Awakening a sleeping giant - Tom DeSanto's Galactica

Created by John Larocque on October 29, 2003
Last revised: December 7, 2006

This document is ©2005, John Larocque. All rights reserved.

In a June 2000 chat, Sci-Fi Channel Vice President Bonnie Hammer confirmed that the network was considering producing new episodes of Battlestar Galactica. "We have actually started some preliminary conversations; however, we never knew where they are going to go. I don't want to start any false hopes out there. However, it is definitely something we are looking into." By January 2001, there was a surprising turn of events. Reliable rumors leaked through webmaster Michael Faries revealed that there was a new Battlestar Galactica project (apparently spearheaded by Bonnie Hammer) which would feature "various ships of the fleet but no battlestar, a main starship with biodomes (an unintentional retread of The Starlost?) and no involvement from Richard Hatch or Glen Larson."

On January 26 the SciFi Wire confirmed that the rumors were true. "The series would resemble its predecessor in name only, offering new characters, a new villain to replace the Cylons and a new ship," said a spokesman for the network. At this point the entire online fan community was up in arms, and three days later the network retracted the story.

On February 22, 2001, Variety magazine announced that Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto, the creative team behind The Usual Suspects and the phenomenally successful X-Men movie, were slated to bring back Galactica on behalf of Studios USA. In an interview with Michael Fleming, Singer wrote:

"The lesson I learned on X-Men is to have a healthy respect for the fan base of sci-fi fantasy franchises, and I'm confident that the Galactica brand is a sleeping giant. It was a show I watched during its initial run, from the pilot to the final episode. The essence and the brand name is quite potent in a climate where there's a great deficit of sci-fi programming."

USA Television Production Group president David Kissinger endorsed the team and the plans to take the series into prime time. Kissinger was quoted as saying, "It's possible that we might be able to do a dual window scenario with the Sci-Fi Channel." Studios USA executive Dan Pasternack was interviewed a day later on the SciFi Wire, adding that the premiere probably wouldn't appear any earlier than mid-season 2002. He also made several comments that addressed many of the concerns that were raised against the "biodomes" project, noting that the new project featured Cylons and was endorsed by Glen Larson.

"Bryan Singer's intent is to be very faithful to the spirit and legacy of the original show.... to creatively to go forward in time as the saga has continued in his mind... He is not looking to take it in any direction that would be disappointing to fans of the original show... Bryan and Glen [Larson] sat down. We wanted to make sure this union was very blessed by Glen. ... He has blessed this and wants to see it go forward... I think it's safe to say you can't do Battlestar Galactica without Cylons, [but] what our relationship to the Cylons will be, I can't say... I don't know if [finding Earth] is the goal in this show. ... We could be on a different exodus... It's pretty epic stuff we're going to do. We're committed to doing it right, now that we have Bryan. It's waited some 20-odd years to be reborn."

In an interview with, DeSanto ducked the question of whether original cast members would be used, but promised that "old fans and people who haven't heard of it alike will be happy with the new series." He admitted to not having seen Richard Hatch's Second Coming trailer and had no info on the network or the location shoot. Regarding the production, "I think it's going to surprise. The same way X-Men surprised the studio, I think this will surprise the network and will become a phenomenon. I don't think people realize the passion people have for this show and the fond memories of the show."

Then the information dried up. webmaster Michael Faries relayed spotted reports gleamed from his phone calls with Tom DeSanto and the production offices. Bryan Singer met and talked with Richard Hatch who officially endorsed the project, saying he was elated and that it was a wonderful surprise for him. Fans learned that the DeSanto/Singer team had actually been working on their Galactica project since last August and that the Variety article was only a formal announcement and that preproduction was already underway.

In early March, key cast members were being considered and Dan Angel and Billy Brown ("X-Files") were recruited as showrunners for the new production, helping flesh out the pilot script. By April, Studios USA had green-lighted the production and both a series bible and first-draft script had been completed. In June, the Fox network agreed to host the new two-hour Battlestar Galactica continuation series pilot. Tom DeSanto was elated. "I've dreamed of bringing Battlestar Galactica back for over 10 years now and could not think of a better home for it than Fox."

Glen Larson had also joined the production as a consulting producer. DeSanto commented in September 2003, "He just wanted to make sure that his child wasn't being raised by a pack of wolves. He didn't want it to be something that was being turned out to exploit its name." Original cast member Dirk Benedict told fans at MotorCity Comic Con in May that he personally talked to Tom DeSanto several times. Tom told Dirk that he was very enthusiastic about bringing back at least four of the original characters on to the new series. The only stumbling block was the studio executives who didn't want any of the old characters back.

By August, Richard Hatch hadn't been signed for the project or invited to any official meetings to discuss his role even though filming was scheduled to being in November. Dirk Benedict and Herb Jefferson had already signed on to the project and were optimistic that follow-on projects would include Richard Hatch, although it was becoming increasingly obvious that Richard was not invited for the pilot.

Several FX houses including Foundation Imaging, Eden FX and the Orphanage began work, and the producers began constructing sets in a rented, abandonned Sears warehouse in Vancouver. "We built the skeletons of two Vipers and started building the bridge set. It was going to be a true rendition of the bridge, only we were going to make it a bit larger." Budgeted at more than $10 million, principal photography was scheduled between November and January 2002, with postproduction to continue through the spring, and a May 2002 premiere on Fox. After directing the pilot, Singer would immediately begin pre-production on X2: X-Men United, which was scheduled to being shooting in May as well.

