Jun 21 2023

B5 Alternative History

Interesting today to read, years after they showed up in one of the volumes of Babylon 5 script books, an outline of J Michael Straczynski’s notes on the plan for the show after the pilot at the point when the first season was going into production.

I was aware these had been published but I wasn’t interested in spending money to buy the volumes containing them and I always assumed that word of their contents would show up on the internet somewhere. Turns out it did, but back in 2008 I didn’t see threads like this discussing the whole thing.1 Or perhaps I saw a different discussion that didn’t go into enough details to prompt me to dig deeper.

The big lesson here is that the legend of how JMS always had a five year plan was always overstated, because (as he said at the time) he left himself scope to tweak his plan as events unfolded and his cast changed.

This was still back when network TV2 was the big game in town for serialised speculative fiction, so showrunners couldn’t count on getting a decent number of seasons to fit their proposed story or on keeping actors on their show for the duration.3 Certainly JMS had a desire to tell a five-year story arc, but he was a pragmatist about the prospect of getting to do that.

On a related tangent, not being an active con-goer I was unaware of this old storyabout a joke played on two of the regular cast members that turns up in this 2008 discussion about the show:

In The Exercise of Vital Powers”, the first draft of the script had G’kar undergoing a sex change due to stress and then becoming lovers with Londo. It played out for several days with them actually sending Andreas out for chest casts in order to design cleavage and corsetry.

The joke parts were excerpted in Volume 15. I really wish they’d filmed it. JMS brought the script to a con here in Orlando a long time ago and had local volunteers play the parts and it was great. I can only imagine what those two actors could have done with it.

If you never saw the show that will be utterly meaningless to you. If you remember how much those two actors were the not-so-secret MVPs of the show’s cast you’ll know exactly how much fun that could have been and wish we had those scenes on film.

[Via Rowan J Coleman]

  1. Like most if the posters to the linked discussion board thread, I like what we got on-screen (even with the mess that season 5 turned out to be in places) more than what was spelled out in this early outline.↩︎

  2. Well, PTEN, but let’s not get tied up in quibbling about that four-year experiment.↩︎

  3. Not sure it’s that different in these days of streaming media. Would The Babylon Project (the original title for what became Babylon 5) from an experienced TV producer and writer for a new science fiction series with a title not starting with the phrase Star Trek” have stood a chance of getting a production order for a new show with (truth be told) no big star names attached from Netflix or Apple TV+, let alone running that show for five seasons? Arguably it’s too early to say: come back to me in a decade or so and let’s see whether the streaming giants are going to be any better than their predecessors when it comes to work that isn’t already part of a franchise.↩︎