[ This interview is taken from the Unofficial Battlestar Galactica Companion, published in September 2003 ]
An Interview with Tom DeSanto
So can you share with us some of your ideas and what you had planned?
We stayed in continuity with the original series and picked it up almost 25 years later. Essentially Battlestar Galactica is the story of the Exodus, the Israelites fleeing Egypt, they are being pursued and looking for the promise land, which was earth. We followed with that same theme, but what if the Israelites stopped at Mt. Sinai and built Las Vegas? At the time the story was really being fleshed out I looked around and saw a lot of my friends and this country obsessed with the stock market and how much their Yahoo! had gone up that day. I realized that as a people we had lost our sense of purpose, of what are we doing here, and I wanted to tap into that. That is what happened to the fleet; they lost their sense of purpose.
Twenty-three years ago there was a battle between the Galactica and the Cylon fleet, the Galactica was victorious but took heavy damage and losses. In that battle, Apollo was lost. The Pegasus, which had reunited with the Galactica a few months earlier, was also lost. The fleet continued onward, and for the next few years, there were no transmissions or interactions with the Cylons. They had lost complete contact with them. Then Adama dies and the driving voice behind the search for Earth, their Moses, is lost. The fleet then comes across a massive asteroid belt that is filled with all the raw materials they need, gold, ice, everything they need to survive and it's hidden which makes them feel more secure than a planet. There is a vote and the fleet decides to stop at this asteroid. They start building this massive space colony, this great white elephant, with pleasure domes, business centers and gambling areas. In essence, they start worshipping the golden calf.
We pick up the story twenty-two years after they stopped looking for earth and the space colony that we called New Caprica is thriving. Because there has not been any contact with the Cylons in nearly twenty-five years, the new council and female president have decided to decommission the Galactica and reduce the military to a smaller fighting force as a way to save money. The new commander for the Galactica is an older Boxey who is now called Orin. Orin thinks Boxey is a childish name and no one dares call him Boxey anymore, except for Starbuck. Instead of calling him Orion, we pulled a vowel out of his name. Orin is in his early 40's, a young John F. Kennedy type. He has commanded the Galactica for only a few years but he has never had an enemy to fight, he has never faced the Cylons in combat. He is Ahab without the whale. Orin fights the decommissioning of the Galactica, but lacks the political prowess. But of course those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it and the Cylons return with a vengeance. The Galactica and the vipers are outgunned and outmatched as the Cylons are now quicker, stronger, smarter, and have vastly different programming. They proceed to devastate the Colonial defenses including crippling the Galactica. They surround the fleet and hover but unlike the old Cylons, they do not destroy the fleet. A transmission comes though to the humans that they should move all human life to the fastest moving ships or be destroyed. They try to negotiate but the Cylons say there is no negotiation, if they do not comply, they will be destroyed. The president and council concede, all life will be moved to the fastest ships.
How does Orin manage to escape the Cylons?
The Galactica breaks off the Cylon ordered fleet formation and draws the Cylon Basestar to pursue it. The Galactica is in no shape to take on the Basestar. Orin moves the Galactica near the space colony, placing it between the Galactica and the incoming Basestar. The Galactica with only its small guns repaired begins to fire on the space colony, destroying the gravitational stabilizers that are keeping the colony in place. Orin then fires on the colony driving it forward and impaling it into the Basestar, destroying it and the colony. Symbolically it is the destruction of the golden calf. This action gives them a renewed sense of purpose and they realize that their future and their children's future is out there, so once again the begin the search to find earth. Therefore, they pull out the old maps and discover they were going in the wrong direction. Earth lies in the opposite direction. They have to go back through the colonies back into the heart of darkness. That is where the series would have picked up.
How would you introduce Apollo again?
Throughout our pilot the Cylons have been taking their orders from these voices in the shadows. Now you come across shadowy faces and you discover they are not Cylon but rather human. The camera would push in on the last face and it is Richard Hatch, it is Apollo. Then the camera pushes in on his eye and in his pupil, there is a small red light going back and for the, back and forth. Apollo's journey back would have been one of the major storylines for the series, leading to the first season cliffhanger. Richard was the first person I contacted from the old show as soon as we opened shop. I have spoken and met with Richard several times and no one understands the essence of what made Galactica work better than he does. It would have been an honor to work with him.
Where is Adama in the movie?
Adama died shortly after the last battle with the Cylons and without Adama's leadership, the fleet loses its driving voice in the search for Earth.
Where is Boomer?
Boomer is now a colonel and still aboard the Galactica. He is training new pilots and running the academy. The cadets see him as an old warhorse, but no man is more respected. He is fiercely loyal to his warriors and does not deal with the politics around the decommissioning very well. Herb has become a friend and we have shared many a conversation together. After seeing Herb's involvement and dedication to supporting our military, I actually was going to make Boomer more like Herb.
Is Starbuck still chomping on his cigars?
Starbuck is still Peter Pan and a colonel now as well, enjoying life on the bridge and one of the few people Orin truly trusts. We were going to reintroduce Starbuck with a shot of an extreme close-up of a match striking against the railing on the bridge. Slowly the match moves up, as the camera pushes in on a cigar being lit, then we pull back to reveal Dirk puffing away. When I spoke to Dirk and I realized immediately that Dirk is Starbuck. His insight into the character actually was a tremendous help in steering Starbuck's future.
What happened to Baltar?
