A promotional image for Battlestar Galactica's third season (2006-07).
The show launched to enormous ratings, but these fell drastically over the course of the first season. Combined with the show's eye-watering cost, ABC decided to cancel it and resurrect it two years later as Galactica 1980, a much lower-budged show meant more to appeal to kids. Galactica 1980 holds a strong claim to be the worst TV show ever made (with the solitary exception of a flashback episode set during the original series) and was quickly put out of its misery.
The original Battlestar Galactica had spectacular visual effects for 1978 but less impressive scripts.
A much more serious attempt followed in 2000. Producers Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto were the hot flavour of the month in Hollywood for the success of their movie X-Men and Singer, a huge fan of the original Battlestar Galactica, was determined to get the show launched again. His concept was similar to Hatch's and would have been a next generation reboot. Fox TV signed on, but were somewhat sceptical that BSG's relatively small fanbase could help propel the show to a larger audience, especially as it was a continuation. Nevertheless, the project moved to within a few weeks production starting (including some early set construction and lots of concept art being produced) when Fox put all new projects on hold in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Fox were slow to get the show moving again, so when Singer and DeSanto left the project to focus on the next X-Men movie, Fox let the idea lapse.
Promotional artwork for Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto's planned Battlestar reboot (2001).
Moore had cut his teeth as a very young writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which he'd joined in 1989 in its third season. He was just about the only staff writer to survive the chaotic third season into the fourth, and became a key creative lead on the show in its latter five seasons. When the show wrapped, he co-wrote the movies Generations and First Contact as well as moving over to Deep Space Nine for its third season, again playing a key creative role on that show. When Deep Space Nine wrapped in 1999, he moved over to Star Trek: Voyager but immediately found a much more restrictive creative environment. Moore was in particular frustrated by the fact that the starship Voyager was still clean and pristine despite being trapped on the other side of the galaxy with very limited chances for resupply. His feeling was that the show should have been darker, more challenging and engaged in more morally murky discussions about the morality of the Federation when a ship was put in a difficult position. The producers disagreed, feeling that cookie-cutter philosophising and constantly hitting a big red reset button at the end of every episode was the way forwards instead. Moore duly quit, going to work first on Roswell at the WB and then Carnivale at HBO.
Executive producer and showrunner Ronald D. Moore on the hanger set of Battlestar Galactica.
Moore penned the pilot and oversaw some elements of production, including exercising his desire for a slightly darker aesthetic than Star Trek and to have a completely new (for SF) way of shooting the action with handheld cameras, even the space scenes. Director Michael Rymer immediately locked into what Moore was thinking of and his directorial style immediately became a hallmark of the show. Moore also wanted a more understated and less symphonic way of doing music for a space series and lucked out when Richard Gibbs also picked up that idea and ran with it. A young composer named Bear McCreary also assisted Gibbs on the pilot.
Edward James Olmos as Commander William Adama and Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin.
For visual effects, the team at Zoic were called in to produce the huge amount of CGI needed for the mini-series. Zoic had just come off the back of Joss Whedon's newly-cancelled Firefly so the commission was good news for them. The CG team included many veterans of both Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine, who relished on rendering effects on a new, more powerful hardware and having the ability to design lots of new ships, although honouring the designs laid down in the original show.
The Battlestar Galactica mini-series was critically acclaimed on its release. The reviews were excellent across the board, with a lot praise for the actors, direction and acting, and the ratings were very high, setting new records for SyFy. It was an easy choice to commission a full first season, especially once Ron Moore confirmed he would drop Carnivale (which was being torn apart by corporate politics and would be cancelled after its second season) to move over as full-time showrunner. When the first season proper debuted a year later, with 33 (the episode that won the show a Hugo Award), it was even better.
Of course, the show could not quite sustain that early acclaim and eventually went off the rails, but that's another story. Battlestar Galactica did for space-set science fiction what Game of Thrones later did for epic fantasy, making it grittier, more real and more resonant with a wider audience previously dismissive of the art form. It's a shame we haven't seen more shows come along in its wake, but finally, with shows like The Expanse, it seems that promise has come good. Battlestar Galactica remains, despite its declining quality later on, one of the strongest SF TV shows ever made, and essential viewing for any fan of the genre.