Olmos tells Galactica' fans: Don't watch'

07/11/03

Mark Dawidziak
Plain Dealer Television Critic

Hollywood - Integrity can be such a liability in Hollywood, a town that barely acknowledges its existence. Edward James Olmos sat through a meeting with TV critics, clearly uncomfortable as producers and Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer cheerfully promised that a remake of "Battlestar Galactica" would appeal to young science-fiction fans without alienating those devoted to the original 1978-80 series.

It all proved too much for the actor, whose performance in "Stand and Deliver" (1988) earned him an Oscar nomination. Suffering an acute attack of honesty, Olmos sat and delivered a filibuster that busted up all the lofty claims being made by Hammer, writer-producer Ronald Moore and executive producer David Eick.

"I must say one thing and will say this very clearly," Olmos told critics as the Sci Fi Channel's session was drawing to a close. "If you are a person who really has a strict belief in the original, I would not advise that you watch this program. It'll hurt them.

"We really don't stand true to the kind of characters that were built around the original. It definitely does break the mold. Some of the characters' names are the same, but the intent and the way that we are building the reality is completely not the reality that was built in the original."

It also wasn't the version of reality painted in response to critics' questions about the new "Battlestar Galactica," which the Sci Fi Channel will premiere in December. Such fits of truthfulness are rare when actors and producers detail the supposed merits of a television project.

So the stunned room quickly moved along the path that starts with disbelief and, illuminated by laughter, leads to appreciation.

"And so I tell them straightforward," Olmos said of the "Battlestar Galactica" purists, " 'Please don't watch this program. Buy yourself the new DVDs that they are putting out of the old episodes, and whenever we come on, just put that in. Don't watch this, because it will hurt.'

"I've gotten some really strong, strong mail. . . . They're really bitter. They're very angry. And I know the Sci Fi Channel wants to say that everybody's going to enjoy it. They're not."

The Olmos outburst was almost enough to make you feel sorry for a TV executive - almost. Hammer tried to joke her way out of what charitably would be described as an awkward moment. Her star, after all, was telling an entire segment of the science-fiction audience not to watch an expensive piece of prime-time programming.

"Kill me now," Hammer said.

But Olmos didn't put Hammer out of her misery. The former "Miami Vice" star went on airing reservations as the Sci Fi Channel's publicity department moved to put a quick end to this meeting with delighted TV critics gathered for their semiannual sampling of new network, cable and PBS shows.

"I'm going to be the first one to say it really clearly," Olmos continued after Hammer's death-wish jest. "Please tell your readers, do not watch this program."

It doesn't get any better than this. "I think we have a new marketing campaign for 'Battlestar Galactica,' " Hammer tried again. Yet her second attempt at humor did nothing to slow down Olmos now that he had worked up a full head of sincerity steam.

He had been reading the worried e-mails from "Galactica" fans who are sure that the Sci Fi Channel is going to trash their beloved series, which was launched by ABC after the first "Star Wars" film became a pop-culture phenomenon.

"You can take it that way," Olmos said in response to Hammer's lighthearted remark about a new marketing campaign, "but at least that way you give them an opportunity to not break their television sets. Because people get really, really angry. You've got to remember that this is a show that was only on . . . in the late '70s, and to this day has a very strong fan base. Tens of thousands of people who write to each other for 25 years over a program that is not on the air and is not even being rerun.

"They didn't want this at all, and I didn't know any of this. . . . All of a sudden, my e-mails went through the roof. Suddenly I was accused of teaming up with Ron Moore and creating just a slap in the face of all these people, and I didn't want to slap anybody."

Hammer must have been feeling hammered, all right, as her "Battlestar Galactica" star described what it felt like to be an embattled star, unprepared for an e-mail assault.

During January's critics press tour, the Sci Fi Channel president was besieged by persistent questions about "Farscape" fans' outrage over the cancellation of the acclaimed series. Six months later, the battleground was "Battlestar Galactica," a four-hour remake that probably will be turned into a series.

The original starred Lorne Greene as Adama, commander of the only battlestar to survive an attack by the ruthless Cylons. Richard Hatch played his son, Capt. Apollo, leader of Galactica's fighter squadron. Dirk Benedict, later recruited for "The A-Team," played ace pilot Lt. Starbuck.

Olmos plays Adama, leading a cast that also includes Jamie Bamber ("Band of Brothers") as Apollo, Mary McDonnell as the newly appointed president and, faster than you can say gender switch, Katee Sackhoff as a female Starbuck. Vastly different in look and tone from the series, this two-part cable take on "Battlestar Galactica" will be darker, edgier and racier.

Some science-fiction fans will be happy to see the remake stray from the original, which was roasted by critics, sued for plagiarism by the "Star Wars" producers and roundly dismissed as inferior goods by many genre devotees. Moore said that he believed the much-maligned ABC incarnation "was a good show" with "an extraordinarily interesting premise," while Olmos admitted that he didn't know anything about the earlier space vehicle until the e-mails started piling up.

So he's not passing any critical judgments on the quality of the first "Battlestar Galactica." He just wants fans of that show to stay away from the remake.

"Trust me, don't watch it," said Olmos, the star of the PBS series "American Family." "If you are a real, real staunch 'Battlestar Galactica' person, don't watch it. . . . Just don't write to me, all right. I warned you. I was honest."

 


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