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February 24, 2005
Accepted Error

Someone recently asked:

"In the mini series, when the Cylon fighters are approaching Colonial One (just before Lee saves the day with the EM pulse), Roslin refuses to run and leave the other civilian ships to their doom... Yet she articulated no alternative plan.
What was she hoping to do? It just seemed as though she planned to sit there and hope for the best, refusing to budge from the principle of not leaving defenseless people behind, even if that meant her own virtual suicide.
It was an odd moment, she had been so decisive and clear headed up to then, and after that.
What were her motivations, did she even have a plan? I still find this moment a little jarring and hard to explain away.
I guess it does serve as a contrast to her later decision to leave Cammy etc behind.
Thanks for your insights into this issue."

Can we talk? Let's be honest here. The show is not perfect. There are compromises made all the time; some for budgetary reasons, some are for political reasons, some are for no reason at all except that the writer could not, or would not, make the changes necessary to resolve a story point.

Such is The Case of Laura Roslin and the Incoming Cylon.

The above writer's observation is absolutely correct. Laura, by all rights and all sensible reasoning, should not obstinately stay when it's known for a fact that a Cylon missile is incoming, probably has a nuclear warhead and oh, by the way, she has no armament aboard her ship that would allow her even the remote chance of a possible last-minute, brilliant tactical move which might theoretically prevent the destruction of her ship and her presidency. Her refusal to leave, to Jump away from the impending, obvious threat can be interpreted as an irrational flaw in her character, a case of emotion trumping intellect, or it can be more correctly interpreted simply as a flaw in the script, an accepted error that the writer chooses to ignore in favor of other competing interests of character and plot which take priority in a given moment.

In this case, I felt that the dramatic moment required that Laura make a committment to staying with her people, and to her nascent fleet, heedless of the consequence and resolute in her decision, even though it meant her certain doom. It was her instinctive response to the situation, her id's judgement, so to speak, that I was interested in, as well as the simpler plot device of having Lee swoop in and save them at the last moment just at the point you'd forgotten he was even there. Neither impulse is wrong, per se, but the error is in my choosing not to expand the moment and its aftermath in order to play out her realization of just how stupid a choice that was.

If, at some point following the resolution of the crisis, Laura realized that she let her emotional reaction to the situation lead her into making a bad decision which was only saved by the providential intervention of Lee, then the scene would've accomplished everything I had hoped for in the moment as well as providing Laura with a character-building scene where the new president's first major decision nearly got them all killed. It would've been a way to both emphasize her fallibility and the fact that she can't afford to lead with her heart any longer. Her subsequent decision to leave the sublight ships behind, abandoning them to their destruction by the Cylons, would've also been informed by this experience and had a richer, even more textured component to it.

In the end, it's not a fatal error in the script, and the moment passes by without comment for the most part, but it is something that nags at me whenever I see the sequence and which, frankly, bothered me at the time. So why didn't I fix it? A variety of answers present themselves, from time pressure to budgets, but the truth is, I knew that the emotional, dramatic moment would carry the audience through the scene and that people would be more invested in watching Lee take out the Cylon missile than in examining Laura's decision-making, so I opted to leave it alone rather than make the necessary page cuts and possible budget cuts needed to accommodate additional beats on this one point. It was probably the correct decision in the end, because the moment works and you move on as you're watching the show. However, being a television writer means not only having to make compromises and less than perfect decisions all the time, but as an additional penalty you get to always be reminded of the errors you've accepted when you watch the final product.

Good catch by an attentive member of the audience.

Damn you.

February 19, 2005
Season Two and Q & A

So it's official: we're doing a second season.

To say that this is happy news is to indulge in a display of understatement. The road to television success is a long one, littered with various hurdles, all of which must be vaulted: the studio pitch session, the network pitch, the story outline, the first draft script, the second draft script, the green-light to produce the pilot, casting the pilot, making the pilot, ordering the series, producing the series, getting the reviews, getting an audience, and then.... getting a second season. We've managed to clear that hurdle and it feels frakking good.

