Let me just, against my better wishes, dive in here for just a
moment on this discussion. Especially as it relates to your slam against
the characters and characterizations on B5.
People keep comparing the B5 pilot to either the DS9 pilot or the
TNG pilot, often favorably, sometimes less so, but the reality is that the
B5 pilot had to suffer under a burden shared by neither of those two other
shows: establishing a whole new universe, especially given that the B5
story is more of a political/action piece in which you really have to
understand where everyone's coming from. By the time they got around to
making the TNG pilot, just about everyone knew what a Klingon was, what
the Federation was, what phasers and teleporters were...this was all
established cultural coin. When Jay Leno would make jokes about Klingons
on the Carson show (which it still was back then), he didn't have to
explain it to anyone. There's 25 years of shared history informing the
story. Same in DS9Thus in neither pilot was that much
really or substantially *new* introduced, they didn't have to create the
universe from scratch.
But that was exactly what was necessary for B5; the relationship
between the five various governments is important to understanding the
characters, and the show...as is the recent Earth/Minbari war, which isn't
just backstory, it's something that will grow to play an increasingly
important role in the series as time passes. So there had to be time
spent establishing each of those relationships, the political backstory,
on and on. In addition, we had 9 major characters to introduce along with
the minor players. AND we had to tell a fairly complex story within that
After you allocate tthe history of the B5 universe, for the
establishment of the plot, for the establishment of who our various
players are in relation to one another, you've got -- at MOST -- 3 minutes
left per character out of a 92 minute movie. You can't establish a lot of
character in 3 minutes.
Which is what strikes me as unfair in this conversation. You're
trying to compare 25-30 years of ST in its various incarnations, with its
delivery of characterization over A WEEKLY SERIES to a single introductory
TV movie of 92 minutes.
Plus, the pilot was never meant to be a stand-alone; it was meant to
get all the pieces moving, introduce us, and follow up the very next week
with *character-oriented stories*. That was always the plan. Had I known
that it would be aired by itself, with a long delay until the series, I
would have totally restructured it to make it more of a character story,
and held off on the heavy background stuff until later. And in addition
to THAT, I again point to the 25 minutes of good character stuff that ended
up on the cutting room floor because we were over, some of which has been
shown to people at conventions. Some of them also felt as you do. They
saw the extra footage. And their reaction: "Oh, so THAT'S who that is!"
And their opinions of the characters did a fast turnaround.
So what I'm saying here, fundamentally, is this: let's compare apples
to apples and not apples to oranges. You can't compare B5 to either TNG's
or DS9's pilots, because they operated in pre-existing universes. You
can't compare the level of character you get in a series to a TV movie,
because one is 92 minutes long, the other is 22 hours long times the number
of seasons run.
If you want to compare things, and that's certainly your right, may I
suggest a moratorium on this entire discussion until the series comes on
the air? That will allow you to compare series to series, which seems just
a tad fairer to me. Any seconds?
| This text is compiled from posts by J. Michael Straczynski on the Usenet
| group alt.tv.babylon-5. This document contains material Copyright 1993
| J. Michael Straczynski. He has given permission for his words to be
| redistributed online, as long as they are marked as being copyright JMS.
| This document, as well as other Babylon-5 related material, is available
| by anonymous FTP at ftp.hyperion.com.
One thing we're trying to do on B5 in this respect is to really use
three-dimensional space, on the full x-y-z axis for ship movements and
the like. Opens up all kinds of wonderful opportunities.
Thanks. The process has sometimes not been easy. More often than
not, one runs into fairly blunt opinions. But that's part of the process.
Many people I know in the TV or film business have tried to maintain such
a line, and just get turned off or insulted and go away. Or they come in
briefly to get the PR invovled, a la "Sneakers," and then they're gone. A
few stay...George Martin, others. And sometimes it's very hard to take it
on the chin from someone you've never met, who's just called something you
worked on for five years "crap" and sometimes for reasons that are more in
the perception than the reality (such as the internet user who flamed me
for using wrist links when it's clearly established that in the future we
will all be using chest-communicators a la TNG, and thus every time I used
our links it broke the illusion for him)....
