Lost Opportunities: DeSanto/Singer Project

In June of 2000, rumors surfaced of yet another attempt to bring Battlestar Galactica back to life, courtesy of Sci-Fi Channel’s then-Executive V.P. Bonnie Hammer:

What was not known as this rumor was circulating was that at about the same time, producer Tom DeSanto and director Brian Singer were sharing a flight to New York for an X-Men press junket; Tom was watching his BSG original series DVDs when Brian leaned over and said, “My God! Battlestar Galactica!” The ensuing conversation resulted in their decision to pursue a revival of that ill-fated franchise. (Note: see our exclusive interview with Tom DeSanto for more.)

January 2001 saw rumors again surface that the Sci-Fi Channel was in preliminary stages of putting together a new Battlestar Galactica series, but that this production bore no real resemblance to the original; there would be no battlestar, there would be no Cylons, and it would be primarily set in “biodome” ships, focusing on the civilian part of the fleet.  Creator Glen Larson was not involved, nor were any of the original cast.  Fans weren’t happy – and SciFi Wire, the Sci-Fi Channel’s webzine, retracted the confirmation of such a production two days after it was made.

Then on Feb 22, 2001, Variety magazine announced that Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto, the team behind the blockbuster X-Men movie, were heading the effort to bring back Galactica.  Brian Singer was quoted as saying:

Dan Pasternack of Studios USA (who controlled the television rights to Battlestar Galactica) was quoted on the SciFi Wire, suggesting that the new series might premier as early as mid-season 2002. He also commented that the new project featured Cylons and was endorsed by Glen Larson:

With such support, DeSanto could bring back the universe he fell in love with as a kid, crafting it with all the know-how he had gained from a string of successful movies like The Usual Suspects and the wildly successful X-Men.

Key staff and cast were being retained and considered, a script was drafted, and by April 2001 the production was officially given the go-ahead.  FOX-TV came aboard, agreeing to host the two-hour pilot for the new series.  Tom DeSanto was elated. “I’ve dreamed of bringing Battlestar Galactica back for over 10 years now and could not think of a better home for it than FOX” he said.

Glen Larson joined the production as a consulting producer. Dirk “Starbuck” Benedict informed convention-goers in May that he and DeSanto had spoken more than once about his participation in the series; however, a possible roadblock existed in that studio executives were balking at using any of the original series actors.

Still, several FX companies (including Foundation Imaging, Eden FX and the Orphanage) began creating concept art and designs, and sets were planned and started construction in Vancouver, BC; DeSanto had lobbied to have principal photography occur in Los Angeles, but cost-conscious executives decided to shoot in less expensive Canada. “We built the skeletons of two Vipers and started building the bridge set. It was going to be a true rendition of the bridge, only we were going to make it a bit larger.”

Shooting was scheduled to begin sometime in November, 2001 and conclude shortly after the New Year; a May 2002 premiere was planned. After directing the pilot, Singer would immediately begin pre-production on X2: X-Men United, which was scheduled to being shooting in May. Dirk Benedict and Herb Jefferson, Jr. (“Boomer”) were signed (the “suits” ultimately convinced of the wisdom of the idea); Dirk was quite enthusiastic about reprising one of his favorite roles.  As he reflected in a July, 2002 interview at SciFiPulse:

Then, on September 11, 2001, this generation suffered its equivalent of Pearl Harbor when terrorists attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, killing over 3,000 people.  Everyone and everything was impacted by these events and the aftermath: travel was impeded for weeks, particularly international flights, as emergency security measures were implemented.  And there was the emotional toll as well. Tom DeSanto was later quoted:

With the pre-production schedule of the second X-Men movie looming, Brian Singer was forced to depart the Galactica production to focus on that.  Other directors were approached, but with Singer’s departure the support for the production fell apart.  FOX withdrew and threw its support behind Josh Wheden’s new effort Firefly; the planned 2002 start date for filming Galactica was canceled.  DeSanto sent a message to the expectant fans:

However, behind DeSanto’s back, the Sci-Fi Channel and Studio USA initiated steps to bring back Battlestar Galactica with a new creative team. David Eick was tapped to head the effort, and Star Trek writing alum Ronald D. Moore was brought in as a co-producer and principal writer.  Very deliberately, a completely different approach was taken.

The official announcement from the Sci-Fi Channel came on April 2, 2002.  Set for premier in December of 2003, a “re-imagining” of Battlestar Galactica was going into production.  There was no connection with the DeSanto/Singer production; that was over, sledgehammers taken to the nearly-completed sets, the idea of a “continuation” discarded.

– written by John Larocque and John Pickard

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