The year is 2013. The name of the place: Phoenix Comicon
May 30, 2013 3:59 AM   Subscribe

It's been 20 years since ground-breaking, TV-defining science fiction TV show Babylon 5 debuted. Join Phoenix Comicon in celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Babylon 5 with creator J. Michael Straczynski and 14 of of the surviving Babylon 5 actors. Part 1. Part 2. Learn secrets such as why Michael O'Hare really left Babylon 5.

Note: there is an audio glitch in part 1 but not in part 2.
posted by Mezentian (32 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Does Babylon 5 have a "Poltergeist"-type curse on it? There seem to be an awful lot of dead people from that show.
posted by Melismata at 4:28 AM on May 30, 2013

It does seem that way, sadly.
Fucking Great Old Ones.
posted by Mezentian at 4:35 AM on May 30, 2013

Fucking Great Old Ones.

So that's how Straczynski keeps getting work in comics!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:42 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wow, that thing about O'hare is really sad. Props to JMS for his discretion.
posted by selfnoise at 4:44 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ouch ouch, that audioclip about O'Hare. It's both surprising and not, because JMS certainly utilizes his life experiences in his writing, and this reveals a facet of something clearly essential to him that I didn't know about before specifically, but had gleaned through my enjoying his work.
posted by Mizu at 5:16 AM on May 30, 2013

I was a great fan of Babylon 5 ever since I watched the series on DVD years ago, but I've refused to consume anything JMS had a hand in ever since I read his rationale for working on Before Watchmen despite Alan Moore's non-involvement. I recall none of what he actually wrote, but this was the impression of his motives that I was left with (to reiterate, this is by no means an actual quote):
People get fucked over in this business. It's the nature of the game. I get fucked over, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee got fucked over. One day, if you're lucky, you will get fucked over, too. So naturally, when someone gave me the opportunity to fuck over Alan Moore, I jumped at the chance.
posted by The Confessor at 5:21 AM on May 30, 2013

Thank you for this timely reminder that I will be turning 30 this year.

In all seriousness, though, Babylon 5 came along at a pretty much perfect point in my life, even if I suspect it wouldn't grab me in the same way if it came out today. I was 10 when it started, and like 11 or 12 when I started watching it seriously; I had just discovered science fiction and was obsessed, I was just about at the right age to watch something that was genuinely good, and here was this perfect show: the right amount of entertaining space combat to keep an adolescent boy interested, but adult enough to reach me at a time when I was becoming an adult.

There's a lot of flaws: the first season is kind of filler, the fifth season, like a drunken make out session with a close friend, is something that we all know happened, but we're not going to talking about, and Bruce Boxleitner's acting, while not as bad as some people think, isn't very good. Beside all that, though, the show was still really, really good.

I will also remember Babylon 5 for the large collection of Babylon 5 WAV files I amassed and for a desktop theme that replaced the cursor with an impossibly large version of the station that made it pretty much impossible to tell where the cursor was actually pointing. That embarrassing fact from my childhood, like my homemade "I Want to Believe" T-Shirt, will be our little secret, though.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:49 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

"...that he loved the fans, that they were what sustained him during the difficult times in his life."

Babylon 5 came around during a particularly difficult period in my life, and getting caught up in it helped sustain me, too. I can only hope that as he struggled, he had some idea that the help was going both ways.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:53 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hasn't Jerry Doyle become a right wing nutjob?
posted by wittgenstein at 6:28 AM on May 30, 2013

A previous Babylon 5 look back.

I loved this show. Still have my "The Shadows Know" T-shirt and B5 coffee mug.

Looking forward to watching the links.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:54 AM on May 30, 2013

Learn secrets such as why Michael O'Hare really left Babylon 5.

Because it turns out you can't have an employment contract with a piece of wood?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:14 AM on May 30, 2013

Like an old space station, I suppose, parts of "Babylon 5" haven't aged particularly well, but other parts have held up just fine. For me, any time Katsulas and Jurasik are onscreen together is pretty much gold, albeit gold wrapped in a nice, thick slice of tasty ham.

Also, the notion of a densely plotted, five-season story remains prescient, anticipating a lot of what's happened in dramatic TV in the 20 years since then, so JMS definitely deserves props for that.

