“The year is 1987 and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems and returns Buck Rogers to Earth 500 years later…”
This science fiction series from prolific creator/producer Glen Larson followed hot the heels of his other then-current sci-fi show, Battlestar Galactica. Unlike the Star Trek-esque Battlestar, however, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century initially harkened back to the cliffhanger style of the motion picture serials it was based upon. Despite its 1930’s origins, though, it was bolstered by very modern visual effects.
The show began in the near future (i.e. ‘1987’) with astronaut Buck Rogers piloting a NASA probe around the solar system. Something went wrong with the ship, causing his life-support systems to be frozen and his ship to be thrust into deep space until the year 2491 (but then, you knew all this already from the opening narration).
When Buck returned to Earth, he found a planet ravaged by a nuclear war. Even worse, its survivors were under attack from a nefarious alien race, the Draconians. In an unusual step for sci-fi TV, the Draconians were led by a beautiful but evil woman, Princess Ardala, assisted by a suitably evil henchman, Kane.
Buck landed in the city of New Chicago and was quickly discovered by the good guys, the Earth Defense Directorate. At first they thought he was a spy, but they came to appreciate him when he used his piloting skills to help fight off the Draconians. The ace pilot was quickly befriended by Dr. Huer, head of the Directorate, and put into a fighter squadron headed by Colonel Wilma Deering. Buck had another ally in Twiki, a small robot. Twiki could speak, but punctuated his speech with a sound that went ”biddi-biddi-biddi.” Dr Theopolis was another robot, a mechanical brain that was part of Earth’s Computer Council. He was shaped like a disc and often carried around the neck of Twiki.
Typical show premises had Buck and Wilma fighting various threats to Earth or planets friendly with Earth on behalf of the Defense Directorate. The adventures had an over-the-top edge to them that was mirrored by titles like “Planet of the Slave Girls” and “Buck’s Duel To The Death.” A few episodes featured Ardala trying to kidnap Buck because she thought he was ‘genetically perfect’ and wanted to marry him.
The show’s second season was delayed for about six months by a lengthy actor’s strike. When the show returned, its format had changed dramatically. Buck and Wilma were retained, but Dr. Huer and the Draconians were dropped. The new plot placed Buck, Wilma and Twiki aboard the ‘Searcher,’ a spaceship searching through space for other survivors of the ‘Great Holocaust’ like Buck. The show’s plots began to downplay serial-styled antics in favor of a tone closer to Battlestar Galactica.
The new leaders were Admiral Asimov and Lt. Devlin. Dr. Goodfellow was a smart but absent-minded scientist, and Crichton was his snobbish robotic creation. However, the fan favorite among the new additions was Hawk, a stoic half-man/half-bird alien who was looking for others members of his race.
The second season was short-lived, lasting only three months before being cancelled in April of 1981. It should be noted that the pilot episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century played theatrically six months prior to the show’s television debut. Producer Larson would go on to create a bigger sci-fi hit the following year in Knight Rider.
USA / NBC – Universal – Glen A. Larson / 33×50 minute episodes 1×105 minute episode 1×100 minute episode / Broadcast 27 September 1979 – 16 April 1981
Creator/Executive Producer: Glen A. Larson / Executive Producer: John Mantley (Season 2)
Gil Gerard as Buck Rogers
Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering
Tim O’Connor as Doctor Elias Huer (1979-80)
Jay Garner as Admiral Ifram Asimov (1981)
Wilfrid Hyde-White as Doctor Goodfellow (1981)
Thom Christopher as Hawk (1981)
Felix Silla as Twiki
Mel Blanc as Voice of Twiki
Eric Server as Dr. Theopolis (1979-80)
Paul Carr as Lieutenant Devlin (1981)
Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala (1979-80)
Henry Silva as Kane (1979)
Michael Ansarav as Kane (1979-80)
Alex Hyde-White as Technician
William Conrad as Narrator (1979-80)