12 Things You Might Not Know About BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY

Biddi biddi biddi, oh Buck!
1. Debuting in the novella Armageddon 2419 A.D., published in the August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, the character of Buck Rogers was created by Philip Francis Nowlan. The story were shortly adapted into a syndicated comic strip which debuted in early 1929, a radio adaptation followed in 1932, before Universal Pictures acquired the rights and produced a 12 chapter film serial starring Buster Crabbe in 1939. 39 years later, inspired by the massive success of Star Wars, Universal Pictures looked into their archive for possible properties that could wide the science fiction wave, and so spearheaded by Glen A. Larson, they began developing a series of made-for-television movies based on the character.

2. Larson was also producer on Battelstar Galactica, the pilot episode of which had been released theatrically in international territories during 1978, again to capitalise on the success of Star Wars. Noting the strong box office for the movie, Universal opted to produce what was intended to be the first Buck Rogers TV movie theatrically instead. Premiering on March 30th 1979, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century grossed over $21 million in the North American box office alone, on a $3.5 million budget, and was later released internationally. It's huge success led to NBC commissioning a weekly series, which began on September 20th 1979.
3. The theatrical film also served as a pilot and two-part first episode for the series, entitled "Awakening", but it was not entirely the same as the cinematic release. Several scenes were edited, some to remove the more adult dialogue in the film including when Buck says "shit" and when he refers to Wilma as "ballsy"! Clearly ballsy was just too out there for the 1979 network TV audience. Also too out there was the suggestive opening credit sequence of the movie, which was replaced with a more generic version. A scene in which Buck kills Ardala's henchman, Tigerman, was edited to allow the character to return in later episodes. Also, some new and extended scenes were added for the TV version, including several scenes within Buck's new apartment, which was the setting for a new final scene in which Dr. Huer and Wilma try to persuade Buck to join the Defense Directorate. This scene ends with Buck actually declining their offer, though he opts to join them in an unofficial capacity by the time of the first episode of the series proper, "Planet of the Slave Girls".
4. The opening title sequence for the series included stock footage from the Apollo 4 and Apollo 6 launches. The show also used stock shots of the remaining national pavilions of the Montreal 1967 International and Universal Exposition (or Expo 67) to portray futuristic-looking buildings on Earth, particularly the British and French pavilions (the latter now being the Montreal Casino), as well as shots of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
5. Larson's other big sci-fi show of the time, Battlestar Galactica was cancelled after just 24 episodes, but the producer didn't let the show fully die as he recycled many of the props, effects shots, and costumes for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (and some of his later productions). For example, the "landram" vehicle was originally made for Galactica, and the control sticks used in the Terran starfighters in Buck Rogers pilot movie were the same as those used in Galactica's Viper craft. Buck's NASA shuttle, Ranger 3, was itself a prop that had been seen in the Battlestar Galactica episode "Greetings from Earth" where it was used as Michael's Lunar-7 shuttle though painted a different color. The Terran starfighters were also concept designer Ralph McQuarrie's original vision of the Colonial Vipers. This won't be the last aspect of Battlestar Galactica that will come into play during Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but we'll get to that soon enough.

6. The movie and series' chief villain (at least in the first season) was Princess Ardala, played by Pamela Hensley, whose goal was to conquer the Earth while making Buck her consort. She was aided by her henchman Kane (played in the pilot film by Henry Silva and in the series by Michael Ansara). Kane (or Killer Kane as he was then known) was also featured in the 1939 film serial and was actually the chief villain himself as Ardala did not appear in the film serial. Quite a lot of her appeared in the TV series though, as although 1970s network TV audiences couldn't handle language like "ballsy", apparently they had no trouble with costumes like this...
Eyes up, General!

7. Princess Ardala's father, Emperor Draco was played by Joseph Wiseman, the actor who portrayed Dr. No in the first James Bond film. He originally had several scenes in the Buck Rogers movie but most of these were deleted, leaving just one of his holographic image at the movie's ending. Despite this brief appearance, Universal had put multiple licensing agreements in place based on an unfinished rough-cut of the film and so images of Draco appeared prominently in various Buck Rogers merchandise. There was even a 12" and 3¾" Draco action figure produced by the toy company Mego.
Despite having his role all but cut from the film, Wiseman apparently didn't hold a grudge and later appear in the weekly television series, playing the character Morphus in the episode "Vegas in Space".

7. Twiki, the comic sidekick robot was an original creation for this version of Buck Rogers, and was played mainly by Felix Silla, who had previously portrayed Cousin Itt in The Addams Family. Twiki's voice, though, was mainly provided by the legendary Mel Blanc. The man of a million voices who had given life to Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Barney Rubble and so many other classic animated characters had also previously voiced Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers in spoofs of the early Buck Rogers and other science-fiction serials. For Twiki, Blanc adopted a gruff voice which was very similar to the one he used for the Looney Tunes character Barnyard Dawg.
For five episodes Bob Elyea supplied Twiki's voice before Blanc returned to the role. No explanation was given for the change, aside from an assumption that Blanc was unavailable for the recordings.

