Tuesday 18 November 2014


TV Uber Producer Glen A. Larson (of eponymous TV production company fame) died at the weekend aged 77.  So here are 77 factoids about his Star Age productions:

1.     Larson was drafted in to save THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN after ABC rejected the creative direction of the first TV movie.  Larson reinvented Steve Austin as a bionic James Bond and even drafted in Dusty Springfield to croon the new theme.  The network wasn’t convinced Larson was the right man for the gig but did commission a weekly series without his direct involvement. 
2.     BATTLESTAR owes its origins to another Larson idea concocted a decade earlier.  ADAM’S ARK sent the last survivors of the destruction of the Earth out into space.  Battlestar flipped the idea and added Star Age paraphernalia.
3.     Despite the sheer number of STAR WARS knock-offs released during the Star Age, only Larson was sued by 20th Century Fox.  Universal counter-sued, claiming Lucas had ripped-off their SILENT RUNNING.  The lawyers were busy for longer than the show remained in production but Larson eventually emerged victorious. 
4.     Before the lawsuit, Larson met with the STAR WARS team to try and avoid stepping on their toes.  One of the edicts he readily agreed to was “no laser blasts”.  That made TV post-production easier as it meant less pricy effects work.
5.     BATTLESTAR GALACTICA should have been a series of occasional (initially three) TV movies.  ABC upped the ante and ordered a full series after they saw the rushes of the pilot.
6.     Larson took advantage of the brief hiatus between STAR WARS films to swoop on some of the behind-the-scenes talent.  John Dykstra and his team provided the all-important SFX (but baulked at TV’s different ways of working and bailed-out during Lost Planet of the Gods) and ace artist Ralph McQuarie supplied much of the pre-production art, including the ship and hardware designs (and even a draft of what became the poster key art). 
7.     MEDIASCENE ran an extensive preview of the series in its January 1978 issue, months before principal photography even commenced. 
8.     Larson cashed-in by not only taking payments for being the creator, writer and showrunner, he also muscled in and claimed co-writer status for the show’s excellent theme and also claimed to be the principle author of each of the novelizations (even when they were based on episodes he didn’t originally write… or band-new fiction).  Ironically, the novels only seemed to have a tenuous grasp on the format and characters anyway. 
9.     The first entry in BATTLESTAR’s Expanded Universe was the sixth issue of Marvel’s monthly comic.  They abandoned the show’s post-Lost Planet of the Gods continuity in favour of their own parallel chronology.  And wasted no time in killing-off Baltar.  The title eventually ran for 23 issues before falling sales, and lack of TV support, sealed its fate. 
10.  Muffet the Daggit, key to the show’s merchandising efforts, was actually a chimp called Evie.
11.  The Cylon Imperious Leader looks like a humanoid lizard because they were living beings, at least until ABC’s censors intervened, and made them all a race of robots to avoid an unacceptably high death toll.
12.  One of McQuarrie’s rejected Viper designs was recycled the following season as the hero Star Fighter in BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY.
13.  A Universal film unit were dispatched, with a trunk of costumes, to gather footage in Egypt for Lost Planet of the Gods.  Fat-bummed locals doubled for the principle cast.
14.  The BATTLESTAR GALACTICA movie (a shorter edit of the TV pilot) was first released in Canadian cinemas in the summer of 1978, months before the US TV premiere.  The movie version hit the UK the following year and was even released in US cinemas AFTER the show was cancelled. 
15.  A second movie, MISSION GALACTICA: THE CYLON ATTACK, did the international rounds in 1980 to capitalize on the success of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  No new material was shot and all the footage came from episodes (The Living Legend and Fire in Space) shot two years earlier. 
16.  The third movie, CONQUEST OF THE EARTH, wrapped-up the unofficial trilogy.  It was a messy compilation of GALACTICA 1980 episodes.  The editors had to cut around challenges like the recasting of Doctor Zee between pilot and (brief) series.  Unlike its predecessors, it’s seldom seen today. 
17.  There were two UK hardback annuals inspired by the first two movies.  Both contained new strips and illustrated text stories. 
