Few shows in television history have achieved the kind of effortless-looking world building that Babylon 5 has. It’s been called the most complicated show ever, thanks to the various species, religions, and politics of the show’s various warring species. What’s more, that complexity was handled with a deft touch that combined excellent writing with even better performances. In its five-season, multi-award-winning run, Babylon 5 started a franchise and distinguished itself as one of the most rewarding programs on TV. Seriously, it’s like Game of Thrones, just in space.
1. A Start on Mt. Greyskull
J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, actually got his start writing scripts for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a job he got after having one of his spec scripts purchased directly by the show’s developer. Since his time on Babylon 5, Straczynski has actually contributed to the story for major Hollywood films like Thor and World War Z.
2. The Origin of the Station
When he was working up the idea for a science fiction series, Straczynski began from an interesting standpoint: budget. He vowed to try and create a science fiction show that could keep costs to a minimum (thereby allowing less network scrutiny and, therefore, greater creative control). That budgetary mindset is what sparked the idea for a show set on a space station.
3. The Robot Rule
Going in to Babylon 5, Straczynski wanted to insure that his show was completely unique. Not only was his goal to make sure the “science” part of science fiction wasn’t forgotten, he wanted to create adult characters for a mature audience. That’s why Straczynski mandated that the show would never have kids or cute robots.
4. A Utopia Mired with Flaws
Straczynski and Gene Roddenberry — the creator of Star Trek — had one big difference when they were plotting out their universes. Unlike Roddenberry’s utopia, Straczynski wanted to create a universe where humanity was still mired in the flaws of our past, where things like greed and infidelity were rampant. Straczynski thought it was better drama that way.
5. The TV Novel
Originally, Straczynski conceived Babylon 5 as a kind of “novel for television,” something that was meant to be viewed from start to finish, in order. At the time of the show’s release, 1994, this concept was fairly, ahem, novel on television. Straczynski pulled inspiration from Asimov’s Foundation and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
6. One Sole Guest Writer
Straczynski had an unmistakable vision in mind for his series, and — as a result — he was the only person to write episodes for the show for the entirety of its last three seasons. Straczynski, of course, yielded control of the show for one writer: famed author Neil Gaiman, who wrote the season five episode, “Day of the Dead”.
7. Staying on Budget
Hitting the budget numbers was something of an obsession for Straczynski, who enforced some interesting rules for the show. Episodes were written six episodes in advance, and once production was started, no changes were allowed to be made to the script. Of course, as a result, the show never had an issue hitting the budgetary mark.
8. The Trap Door
As he worked to build the show, Straczynski was well aware that the real world may interfere with him telling his TV novel over the course of five, long seasons. So, as he was writing each character, he built a “trap door” into their background in order to facilitate the actor’s easy removal from the show. For example, when Andrea Thompson left the show, her trap door was activated in the version of the “sleeper agent” arc.
9. ‘Babylon 5’ Couldn’t Save Prime Time Entertainment Network
In spite of the fact the the series’ ratings continued to rise throughout its third and fourth seasons, Babylon 5 couldn’t save Prime Time Entertainment Network from going under. As a result of the channel’s collapse, Straczynski had to condense two seasons into a fourth season and two (nearly miraculous) TNT TV movies. Thanks to the ratings success of the films, TNT picked up Babylon 5 for a fifth season.
10. The Costumer Designer’s Historical Perspective
The show’s costumer, relative TV newcomer Ann Bruice Aling, had a keen interest in history. As a result, she conducted conversations with Straczynski in order to get a sense of each race’s overall attitude and societal leanings; then Aling would look through history in order to find cultural inspirations for each look.
11. The ‘Deep Space Nine’ Standoff
If the whole “life and times of humans and aliens chilling at a space station” set up strikes you as familiar, that’s because it is. At the same time as Babylon 5 was being developed, Paramount developed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a show about the life and times of humans and aliens chilling at a space station. Straczynski has always cried foul about the timing for Paramount’s idea.
12. O’Hare’s Unfortunate Mental Illness
Michael O’Hare was originally set to head up Babylon 5. Unfortunately, halfway through the first season, O’Hare became the victim of burgeoning schizophrenia. He began suffering delusions on set, which necessitated his departure from the show. Straczynski actually offered to shut down production while O’Hare recuperated, but O’Hare wouldn’t allow it. He felt the show must go on.
13. All the Emmys
While the show never got an Emmy for its dramatic aspects (though it did win two Hugos), its visual effects were award-wining. Babylon 5 was one of the first shows on television to forego the use of miniatures in its visual effects in favor of computer technology.
14. A Little Help From ‘Tron’
When O’Hare exited the show, he was replaced by Bruce Boxleitner, who brought a certain sci-fi cred to the show. Boxleitner previously etched his way into the hearts of nerds everywhere playing Alan Bradley and Tron in, you guessed it, Tron.
15. Christian Is Number 2
The show’s female lead, Claudia Christian has since filled her time with interesting pastimes. Not only is she an advocate for reported alcoholism cure, the Sinclair Method, she also created her own convention in 2011 called … wait for it … Claudia Con UK. It only happened once, for some reason.
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