Was there a seven year plan?

Discussion in 'Deep Space Nine' started by MikeS, Nov 12, 2013.

  1. Bad Thoughts

    Bad Thoughts Commodore Commodore

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    Definitely! Neither show was "original" when their objective elements--things like methods of faster than light travel, shapeshifters, space stations, etc.--are taken into consideration. If anything, the similarities are interesting only from the perspective that Deep Space Nine stole Babylon 5's thunder: that B5 had a claim on the sci-fi tv audience of the mid-90s, but Trek edged it out. I'm sure Straczynski was also annoyed that he had to share the resources of the entertainment industry with DS9: the number of people in TV who worked on sci-fi was quite small (although much of that reflected the success of TNG).

    Moreover, I don't think that the two shows competed against each other as much as is suggested. I moved around a lot in the 90s, and everywhere B5 followed DS9. Back to back, I was willing to sit down for an extra hour. If anything problematized B5's success, it was the explosion of syndicated TV and the formations of both CW (which along with B5, was Warner) and UPN, which ate up good time slots. DS9 was not immune to the same problem, though.

    Regardless, genre shows tend to converge toward one another. On the one hand, they work through the same ideas and mimic one another in their competition with one another (keeping up with the Joneses, y'know).
     
  2. USS Firefly

    USS Firefly Commander Red Shirt

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    Wow really?
    In what episode was that? ;)
     
  3. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I'd say it's TNG that had the biggest claim on the SFTV audience. B5 was trying to compete with Trek's existing dominance by doing something different and fresh. But DS9 was trying to establish its own identity as more than just an appendage of TNG, so it was also trying to do something different and fresh. Since they were both reacting to TNG, it's no surprise they went in similar directions in some respects (like the obvious one of using a space station instead of a starship).


    Not just the same genre, but the same era, influenced by the same antecedents and cultural zeitgeist. Even without direct mimicry, there will be resonances because of how their common environment shapes them.
     
  4. RandyS

    RandyS Vice Admiral Admiral

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    "Deep Space Squared", of course.:bolian:
     
  5. Leto_II

    Leto_II Commander Red Shirt

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    However, one has to also consider the fact that Babylon 5 was pitched to Paramount at some point between 1987 and 1989, and copies of the series format left on-site; and that Berman and Piller were handed material to work from that was supposedly "internally generated."

    (Paramount told Straczynski they'd never set a TV series on a space station, since it would be "too static," not going anywhere. Paramount also went into complete panic-mode in spring of '92, when Warner Bros. decided to go with B5, and busted their collective tails trying to get a space-station series on the air before Warner Bros., and even had reps out in the field telling people that B5 was a "rip-off" of DS9.)

    The long and short of it is that the Paramount DS9 folks had about ten years of Straczynski's thinking to start up with (either directly or indirectly), and by the time Piller and Berman, realizing what they'd been stuck with, finished making major changes in their series to avoid too many detail-matches (and Straczynski eliminated several of his contributory, but not critical, plot elements, which had just accidentally shown up as part of the DS9 universe)....

    ....by that time, DS9 had been on the air long enough to establish a viewership, and something resembling a format, leading to many people unknowingly accusing Babylon 5 of being the "rip-off" of Deep Space Nine.


    In this case, though, "Dukhat" (the slain Minbari leader, whose death touches off the war between humanity and that species) is specifically named with that spelling in JMS's earliest notes dating back to 1986.
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^I don't know what the Paramount execs may have been thinking, but the creators of DS9 originally intended to set the series at an outpost on the surface of Bajor, not on a space station. The only reason they decided on a space station was because the regular location shooting in a planet-based series would've been too expensive compared to a mostly studio-bound production.

    It's ridiculous how people use "both shows are on space stations!" as "proof" of imitation. There are dozens of shows set in courtrooms, in classrooms, in hospitals, in offices, etc. There are countless shows set in New York City or Los Angeles or San Francisco. But nobody accuses them of copying each other based solely on their location. It's just that there haven't been that many shows set on space stations, so it stands out more in people's minds. But it's just a setting. If you want a space show, there are really only three possible settings: a ship, an alien planet, or a space station. And TNG itself was the juggernaut as far as ship-based SF at the time was concerned, so of course any rival or contemporary show, even from the same studio, would try to do something different, and there are only a couple of other options. So the fact that two contemporaries of TNG both happened to be on space stations isn't evidence of imitation, just of convergent evolution.
     