9. Erin Gray was cast as Colonel Wilma Deering for the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century movie but initially opted not to return after the film when it was picked-up as a continuing series. Juanin Clay, who played Major Marla Landers in the first-season episode "Vegas in Space", was instead briefly cast as Wilma for the TV series, before Gray changed her mind and re-joined the cast. Producers had demanded that Wilma have blonde hair and so Gray's brunette locks had to be died, which she was said to have been unhappy about (and indeed, during the final episodes of the first season, Gray was allowed to return to her natural hair color, and Wilma was dark-haired throughout season 2) but it's also been reported that, although the pair have seeminglly made amends, Gray's reluctance to initially return was because she clashed with her co-star...
And we're not talking about Twiki!

10. After appearing in close to 400 television commercials, including a stint as spokesman for the Ford Motor Company, Gil Gerard gained prominence in his role as Dr Alan Stewart in the daytime soap opera The Doctors which he played for two years. But of course his best known role is that of Captain William "Buck" Rogers. After enjoying the more serious tone of the original movie, Gerard was not a fan of the lightening of the series. He continually pushed for more serious storytelling throughout the first season and often clashed with the producers and the network over the show's tone and handling. Gerard would often arbitrarily refuse to perform some of the more comical lines in the scripts he was given, complaining that Buck was just a "wise-ass" who was making one joke after another, and would often rewrite scripts himself to place more emphasis on his vision for Buck, and at the expense of other characters. For example, in the episode "Escape From Wedded Bliss", the script originally called for Buck to be rescued from the Draconians at the end by Wilma, but Gerard vetoed the idea.
Unhappy with the show's direction, but seemingly OK with taking his shirt off whenever the chance arose, Gerard became increasingly difficult to work with, which led to tensions on set. A meeting between him and writers/script editors Anne Collins and Alan Brennert went badly and they quit the show midway through the first season. This led to Gerard threatened with legal action by the network if he continued to cause problems and hinder the production.

As the first season drew to a close, the show's future hung in the balance, thanks mainly due to an actors strike. During the extended hiatus, Gerard gave an interview to Starlog magazine (published in the November 1980 issue) saying that he hoped the series would not be picked up for a second season because he had no wish to go through another season like the first one.
11. As you may well know, the series was indeed renewed for a second season and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century returned, albeit in a much-adjusted format. Instead of defending 25th Century Earth from external threats, Buck, Wilma and Twiki jettisoned most of the other cast members and were now a part of a crew aboard a spaceship called the Searcher on a mission to seek out the lost "tribes" of humanity who had scattered in the five centuries since Earth's 20th-century nuclear war. If a search for lost tribes of ancestors sounds at all familiar to you it is because it was the same theme present in Glen A. Larson's previous science-fiction television series, Battlestar Galactica. And much like that series, Buck Rogers began to incorporate many aspects of Larson's Mormon faith.

Serious concepts such as evolution, ecology, racism, pollution, war, nuclear power, identity, the self, mythology and religion were all explored in the second season. Gerard got his wish and was able to scale back the humor, in keeping with the new tone of the series, although he still found time to strip to the waist whenever possible, Although he was initially happy with the new direction and the new writers/producers brought onboard, Gerrard was soon back to being critical of them, difficult to work with and generally unhappy with the series as a whole.
Ratings dropped significantly after the season premiere and, coupled with an increasingly problematic semi-naked star, NBC canceled Buck Rogers in the 25th Century at the end of the 11-episode strike-abbreviated second season. No finale storyline was produced, with the final episode, "The Dorian Secret" broadcast April 16th 1981, intended as being a regular standalone adventure and one which finished Buck's time in the 25th Century on a somber note.

12. Like Battelstar Galactica before it, Buck Rogers proved to be a huge international success, eclipsing its US fanbase. Perhaps its biggest international success came in the UK. The pilot film was released theatrically in the summer 1979 and became the big summer school-holiday movie, so when ITV acquired the series it arrived to much fanfare the following summer, during the August bank holiday weekend.
Debuting at 6pm on Saturday August 30th 1980, the feature-length two-part episode "Planet of the Slave Girls" proved to be a ratings juggernaut (in a strange move, the pilot movie was not actually shown on British television until 1982, after the series had ended) with ITV winning the timeslot for the first time in years. Over on BBC One, series 18 of Doctor Who was getting underway. The previous year Tom Baker had seen viewers in excess of 10 million for nearly every episode, however part one of The Leisure Hive had to be content with just under 6 million. A year later, Tom Baker would be gone from the role he'd played for seven years and the BBC would move Doctor Who to a new weekday timeslot for its next season. Buck Rogers continued in popularity, resulting in a flood of merchandise and its own weekly comic-strip, returning, in a sense, to its origins.
Oh, and one final bonus Buck Rogers in the 25th Century fact for you. The image above is from that two-part episode "Planet of the Slave Girls" and features Buck alongside Brigadier Gordon. He was played by Buster Crabbe, the original Buck Rogers from that 1939 chapter play. This respectful cameo proved to be one of Crabbe's final roles as he passed away in 1983 at the age of 75.

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