So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica

So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica

by Edward Gross, Mark A. Altman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250128942
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 08/21/2018
Pages: 720
Sales rank: 162,402
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

EDWARD GROSS is an author and journalist, currently Executive Editor of Empire Magazine Online and co-author of the bestselling The Fifty-Year Mission, the definitive oral history of Star Trek, from St. Martin’s Press.

MARK A. ALTMAN is a film and television writer/producer who most recently was Co-Executive Producer of TNT’s hit series, The Librarians. He co-authored The Fifty Year Mission with Edward Gross.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THERE ARE THOSE WHO BELIEVE

"The final annihilation of the life-form known as man. Let the attack begin."

The year was 1978. Nine hundred and nine followers of Jim Jones did drink the Kool-Aid and died in a mass suicide at the behest of the tragically charismatic cult leader, while Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby, was born. The dominant New York Yankees once again won the pennant, while the Dallas Cowboys triumphed in the Super Bowl. Yet another reason not to mess with Texas.

On the radio, the Bee Gees dominated the charts, along with Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, ABBA, Paul McCartney & Wings, and Frankie Valli with his hit theme song to the movie Grease, which was a top-grossing film in theaters. Other films released that year were Animal House, Heaven Can Wait, Halloween, Midnight Express, and, most memorably, in late December, Richard Donner's revelatory Superman: The Movie. Keith Moon of the Who died that year, as did Nancy Spungen, who was violently stabbed to death by her boyfriend, Sid Vicious of the seminal punk rock band the Sex Pistols.

If you visited the bedroom of many a young teenager in 1978, you'd likely see Kenner's ubiquitous Star Wars toys, a 2-XL talking robot from Mego, and a poster of Farrah Fawcett thumbtacked to the wall. And not surprisingly, the video game Space Invaders continued to collect millions of quarters in arcades around the world.

Ironically, a different kind of space invader was about to take over ABC that year, Battlestar Galactica, a landmark series for television as well as a personal triumph for its creator, Glen A. Larson. Although not exorbitant by today's standards, the series' estimated price tag of one million dollars per episode was a turning point for the 1978–79 season and the industry as a whole. Millions watched as the most publicized series in history made its three-hour debut at 8:00 P.M. on Sunday, September 17, 1978, against the annual Emmy Awards (which prompted host Alan Alda to crack at the ceremony, "Don't you wish you were home so you could watch Battlestar Galactica?") and the television debut of the Dino De Laurentiis remake of King Kong on CBS and NBC, respectively. Wondering what was on Fox that night? There wasn't one — the Fox network didn't debut until 1986 — nor was there any major network at the time other than NBC, CBS, and ABC, the so-called Big Three.

By the time of his death in 2014, Glen A. Larson would become one of the most successful and prolific television producers of all time, but in 1978, despite early triumphs, he was still at the beginning of an enviable career that would later include B.J. and the Bear, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I., The Fall Guy, and many others.

Born on January 3, 1937, in Long Beach, California, Larson, a devout Mormon with eight children, already had several series on the air by the time he pitched Battlestar Galactica to ABC, among them Alias Smith and Jones; Switch; Quincy, M.E., starring Jack Klugman as the curmudgeonly coroner; and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, based on the famous series of mystery novels.

A broadcast veteran, Larson began his early career in music, as a member of the musical group the Four Preps, for which he composed three gold-record-winning songs. Attracted to the film and television industry, he began writing teleplays for such series as Twelve O'Clock High. His talents were soon noticed by veteran screenwriter Gene L. Coon, who had just left late in Star Trek's second season to run the Robert Wagner–toplined series, It Takes a Thief, and became a mentor to the creative young writer. Larson rose quickly through the television-industry ranks, advancing from writer to story editor and, eventually, to series producer and creator, showrunner, and fixer.

GLEN A. LARSON (creator/executive producer, Battlestar Galactica)

Like most ideas, writing isn't writing, it's rewriting. You're searching and playing with your themes. One of the things you do as a writer is that if you have a story problem you reverse it; you find ways that if you can't make something happen one way you look at the opposite. It's a little trick of writing you use in mysteries or anything else. You find out that you don't force things by doing that.

DAVID LARSON (son of Glen Larson)

My father always wanted to be a writer. When he was a kid, he was a page at NBC. He grew up surrounded by movies and television. That's what he wanted to do. I think he sort of fell into singing and the band. That's what you do. You want girls? You go form a band — and they just happened to make records and had a good time. But even when he was with the Preps, he would sit in his hotel room and write. He would turn on the faucet because he liked the sound of running water. It goes back to his childhood.

