Saturday, April 4, 1970

Babylon 5

Created, produced, and mostly written by J. Michael Straczynski, Babylon 5 is my favorite television show of all time. The show ran for five seasons, from 1994 to 1999, although the initial pilot titled The Gathering originally ran more than a year before the first season started. This more or less highlights the struggles that Straczynski faced in getting this show on the air and getting through the entire five year story.

These troubles probably stem from the fact that Babylon 5 was a show that was built using a structure that was new then, and hasn't really been repeated since. The show was conceived, not as an open ended sequence of mostly stand alone unrelated stories featuring the same characters and setting, but rather as a coherent overarching story that would run through the entire series and had a beginning, a middle, and an end planned out from the start. To a network executive used to being called upon to green light generic sitcoms, bland police procedural shows, and crappy medical dramas featuring doctors who kill their patients while they fall in love, the idea of a series constructed essentially as a novel on television must have been as alien as the Pak'ma'ra.

And though some series have made half-hearted attempts to emulate this idea and incorporate an overarching story line into their structure, none have actually done the necessary foundational work to make this actually work. As a result, more recent shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and Heroes, though they have something resembling an ongoing story, simply fall apart as the writers fumble about improvising without direction, resulting in extended stories that simply make no sense. In short, Babylon 5 demonstrates that in order to craft a coherent extended story, you pretty much have to know where you are going from the start.

Though the show struggled, and was almost cancelled at the end of the fourth season, it did complete its five year story arc. The show also spawned a lamentably brief spin-off show titled Crusade, which was famously undermined and killed by TNT executives with the brain capacity of rodents. In addition, the show resulted in several made for television movies, a never followed-up upon pilot for a series that was to be titled Legend of the Rangers, a stand alone DVD called The Lost Tales, and a pile of printed spin-off material, including the publication of every script written for the series, a compilation of the thousands of fan questions that J. Michael Straczynski personally answered online, and a number of related novels.

The Gathering

Season One: Signs & Portents
Season Two: The Coming of Shadows
Season Three: Point of No Return
Season Four: No Surrender, No Retreat
Season Five: The Wheel of Fire

In the Beginning
River of Souls
A Call to Arms


Legend of the Rangers
The Lost Tales
No Surrender, No Retreat DVD Suite

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  1. If I ony liked you before, I certainly love you now. Joe Straczynski has been my hero for years. He fought like ad to get B5 on the air, and did it. The ironic thing is, if he talks to a producer now, quite often they want to know if he's able to handle a multi-season story arc, like they don't realize he invented it. He's on Facebook, an I've known him for donkey's years...

    1. @Unknown: Thanks. I love JMS and his work. I really enjoyed his recent work on Sense 8.