But in the long run, it's been, and continues to be more of a positive
experience than a negative one. Because some of the criticisms have merit,
and need to be addressed. Other times, hard questions get asked, and I
have to sit down and really think about this character or that situation,
and in doing so, those answers end up helping the show. Every day, I find
anywhere from 30-60 messages in my GEnie box, most of them Internet relays,
and it's like opening a puzzle box...you're never entirely sure what you're
going to find inside.
And most of the messages are informed, and literate, and challenging,
which is the part I enjoy most. As for the rest...my sense is this: a long
time ago, when we began this journey -- and I've been on-line talking about
B5 on the nets for several *years* now -- the one thing that was foremost
in my mind was the sense that SF media fans are probably the most exploited
such fans around. They're expected to be cash cows who line up and buy
the products, no talking or shoving in the lines, and for god's sake no
questions or hassle. They're often valued for as long as they continue to
buy the merchandise. Every year, producers who don't know SF, and don't
know fandom, and really don't care, trundle out their shows as the Next
Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, raise a lot of attention...and when the show
turns into crap, they're suddenly nowhere to be found.
When the pilot aired, I stuck around. And I'll do all I can to stick
around while the series is airing. (The only glitches may be when I'm hip
deep in production.) This is my audience, and I feel that one should be
responsive and receptive to one's audience, and not run out when things get
uncomfortable. You knew the job was dangerous when you took it. See, the
thing is, I *am* a fan, and I've *been* a fan, from a kid growing up on
Bradbury and Clarke and Tolkein and Doc Smith to the present...I've sat in
the audience and listened to those aforementioned producers at conventions
and waited, only to be disappointed.
And when the time came to do B5, I swore that I'd try and do it
differently...that there would be an ongoing dialogue with the viewers of
the show, that we'd listen and be responsive and not just exploit, and if
we didn't have answers to the hard questions then by god we'd go and we'd
GET the answers. Or look like idiots. Because it's the fans who keep
this medium alive, and to ingore that aspect seems to me inappropriate.
"Would it be fair to compare the original ST pilot to B5's pilot?"
No, it would not. Because there is nothing in common with them other
than that they are both SF. You can compare TNG to DS9 to TOS, because
they're in the same universe.
Would it be fair to compare Cagney and Lacey with NYPD Blue? After
all, they're both cop shows. But in fact, they're not the same kind of
cop show; they share the same genre, but there ends the overlap. The two
shows are distinct, separate entities, just as Harlan Ellison's work is
distinct from Bill Gibson's work, even though both incorprorate elements
The ST pilot existed in its own universe, and was primarily an action
show. The B5 pilot exists in its own universe, and primarily sets the
stage for a political mystery/intrigue series. It wasn't meant to serve
the same functions as the ST pilot.
It seems to me that many SF fans continue to compare everything to
ST because that's their primary frame of reference, and they continue to
apply it whether it's relevant or not. My suggestion...get another frame
Once again, there's a lot of false analogies here in any attempt to
compare pilots, as in this TOS and B5 thread. You're talking about
transporters and other *technological* items. And you're right, they
didn't explain their tech. Neither did we, with the exception of the
changling net in the pilot, and only because it was a plot point. We
didn't explain how the jump gates worked, how centrifugal force kept the
gravity in place, or any of that.
The difference isn't *technology*, it's *context*. Once again, B5 is
in many ways a *political* story. Consequently it's necessary to explain
who the players are in some detail, something that ST didn't have to
worry about. If you're reading a political thriller about the U.S. and
the (now defunct) USSR, it helps a lot to know who's who.
Also, when ST started, there wasn't really a clear agenda, a place
that they were going, story-wise. B5 is a novel for TV. And that puts
on some pressures and problems other shows don't have. Others may not
see it that way, but it isn't their call. It's my call, and I stand
behind it, even while seeing some of the flaws in the pilot.
All of which again points up the...well, *pointlessness* of trying
to compare the two shows. Compare MASH to ALL IN THE FAMILY. They're
both comedies. The similarity ends there. Everything doesn't have to
be comparable or dissectable (to coin a term) in reference to ST.
