in the 25th Century is an American motion picture produced by Universal Studios and released in 1979, and is also the title of a television series based upon the film that was aired by NBC for two seasons between 1979 and 1981.
The film and series were based upon the Buck Rogers character that had been featured in comic strips and novellas since the 1920s.
The pilot film was first shown in cinemas in Spring 1979. Good box-office returns led NBC to commission a full series, which began on September 20, 1979 with a modified version of the theatrical release, which trimmed or altered some racier scenes - including a popular reference by Twiki
to his "freezing his ball bearings off" - and omitted the death of one character - Tiger Man, Ardala's henchman - who would later appear in several episodes of the series. There was also footage added to replace the censored scenes, including Buck's exploring his new quarters, and his first conversation with Dr. Theopolis regarding the nature of Anarchia.
The production obviously used recycled props and costumes from Battlestar Galactica (1978). For example, the control sticks used in the starfighters in this series were the same as those used in Battlestar Galactica's older version Viper craft. The Earth starfighters were Ralph McQuarrie's original vision of the Colonial Vipers. The same props were later used in the opening credits of the TV Show, Out of this World.
The new series centered on Captain William Anthony "Buck" Rogers, played by Gil Gerard, a U.S. Air Force pilot who commands Ranger 3, a space shuttle that is launched in 1987. Due to a freak combination of gases that Ranger 3 encounters in deep space, he is frozen in space for 504 years and is revived in the 25th Century (in the year 2491). There, he learns that the Earth was rebuilt following a devastating nuclear war in the late 20th Century, and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Directorate.
The series followed him as he tried to fit (not always successfully) into 25th-Century culture. As there were no traceable personal records for him, he was uniquely placed, due to his pilot and combat skills and personal ingenuity, to help Earth Defense foil assorted evil plots to destroy Earth. In many respects, the new Rogers was more similar to James Bond or Col. Steve Austin than to Nowlan's original character. Rogers is aided in his adventures by his friend and semi-romantic interest, Colonel Wilma Deering
, played by Erin Gray, and his comic sidekick robot, Twiki, voiced by Mel Blanc (who had previously voiced Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers in spoofs of the early Buck Rogers and other science fiction serials).
Twiki, a small robot or "ambuquad," tended to express himself with the exclamation "biddi-biddi-biddi" followed by a 20th-Century cliché or catchphrase he had picked up from Buck, or one he already knew from before he met Buck. Dr. Theopolis, a computer, was a large disk with an illuminated face; he was usually worn by Twiki, and was considered one of the planet's scientific leaders. During the first season, Rogers and Deering took their orders from Dr. Elias Huer, played by Tim O'Connor, the head of the Defense Directorate. Some episodes also depicted Huer as the leader of the entire planet. One notable character from the comic strip omitted from the series was that of "Black Barney".
The pilot film depicted human civilization as insular and restricted to a few domed cities, its capital referred to as the Inner City. Travel beyond the Inner City was hazardous, as the rest of the planet was said to be a wasteland inhabited by violent mutants.
The movie was originally slated for release for September 1978 according to director Daniel Haller, in an interview for Fantastic Films Magazine, Sept '79. There were several start dates for filming but, were repeatedly delayed due to casting problems.
The series showed a more positive picture of future Earth. The Inner City was renamed New Chicago, and it was established that human civilization had spread once again across the planet, and also to the stars. After the movie pilot, little reference to barren wastelands was made; in several episodes Buck ventures beyond the dome of New Chicago with no hazards encountered. As opposed to the isolationist planet seen in the film, Earth is shown to be the center of an interstellar human-dominated government, sometimes called "the Federation", other times "the Alliance", with its capital at New Chicago. Travel between the stars was accomplished with the use of stargates; these devices were only shown as a diamond-shaped quartet of stars that shimmered when a vessel was making transit. To portray futuristic-looking buildings on Earth, the show used stock shots of the remaining national pavilions of Expo 67, particularly the French and British pavilions as well as shots of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
In the first season Buck had a different girlfriend every week. A relationship with Wilma was hinted at, but rarely expanded upon. His best-known enemy during the first year the sexy Princess Ardala of Draconia, played by Pamela Hensley, whose insatiable desire was to conquer and possess both the Earth and Buck Rogers.
Although popular with viewers, the first season failed to receive much critical acclaim; it was seen as being too light-hearted and comic bookish. One vocal critic of the series was Gerard himself. He pushed for more serious storytelling and conflicted with the producers over the show's tone. "He was a smart-ass" says Gil referring to Buck on some of the lines he should have said during the first season, he continues "Dr Huer is trying to tell him about an assignment and all Buck is doing is making one wisecrack after another".
The series had an overall budget of $800,000 per hour of air time according to Starlog #32.
Production of the second season was delayed by several months due to an actors' strike. When production resumed in the fall of 1980, the format of the series was changed. Buck, Wilma and Twiki joined the crew of an earth spaceship called the Searcher which was seeking the lost "tribes" of humanity who had scattered in the decades after Earth's 20th century nuclear war (borrowing a theme from Battlestar Galactica). The characters of Dr. Huer, Dr. Theopolis, and recurring villain/love interest Princess Ardala were eliminated and replaced by:
Admiral Efram Asimov, the commander of Searcher, a descendant of the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov. Hawk
, a half-man, half-bird character.
Dr. Goodfellow, an eternally curious scientist.
Crichton, an officious know-it-all robot whom Twiki considers his son (and who refuses to believe that lowly humans could ever have created him, a possible nod to sci-fi writer Michael Crichton).
Much to the dismay of viewers, Mel Blanc left the series at the start of the season and another actor began to perform Twiki's voice; Blanc later returned for the final half of the season.
Gerard was successful in scaling back the humor in the second season in favor of more serious episodes, with a few exceptions. Buck and Wilma became more serious characters taking part in plotlines that might have been holdovers from Battlestar Galactica. One change that was considered an improvement was Buck and Wilma's relationship became more romantic during the second year, though most romantic activity took place off screen.
Moreover, the second season deals with serious issues such as evolution, ecology, racism, pollution, war, nuclear power, identity, the self, and religion. It also draws very much on mythology as an inspiration as exemplified by the Hawk's people which are a variant on the Bird people known from many mythologies around the world and makes special reference to the moai of Easter Island and by Pangora the satyr.
Although fan response to the addition of the character of Hawk was highly positive, the audience as a whole did not respond well to the change in the show's setting and plot direction, and ratings dropped significantly after the season premier. Citing cost concerns, NBC cancelled the series at the end of an eleven-episode strike-abbreviated season, though the ratings were still considered strong by comparison to other series.