Tuesday 11 June 2013


This is a generally overlooked footnote in the history of the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: the syndicated tele-movie package hastily assembled from the just-cancelled TV show and sold to local stations in the Fall of 1980.

Universal must have been pretty bummed when ABC pulled the plug on the show a year earlier.  The studio's business plan was to take a hit on the high up-front cost of production (deficit financing) on the assumption that the money would later be recouped from a successful after-life in the world of syndicated reruns.  Battlestar - obviously - also had numerous other revenue generators including overseas theatrical releases, merchandising and the BATTLE FOR GALACTICA attraction on the studio tour.

But - for all those ancillary aspects to deliver - the show had to remain on-the-air.  Syndication relied on the ability for local stations to strip schedule a show daily for months at a time.  That needed at least three seasons of material (the original STAR TREK) or - ideally - 100+ episodes from a show that had been on-air for five years (the economics of TV, and the diminishing returns of syndication, ironically made adding additional seasons less lucrative because the original costs of production tended to edge upwards faster than the additional syndicated revenue from having extra shows).  Battlestar had only one season, making it an unattractive (albeit high profile) buy for local station managers.

So the studio borrowed from how other prematurely-cancelled shows (like KOLCKAK: THE NIGHT STALKER and PLANET OF THE APES) had snuck back on air: recutting the existing inventory into TV movies.

Larson had made the job easier by producing a higher-than-average number of two-part stories over the course of the season (partially a legacy of the original plan to shoot a series of occasionally-scheduled TV movies) so those were reworked simply by slicing-out titles and recaps and bolting the two parts together.  As with the theatrical release of the pilot, the opening episode was truncated for television.

The single episodes were more problematic.  The easiest way would simply have been to glue the two stories together with an obvious beginning-middle-end to each part.  New World Video did this for their TOUR OF DUTY and CRIME STORY rental releases, and CIC Video did likewise for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and WAR OF THE WORLDS.

Universal's far more creative solution was to weave the two unrelated plots, helped by some sneaky editing and dubbing, into one (fairly coherent) storyline.  The results are surprisingly satisfying.

The episode guide below, from STARLOG issue 39 (October 1980), outlines the plots of the ten tele-flicks.  The origins of the most are obvious but - for the record - the 'new' movies are as follows:
- THE PHANTOM IN SPACE (The Lost Warrior & Hand of God)
- SPACE PRISON (The Man With Nine Lives & Baltar's Escape)
- SPACE CASANOVA (Take the Celestra & The Long Patrol)
- CURSE OF THE CYLONS (Fire in Space and The Magnificent Warriors)
- MURDER IN SPACE (Murder on the Rising Star & The Young Lords)

EXPERIMENT IN TERRA extended the standard-length original episode with a specially-shot new opening sequence (involving a NASA astronaut finding Adama's log adrift in space) and footage lifted from GALACTICA 1980's Return of Starbuck.  The remainder of G80, despite containing several double-length stories, was (wisely) ignored.

MISSION GALACTICA: THE CYLON ATTACK (the original promotional art for which was used to accompany the Starlog piece) and CONQUEST OF THE EARTH were both omitted from the package, possibly because they were assembled by Universal's theatrical - rather than television - division.

The package was never sold to British TV (all three of the theatrical releases have been shown however) but most of the movies did turn-up, without explanation, in an amazingly-shoddy (a very flimsy silver cardboard box housing - from memory - six tapes) BATTLESTAR GALACTICA VHS box set just as the format was being superseded by DVD.

None of the movies - along with CONQUEST OF THE EARTH - have ever been released on DVD.  I doubt they have been seen on TV anywhere for decades.

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