Re: ATTN JMS: Why Accelerate t

 Posted on 1/25/1995 by to

"What was the spark that ignited your desire to create B5?"

It was a number of things, actually, that all came together at the
same time.

1) I'd just gotten off an SF series (Captain Power) where the budget
was out of control half the time. It made me nuts. I come from this very
old fashioned school of thought that says if somebody gives you X-million
dollars to make a series, it behooves you to act RESPONSIBLY. Then I
looked around more and found that virtually ALL sf series had gone and
were going over budget, mainly because they weren't planned out properly.
The emphasis was on just selling the idea, who cares what happens next.
Whatever one might think of the episode, the 1/2 hour "Nightcrawlers"
installment of the new TWILIGHT ZONE cost a tick over ONE MILLION DOLLARS.
That's nuts. I kept thinking, "There has to be a sensible way to do an sF
series that's responsible, and by virtue of showing it CAN be done
responsibly, help to create MORE sf from other people, since the industry
overall is afraid of it."

2) I'd interviewed and known too many SF producers who knew absolutely
NOTHING about the genre, didn't respect the genre, just wanted to collect
the bucks and get out.

3) As a lifelong SF fan myself, I loved the sagas, the huge cycles:
Foundation, Childhood's End, Lord of the Rings, Dune, and kept wondering,
"Why hasn't someone done this for TV?" To which the only answer is,
"Nobody's tried."

Those elements just kept niggling at me until finally I sat down and
worked out first how to design a series responsibly, then came up with the
concept for the storyline. (Learn from mainstream TV: don't go in search
of new worlds, building them anew each week, create a place where the
stories come to YOU, as they do in a hospital, a police station, a law
office. This led me to a space station.)

Once I had the locale, I began to populate it with characters, and
sketch out directions that might be interesting. I dragged out my notes
on religion, philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, science (the ones
that didn't make my head explode), and started stitching together a
crazy quilt pattern that eventually formed a picture. Once I had that
picture in my head, once I knew what the major theme was, the rest fell
into place. All at once, I saw the full five year story in a flash, and
I frantically began scribbling down notes.

I spent the next couple of years just expanding upon what I saw in
that flash, building out the characters, the conflicts, the changes in
alliance, shoring up the thematic elements which will only really become
apparent over time. In a way, in the midst of this, it was Tennyson's
"Ulysses" that more surely pointed me toward the heartmeat core of the
story, which is why I've quoted it in the pilot, in the series, and in
issue #1 of the comic.

I knew, instantly, that this show might well be impossible to sell;
that I could invest years of my life into the task, only to fail in the
end. And, in fact, it took *five years* to finally get this anywhere.
During that time, had I dropped it, I could've likely sold two or three
other more conventional series. But like Sinclair, I strapped myself
into this particular Starfury, pointed myself at my target, and swore not
to flinch, no matter what. (In discussions about this with Michael, we
agreed that only he and I were really entitled to wear the patches from
the Battle of the Line.)

For a long time, a lot of people told me to drop it. My agent said,
"Kiddo, you know I love the project, but I think you've got to face
reality. It's not going to happen. I have several other gigs you could
take if you'd drop this for a while. Maybe later you can try again."
Friends, family, acquaintances, network suits, studio suits, Major
Agencies...everyone said let it go. It's been four years, going on five.
How much longer are you going to DO this?

As long as it TAKES, goddamn it.

I knew that there was a story I wanted to tell, something that I
wanted to SAY. And there is nothing more essentially deadly than someone
who believes, rightly or wrongly, that he's on a mission, grandiose and
possibly stupid as that sounds. I also wanted to make this show because
I wanted to SEE it as a viewer. Several years ago, I was looking for a
particular kind of book to read. Couldn't find it. So I wrote it, then
shoved it in a closet. My agent heard about it a year or two later,
dragged it out, read it, and sold it. Go figure.

Also, you have to understand...when I was a very young kid, I went to
visit my grandfather's grave. My grandfater was an alcoholic who died in
the gutter. Literally. And was buried in a pauper's grave. Ever been to
a pauper's grave? Lead pipe. Brass number. You check the roster to find
out who's buried. No name, no date. He passed through his life without
leaving footprints. It terrified me beyond the capacity of words to convey
to you. I swore, at that moment, that I wouldn't go down like that, that
I'd leave a mark, somehow, that I'd been here. And on one level, that's
what Babylon 5 is to me. See, that's why nothing stops's not about
money, or fame, or merchandising...there's nothing they can use agains]
me. Whether I stand or fall doesn't matter. If I write hard, if I work
hard, what I have created will survive me. Even when I'm forgotten, this
will go on. I will have left my mark.

That, at least, is the conceit I allow myself in the Hour of the Wolf,
when everything looks futile, and I doubt myself the most.