=false
  6. ^ Willson, Karen E. (October 1980). "With Changes Coming Fast and Heavy...(interview with Erin Gray)". Starlog (Starlog Group, Inc.) (39): 17–20. 
  7. ^ "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - The Complete Series". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  8. ^ "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: The Complete Series". IGN. Retrieved 2012-05-19. 
  9. ^ Lambert, David (September 4, 2012). "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - Release Date Flies Into the Future for 'Season 2' on DVD". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved September 8, 2012. 
  10. ^ Bugeyedmonster.com
  11. ^ http://buckrogers.org/collect.cfm

External links[edit]