The first one-hour episode of the series, "Midnight on the Firing
Line," does a fair amount of re-introduction, for those who've seen the
pilot and need to be up to speed, and some introducing for those who
haven't. It is, however, largely an action-oriented story, into which we
weave the characterization. It manages to convey some of the same info as
the pilot, but in a *much* more dramatic fashion.
Then again, by the definition you apply, no good characterization
can be done, no surprises can come along, in a novel, since a novel is
generally planned out and outlined prior to being written.
But in fact you CAN do solid characterizations in novels; if anything
a novel-like approach (as with B5) lets you do *more* characterization by
virtue of constructing a whole person.
I would also point you toward "The Prisoner," which had a definite
story, a definite beginning, middle and end, but is very MUCH a character
story, with lots of surprises.
In any event, you may want to check out the series before pronouncing
judgment...who knows, you might just be...surprised.
The other problem with "Twin Peaks," of course, is that they opened
up a lot of questions, but never *really* answered any of them. In B5,
every question we ask, will be answered.
(I would also, btw, not characterize B5 as a "mystery" series; like
Casablanca, it's a character-based story which uses intrigue and mystery
to heighten the characters.)
"It (B5) will be a show that is not based on characters but based on
Point a gun at someone's head. See how it affects them. Is the
resultant story about the gun, or about the person it's aimed at?
On all of the series I've worked on, the one strong suit I've found,
the only story I'm really interested in telling, is a character story. I
am not a big mystery fan. What I enjoy are the characters. While the
background of our series forms a low-level subtext, every single story
produced so far this season is a character story. Very *strong*
character story. The only episode in which it's a little light is in
the first episode, because we kind of re-establish our cast after the
delay of the pilot. Even so, there's more character stuff there than in
the pilot, by quite a lot. And the very next episode up, "Soul Hunter,"
is an extremely powerful character story.
Anyway, it kind of amuses me to see someone say that B5 "will be"
one kind of show or another. The only person who knows what the B5 story
will be is at this end of the keyboard. And that *ain't* it.
Thank you. Be assured that we are working very hard not to
disappoint you, and I don't think we will. This is, as you perceive,
not just another job for most of us involved with Babylon 5. It is a
labor of love by those who enjoy SF, *for* those who enjoy SF. It's the
show that *we* would want to watch, as fans. Many of us are putting in
20 hour days, fighting to make every frame just right, because it means a
lot to us...and it is our hope that someday it may mean as much to others.
Re: jms/jms...don't worry. Everybody misspells Straczynski.
The advance plotting on the series has made the show neither more nor
less difficult. It's mainly just...*different*. In addition to threading
the arc through many episodes (sometimes in a big way, sometimes in very
small, subtle ways), you've often got an A and a B story, plus we've got
14 regular and recurring characters (though not all 14 appear in every
episode), all of whom have their *own* individual character arcs...and
that's a LOT of balls to keep up in the air at any given moment. What it
HAS done is to enrich the texture of all of our individual episodes. You
get a) a genuine sense that there are PEOPLE in your story, each with his
or her own life, agenda, problems, and b) that these people are GOING
somewhere, that there's a submerged thread that ties them together that is
slowly, gradually coming into view.
This is a trick that I've learned to do on earlier shows, in different
ways. On Captain Power, we had an arc for that series, though less complex
than this one...and we learned how to drop in just a reference here or
there, continuing the feeling of a spider at the center of the story that,
when it moved, caused the whole web to vibrate slightly. Also, on the
animated series The Real Ghostbusters, I had to write/story edit on two
levels...making sure the show was understandable to non-adults, while
at the same time slipping things in that only adults could appreciate. The
younger audience wouldn't get the references, but they'd go by so fast
that they wouldn't notice, and that wouldn't get in the way of enjoying the
story. (And we got REAL obscure...an episode story requiring the presence
of a specific small group of eskimos in order to conduct a ritual was
explained to someone as "sort of an Inuit minyan." Probably only five
people on the planet caught that one, but hey, why not?)