18.  Robin Williams inadvertently killed BATTLESTAR when ABC (fairly disastrously as it turned out) moved their break-out hit MORK AND MINDY into Battlestar’s old slot in 1979.  The bean counters reasoned that the cheaper three camera sitcom would score better ratings at a fraction of the cost.  Wrong.  It’s a myth that poor ratings killed the show.  It debuted with 65 million viewers (thrashing both the 1978 Emmy Awards and the premiere of the poorly received KING KONG remake) and settled down to lower weekly audiences but still figures that, for any other show (with a lower price ticket) would have been considered a hit.
19.  The TV version of BATTLESTAR didn’t reach British screens until 1980.  And, even then, it was left to each ITV region to schedule at their leisure.  It wasn’t networked until BBC TWO picked-up reruns later in the decade.
20.  GALACTICA 1980 took four years to touch down in the UK.  Unsurprisingly, ITV tucked it away in off-peak slots.
21.  The initial BBC run was far from complete.  Saga of a Star World and The Living Legend were both deemed off-limits by the distributor because ITV still held the rights to the movie versions.  Oddly, Fire In Space was scheduled but had to be pulled at the last minute because it would have aired the day after the Kings Cross fire disaster.  It was never rescheduled.  BUCK ROGERS also lost its pilot (for the same reason) but, strangely, Space Vampire was also deemed unsuitable for its 6pm slot.  ITV didn’t seem bothered when they aired it on Saturday nights a few years earlier. 
22.  BATTLESTAR GALACTICA has subsequently been seen (usually with the “lost” episodes restored) on BBC TWO (again), SKY ONE, THE SCI-FI CHANNEL and BRAVO.  Phew.  GALACTICA 1980 is usually thrown-in as freebie. 
23.  Dirk Benedict was cast as Starbuck despite the objections of the network.  When the character became the breakout star of the show, more and more scripts resolved around the character. 
24.  Experiment in Terra should have been another Benedict script but Richard Hatch, concerned he was being marginalized, complained and the names were swapped, making it an Apollo-centric outing. 
25.  The Cylon Fortress in The Young Lords was the Medieval Castle on the Universal backlot.  The backlot subsequently played host to the BATTLE FOR GALACTICA ride on the studio tour.  The state-of-the-art attraction saw trams of tourists kidnapped by the Cylons only to be rescued by a lone Colonial Warrior in a hail of laser blasts.
26.  Larson (possibly thanks to the gossipy network of SFX boffins) was able to get the jump on Lucas twice.  The Colonial Warriors deployed to an ice planet (albeit on the Universal lot) more than six months before Lucas decamped to Norway.  And BUCK ROGERS had an asteroid field (in Return of the Fighting 69th) a year before THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. 
27.  The Viper cockpit sequences were shot against back projection screens, which forced the cast to react to the footage in real time. 
28.  BATTLESTAR indirectly caused two deaths: a child choked on a missile from the Mattel Viper toy (leading to a recall, amendments to standards and the end of plans for a rocket-firing back pack on Kenner’s Boba Fett figure).  After ABC cancelled the show, a distraught teenage fan committed suicide. 
29.  The road to newsstands was not an easy one for Marvel’s BATTLESTAR comic book.  The creative team on the movie adaptation had to battle with the usual problems of early deadlines versus last-minute Hollywood revisions.  And then, to make matters worse, someone forgot to check the final version with the studio before it was printed.  Universal bulked at some of the art and ordered the entire run pulped.  A (unlabelled) second printing was signed-off and emerged in magazine, treasury and paperback editions.
30.  The adaptation, reworked to eliminate the “mistakes” from the original, also formed the first three issues of the monthly book.  The following two months adapted, for the first time, the TV story Lost Planet of the Gods.  Thanks to a weird licensing agreement, Marvel could only feature TV elements introduced in these five broadcast hours and couldn’t incorporate anything from subsequent shows.  They also didn’t bother with GALACTICA 1980. 
31.  A second (after the movie adaptation) comic strip paperback reprinted the 4-6th issues of Marvel’s BATTLESTAR strips.