  7. SPCTRE

    SPCTRE Badass Admiral

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    Can't wait to re-watch it when it's out on Blu-ray!
     
  8. Lance

    Lance Commodore Commodore

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    Yeah, I absolutely see that point. However, the legal gray area is really that both shows debuted at almost the same time, and there is documented proof that JMS had pitched Babylon 5 to Paramount, who turned it down, prior to taking it elsewhere. Now, it's entirely possible that DS9 was already in an early stage of development when JMS knocked on the door with his idea. But the merest possibility that somebody at Paramount, not necessarily Berman or Piller I hasten to add but possibly somebody higher up the ladder, took some notes on the B5 pitch and then happened to leak a few very similar ideas down the line independently of the Trek production team themselves... *that's* the reason why the question of the uncanny similarities comes up from time to time. :)
     
  9. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Agreed. The logical fallacy that DS9 "copied" Babylon 5 is just the result of fandom's small-minded thinking and even the even smaller world fandom lives in.
     
  10. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    See my comments in the last paragraph of post 27. There is nothing "uncanny" about similarities between different works of fiction, because similarities happen all the time and are all but impossible to avoid. "Uncanny" means mysterious or inexplicable, but unintentional similiarities between different works of fiction in the same genre are everyday, routine occurrences, and are easily explained because those creators are working within a finite conceptual framework shaped by similar influences and employing the same conceptual vocabulary and syntax. It only seems "uncanny" if you narrow your focus exclusively to the two things you're comparing and ignore the broader cultural context that shaped them both. Everything seems mysterious and inexplicable if you don't bother to look for the root causes.
     
  11. Silvercrest

    Silvercrest Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    ^I'm told that the uncanny number of coincidences between the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy is too great to be an accident. Why, did you ever notice that both names have seven letters? ;)

    The Bajorans met with Starfleet and said, "Look, guys, it's all yours to administer. We've just got a few rules for you.
    1) Don't let that Ferengi out of your sight.
    2) Don't let that Cardassian out of your sight.
    3) Don't let that Changeling out of your sight.
    4) Rename the place anything you want, but don't keep calling it Terok Nor!

    "Oh, and 5) If you mention yarmok sauce or self-sealing stembolts in our presence just one time, THE DEAL IS OFF."

    And they elaborated on it in "Dominion War Without End".
     
  12. Bad Thoughts

    Bad Thoughts Commodore Commodore

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    I believe the story is more complicated. WB and Paramount had initially intended to join together to make a fifth network. Part of the top level discussion seemed to have been about merging two properties, JMS' and a new Trek series. I'll bet information went both ways as execs tried to make the two properties look compatible.
     
  13. Leto_II

    Leto_II Commander Red Shirt

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    Yup -- Babylon 5 was in development, proveably, over twenty-five years ago; and Straczynski shopped the series format and sample scripts all over Hollywood, specifically including Paramount, in 1987, 1988, and 1989.

    Later, when the Paramount brass put Piller and Berman to work on creating DS9, they appear to have been handed what amounts to a copy of the B5 series format, with the serial numbers filed off. The similarities between DS9 *at the outset*, and B5's *original* series format, are beyond the pale of coincidence, right down to the descriptions of cast and characters.

    (Note that, for example, in JMS's first version of B5, the Minbari were to be changelings. This appears to have been written out to avoid even more similarities between B5 and DS9.)

    The people at Paramount busted their collective tails getting the DS9 pilot movie shot, on somewhere between three and four times as much budget as Warners had allocated for B5. They also spent huge quantities of "speed" money getting it edited and put together to air, and going into series production immediately.

    This is why Babylon 5 *appears* to have shown up later, even though it was conceived, written, and mostly shot, earlier. Note also that WB and the PTEN network decided to hold back B5 until the following spring (of 1994), so they would have two series ready to go at the same time, on their first "network night," Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, Paramount representatives were wandering around the U.S. bad-mouthing Babylon 5 as "derivative" and a "rip-off," and in at least two cases that people have been able to document, telling TV station-managers that B5 concept had been "stolen" from DS9.

    Straczynski is officially on record as saying that he does not believe Piller and Berman have behaved in any way but ethically. He makes no charges, and has referred to the situation only obliquely.

    Of course, he HAS pointed out that tying two entire production crews up in litigation would've made no money for anyone but the lawyers, and would've gotten NO material onto the screen; and there is such a thing as "professional courtesy."
     
