It has been nearly 25 years since Babylon 5 first aired and the series still boasts a devout fandom unlike any other. This seems appropriate, however, as Babylon 5 itself has defied convention since it first aired on the fledgling Prime Time Entertainment Network on February 22, 1993.
Set in the not-too-distant future of 2258, the series focused upon the titular space-station and the crew of soldiers and diplomats who oversaw its management. The fifth and final station of its kind (the first three were blown up by terrorists and the fourth one disappeared mysteriously), was built to act as both a port for commerce and a meeting-ground for The League of Non-Aligned Worlds. What it would become, however, was the key to victory as a war between two ancient civilizations began anew and threatened to consume all sentient life in the process.
Many factors set Babylon 5 apart from the common clay of science-fiction television. It had a unique look, utilizing CGI long before such technology became standardized. It was applauded for its scientific accuracy yet its stories made use of fantasy elements such as psychic powers and prophetic visions. The show was also notable for complex characters who could be seen as heroes or villains – often in the same episode! Yet for all of the loyalty the show inspired, it still maintains as many mysteries as a Vorlon.
Here now are 18 Dark Secrets Behind Babylon 5 Even Die-Hard Fans Don’t Know.
18. Every Character In The Series Had A “Trap-Door”
Real life has a way of getting in the way of things and that’s especially true in the world of television. “Actors,” as show creator J. Michael Straczynski once noted, “can get sick, they can get into contract disputes, they can get hit by meteors…” With that in mind, Straczynski purposely wrote several “trap doors” into the series that could be used to pull a character out of the story-line without harming the overall plot.
Straczynski’s paranoia proved prophetic. Babylon 5 became infamous for its rotating cast and only four actors stayed with the show from its pilot movie through the very last episode. Indeed, nearly half of the original cast from the pilot movie, “The Gathering”, were replaced when the show went to series for one reason or another.
17. Stephen Furst was cast as Vir because of a botched audition
The role of the nebbish Vir Cotto was seemingly written for Stephen Furst – most famous for his performance as the similarly awkward Flounder in Animal House. Shockingly this was not the case, but Furst won the role after an audition so weirdly disastrous that it played like something out of a Harold Ramis comedy.
Arriving at the audition to discover that every other actor auditioning for the role of Vir had done their hair up in style of the Centauri race, Furst panicked. He attempted to restyle his hair using liquid soap in the bathroom. By the time he was called in, the soap had run down his forehead and into his eyes.
Thus did a watery-eyed, stumbling Furst approach the producers, immediately trying to explain everything with a rambling apology. J. Michael Straczynski said, “Oh my God, it’s Vir!” and Furst was offered the role on the spot.
16. Jeff Conway’s addictions
Despite a long and distinguished career, actor/singer Jeff Conway is probably best remembered today for his slow decline and appearances on Celebrity Fit Club and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Indeed, it was wrongly reported at first that Conway had died of a drug overdose when the real cause of his death was severe pneumonia.
Despite Conway relapsing several times after he first sought treatment for his cocaine, painkiller, and alcohol addictions in the mid-1980s, many of his co-workers on Babylon 5 said that Conway’s battles with his drug use never affected his work. After Conway’s death, actor Bruce Boxleitner – who played the role of Captain Sheridan – confirmed that Conway always arrived on-time, ready to work, and that he never saw Conaway in any state but sober on-set.
15. There is a not-so-friendly rivalry between B5 fans and Trekkies
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 have drawn frequent comparison. It is logical, as Mr. Spock might say, given that both shows are based around a space station. Some, including J. Michael Straczynski himself, have wondered if the connection is more than coincidence.
Straczynski first approached Paramount with the idea for Babylon 5, hoping the Star Trek owners might prove agreeable to sponsoring another science-fiction series. Paramount declined, though work on DS9 started shortly after Warner Bros. picked up B5 and the first episode of DS9 was rushed to air two months before the Babylon 5 pilot movie.
Babylon 5 made several sly remarks about the rip-off, including a declaration by one character that the station “…isn’t some deep-space franchise!” A peace of a sorts was finally forged with actress Majel Barrett (widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) cast in the important role of seer Lady Morella.
14. J. Michael Straczynski crossed the workplace line with Claudia Christian
Workplace romances rarely work out and even attempting one can lead to awkwardness for everyone involved. This was certainly the case on Babylon 5, when show creator J. Michael Straczynski tried to make a love connection with actress Claudia Christian.
Christian discussed the incident in her autobiography, Babylon Confidential. Following a bad break-up, Christian found herself being called into Straczynski’s office for a series of one-on-one meetings, culminating in him asking her to see a show with him.
At first Christian had thought Straczynski was just trying to cheer her up, but his romantic intentions were made clear when she received a dozen roses and he arrived to pick her up in a stretch limousine. The evening which followed was incredibly uncomfortable and killed the friendship between the two.