I always wondered why Michael O'Hare left the show, as the public explanation at the time didn't make sense, especially given that the story was planned so far in advance. I liked his performance as Sinclair, and though the show itself improved in some ways after the first season, I still missed seeing him. His illness certainly explains why he didn't seem to have much of a career post-B5.

wittengenstein, Jerry Doyle had some kind of radio show and was saying some pretty wingnutty stuff in the mid-2000s, don't know what he's been up to lately, though.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 8:17 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Because it turns out you can't have an employment contract with a piece of wood?

Maybe read the article before being witty? I was not a huge O'Hare fan, but finding out he had pretty serious mental health problems makes me want to avoid the "wooden" jokes.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:20 AM on May 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

This is hilarious. I was in Phoenix on business as comicon was gearing up. It was nothing short of hilarious going to work and then seeing a 300lb batman walk past.
posted by RedShrek at 8:33 AM on May 30, 2013

If I was in the audience, I would have been the one really annoying guy asking JMS questions about Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

Oh my god was six-year-old me ever into that show.

I wish I'd known about the Babylon 5 connection back when it was airing, I probably would have watched it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:01 AM on May 30, 2013

Melismata: "Does Babylon 5 have a "Poltergeist"-type curse on it? There seem to be an awful lot of dead people from that show."

Boxleitner blames the fact that their soundstage was a converted former hottub factory with a leaky roof and who knows what kinds of vapors from industrial chemicals used in fiberglass processing seeping back out of the walls.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:34 AM on May 30, 2013

Babylon 5 was, and still is one of those great memories, it was the first show i tried to never miss, and recorded religiously. Yet the episode where Kosh (the vorlon) first came out of his suit, kept being missed. VCR broke one time, sick in hospital the next time, etc, it wasn't until i tracked it down other ways that i actually saw that one.

Yeah, he cribbed a bit from Lord of the Rings, but also way, way before doing that was cool, and the five year plan was ballsy back then too. It was great seeing an episode and then over a year later, that episode is even more important. Unlike Lost, which just sort of pulled things out of its ass, you could get decent hints at what was to come.

I do think both DS9 and B5 started out very similar, and both grew in later seasons. B5 with the shadows and DS9 with the dominion (parallels again i see). I also feel Doctor Who with Moffatts run has been heavily influenced by B5, but not doing it as well. Drop in things that pay off later, but without enough context to even make decent guesses about it. Clara is a perfect example, something is "special" about her popping up in different times, then re are shown why, with something that has never even been hinted at before. Meanwhile in B5, you see Delenn go through the "change", keep hearing about the legend of the guy who was both minbari and human, other hints of time travel, and the pay out is way better.

"But you like it and you're my friend."

Big Bang calling something else bad? The irony. :P

"Does Babylon 5 have a "Poltergeist"-type curse on it? There seem to be an awful lot of dead people from that show."

Sure seems like it, there is also the fact that it's 20 years ago, and people do get older. Then there is this from Tvtropes:

"In the fifth season, Richard Biggs, who played Dr. Stephen Franklin, complained about an episode where a character nearly died of a heart attack, since there had been no previous indications that the character had any kind of heart problems. Producer J. Michael Straczynski countered that many people live their whole lives with heart problems with no idea they're there until they suddenly strike. At the end of the series, Biggs came back asking why Franklin didn't get a big sendoff scene like G'Kar, played by Andreas Katsulas. Straczynski replied that he always saw Franklin as the type who would just leave with no warning, without saying goodbye, while G'Kar was more the type who would make a big production over his departure. A few years later, Biggs was killed instantly by a previously unknown congenital heart defect. A couple years after that, Katsulas died after a long battle with lung cancer, during which he got all his friends and family together for one last big party."
posted by usagizero at 11:11 AM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

So that's how Straczynski keeps getting work in comics!

I was thinking the way he always leaves each project incomplete was to avoid activating a curse.
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on May 30, 2013

I still thank JMS for writing the best and most valuable monthly column in Writers Digest magazine when he was still writing cartoons, and regret that I never broke into TV because he'd have been the first person I'd thank. So when he got this TV show, allowing him to create his own fictional universe, I knew I'd love it. And I did. Then the B5 Message Boards and his participation in them gave me my first exposure to the Social Internet.