You do not find out in the pilot episode. However, one of the storylines I wanted to explore was what happened to the colonists who were left behind. Ninety nine percent of the population was left stranded on the original colonies because they did not have ships for the exodus. That tied into the back-story on why the robotic Cylons were created in the first place. The reptilian Cylons created the machine Cylons to destroy the humans and therefore bring order to the universe, but there was a glitch in their programming. The Cylons programming demanded they bring order to the universe, but where there is free will there will always be the chance of chaos. The machine Cylons processed this information and decided they had to destroy anything with free will, this included their creators. Therefore, the robots turned against their reptilian masters and destroyed them completely except for one ... the supreme leader. The supreme leader decided he would give up his free will and became part of the machine, therefore overriding their programming. He was injected with nano technologies, which are microscopic robots; his DNA was rewritten depriving him of his free will. Baltar, after the Cylons lost the great battle 23 years ago, realized that the Cylons were turning against him and he was starting to lose his usefulness. Baltar realized the prognosis and had himself injected with nano technology that takes your free will. His ultimate goal was survival and by doing this, he actually saved a massive amount of the humans that were still alive on the colonies as the Cylons began this process in mass. In essence, the remaining humans became biological robots.
What happened to Cain and Sheba?
When the Pegasus rejoined the Galactica and the fleet, Sheba went back to serve under her father. So did Bojay and the rest of the Pegasus crew. Then the Pegasus was lost once again. One of the storylines I had worked out was the return of the Pegasus. Each Battlestar would have thought the other one had not survived. Cain would have died in battle, like there was any other way, and Sheba would have assumed command of the Pegasus. I did speak to Anne about my plans for her character and she could not have been more accommodating over the phone and was into reprising her role.
What happened to Cassiopeia?
Laurette was one of the only original cast members I did not have the pleasure of speaking with. Originally, the writers and I thought about matching her up with Starbuck and having them married. But I think I would have changed that and not have Starbuck being able to make a commitment. Cassiopeia then would have left him for Bojay. She would have gone aboard the Pegasus with Bojay and was considered lost until the return of the Pegasus around episode eleven. Starbuck would see her with her children and being happily married, and Starbuck would regret the road not taken and what could have been.
Where is Athena
Athena would have raised Boxey/Orin after the loss of Apollo. She and Orin's wife were killed in the massive Cylon attack on New Caprica. Understand, many of these histories would be story points and would not have been apparent in the first episode. In the series, it would have been a mix of the new characters (Orin and his family) and the older characters (from the original series.)
Is it true Jane Seymour would have returned as Serina?
The first week we were open on the Universal lot, Dan Angel got a call from Jane expressing interest in the idea of returning. When I got back from lunch Dan told me she had called and it got me thinking on how we could bring her back. We all thought it was great that she was open to the idea, but she was killed in the original series. I knew I wanted to reintroduce the lightships and what better way to reintroduce Serina then to have her come back as a creature of light, as an angel. She was going to be the catalyst for breaking the Cylon control over Apollo; it would have been a great moment to reunite Richard and Jane.
How did the new series come together?
When I was working in retail during college, I would get bored, so I would write different story ideas or do designs on the back of cash register tape. One of those ideas was Galactica and what happened to those characters. I never thought I would have use of those ideas or the redesigned Vipers and Raiders, but I kept writing regardless. When I moved out to LA to get into entertainment one of the things I wanted to work on was getting Galactica up and going again.
While developing the script for X-men in the late 90's I contacted Universal several times about Galactica but the answer always came back that the rights issues were not clear. When X-men was in post, I thought about what I wanted to do that as my next project and that thing was Battlestar Galactica.
I found my old notes and started calling Universal again. Fortunately, I was with Bryan on a plane to NY for the premiere of X-men and I had the Galactica DVD with me, I was going to rewatch it on the flight. Bryan saw the box and said he loved the show as a kid and I told him it was the project I wanted to do next. He said he thought that was a great idea and asked if he could he watch it, I said sure. After he watched it, Bryan said he would love to be involved, which was great, I was happy to be working with my friend again.
With Bryan involved and X-men's $54 million dollar opening weekend, our agency William Morris was able to solve the rights issues that had blocked me for over three years in about two weeks. The rights ended up being at Studios USA, which had purchased the former TV arm of Universal.
Well we started to get into preproduction with Studios USA and FOX on a two-hour TV event movie that was a back door pilot for a potential series for the fall 2002 if the ratings were good. We brought on Dan Angel and Billy Brown as writers and Guy Dyas as our Production Designer; by the way, I promise you Guy will win the Oscar sometime soon. The storyline was developed into a script with Dan and Billy and Guy put together an amazing look for the show, his artwork was just beautiful. Costumes for the movie were developed. With the help of the fan network, I was able to track down the original Galactica model and several of the old rag tag fleet. The person who owns them had painstakingly restored them and he was kind enough to let us go out and photograph them. We were going to stay in continuity so those details of the Galactica and the fleet were important. One major change was to put big battleship-style guns on the Galactica.
Why did production stop on the two-hour movie?
We were building sets, the full size vipers in two versions and the Cylon armor, when the tragedy of September 11 struck. It understandably delayed production by about a month. Everything was delayed and pushed back. We were one month off schedule and that caused a conflict with Bryan's scheduled shooting of X-Men 2. Therefore, Bryan had to drop out as director, which was difficult for him because he was so excited by the potential of Galactica.
Why did FOX pull away from the movie after Bryan left?
We actually had commitments from three feature directors who loved the script and wanted to do it, but Fox seemed to lose interest. Then when Firefly was announced, I knew we were done at Fox, because that was the sci-fi show they were going to get behind. Therefore, we shut down everything, but I was determined to find another way to get the project started again. I spoke to Studios USA and they said they wanted me to continue with the show as we searched for a new network. I suggested that we take a new approach, do a four-hour mini-series, and distribute it through the Sci-fi channel, in the same formula that had been done with Dune. They thought it was a great idea, but that we would wait until spring. I continued to meet with the studio several times, but in spring 2002 they decided to go in a different creative direction and do a reimagining, not a continuation. However, there are many similarities between our show and theirs.