13. Canceled romance between two women
Despite the overall story of Babylon 5 being heavily mapped, J. Michael Straczynski did allow himself some room for adding new subplots should the mood take him. Inspiration struck one day, when he spotted Andrea Thompson and Claudia Christian pretending to make-out on-set as a joke. Thus was born the idea to develop a romantic relationship between telepath Talia Winters and Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova.
While JMS freely admitted to “embracing his inner teenager” with the idea, the subplot was handled with amazing sensitivity. The second season saw the two women bond in the face of Winters’ disillusionment with an increasingly fascist PsiCorps, as she looked for comfort from Ivanova, whose telepathic mother committed suicide rather than endure mistreatment at the hands of The PsiCorps. Unfortunately, Thompson left the show before the two heroines officially became a couple.
12. Why Claudia Christian left the show
The decision to renew Babylon 5 for a fifth season on another network came so late that most of the cast had already found work elsewhere. This left the studio brass in quite a pickle, as they could hardly produce a new season without the established cast, now that they had moved past all of the “trap doors” J. Michael Straczynski had planned for the first five seasons.
According to Claudia Christian’s autobiography Babylon Confidential, the studio brass showed-up while most of the cast was at a science-fiction convention in England. Plying them with wine and good scotch, the executives approached the actors with new contracts in the middle of the night, pushing for an immediate signature. Christian refused and immediately called her manager, who was livid at the breach in protocol. Reportedly the executives refused to negotiate with Christian’s manager and the actress was forced off the show.
11. Network meddling hindered casting
While Babylon 5 was largely free of editorial interference, the network did step in regarding several key casting decisions. One of these involved Lyta Alexander – the station’s resident telepath in the pilot movie.
The role was written for Patricia Tillman, whose performance in the 1990 Night Of The Living Dead remake had greatly impressed J. Michael Straczynski. Unfortunately, PTEN was less enamored of Tillman, who was better known for her work as a stunt-performer than as an actress. Strazynski was forced to replace Tillman with the better-known Andrea Thompson, but he brought Tillman back after Thompson left the show.
The reverse happened in the case of Warren Keffer – a hot-shot pilot (played by Robert Rusler) whom executives demanded be added into the show because they wanted a “Han Solo-type”. Straczynski accommodated them, despite loathing the concept, and quietly gave Keffer a hero’s death in the second season finale.
10. Garibaldi’s Season 5 plot was inspired by Jerry Doyle’s alcoholism
When Babylon 5 was unexpectedly renewed for a fifth season, J. Michael Straczynski was stuck scrambling for subplots to occupy the cast. In the case of Michael Garibaldi, Straczynski turned to the life of actor Jerry Doyle and past complaints about how the show had depicted alcoholism.
Doyle, who played the part of Michael Garibaldi, was a recovering alcoholic in real life and his experiences helped to inform the character, who had come to Babylon 5 as a last chance after his drinking ruined his career as a lawman on Mars. Garibaldi was depicted falling off the wagon once in the first season episode “Survivors”, but was fully recovered by the episode’s end. This disappointed Doyle and many fans of the show, prompting Straczynski to attempt a slower, more realistic portrayal of overcoming alcoholism with Garibaldi’s fifth season subplot.
9. Claudia Christian was shot by a fan at a convention
Most actresses have to deal with crazed fans. Many of them are even subjected to threats of violence. Thankfully, few of them have to deal with someone following through on those threats. Claudia Christian is one of those few who did and one of the lucky fewer who survived the encounter.
Christian detailed the incident, which occurred at a New York science-fiction convention, in her book Babylon Confidential. She had received several gifts from the fan – a postal worker who enjoyed knitting. He attended the convention in a homemade Tribble costume and gave Christian an afghan, promising a second gift later that day.
The fan returned with his costume altered with wires and blinking red lights. The fan declared “I am a morphed Tribble. Now you will be morphed too,” before drawing a gun and shooting Christian. Thankfully, the round proved to be a blank and she survived with minor injuries.
8. Both Jerry Doyle and Andrea Thompson gave up acting after Babylon 5
Whatever differences led to the end of their marriage, actors Andrea Thompson and Jerry Doyle did share one surprising ambition – journalism
A stock-broker and jet pilot, Doyle got into acting as a lark in 1991 and once declared that he could happily quit acting to focus on playing with his son. When Babylon 5 came to an end, he started his own production company and began exploring other options. This led to him starting his own talk-radio news show, which quickly became the sixth most highly rated show of its kind nation-wide.
After going on to roles on NYPD Blue and JAG, Thompson quit acting in 1999. A high-school dropout, Thompson worked to earn her GED and went on to study journalistic writing through an accelerated learning seminar. After a brief stint with a local CBS affiliate, Thompson was hired as a news anchor for CNN’s Headline News Network.
7. Michael O’Hare’s Mental Health Issues
Babylon 5 became infamous for its continually changing cast. One of the most infamous departures came at the start of the second season, when Commander Jeffrey Sinclair – leader of the human military forces on the station – left his post to become the Ambassador to Minbar.