32.  Dez Skinn, of Marvel UK, didn’t think that BATTLESTAR was going to be another STAR WARS sized hit and knew it wouldn’t support a similar weekly.  And the lack of material would have made it impossible anyway.  He proposed, and Fox rejected, a plan to rerun the strips as the regular back-up in STAR WARS WEEKLY.  With that plan sunk, he created STAR HEROES as a new vehicle for the reprints.  He tested the new launch (which also included the Micronauts, a toy tie-in already established in SWW) with a 1979 Winter Special.  It may have escaped Skinn’s attention but the reprints of the 4th and 5th US issues teased a TV story that wouldn’t air in the UK for another year.
33.  STAR HEROES, deemed a success, returned the following year as part of the new (smaller) Pocket Books line.  It lasted for a year until the 23 US issues were all exhausted.  
34.  A weird bit of licensing meant that LOOK-IN was also able to publish a new BATTLESTAR strip for twelve months, overlapping with Marvel’s reprints.  A similar arrangement surfaced with THE A-TEAM a few years later. 
35.  The LOOK-IN BATTLESTAR strip was retired after a year, replaced by BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY. 
36.  BUCK ROGERS star Gil Gerrard was embroiled in a long-running dispute with the show’s first season writing team over the quality of the scripts.  The battle culminated in a PR meltdown interview with STARLOG magazine.  The writing staff were all sacked, or quit, by the end of the season. 
37.  Recurring BUCK ROGERS guest star, Pamela Hensley, can be found as a series regular on the (unfortunately as it’s quite good) long forgotten MATT HOUSTON for three seasons.  One episode bangs her up in a reheat of Spelling’s earlier Angels in Chains CHARLIE’S ANGELS episode.
38.  The flying bikes from GALACTICA 1980 started life as Land Probes for the original series.  The bikes were built, but then mothballed, when the script was pulled just before shooting was due to commence.  They’re mentioned, but not seen, in merchandise published in 1978 suggesting they were planned from early in production.
39.  Despite some revisionist marketing for the DVD release decades later, GALACTICA 1980 wasn’t the second season of Battlestar that Larson planned when shooting wrapped at the end of season one.  The revival came more than six months after cancellation.  In the meantime, the original cast had been released to other projects (and most declined to return), the standing sets (including the expansive Bridge) demolished and everything else put into storage or handed down to BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY. 
40.  GALACTICA 1980 had a very different remit.  It had to be cheaper to make, more accessible to Middle America, simpler to shoot and ready for delivery with a fast turnaround.  It was originally only a three-hour special intended to wrap-up the quest for Earth.  When ratings were higher than anticipated, the network ordered additional episodes to air within weeks.
41.  Richard Lynch was contracted as the show’s recurring villain… but he was already committed to filming overseas and didn’t make it back to the States until after the show was cancelled.  Britain’s Jeremy Brett was a one-episode stand-in, his new identity explained by a hitherto unmentioned ability to change faces at will. 
42.  William Daniels, the future voice of KITT, played a humanoid Cylon in the GALACTICA 1980 two-parter The Night The Cylons Landed.  The same story also revealed Centurions were susceptible to the damaging effects of a rogue domestic microwave.
43.  The revival’s finale, Return of Starbuck, was created (from an idea Larson had developed for the original series) out of desperation.  Larson needed a script that didn’t need the input of the principle cast (already flat-out shooting other episodes) and lured back Benedict (for what should have been the first of several appearances) to shoot the bulk of the episode off-lot. 
44.  Dirk Benedict encountered a Cylon one more time (he declined to be involved in the remake) in a famous improvised clip from his next regular gig THE A-TEAM.  He shot it, on the Universal backlot, for the episode Steel.  It later formed part of the main title sequence. 
45.  GALACTICA 1980’s dash-to-air left a dozen or so story ideas or full scripts at various stages of development but, ultimately, unfilmed. 
46.  The much derided Super Scouts, inserted into the format at the behest of the network, consisted of several members of Larson’s own extensive brood.  Another (not one of Larson’s own) graduated to be a murderer and was killed in a shootout with police. 
