Thirty years ago today, Battlestar Galactica premiered on the ABC network at 8pm in the evening.
With a running of three hours (with adverts), it was the most expensive television show in the world at that time.
Initially watched by over 65 million Americans, the show was cancelled after one year on the air, primarily because the network thought they weren't making enough money on it.
Why does the memory of this one-season wonder still endure after all this time?
I think because in many ways it was unique.
Sure, it wasn't 'real' science fiction like Star Trek or the Twilight Zone, after all it was written and created by Glen A. Larson – a man with very little experience of writing science fiction, who up until that point had written cop shows and westerns.
But what Larson did was something that hadn't been done before in American SF television, he wrapped his series in the trappings of his religion, the Mormon faith and reversed the direction of every show that had come before it – that of people from Earth going out into the universe. Now, the people of Galactica would be searching for Earth – alien humans from a society with nods to the ancient civilisations of our planet.
Also, unlike many shows that came before and after it, Battlestar Galactica had a far from liberal bent. It's philosophy of strength through superior power to maintain a peaceful existence echoes the policies of the Reagan years in US politics.
The show's main premise is also notable, in that within the first half hour, the human race is defeated and almost wiped out from their corner of the universe.
Out of the fires of defeat, however, the crew of the mighty battlestar Galactica leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet of survivors away from the clutches of their mortal enemies, the robotic race of chrome-clad proto-Terminators, the Cylons, on a quest (for the lost 13th Tribe who are said to exist on a planet called Earth) that is sustained by the unswerving faith of their leader, Commander Adama.
So, is the series about defeat?
No, it’s about hope and human resilience and the fact that very often, humans are at their very best when things are at their worst.
Is the series perfect?
No, far from it. There are too many plots that are reminiscent of popular movies from yesteryear and the writers' unfamiliarity with the tropes of science fiction can be embarrassing, but very often the sheer visual spectacle carries you through these rough spots, aided by the show's good-looking and likeable cast, the majestic musical score of composer Stu Phillips and it’s Emmy Award-winning special visual effects.
It may have lasted only one TV season, but the series is still shown throughout the world today. It is acknowledged in shows like the Simpsons and Futurama and it’s influences have even crept into the mighty Star Trek.
So, I raise my glass to Battlestar Galactica, gone but far from forgotten.
While the show has aired for four seasons and has bought much attention to the Sci Fi Channel – the truth is hardly anyone watches it.
Here we go.
It all started well as you can see with the table above (click on it to enlarge it) showing the ratings data from the mini series and the first season. The ratings actually went up for the second part of the mini (the audience being over four million people), but oh my, first broadcast episode “33” (arguably the best episode of the series) shows a 31.6% drop in audience of almost a third.
Just before season one began, NBC broadcast an edited version of the mini series to gee up interest in the show, but the idea obviously failed as we can see above, and the network recorded one of it's lowest ratings ever, drawing just 2.3 million viewers.
By the end season one, the series had dropped 34.2% of the audience from the mini series.
What happened to all those people from night two of the mini?
On to season two now and things are back on track for first episode “Scattered”, equalling season one’s first episode and up 4% on last season’s finale.
Worryingly though, the next episode registers a drop of 23.1% and to this date the show has never equalled the 2.6 season high rating.
By season’s end, 50% of the audience from night two of the mini series have abandoned the show.
Up until now, “Battlestar Galactica” had often vied with the two Stargate series for the position of Sci Fi’s number one drama, but 2006 saw the show kicked firmly into second place by the arrival of Eureka, a light drama based around a town of super-geeky scientists. Eureka garnered the network's highest-ever ratings for a series broadcast in its history. The July 18, two-hour premiere registered a 3.2 household rating, or more than four million viewers. It’s first season averaged a 2.2 rating with it’s finale achieving a 1.9.
Further indignity was suffered by the bizarre decision to show ECW wrestling on the station in the same year, and until the deliberate diminishing of the ECW brand, wrestling was the most watched programme on Sci Fi.
The audience size for the series is now around two million people, give or a take a couple of hundred thousand every week.
Season three arrives and the season premiere is down 30.7% on last year.
By season's end, the show has lost over two-thirds of its audience.
Original series fans got a laugh out of the ratings for one of Sci Fi's Saturday night schlock movies, Earthstorm, starring original series star Dirk Benedict. The movie posted a rating of 1.9 while that week's episode of "Battlestar Galactica" could only manage a 1.2.
On to season four, well not quite. "Razor", a direct-to-dvd movie was first shown on Sci Fi due to the movie rights held by series creator Glen A. Larson. The special had extra money put into it by Universal's DVD division and featured one of the series' most popular guest characters, the psychotic Admiral Cain, in what was essentially a flashback tale.
The movie could only post a dismal 1.2 rating and was last seen being outsold by the direct-to-dvd "Stargate-SG1: The Ark Of Truth".
Still, fourth season premiere episode "He That Believeth In Me" was up 33.3% on Razor and while we await the final ratings for this half of the season, the ratings curve is still down and the show is often coming in third place behind Ghost Hunters in the prime spot and whatever else is second.
So, what can we deduce?
1. "Battlestar Galactica" is the Sci Fi Channel's second most popular drama. 2. It's not as popular as Ghost Hunters, Eureka, Earthstorm, and believe it or not, repeats of crap Star Trek series, Enterprise. 3. A lot of the audience from the mini series didn't show up for the regular series. 4. Shown on a regular network, the show has all the appeal of a dead puppy.
5. It's not as popular as the original series, which at it's peak was watched by 66 million people in the US and at it's lowest (after the network deliberately attempted to kill it by pre-empting it all the time) 22 million.
TO BE CONTINUED
* Thanks to BST (Pete) for the charts and the maths, which made this article possible.