Officially, the reason for Sinclair’s departure was that actor Michael O’Hare wanted to devote more time to the theater. The truth was far darker. O’Hare had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and the symptoms were severe enough to make work impossible. Only J. Michael Straczynski knew the truth.
Straczynski offered to delay production until O’Hare recovered, but O’Hare refused, saying it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the cast and crew. O’Hare left the series and Straczynski kept his illness a secret, revealing it (by agreement with O’Hare) after O’Hare’s death in the hopes it would inspire others to seek treatment.
6. Galaxy Quest ripped off Babylon 5 star?
After Babylon 5 ended, actor Peter Jurasik – who played the role of Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari for the show’s entire run – took a stab at writing. With the assistance of William H. Keith Jr, Jurasik penned the 1998 novel Diplomatic Act – a science fiction comedy about an actor who finds himself thrust into the role of a lifetime after he is abducted by aliens with no concept of fiction, who think that he really is master-diplomat Harmon the Eldar and want him to prevent a war.
If this idea seems familiar, you’re not alone in thinking so. Many commented upon the more-than-slight resemblance between the plot of Diplomatic Act and the movie Galaxy Quest, which came out a year after the book’s release.
5. The Plans For Season 5 Were Stolen At A Convention
When Babylon 5 was in production, J. Michael Straczynski was notoriously paranoid about keeping his five-year-plan for the series a secret, keeping the plot outlines securely locked in his private office. Even the actors had no idea what would be happening to their characters until the individual episodes began filming, so strict was JMS’s control of the script.
It is ironic then that, when the show’s unexpected renewal for a fifth season saw Straczynski rushing to come up with material to continue the story for another year, his only copy of the plans for the new season were stolen while he was attending a science-fiction convention!
Straczynski related the story in his Babylon 5 Scripts collection, blaming the uneven quality of the show’s fifth season upon the theft and his subsequent desire to create something other than what he’d originally planned.
4. Canceled trans character
Transformation is a major theme of Babylon 5 and no character better exemplified this than Delenn, the Minbari ambassador. In order to act as a symbolic link between her own people and the Earthlings, who were still recovering from a war between their two species, Deleen underwent a metamorphosis that transformed her into a half-human/half-Minbari hybrid.
Originally, this transformation was planned to be more extreme, with Delenn originally having been written as a male Minbari who would transition into a woman as part of the change. Shockingly, this idea – radical even by today’s standards – was not abandoned because of executive meddling. It was changed because J. Michael Straczynski disliked the make-up effects used in “The Gathering” movie to make actress Mira Furlan look masculine and the audio tricks used to deepen her voice.
3. Actors Jerry Doyle and Andrea Thompson got married (and then divorced)
It was heavily implied in the early seasons of Babylon 5 that the station’s Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) had a crush on the station’s official registered telepath, Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson). There was even a running gag that Garibaldi would always just happen to be waiting alone in the elevator whenever Talia needed to go somewhere, clearly hoping to strike up a non-work related conversation.
While Garibaldi never got a chance at romance with the aloof Winters, Doyle, and Thompson found love for a time while working together. The two married in 1995 and had a child together, but their romance fizzled just as quickly as it flared up. The actors divorced just two years later, though neither publicly gave any reason for the split.
2. The episode “Believers” missing from Hulu
The first two seasons of Babylon 5 were available for a time on Hulu, save for one episode – “Believers”. The tenth episode of Babylon 5‘s first season, the episode focused on the conflict between the station’s head physician, Dr. Stephen Franklin, and the parents of Shon, a sickly alien child.
Shon’s parents sought a treatment for his condition but forbid anything that would require cutting his flesh – a taboo in their religion. This left Dr. Franklin – who could have cured Shon easily with a simple surgery – struggling with both his own belief in his Hippocratic oath and his development of a technique that would save Shon while satisfying his parents.
Despite being loosely based on real world events, the episode drew criticism for its portrayal of Evangelicals. It is unknown if this is why the episode wasn’t hosted on Hulu but it seems a likely guess.
1. The Show’s Five Year Plan Was Rushed To Fit Four Seasons… only to get a fifth season!
The story of Babylon 5 had always been plotted to be a five-year journey. However, when the Prime Time Entertainment Network that syndicated Babylon 5 began to fall apart in 1996 as the stations which made up the network began to sign on to join the new UPN or WB networks, J. Michael Straczynski made a tough choice.
Knowing that the network would only last another year, if that, and how unlikely it would be to get another network to pick-up Babylon 5, Straczynski sped up the timetable of the series and wrote all of the fourth season himself so that the all the major plot points of the epic story could be accounted for. Naturally, once that was accomplished, an eleventh-hour effort saw the show picked up for a fifth season by the TNT cable network, and Stracyznski was left scrambling for stories.
Is there a dark secret behind Babylon 5 that we forgot? Let us know in the comments!
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