  14. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    That's bull. Every time I see someone citing this "evidence," it's based on cherrypicking the few similarities and ignoring the many differences.

    As I already told you, DS9 at the outset was going to be a planet-based series. And as I already told you, similarities between different creative works in the same genre happen by accident all the time. As a layperson you may toss around reckless phrases like "beyond the pale of coincidence," but unless you've actually worked as a writer and tried to sell your work and discovered how many, many times you get your ideas rejected because someone else is already doing them, you have no idea what's beyond the pale of coincidence. I once submitted a spec script to TNG and saw them air an episode based on a very similar idea ten days later. This is a constant fact of life for writers.


    Again, you're ignoring the larger context these shows were part of. Terminator 2: Judgment Day came out in 1991. Its morphing effects were revolutionary and took the genre world by storm. Everyone wanted to imitate them, so of course multiple subsequent works had shapeshifters in them. This is why accusations like this are so ignorant. If two contemporary works resemble each other, it's probably because they're both imitating something else. And in this case it's obvious what the something else was.


    So? What's suspicious about that? TNG was a high-budget production because of the prestige of the Star Trek franchise at the time, so naturally DS9 followed suit. Both shows were well above the normal budget levels for the other SFTV shows of the era, while B5 was more typically budgeted for a first-run syndicated series.


    They went into production swiftly because Star Trek was already a known, successful commodity with a proven production team already in place. Therefore it wasn't necessary to go through the kind of preliminaries that an entirely new show would need. And because TNG was making them so much money, they were naturally eager to get a spinoff out so they could make even more money.

    Think about it. TNG was already a huge success, a prestige show that garnered Paramount a ton of money and critical respect and had basically created the entire market for first-run syndicated dramas. B5 was an untested, experimental commodity whose profit potential was unknown. Which one of these was more likely to be at the forefront of the Paramount executives' thoughts as they made their decisions about DS9?
     
  15. Leto_II

    Leto_II Commander Red Shirt

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    "Reckless"? Hardly.

    No one is disputing that certain elements shared between DS9 and B5 were anything less than obvious thematic/setting-derived components that any space-based SF series likely would've utilized in Hollywood at that point in time, due to the premise. I'm a fairly well-educated guy who knows how the industry works, and how the studio pitch and development process operates, and how sometimes certain ideas/concepts can suddenly emerge onto the scene simultaneously and independently of one another.

    I refer here to the J. Michael Straczynski Babylon 5 script books published over the past several years; in particular the first and final volumes (Vol. 1 and Vol. 15), which lay out a number of character and plot-elements that are simply far too similar to be coincidental, and which may or may not have been "co-opted" by Paramount years later when directing the initial DS9 series format (beyond very superficial similarities such as the space-station setting, jumpgates/wormholes, etc.).

    As recounted by Jane Killick in the Babylon 5 series guide book Signs and Portents, "The people behind Star Trek didn't believe it could be done, and sat on the idea [Babylon 5] for nine months."

    But it is actually JMS himself who felt that something screwy was happening behind the studio scenes:

    http://www.jmsnews.com/msg.aspx?id=1-20154

    http://www.jmsnews.com/msg.aspx?id=1-15652

    http://www.jmsnews.com/msg.aspx?id=1-21322

    Paramount had gotten a pitch on Babylon 5 (which included the series bible and plot synopses of the first season), turned it down, and did nothing until after B5 was announced, at which point they announced a new Trek show that they had never even mentioned before.

    Paramount's motivation was to freeze out Warner Brothers, thinking that a series set on a space station would succeed on the Star Trek name and keep B5 off the air (and it almost did). They wanted to soak up time-slots for their shows and deny them to Warner Brothers (this was back when local affiliate syndication was still huge).

    Yes, it's true that any two particular works do not exist in a vacuum, and that there are common storytelling/genre elements that both are likely to draw upon (in this case, an interstellar space station, various competing political powers, etc.) without directly impinging upon one another. It's common sense to expect parallel development to a certain extent within Hollywood, given various simultaneous cultural influences, and so forth, which guide projects like these.

    But when one reads through Straczynski's pitch-notes, the conceptual and storyline similarities present at the start of both shows are numerous; far too many in number for the usual trend of coincidental, parallel industry-development to account for.


    Not back in 1986. Which is when the "changeling" element first appears in JMS's original notes.

