Don Bellisario and Terrence McConnell on Writing Galactica

[ The following are excerpts from a long article on Galactica by Steven Simak in the June 1995 issue of Sci-Fi Universe. Bellisario was one of the original series' producers, and Terrence McConnell a member of its writing staff. ]

"Because the Cylons were mechanical robots, they weren't human beings and therefore they could be destroyed and it was not considered to be overly violent," explains Bellisario. "The problem with that is that all you could do was kill machines and show no consequences. The machines couldn't kill anybody back and I think it soon became a bit ludicrous to the watching public who did like the show. Your hero or your heroine was never in real jeopardy."

"Even when our guys would blow up a Cylon ship," adds McDonnell, "you could never say, 'that's my third kill' because that would imply that they had in fact been alive."

Says McDonnell, "Basically, Standards and Practices, as far as I am concerned, is supposed to say, 'okay this is too violent,' or 'tone it down,' but they were literally saying 'do this instead of that.' I think that is way, way too intrusive."

In addition to dealing with Standards and Practices, Larson felt it was important to create new conflicts and even minimize Cylon appearances as the series progressed. In fact, he likened the role of the Cylons to that of Lt. Gerard in The Fugitive television series. "Lt. Gerard didn't show up very often on television. You talked about him a lot and he'd show up maybe every third episode for a quick pop, but that was it. "Galactica was very much like the Fugitive. You've got these people constantly under pressure because someone might betray them."

McDonnell was also interested in finding new problems for the Colonists to face. As he suggests, not all had to involve combat with an adversary, "The Cylons ultimately weren't any threat to our guys; they couldn't be. With that in mind, our feeling was, 'The hell with the Cylons. Let's get into some stories dealing with the people on the fleet and with things threatening them outside, besides the Cylons.' We were always looking for outside things like 'the irrigation water is gone. Now, how are they going to survive?' There is still the threat. It's more interesting, it's more personal and there definitely was a threat."

The move on the part of the producers toward new conflicts developed as the series progressed. Fresh adversaries such as the Eastern Alliance and the Borellian Noman, were introduced. A greater focus could also be found on character-driven stories such as the series' final episode, "The Hand of God." Having been free of the Cylons for several episodes, the Galactica discovers a hiding basestar and prepares to launch a sneak attack. Although the Cylon are featured, the personal relationships between Apollo and Sheba and between Starbuck and Cassiopeia receive strong treatment from writer/director Don Bellisario.

"If you look at my shows, I always do character shows," says Bellisario. "They may have action but they are character-oriented shows. I like to tell heart stories. It was typical of the kind of show that I like to write and that was the direction I would have like to have taken the show."

Also notable in this episode is Adama's promise to release the traitor Baltar -- who had been captured in a previous episode -- on a nearby planet should they be victorious over the basestar. Although no formal decisions had been reached, there had been considerable discussion about minimizing Baltar's role as the lead villain, at least for a while.

"It's redundant if you have only one villain there all the time in space," says Larson. "To hang on to one particular group of heavies is suspect in a theme that shold be able to take you anyplace and do anything. You didn't want to get into a trap or a rut there."

Originally called "The Finger of God," referring to a small dome protruding from the hull of the Galactica, the tile of the epsiode was changed when ABC expressed concern that the reference was too dirty for television. That aside, "The Hand of God" is cited by many associated with the series as the direction that the second season might have taken.

"Don Bellisario had written the last episode and it just started to open up," comments [Laurette] Spang. "They started realizing they had to get more into the characters and put the Cylons and everything a little bit more into the background for a while. I think it takes a season for an show worth its weight to get going, but they buried it before it had a chance."

"When I joined Galactica," says Bellisario, "Glen was struggling with all the problems of the show. It was a massive show to mount. It was an incredible accomplishment to get it done on a television budget. It was an enormous undertaking. People expected to see what they see in feature films and that's very hard to turn out every week. I think that Glen deserves a hell of a lot of credit for pulling it off at all.

"But it was like an oil tanker out there. You had to have made adjustments five miles back in order to make the turn you wanted to make up ahead. What we were trying to do was take the show, and move it in a personal direction, in such a way that we could make it and mount it. I think we were beginning to accomplish that and take it in a direction that the viewers would have loved. We would have continued to make good teleivision instead of hardware stories, but by that time it was too late. That turn was made and it would have come about five episodes down the line."