We've been working on the first six episodes for a couple of months now and we're gearing up to prep them for filming, probably in late March. Season Two will be heavily influenced by the end of Season One, so it's hard to get into anything remotely specific until the last episode has aired in the US. I could say... well... er... not much. Let's just get to the questions and answers.

"Will we ever get any more of the back story to the Cylon Wars?, ie What started them and how did the Colonists drive them away."

We will see more of this backstory as the series unfolds. Some of the inter-war period will be explored in the first few episodes of Season 2. Other tales of the first Cylon Wars will be filled in eventually.

"Appart from the fleet is there any chance that there are other survivers. Clearly Colonial One would not have gotten to every ship that was in transit and those that had FTL could have escaped as well."

We are talking about shows that deal with other survivors right now. Don't ask about the Pegasus -- I haven't made up my mind yet.

"Will we see any of the origonal cast appart from Richard Hatch. "

It's possible, but not yet on the board.

"Why "frack"? Where did the idea come from to make this the new F-word? Not that I don't like it, I find it amusing."

It's straight out of the original series. I dropped many other terms from the old show like "centon" (a unit of measurement) and "yahren" (year) because I felt they distracted from the mood I was trying to create and they sounded a bit silly to my ear. There was something elegantly lovely about "frak," however. There's nothing like being able to say my favorite four letter word on TV over and over again and I salute Glen Larson for giving the joys of frakking up, frakking off, not giving a frak, and frakking-A to the masses.

"I love the smoking doctor! Does he have a name? Isn't sickbay a little small considering the size of Galactica?"

I love the doctor too. The character's name is Major Cottle and I think we're only seeing one part of one Sickbay on the ship. It's worth keeping in mind that while Galactica is an enormous ship and was built to be manned by a very large crew, that she had only a skeleton complement on board at the time of the Cylon attack. That explains in large part why we see so few officers and why people like Kara are pressed into service in roles other than their primary one. There are probably several (unused) Pilot Ready Rooms aboard Galactica and possibly other Sickbay facilities as well. Dr. Cottle is our only physician onboard, but if she were fully staffed, Galactica would probably have a large medical staff and would have a sizable hospital facility.

"Why does the doctor smoke?"

Because smoking is cool. Don't let anyone tell you different, kid.

Seriously, we're showing people doing what people really do and not all of their choices are smart ones. We smoke, we drink, we have sex with the wrong partners -- we make lots of bad choices and some of them we do knowingly and in full cognizance of the risks and consequences. Dr. Cottle obviously knows the risks associated with smoking and he elects to do it anyway -- that's his choice.

I'm also frankly tired of all the anti-smoking p.c. crap that we're bombarded with these days and I decided that this was a world without all that. Call it my one sop to the idea of an idealized society, the notion that adults can make informed choices and not be nagged to death or run out of public spaces for making choices that others may not like or agree with.

"What is the rank structure? It doesn't seem consistant with the Navy."

The rank structure is derived from the original series. I didn't want to change Commander Adama to Captain Adama or Colonel Tigh to Commander Tigh, so I elected to simply embrace the co-mingled nature of the original rank structure. For our internal purposes, we've decided that the ranks are indeed a mixture of naval and army nomenclature and are basically as follows:

Officers --
Lieutenant (junior grade)

Enlisted --
Master Chief Petty Officer
Chief Petty Officer
Petty Officer (1st, 2nd Class)
Deck Hand

Just to complicate matters further, there are also Marines aboard Galactica which conform more closely to the traditional enlisted Marine ranks, with Sergeants, Sergeant-Majors, etc. Unresolved is the question of whether the Marine officers would also adhere to the mixed rank structure (which sounds odd) or if they are strictly army equivalents (which makes no sense given that the "Navy" ranks seem oblivious to there being any such distinction). Aren't you glad you asked?

"Please do something about the consumables questions; fuel, food, ammo, clothing etc., where is this stuff coming from?"

Water is addressed in... uh, "Water." Fuel is addressed in "Hand of God". Other consumables will be addressed in the second season.