47.  Universal built full-sized versions of the Viper and Star Fighter for filming.  Other craft were just partial sets.  After filming ended, they were stored at an LA USAF base. 
48.  The two Corgi toy BUCK ROGERS’ Star Fighters had to redesigned to reduce the danger of injury from the two prongs at the front. 
49.  The Vipers in the original series were one-seater craft (with the exception of the one that transported Apollo and Adama to the surface of Caprica) but, by the time of GALACTICA 1980, they had become two-warrior craft.
50.  The long-lived UK BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Fan Club, publishers of a newsletter and occasional fanzines, was THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE. 
51.  Dirk Benedict was once a contestant in the UK version of BIG BROTHER.  He survived to become a runner-up.  He also starred as COLUMBO in a British stage adaptation of the famous TV detective. 
52.  Gil Gerrard, who struggled for years with weight issues, also starred in 1990’s eco series E.A.R.T.H FORCE.  It was cancelled after three episodes.
53.  Jane Seymour left the BATTLESTAR set on her last day of filming convinced that her character was about to be killed-off off-screen thanks to a nasty dose of radiation poisoning.  Larson had other ideas and wanted to add her to the regular cast.  She declined… and only returned on condition that she was killed-off (for good… except an inadvertent stock footage blooper in a later show) again. 
54.  The first BUCK ROGERS tie-in novel was an extended version of the pilot/ movie.  The second, THE BETA PIRATES, was adapted from an ultimately unused script.
55.  War Witch, the finale of the first season of BUCK ROGERS, pushed the boat out with an expanded budget and more effects work.  Universal were trying to convince NBC to renew the series and were possibly also mulling a second theatrical release overseas.
56.  The second season of BUCK ROGERS (Larson had no direct involvement but continued to cash the payments) was radically retooled in an attempt to boost ratings and shave some costs.  The new version, that sent Buck (and a much diminished Wilma) out into space with a new supporting cast to hunt down lost human colonies.  They didn’t have time to find many before the show was cancelled. 
57.  Lee Majors star of THE FALL GUY, helped to sell the show to the network by crooning the Larson-penned theme tune at the show’s pitch meeting.
58.  THE FALL GUY highlights include a charming cameo by Major’s ex in the closing moments of the pilot and a reunion with former Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner for season three.  Elvira appeared twice, in two Halloween-themed episodes, a year apart.
59.  Larson had to face losing his principal star in tragic circumstances twice.  And both times kept the show going, at least for a while.  Pete Duel committed suicide during ALIAS SMITH AND JONES and John-Erik Hexum died on the set of COVER UP when he accidently shot himself with a prop gun during a break in filming. 
60.   The COVER UP curse continued when, years later, JEH last-minute replacement, Australian model and future MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE star Antony Hamilton died of AIDS. 
61.  David Hasselhoff was already appearing in daytime soaps when NBC boss Brandon Tartikoff concluded he could be a star (The Hoff assumed he was hitting on him).  Ironically, Larson created the show because he wanted to update the LONE RANGER format and make the horse (KITT) the star and relegate the hero to unspeaking support.  It didn’t quite reach the screen like that.
62.  When the Hoff tried to demand more money to keep filming the hit show, he was told (in no uncertain terms) that “the car’s the star”.
63.  Larson swiped his own Cylon idea for KNIGHT RIDER’s KITT, borrowing both the scanner and accompanying sound effect. 
64.  William Daniels added KITT’s lines in post-production (a script assistant read them on-set) and the two stars didn’t even meet until the show’s first Christmas party. 
65.  Highlights from KNIGHT RIDER’s multi-year run included (the surprisingly dark) pilot movie, Trust Never Rusts and KITT Versus KARR (two episodes with KITT’s evil twin), Goliath and Goliath Returns (two epic confrontations with the Hoff’s evil – and campy – alter ego), Let It Be Me (the official start of the Hoff’s recording career) and Fright Knight (which features an extensive back lot tour… including a crashed Viper). 