If we were filming a movie, we'd cut away to his childhood. There's some deep psychological stuff there. I think it had to do with his mother. She worked. She was a single mother. He was kind of a latchkey kid. He would know that she had come home because he would hear the bathwater turning on at night, so he loved the sound of running water. Years later, he would have a fountain, or he would turn on the bathtub when he wrote, which was terrible in a drought. He was not very conscientious about water usage. He would just turn the faucet on, and just let it go for hours.

GLEN A. LARSON

Most authors don't enjoy writing. It's a lonely, frustrating, demanding way to earn a living. What we enjoy is having written, and watching skilled actors bring it to life. For a screenwriter, the happiest words in the English language are "FADE OUT."

DAVID LARSON

In the Four Preps, they'd be touring around and he had one of those IBM Selectrics or something like that. He would sit there and write. I remember we were going through some of his old stuff, many years ago, and he had a script called "Finger Popper." I'm like, "What is this?" He goes, "This is the first thing I ever wrote." I didn't read it. I don't think he wanted me to read it, but it was the first thing he ever wrote.

JEFF FREILICH (executive producer, Halt and Catch Fire)

I learned how to write television from Glen. He was the first person to teach me that as a writer, you lock yourself away from all distraction. You do not answer your phone, you don't care what's going on, you get people to do it for you. You go wherever it is where you find peace, which for him was his house in Malibu, and you work undistracted and create the most pleasant environment for yourself to write. He probably created more shows than anybody in the history of television, and successfully, too, because most of his shows were big hits during the seventies and eighties.

Larson's writing ability, coupled with his eye for the commercial requirements of the business, soon made him a star at Universal Television, which was his home for over a decade, until he left for 20th Century Fox in the early eighties. Although it wasn't without controversy, Larson's penchant throughout his career for extracting ideas for television series from popular movies at the time (Alias Smith and Jones was seemingly inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and B.J. and the Bear was clearly redolent of Every Which Way but Loose, among others) led to noted author and raconteur Harlan Ellison pejoratively labeling him "Glen Larceny."

GLEN A. LARSON

I like to think that you can do a lot of different things when you are part of a team organization like Universal. I was kind of Frank Price's [head of Universal Television] fair-haired boy in some ways; I would be his fireman. He originally made The Six Million Dollar Man as Cyborg and it didn't get bought. It just didn't work. So he assigned me to do two or three ninety-minute movies, from which we sold the series. I just brought a different approach to it; what I would think would be slightly more commercial. Ultimately, I do look for commercial value, because there is no great joy in having a victory in the studio that no one sees.

DAVID LARSON

My father worked a lot. He was gone most of the time. I didn't see him a whole lot, but he always made it a point to throw the ball around and to have special moments, and I think he did that with most of the kids, like going to a Dodgers game and things like that. Being a showrunner is a twenty-four/seven a week job, though.

Unfortunately, I wanted to be with him all the time. I could have just sat in his office, and I used to at 20th Century Fox. Just sit in his office and play with little car toys. He was working on like three or four different shows. That's when he had The Fall Guy on the air. He did so many pilots. Those were good times.

GLEN A. LARSON

When the president of NBC saw the Quincy, M.E. script [in which Jack Klugman, as a medical examiner/coroner, solved crimes using forensics], he didn't want to buy the pilot until it was pointed out to him that we already had a thirteen-show commitment. That's a fairly dark arena when you deal with death on a weekly series. But that's the way they think, they say, "Who will want to watch this?" Well, there is a lot of interest in forensics, and we used humor to slip the audience what you call "the flat end of the wedge," to get your foot in the door. The show got much more serious after it had been a mystery movie, largely because Jack [Klugman] liked to push it harder in those directions.

DAVID LARSON

My father was a type-triple-A personality. He was always going. He didn't stop. He was always working on many things at the same time. There was one year he had like five shows on the air at one time. I can't even imagine. Going from editing bay to editing bay, how do you keep it all straight? But he could. He loved that. He needed that.

BARRY VAN DYKE (actor, "Dillon," Galactica 1980)

My impression of Glen when I first met him was he was like a big kid. He was so enthusiastic. I got along great with him. He really loved what he was doing. And had fun with it. I just thought he was a terrific guy.

JEFF FREILICH

Glen was a guy who liked a posse. He would call me up at ten o'clock at night on a Saturday, having had dinner already, sitting with my wife watching TV, and say, "Come out to Malibu and have dinner with me." And I always found it impossible to say no. I would drive out and there would be seven or eight or nine other people with Glen holding court. We'd all sit together and [Galactica 1980 producer] Frank Lupo would come out and other people on other shows of his, sometimes actors, sometimes people who weren't even associated with him professionally but just people that he knew.

