Friday, 20 May 2022

BABYLON 5 reboot still in development amidst major changes at The CW

Mark Pedowitz, CEO of The CW, has confirmed that the channel's Babylon 5 reboot is currently still in development. This is despite The CW going up for sale and a whole slew of the channel's shows being cancelled.

Created by J. Michael Straczynski, Babylon 5 aired for a pilot, five seasons and four TV movies from 1993 to 1998, followed by a spin-off series, Crusade, that was cancelled after half a season in 1999. A subsequent additional TV movie aired in 2002, and another one was released direct to DVD in 2007. The show also incorporated spin-off novels and comic books. The show was noted for its pioneering use of both serialised storytelling and CGI. It had modest ratings during its original run but strong critical acclaim, winning back-to-back Hugo Awards in 1996 and 1997.

After the end of the original run, original creator-showrunner-writer J. Michael Straczynski (also noted for his work on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The Real Ghostbusters, Jeremiah and Sense8, as well as his comics book work and the Clint Eastwood/Angelina Jolie film Changeling) spent some years developing a feature film featuring the original cast. However, a large number of the original cast has sadly passed away, making a Next Generation-style continuation of the show impossible.

Renewed interest in Babylon 5 was generated by a middling HD remaster which was released in early 2021 (which updated the live-action footage but not the CGI). Word of reboot of the show followed in September. Unusually, it was confirmed in February that Babylon 5 would not proceed in development for 2022, but would instead be held back until 2023, apparently so it would not be impacted by the imminent sale of The CW network.

The CW was founded in 2006 as a merger of The WB and UPN, owned by Warner Brothers and Paramount respectively. The two channels had struggled for a decent market share and joined forces to ensure more resources. The channel initially saw a reasonable hit with Supernatural and then a number of shows based on the DC Universe, starting Arrow and continuing with The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Black LightningSupergirl and Batwoman. The network also established other hit properties with The 100, Riverdale and The Vampire Diaries, among others. The network became stereotyped for having shows aimed at younger audiences with variable special effects, low budgets and a cheesy, old-fashioned feel. However, the network also became immensely profitable through a 2011 deal with Netflix worth $1 billion, which subsidised shows that aired to low ratings on their original American airing but garnered a much larger international audience.

The Netflix deal was terminated in 2019, with CW shows instead finding an outlet through direct overseas sales and American streaming via HBO Max. However, this did not in any way approach the sheer income generated by the prior Netflix deal. As a result, the network starting cancelling shows at rate of knots, culminating in a massacre in May 2022 when ten shows were cancelled, including Legends of Tomorrow. The CW is now being sold to the Nexstar Media Group.

The news that the Babylon 5 reboot is not dead is good, but it should come with caveats. It is possible and likely, once the deal is completed, that Nexstar will install their own CEO to replace Mark Pedowitz, who notes that he is a huge fan of the original show and has been trying to bring it back for many years. It is unlikely that a new CEO will be as invested in the project as him. New channel CEOs in fact usually terminate any shows in development they were not involved in and bring in their own projects to develop. There are a few exceptions, but they are rare. If Nextstar retain Pedowitz in the role, it's much more likely that the B5 reboot will happen. More news as we get it.

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