" Will we see the mess hall and other part of the ship such as the main Kitchen where all the meals are prepared."

I'd like to. It's a question of budget; there has to be a story point or scene so cool that we just have to build this set. The Head (bathroom to you lubbers) was built in the pilot specifically so we'd have it around during the series.

"was this the first show to ever show a Bathroom on a space ship?"

It's ground-breaking TV, baby. Talk about reinventing the genre.

" Please show more of the blue collar guys keeping everything in check on the other ships. Guys that would have clocked out and gone home had the holocaust not happened. Not really a question sorry."

We have plans for this in the second season. Cally, for instance, never planned to stay in the service and her enlistment was nearly up at the time of the attack.

"Minor question: was Galactica ever re-commissioned? As I recall, the ship was decommissioned right before the Cylon attack. It'd be nice to show the ceremony if they ever get a free moment. "

It's an interesting point. Might be something to play at some point, but more really as an "Oh, I haven't thought about it, but..." kind of thing.

"Major question: it looks like discipline hasn't really improved on the ship in the first few episodes. In some ways, it's getting worse. Adama didn't help matters at all in "Litmus" when he essentially declared himself to be above the law. "

Security and discipline are definitely problems on Galactica and they're not going away. The ship was far from the best of the best at the time of its retirement and the people on board weren't either. The discipline was lax and many procedures had been allowed to fall by the wayside. Now, this ship and its crew are forced to operate far above what they considered to be the norm and it's not an easy transition for any of them.

This was a deliberate creative choice. It's one thing for the finest ship, with the finest crew to deal with the end of the world and a long flight from a relentless enemy, it's quite another when you were just a bunch of people trying to get by. I find it a more challenging and interesting environment to tell stories in and I find these people more heroic in their actions just by the nature of the obstacles they have to overcome in their day to day existence.

"The question I would really like to see addressed is how to reconcile the underlying quest of Battlestar Galactica with actual scientific plausiability. The quest of Battlestar Galactica is to find Earth, the 13th Colony. However, it is a basic and well-substantiated tenet of science that human life here on Earth evolved slowly from a primate ancestor. Attempts to deny evolution based on the notion that human kind deserves a far more worthy origin than what evolution details, are a diservice to the pursuit of scientific truth and endeavors in our own world. There was always that reactionary sense to the original series, which drove it away from a secure standing as *science* fiction. How will the new series avoid this pitfall?"

I don't have a direct answer for this question yet. There are a couple of notions rolling around in my head as to how we reconcile the very real fact of evolution with the Galactica mythos, but I haven't decided which approach to take. However, it was a fundamental element of the orginal Galactica mythos that "Life here began out there..." and I decided early on that it was crucial to maintain it.

"My boss at my place of employment has a father named John C. Agathon who was the radar navigator of a B-24 Liberator bomber that was shot down in WWII. He spent some time running from the nazi's and hiding in farm houses until he finally managed to make his way to friendly territory. Oh and I double-checked with my boss and his father DID sustain a leg injury related to the crash.

It could just be a coincidence, but it's one hell of a coincidence. "

It is one hell of a coincidence.

"Its highly unlikley that episodes 1 thru 13 were filmed in chronological order. Can you tell us in which order they were filmed in. This might give the veiwers a little more insight as to how the cast bonded over the shooting schedule as well as explain how some preformances might be rigid in certain episodes and become more flushed out in others."

Actually, the episodes were all filmed chronologically. You're probably confusing the production order with how individual episodes are filmed, which is not chronological. Scenes within an episode are often filmed out of sequence for efficiency, i.e. shooting all the CIC scenes, then all the Hangar Deck scenes, then all the Colonial One scenes, etc.

"How did you come to decide upon Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell for their roles? This kind of project seems somewhat out of their typical genre - did either have second thoughts about taking on the project?"

Eddie and Mary were actually the archetypes for the characters when we were developing the series. David Eick and I used to sit around and talk about what kind of actors would play Adama and Laura and we always talked about these two Oscar level actors as our dream duo for the series, but we never really thought we'd get them. They've told the story themselves of why they decided to do the project, but in essence, they really responded to the pilot script and saw a lot of potential in the characters so they went for it, to our everlasting gratitude.