66.  MANIMAL is one of Larson’s most famous creations… but it only lasted for six shows before being dumped for terrible ratings.  It was the butt of comedian’s jokes even before it debuted.  Critics took aim at its’ po-faced delivery, improbable premise (how did Jonathan Chase manage to get dressed again after his transformations?) and repetitive transformation effects. 
67.  Larson, once again well aware of what was selling at the cinema, created AUTOMAN.  The state-of-the-art technology, which (once again) weren’t matched by the scripts, utilised front-project material (and post-production) to create the Automan illusion. 
68.  THE HIGHWAYMAN started out as a pilot movie that combined BJ AND THE BEAR (the truck) with KNIGHT RIDER (it was super high-tech) in a contemporary setting.  It was notable for its star (former FLASH GORDON and b-movie regular) Sam Jones and Claudia Christian as his controller.  When it returned as a weekly series, it added MAD MAX to the mix and became a more overtly science fiction series.  The new supporting cast (in addition to a succession of regular Larson contributors as Guest Stars) included V’s Jane Badler.  It didn’t last long. 
69.  MANIMAL was a flop at home but sold well overseas.  Larson revisited the concept, and threw-in a daughter, time travel and Jack the Ripper for a back-door pilot masquerading as an episode of NIGHT MAN. 
70.  Another NIGHT MAN episode revisited THE HIGHWAYMAN by taking one of the trucks (Jetto’s) out of storage and mixing new material with stock footage.  Large chunks of the original script were also trotted out again. 
71.  William Conrad, paunchy star of CANNON, was Larson’s go-to man for title sequence voiceovers.  He also starred in Larson’s short-lived Hawaiian mystery series BATTLE.  
72.  NIGHT MAN, Larson’s last genre series, was based on the Malibu Ultraverse comic book character.  However, by the time the show kicked-off its two-season run, Malibu had been sold to rival Marvel Comics and, after an unsuccessful attempt to integrate the two universes, Marvel dropped the acquired characters including NM.  It’s the Marvel live-action series Marvel doesn’t like to talk about.  The character also appeared in one-episode of the short-lived animated ULTRA FORCE series, another victim of the company merger. 
73.  NIGHT MAN made extensive use of CGI SFX, although much of it (like the costume) looked pretty shoddy.
74.  Possibly returning an old favour, The Hoff returned to the Larson-verse for a cameo in the closing moments of the NIGHT MAN pilot. 
75.  British comic strip versions of Larson’s shows included BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (in LOOK-IN), BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY (in LOOK-IN followed by TV TOPS), KNIGHT RIDER (in LOOK-IN), THE FALL GUY (LOOK-IN) and AUTOMAN (in BEEB). 
76.  KNIGHT RIDER has been revived, in various forms, four times to date.  Larson retained a contractual credit but wasn’t involved.  KNIGHT RIDER 2000 was a TV movie that reunited the cast and should have spawned a new, more futuristic, series.  KNIGHT RIDER 3000 was an in-name-only teleflick that also failed to spawn a sequel or a weekly series.  TEAM KNIGHT RIDER, also for syndication, adopted the more-is-more approach and introduced a bunch of high tech vehicles.  ITV aired a couple of episodes before quietly dumping the one-season-wonder.  KNIGHT RIDER returned as a TV movie (with Hoff cameo) that spun-off a weekly series (without Hoff) that only managed to last a year.
77.  Larson was well known for building a large troop of go-to performers so expect to see familiar faces in many of his productions.  Make it a drinking game in Glen’s memory.  

There's actually a lot more I could write but 77 seemed a good number (especially to hit my self-imposed deadline) so I may look at expanding this in the future, or breaking in out into more specific shows.  Stay tuned...


  1. what an incredibly long post and a great tribute to a great man..well done

  2. Yes - you deserve a medal for researching and typing all that, Slow Robot !!! But I never knew that one of the stars of 'Alias Smith & Jones' had died while the series was still on air !!

  3. Such a huge loss. Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Knight Rider, Automan, and The Highwayman played a major role in defining my childhood.

    Great job on a tribute - more than a few things here I didn't know.


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