And my favorite character was Vir Cotto (but Stephen Furst was great on St. Elsewhere too).
"I'd like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I would look up into your lifeless eyes and wave like this. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?"
That's good writin'.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:53 PM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I finished watching it last night and I wish it were longer. Many of the actors didn't get much of a chance to shine, or say anything, and it was too, too brief while Doyle hogged the spotlight with some stories about the cheapness Katsulas, whom I will never think of as "Andy K".

And they spent a long time mulling over their departed friends. That has to hurt.
posted by Mezentian at 3:56 PM on May 30, 2013

I missed Babylon 5 during it's heyday*. Knowing that I'm a sci-fi geek, my non-geek boyfriend introduced me to his favorite sci-fi show just two years ago.

It held up.

*I don't know how I missed it; maybe it was on during another favorite program.
posted by _paegan_ at 6:08 PM on May 30, 2013

_paegan_, it was syndicated. Perhaps your local station aired it at 5 in the morning on wednesdays and midnight on sundays? Mine did for season 4.
posted by Megafly at 6:44 PM on May 30, 2013

Maybe read the article before being witty? I was not a huge O'Hare fan, but finding out he had pretty serious mental health problems makes me want to avoid the "wooden" jokes.

Yah you're right, I hadn't read the last link when I posted what I did. Poor guy.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:49 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Poor guy, indeed. RIP, Valen.

That TV Tropes story about the heart attack is freaking chilling.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:42 PM on May 30, 2013

My husband won me over by his utter coolness when he introduced me to B5. A few years later, it was the only long show I had on VCDs in the house when my kids, newly arrived from Cambodia, had enough english to follow a show. We didn't have a TV so I let them watch an episode a day. In about two weeks, they had renamed themselves Delenn and John and Susan, and were propping their mattresses up with books on an incline so they could sleep Minbari-style. We watched a lot of B5 over the next couple of months.

It was such a wonderful show in so many ways, but the long story arcs, the ethics behind it and the clearly spoken english made it a surprisingly perfect show for a bunch of Cambodian kids who'd never seen TV before. They didn't grow up scifi nerds, but B5 is special to them too.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:22 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's worth noting that JMS was one of the first showrunners to interact directly with fans online. At the time, there was a widely-published message (most, if not all, of his postings on GEnie were reposted to USENET) where he explained O'Hare's departure as exercising a "trap door" built into the narrative to account for real life or production decisions intruding on the five-year narrative plan. Saying that it was time to "assess" the future of the show, given it was time to be calling people back for production of S2, JMS noted that "it has been agreed that we will have a separation, in the role of the commander. Let me emphasize this very clearly, so there is no chance of miscommunication: this is a mutual, amicable, and friendly separation. This isn't a Tasha Yar situation."

He went on to say, "If I can speak personally for a moment...those of you reading this on-line know that I've always talked straight with you. If I thought this in any way would interfere with the story, you'd hear about it from me loud and clear. When problems have arisen in the past, I've always spoken about them quite bluntly here (much to the chagrin of some people). This is okay. We're all still very much friends. I speak frequently to Michael, and consider him a friend, just as he considers me a friend. This was a hard decision, but we both knew that it was the right decision, for very different reasons. We both kinda came to the same place at the same time from different directions. We've got to do what's right for the show, and for each other, and in many ways, this does just that. "

So now much of what was between the lines is clear. What the fans pretty universally believed at the time was that the backers felt the show needed a more bankable star, and Boxleitner came in under a heavy burden of being thought of as a "light" action/romance actor in contrast to the serious O'Hare. It was considered a shitty business decision and fans excoriated Straczynski for going along with it when he stood up for the show in so many other ways.

This is, in other words, quite a revelation.
posted by dhartung at 2:54 AM on May 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

He had a plan.
posted by Artw at 6:34 AM on May 31, 2013

It's good for the soul to see Claudia Christian and JMS on stage together. It looks like the rift between them (and I'm not sure we'll ever get the whole truth of what happened) has healed.
posted by jiawen at 8:43 PM on June 2, 2013

He (mostly) executed on the plan, as well. That's a rare thing in TV.
posted by Artw at 9:52 PM on June 2, 2013

Unlike The Cylons he actually did have a plan.
posted by Mezentian at 10:04 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

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