Re: DS9 vs B5 comments

 Posted on 6/19/1995 by to

Ted: I think your note is even-handed and well considered. For me,
any one of the items you discuss being present isn't a big deal; it's the
cumulative effect of all of them being present in both shows, at the same
time, airing within weeks of one another.

The result of all this nearly killed B5 in its early stages, which
I think was the desired effect. You must understand that when B5 was
announced in the trades for the first time in November of that year (2-3
months prior to the announcement of DS9), in articles that described it
pretty succinctly (space station, rogues, renegades, all the usual H'wood
hype), it was often referred to as Warner's attempt to create a space
franchise (see above re: hype).

There has *long* been bad blood between Paramount and Warner Bros.
Particularly since Paramount was then already setting the blocks in place
to create its own network, and PTEN was being birthed right then, setting
the stage for major conflict. The number of syndicated stations is very
small, and the hours available per station equally small. Faced with
that kind of scenario, big guns tend to be pulled out.

Whatever the sequence of events might have been, the result was that
I ended up sitting in meetings with Warner execs who said, "How am I
supposed to sell this show? It's *identical* to DS9 in any way that
matters, the syndicated market can't sustain two identical shows like
this, and they've go the Star Trek name to entice station owners. Nobody
knows from 'Babylon 5.'"

Understand, since the debuts, the shows have gone off in different
directions, but we're talking the first season and the pilot. Nearly all
the articles described them as nearly identical at that stage. And the
details of character don't often play to TV execs who only see the broad
strokes, the "quick concept."

The fact that the two shows were so similar at that time, one a nobody
show from nowhere, the other bundled with the STAR TREK (tm) name, came
within an inch of killing Babylon 5. (Which wasn't helped by A Certain
Studio telling advertisers that B5 was going to be crap, cheaply produced,
and not to bother.) That's one of the main reasons why it took nearly a
period of four months before we finally got the go order for year one,
after everybody crunched the ratings, and the demos, and decided to take
a chance on it. And even THEN we were told, "The syndie market can't
sustain two shows like this; you're gonna get creamed."

Through the clipping service, I saw one newspaper/magazine article
after another calling B5 a "clone" of DS9. Because they considered them
identical. Many ST fans felt the same way, and said so, openly. "Jeez,
they copied EVERYthing," one noted. Now, when we point out which really
came first, suddenly some of these same folks say, "Nah...they're not
alike at ALL. Don't be silly."

One could get whiplash from such a thing.

To step back a second, the reality is that this sort of thing happens
in hollywood all the time. When "The Abyss" was being produced, several
other films with identical concepts were rushed forward (remember Deepstar
7 or 9 or whatever that was?). Consequently, one of the things you most
protect are the details of your project. You don't want a possible
competitor to know what you're doing. Unfortunately, right there in the
files at Paramount was every last detail about how we were going to do B5,
the station, the stories, everything.

Now, I'm sure that the Paramount execs said, "No, no...we won't look
at it, we won't open the drawer, we'll remain pure and virginal and even
though we're trying to beat Warners in creating a new network, even though
they're threatening to break our monopoly on space/future shows, we won't
open that file drawer, no sir."

They could not possibly have said, "Okay, open the file drawer.
Let's take a peek at what they're going to do. We won't copy it, exactly,
but knowing what they're doing will allow us to co-opt a little of their
franchise, enough to cut them off at the knees in the marketplace. We
won't tell Berman or Pillar about this, because they would never go along
with it, but we'll just *guide* them here and there. We give notes all
the time in development, who's to know where they came from?"

And just to be clear, so the sarcasm doesn't get in the way: I have
never, *ever* felt, or believed, or thought, that Berman or Pillar EVER
saw or knew about the B5 information. Had anyone suggested anything of a
less than straightforward nature, they would have refused; of that I have
no doubt. No sarcasm, that's what I think.