I enjoyed those days. I got to the point where I looked forward to those phone calls. It didn't happen all the time and it didn't happen frequently, but for me, it was entertainment and it was a glimpse into the world of a guy who drove everywhere in a chauffeur-driven stretch limousine, who had a three-quarter-inch videocassette deck in the back with a television, who had a plugged-in IBM Selectric in the back of his car. It was a traveling office. And he lived in this really beautiful house on the waters of Malibu.

DAVID LARSON

It must have been a lot of pressure to maintain his lifestyle. To maintain that house and having a jet and the cars and the limo. It's part of the costume that you wear. You have to keep up with all these other showrunners. People perceive you as successful and as at the top of your game. Other people don't have this. That's all I knew. You always went to the front of the line. You were standing in line for Star Wars. "Do you know who I am?" It was embarrassing, but also kind of cool. We just go right into the special entrance. He liked that. He liked the status that it afforded him. He liked being an icon, sort of.

Right when they first started the Universal studio tour, we went on a special VIP tour in a station wagon. I still remember this big, brown station wagon, and we had a driver. Somebody was driving us through and then we went through the ice tunnel from Six Million Dollar Man. As a kid, you're five, six years old, getting this type of experience. You really take that for granted.

WINRICH KOLBE (associate producer, Battlestar Galactica)

Glen was a scream and a very interesting human being. I liked working with him — although he drove me nuts. He drove everybody nuts, because he just wouldn't let go of any product. It was hard to nail him down, but he had terrific ideas and he was good at what he was doing. It might not have been Shakespeare, but he had a very keen sense of story and was an interesting person to be with.

ALAN J. LEVI (director, "Gun on Ice Planet Zero")

Glen was a man of ideas. He came in all the time with different ideas and then he was let go off most of the shows that he created. He was not that good as a continual producer, but he was a marvelous idea man.

RICHARD COLLA (director, "Saga of a Star World")

Glen works to his greatest capacity to make the best product that he can make, usually based on some knowledge of a prior type of program that did work as a theatrical picture, and take that style and concept and apply it to television.

DAVID LARSON

He was creating, he was writing the pilot, getting it going, and then moving on to something else, which was his personality. He didn't like the day-to-day operation, year after year after year. I don't know how he would have been staying on a show for six, seven years. He just didn't have the attention span for that. He wanted to keep creating things. He had lots of ideas.

There were a lot of unsold scripts, just shelves full of stuff that he had written that he really believed in. Every single idea he ever had, good or bad, he was an absolute believer. He loved it. He could sell it to anybody. Back in the old school, he would put on a suit and tie, go into his network meeting. He would sell something having nothing written. Probably something on a napkin or even just give a quick line and they'd be like, "Absolutely. We're going to order twenty-two." They don't do that anymore. It was a different time. He had the clout to do that for a time. Not many people did. There were a handful of people who could do this. You've got to be a salesman.

Along with Glen Larson's Quincy, M.E., which began as an installment of the NBC Mystery Movie, many other popular Universal series dominated the Nielsen charts in the seventies, including Emergency, Kojak, The Rockford Files, McCloud, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and The Incredible Hulk. MCA/Universal, presided over by the legendary Lew Wasserman and Sid Sheinberg and which owned Universal Television, was one of the most successful television production studios in the business.

With the last vestiges of the old studio system slowly on their way out, MCA/Universal had one foot in the old Hollywood and one foot in the new as the business was beginning a dramatic transformation. With a massive backlot and myriad stages at its Universal City home, while continuing to keep both above-the-line and below-the-line talent under contract, the studio was uniquely positioned to produce some of the most iconic shows of all time. It was here that some of Hollywood's most legendary movie stars found themselves in their twilight years as regular staples on television, ranging from Joan Crawford on Night Gallery to Bette Davis on It Takes a Thief to Ray Milland and Lew Ayres on Battlestar Galactica, among many others.

RICHARD JAMES (art director, Battlestar Galactica)

Universal was always called "the Factory."

ALEX HYDE-WHITE (actor, "Cadet Bow")

Universal was this big TV factory, producing maybe a dozen shows on a weekly basis to the three TV networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS. An analogy would be: If Galactica was a "counterinsurgency" in search of targets, then Universal was "the Pentagon." And, once you had clearance to be in "the Pentagon," you were fair game.

CHRISTIAN I. NYBY II (director, "The Long Patrol")

Universal was almost like a college campus. They had anywhere from fifteen to twenty television shows in production at one time. So the stages were always full. There would be a couple of features going, so you kind of knew who everybody was. You'd see them in the commissary or around the lot. Everybody kind of knew everybody.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "So Say We All"
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Copyright © 2018 Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross.
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