    Much later, in 1992, agreed -- Paramount and everybody else were eager to jump on the T2 morph-technology bandwagon, but it's to Joe's original notes that I'm referring, here.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2014
  16. varek

    varek Commander Red Shirt

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    The Prophets and the Pahwraith also opened up other story arcs, which may not have been in the original planning.

    And, I think Quark's popularity wasn't anticipated, either.

    Then, too, Garak came along.
     
  17. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    The part of you that is staying in this argument is very much missing the part of us making the point.
     
  18. Leto_II

    Leto_II Commander Red Shirt

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    And what point is that?
     
  19. Leto_II

    Leto_II Commander Red Shirt

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    Incidentally, if believing that DS9 copied in any way from B5 is a result of "small-minded thinking," then I guess Straczynski himself (a longtime industry veteran) must've been suffering under the exact same delusion.
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    You've asserted this twice without any specifics. None of your extensive quotes of JMS actually mention what any of these plot elements are. You seem to think that just telling me what JMS felt will somehow prove your case, but that's not how evidence works. If you're going to make claims, back them up with facts. Not anecdotes or hearsay or emotional rhetoric.


    I'm not opposed to the idea that the studio executives may have been willing to play politics in that way. What I object to is the idea that Michael Piller and Rick Berman merely copied JMS's ideas. I believe they came up with their own ideas for their own reasons, and maybe Paramount embraced or encouraged those ideas that happened to fit into their desires to shut out B5.

    After all, as I said, parallel ideas are created all the time. That means that if a network or studio does want to copy something, they don't really have to come up with something new -- they can just latch onto something that a creator came up with independently in good faith. For instance, Donald Bellisario's Tales of the Gold Monkey was accused of being a Raiders of the Lost Ark imitation, but in fact Bellisario pitched it to ABC before Raiders came out, and it languished in development hell until Raiders was a hit and ABC was eager to grab its coattails.


    If that's true, then you should be able to cite specifics instead of just spouting the same unsupported generalizations over and over.


    Please stop using the word "changeling." It's prejudicial. What you mean is "shapeshifter." The use of "changeling" as a synonym for that is unique to DS9, while shapeshifters have been a concept in science fiction going back generations and in mythology and folklore going back millennia. So by anachronistically applying the term "changeling" when you mean "shapeshifter," you're deliberately trying to prejudice listeners to believe there was direct imitation, and I find that a dishonest rhetorical tactic.

    I mean, come on -- it's hard to find a science fiction series that doesn't have shapeshifters in it. The original Star Trek (which was a clear influence on Babylon 5 in a number of ways) had multiple shapeshifters, including the Salt Vampire, the Kelvans, the Antosians/Garth of Izar, and the Vendorians in the animated series, plus the Chameloids in the sixth movie and the allasomorphs and the coalescent organism in TNG, the Silver Blood in VGR, etc. Doctor Who featured occasional shapeshifters such as the Rutans, the Axons, and arguably the Doctor and his fellow Time Lords. The Twilight Zone featured a shapeshifter in "The Four of Us Are Dying." And of course comic books have had shapeshifting characters going back to the Silver Age, like Clayface and Mystique. Shapeshifters are a dime a dozen in sci-fi.

    And if you're going to riposte that both B5 and DS9 differed from those others in having shapeshifters as regular cast members rather than guest stars, let me direct your attention to the 1976-77 season of Space: 1999, which co-starred Catherine Schell as Maya, a Psychon who could shapeshift into any living being. So having a shapeshifter as a regular was nothing new.

    So it's not the tiniest bit suspicious that two different SF shows would both have shapeshifters in them -- unless you create the illusion it's suspicious by dishonestly using one show's term for its own specific race of shapeshifters. Which makes about as much sense as calling the Narn "Klingons."

    Like I keep saying, if you ignore everything but the two series you're fixated on, of course you won't consider the possibility that they're both drawing on earlier influences. Context. Deal with it.



    Even industry veterans can have hang-ups and blind spots. Look at Gene Roddenberry's belief that he was always in conflict with network executives who were out to undermine and sabotage him. Personal beliefs are not evidence of anything except what those persons believe.

    And as I've said, I'm open to the possibility that Paramount may have had some less-than-salutary designs here (though I'm not convinced of it), but I don't believe that Berman and Piller themselves were plagiarists. I've read enough about the development of DS9 to be convinced that they came up with its ideas independently.
     

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