After 9/11, the production ground to a halt. Said DeSanto, "It was devastating. No one was able to function. It was difficult to focus, and we lost about a month, and that caused the schedule to shift." The delay forced the departure of Bryan Singer to focus on X2, and Fox had assigned Rob Bowman to take his place. DeSanto tried to recruit another name director, Nic Meyer (who had directed several Star Trek feature films), before bringing on board Stephen Hopkins, Gary Fleder and Brian Henson. With Singer gone, however, everything unravelled. Fox had lost interest, withdrew its support, and chose instead to devote its efforts to creating Joss Whedon's Firefly. On November 13, Variety announced that as a result of Singer's departure, the early 2002 shoot in Vancouver had been cancelled. Tom DeSanto then made an announcement to the fans:

"Our THANKS TO ALL OF YOU that have signed the petitions, written letters and supported the return of Battlestar Galactica. We are listening to you. And we appreciate your support, past, present and future. We feel that you will not be disappointed with our production for the new Battlestar Galactica. And we hope to bring it to you as soon as it is possible."

Fox withdrew its support in the leadup to the official Firefly announcement on December 19. DeSanto said that it was "right before Christmas" when he spoke to Studios USA president David Kissinger. "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." According to David Eick, Kissinger phoned him up the same day that Kissinger had gotten word back from the president of the Fox network. Fox was backing out of its commitment, and Studios USA was now looking to develop it for its own network the Sci-Fi Channel as a four-hour miniseries. Kissinger asked Eick if he was interested in pursuing the property, and Eick stipulated he would do so only if he were not bound in any way by the existing material or script. He started shopping around for different writers and turned to former Star Trek scribe Ronald D. Moore.

Moore discussed the genesis of the project in a September 2002 chat at "I was told that the DeSanto/Singer project was being shelved and I was asked whether or not I was interested in coming up with a new take for a Galactica series. I thought about it and said yes, and my pitch was to remake the series... [They] discussed my initial take on a remake for a few weeks, then I pitched it first to the studio, and then the network. They bought it, we made a deal, and then they announced it in April." All of this took place without the apparent knowledge of DeSanto. However, according to Moore, "there was nothing secretive about my becoming involved. It was all handled very matter of fact, and at no time was there any suggestion that the previous project was still alive or under active consideration."

On April 2, 2002, the saga of DeSanto and Singer ended, with the official announcement of the December 2003 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries. Unlike DeSanto, it was a remake, or "re-imagining" of the original story.

The continuation that never was

Many fans have speculated what a DeSanto project might have looked like, and some have accused the main players of maintaining a "cone of silence" that minimized the fanbase's ability to show their support for a faithful Galactica continuation. Very little information on the script was ever released until Tom DeSanto's presentation at Galacticon in October 2003. Here is a brief plot description as was revealed at the event.

In early drafts of the script, Commander Adama was the main character, a role that Bryan Singer originally intended for Ian McKellan. However, in later drafts, Adama is dead and the Commander is Boxey (now called Orin), with Starbuck as second in command. The DeSanto pilot takes place a generation after the timeline of the original series.

Twenty years before the events of the DeSanto pilot, the Galactica and the Pegasus together had fought off a massive Cylon attack. The Pegasus has been presumed lost, along with Sheba and Apollo. Since then the Colonials, weary of the search for Earth, had established a new Colony in the midst of an asteroid field, and fallen into decadence. For the new generation born in space, the ordeal of the Destruction of the Colonies was now a distant memory. But the Cylons were not gone for good.

In the wake of their historic defeat, a civil war had occurred, in which a new faction had taken over the Cylon empire, one which desired not the destruction of the humans, but their absorption into the empire by accepting cybernetic implants. By this method, the humans left behind on the original homeworlds had become assimilated. In a July 2003 SciFi Wire interview, DeSanto said that "we did have human Cylons, but we did it in a different sort of twist [than Ronald Moore]. It was the old Colonials who had became integrated into the Cylon society. The one way that they found they could survive was to give up their free will."

In the last half of the pilot episode, Cylons return to launch an assault on New Caprica. With the Galactica damaged, and just as they are about to complete the attack, they mysteriously halt. The final scenes takes place on the Cylon homeworld, where the camera focuses on the Cylon Apollo, a red light moving back and forth behind his right eye.

There were plans to use original cast members in the followup series. Herb Jefferson's Boomer would have had a semi-regular role in addition to appearing in the pilot. Jane Seymour (Serina) had actually contacted DeSanto, desiring a role in the project. He was going to cast her as one of the angels aboard the Ship of Lights, and as a possible redeemer to the fallen Apollo. Anne Lockhart's Sheba, not cast in the pilot, would have returned in command of the Pegasus later in the series. Laurette Spang's Cassiopeia, now married with children, would also have appeared in the series, along with Terry Carter's Colonel Tigh. DeSanto had intended to bring back Patrick Macnee as Iblis, who would save seen his role usurped by his son. Noah Hathaway, who played the original Boxey, would have been cast in a different role, that of a Viper pilot.

In a July 2002 interview at SciFiPulse, Dirk Benedict commented on his role in the new series:

"I was excited to play Starbuck 20 years older. The same man. Still drinking, smoking and chasing women, but at 50 it has a completely different resonance than when you are in your 20's. Full of pathos. Still romantic and in a way charming and enticing but also lonely and a bit sad. Tom agreed with me on these things. We would not have made him politically correct. I think the fans would have enjoyed it extremely and he would have been marvelous character by which to introduce all the young and the new stars of the revival... Tom DeSanto, as you know, was going to use original members to bridge from what was to what would have been. I regret he was distanced from this project."

Original series fans still hope that Glen Larson will be able to one day partner with Tom DeSanto to continue the original storyline and make use the original cast including Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict.

Additional References and Links

Galactica Revival: 1978-1999
Galactica Revival: 1999 Part 1
Galactica Revival: 1999 Part 2
Galactica Revival: 2000

Colonial Fan Force
Battlestar Pegasus