February 4, 2005
Trek goes back to the Fans

Now that Enterprise has been cancelled, we're about to enter a period not seen since the orignal series ended its run just a few weeks before Apollo 11 landed on the moon: a time without a Star Trek film or TV project on the horizon. From the reaction I've seen thus far, the consensus view seems to be that this is merely a pause in the trek, and that before too long, we'll be talking about the newest take on Roddenberry's universe, be it television, feature, animation or sock puppet. I tend to agree, insofar as I know first hand that Viacom considers "the Franchise" to be one of their crown jewels and I've personally heard them refer to the "next fifty years of Star Trek" as a corporate priority.

So Star Trek isn't dead and it isn't dying. It has, however, entered into an interregnum, a pause in the treadmill of overlapping productions that have become the norm for the series that was once considered "too cerebral for television."

Certainly there is sadness in this news. There has been a Star Trek production either in prep or being filmed on Stages 8 & 9 on the Paramount lot since 1977, when Star Trek: Phase Two began initial construction for a second series featuring all the original characters but Spock (these sets were then revamped for Star Trek: The Motion Picture). An entire infrastructure has been built around the productions, staffed by people whose involvement in the Franchise goes back over two decades. The dedication, passion, and talent of these artisans and craftsmen cannot be overstated. The unsung heroes of Trek, the people who sweat every detail, who take the time to think through continuity and try to make the vast universe consistent, people like Mike and Denise Okuda, Dave Rossi, Michael Westmore, Herman Zimmerman, Bob Blackman, and many others, are about to leave and take with them an enormous body of knowledge and talent that cannot be and will not be replicated again. That is cause for both tears and eulogies as the close of Enterprise signals the true end of an era.

However, there is another side of this story, one that perhaps is somewhat more hopeful and positive: Star Trek has now been returned to the care of its community of fans.

I say returned because there was a time when the fans were the exclusive owners and operators of what would later become the Franchise. From 1969 until 1979, a genuine grassroots movement of fans gathered together in conventions, published newsletters (in the primordial ooze of the pre-internet era, no less), wrote scads of fan fiction, created their own props and uniforms, and dreamed the dream of what it was to live aboard the good ship Enterprise.

I was one of those fans; I was a kid growing up in the 1970's who found Star Trek in strip syndication and bought every book and magazine I could lay my hands on and every piece of fan merchandise I could con my parents into buying and I can tell you that some of those efforts were abysmal and some were brilliant, but all of them were driven by a sense of passion rooted in a belief that Trek was our secret club. We, the fans, embroidered the Trek tapestry while the powers that be at Paramount dawdled. In those years, the best stories told not those written by Gene or any other "professional writers" (no offense to the short-lived, but well intentioned animated series), but by people like Sondra Marshak, Myrna Culbreath, and Jacqueline Lichtenberg. Who are they? Fans. People who loved Star Trek and were able to breath life into it during the interregnum between the show and the Franchise.

Star Trek now returns to the care of its fans and its fans can decide for themselves what kind of experience they want to have during this next interregnum. They can consume the seemingly endless licensed products available to them from the Franchise, everything from barware to shower curtains, and read only the mainstream, officially licensed and sanctioned books, or they can go their own way. Some of the most daring and creatively challenging Star Trek material has been created not by Paramount, but by amateurs, who simply had an idea for an interesting twist on the Trek universe. Think Kirk and Spock were secret lovers? Wonder about the social and cultural history of the planet Vulcan? Believe the Mirror Universe is more fascinating than our own? All these topics and many others were, and are, tackled by fans in their own fiction, their own stories, their own dreams.

Step back from the merchandising. Rediscover the joy and wonder of the universe Roddenberry created. Talk to people who share your common interest and who understand the difference between phaser mark I and mark II (duh!). You don't need another series to enjoy Star Trek. You need only your own imagination and the desire to boldly go where no man has gone before.