Monday, August 26, 2013

What Might've Been: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century should've been a huge hit for NBC when it bowed in 1979. The network was starving for a hit show, and thought they had one. Unfortunately, a strike in Hollywood slowed production on the 2nd season, leading to premature, at least in this writer's opinion, cancellation.

The series began, as did Universal stablemate Battlestar Galactica a year earlier, with a feature film released to theatres. Six months later, the movie was edited into the 2-part series opener, "Awakening". Producer Glen Larsen, who also was the show-runner for Galactica, chose a relative unknown, Gil Gerard, for the title role as Captain William "Buck" Rogers, who had been in suspended animation for 5 centuries before being revived in the year 2487. Larsen's plan, it seemed, was to try to pick up the mojo left over from Paramount's Star Trek a decade prior by having Buck charming a different woman each week in season 1, even though he was the object of Princess Ardala's desires, and, in turn, it took a while before Buck began to draw closer to his commanding officer, Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray).

Tim O'Connor (ex-Peyton Place) played Dr. Huer, the head of the Defense Directorate. Buck was given a robot sidekick, Twiki (Felix Silla, ex-The Addams Family; voiced by Mel Blanc for most of the series), which was mostly to lure in the kids. However, in season 2, Buck, Twiki, & Wilma were moved aboard the Searcher. The writers' strike cut the episode order down to 11 for the season, leaving out any and all explanation for Buck & Wilma's reassignment. That, all by itself, pretty much killed the show.

William Conrad, fresh from Cannon, served as series announcer for season 1 and narrated the movie. In season 2, for some odd reason, long time QM announcer Hank Simms replaced Conrad. Another bad move, y'think?

Anyway, here's a network promo plugging the series opener:

ABC blinked and moved Mork & Mindy to Sundays for its second season, rather than risk airing opposite Buck Rogers, but would move back via viewer demand in due course. In recent years, Buck has turned up on Sci-Fi (now SyFy), Me-TV, & Retro. Ya never know where the series will surface again.

Rating: B+.


magicdog said...

We used to love watching this show!

The first season was definitely the best and the second season left us confused and disappointed.

It's not unlike Star Trek in that it and its setting are firmly part of the decade that spawned it!

The future as seen in the 70s!

I wouldn't mind a reboot someday, but Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon always seem to get tangled up in kitsch!

hobbyfan said...

I didn't realize this until I read the Wikipedia entry on the show, but Mel Blanc had left after the first season, but his replacement lasted just 5 episodes before Blanc was asked back.

Anyway, as I noted, the writers' strike erased any hope of explaining away Buck & Wilma being reassigned to the Searcher, and being on that ship didn't exactly win any new viewers. Of course, Magnum PI, a Universal stablemate, premiered that year (1980), and pulled viewers away.