JMS Conference on CompuServe (Nov 02, 1996) *NO SPOILERS*

Brent Barrett bbarrett at
Sat Nov 2 20:47:03 EST 1996

 The following is a transcript of the non-spoiler
 portion of a real-time chat conference held with
 J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) on CompuServe,
 November 2, 1996 at 22:00 GMT.



  Archives of this material may be found at:
                    - or -


JMS: hello all, just hanging out until we begin.

JMS: thanks, all

JMS: good heavens, but the room got kinda rambunctious, didn't it?

JMS: dupa, shall we get started so we don't have these gentle folks just hanging
     around waiting?

Moderator: ATTENTION!  We're about to go into formal moderated conference mode.

Dupa: JMS - Suits me <g>

Moderator: Hold off on your question submittals until we get things set up and ready to go!

Moderator: Here we go!

JMS: i do what i can

Moderator: OK, moderation has now started.

JMS: So let that be a lesson to you, and never darken our towels again!

Moderator: I need to get a couple of people recognized here so hold on for a sec...

JMS: (glaciers move, we wait)
JMS: (tectonic plates move, we wait)

Lyon: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the CompuServe..

JMS: (my shorts ride up, we...well, this has just taken an ugly turn)

Lyon: Science Fiction and Fantasy Forums (GO SCIFI)
      we cordially welcome you to our live Formal Conference
      with Babylon 5 executive producer J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI.

JMS: noted chicken strangler

Lyon: Those of you who are unfamiliar with formal conferencing, just

JMS: run like hell

Lyon: sit back and enjoy.  Meanwhile, you can (geez, Joe! <g>) queue your

Dupa: <squawk!>

Lyon: questions to our moderator, Lee Whiteside.

JMS: newly released from prison

Moderator: Let me spit out my canned intro...

Lyon: As you can see, we're a very organized bunch.  <grrr>

Moderator: Welcome to our live conference with J. Michael Straczynski
           sponsored by the Science Fiction Media One forum )SFMEDONE)
           which is part of the Compuserve Science Fiction Forums all
           accessible from SF Central at the SCIFI go word here on

           With us today is J. Michael Straczynski, creator and executive
           producer of the Babylon 5 TV series.  He has also just released
           through Writer's Digest books a Revised and Expanded edition of
           "The Complete Book of Scriptwriting" (ISBN 0-89879-512-5).
           Of interest to Babylon 5 fans is a sample script included in
           the book of the Hugo award winning episode "The Coming of Shadows".

           I'm SysOp Lee Whiteside, your moderator.  Helping out today is
           SySop Mike Willmoth and SysOp Jim Shaun Lyon.

           This will be a moderated conference, with all questions going
           through the question queue.  The first part of the conference
           (30-45 minutes) will be spoiler free in deference to those
           who have not yet seen the season finale "Z'Ha'Dum".  I won't
           pass through any potential spoiler questions until I let you
           know its time.

           A transcript will be available in the SF Media One forum of this
           conference.  Check the What's New or the Babylon 5 General Message
           Base for details when it is available.
           That should do it for the canned intro, so let's get on to the

Willmoth: Us, organized?

JMS: well, that's whipped everyone up into a tepid fervor

Lyon: So organized!

Willmoth: Hi, Joe!  Loved Z ep...

JMS: thanks

Lyon: How about our first question, Lee?

Moderator: OK, let me get to the questions here.

JMS: (the planet turns, we wait)
JMS: (stars fall from the sky, we wait)

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Trevor B
How do you flesh out your characters?
How do you make them real?

JMS: That's the easy part.  All you have to do is create them as realistically in
     your head as you can, by investing in the emotions and feelings and the kind
     of personality you have within yourself....
     you slice off bits of yourself and invest them into other characters.  That
     way you *know* them, and when you drop them into a given situation, there's
     no doubt about what they'd do...
     it's like imagining your best friend (if you don't have one, borrow the best
     friend of the person next to you) walking across the living room late at
     night, and banging their shin on the coffee table....
     because you know your friend, you don't have to *hesitate* to know what they
     will say when this happens.  It's just a process of getting to know them

Question from SEATTLE, WA: Andi Shechter
Joe, in a recent ep, the Narn homeworld had some amazing graphics with half
broken domes that were, to me very much like what Hiroshima looked like post
bomb. Knowingyou look at the details, was this deliberate?

JMS: Yes, there was some element of that.  It's not a moral judgment thing, but a
     referential point.  As for Narn architecture overall, I told them I wanted
     sort of an alien culture as the Soviet Union might've designed it....
     everything tending toward the blocky, the functional, less aesthetic than
     you would find on Minbar.  This is a culture that has crawled up from war,
     and functionality is more important.

Question from EAQ: Shawn Ratner
Mr. Straczynski,

Babylon 5 is a great series! Will Babylon 5 ever be part of the Earth Alliance a
gain since they have suceeded?

Thank You!
Shawn Ratner

JMS: Well, they've certainly succeeded at what they were attempting.  As for the
     future, who can say?  (Well, yeah, I can, but I won't.  Which brings me to a
     asking me "is X going to happen?" in a conference, or at a convention, can
     turn into a frustrating experience for others, because generally I prefer to
     let things be done in the show rather than blow it out here.  Just FYI.)

Question from CFP: Jim Marshall
Will we ever know what was written on the side of the new Kosh's ship when it sa
w sheridan on the forks outside the station?

JMS: What, do I look like someone who can speak Vorlon?  Oh, sure, a few words,
     mainly "Where is the bathroom" and "What's that smell?" but to translate
     something like that...pfsh, please.
     (Answer: probably not.)

Question from DENVER, CO: Tim Orel
What was the inspiration for that scene back in late season one or early two whe
re the aliens were being sued by the earthman for the humiliation to their ances
tor in New Mexico?  That was one of my favorite scenes of all time, in spite of
the fact it hasn't (yet) anything to do with the main plot.

JMS: Yeah, it's a lovely scene.  I dropped it into Christy's script because it
     was something I always wanted to do.  I just figured, okay, if these things
     really ARE happening, and it gets found out, and we make contact with
     aliens, and find the ones responsible....
     somebody's gonna want to sue their butts off.  So it became a very logical
     extension of the judicial system (tongue somewhat in cheek).  And...well, it
     was a hoot.  I'll forgive much if it's a hoot.

Question from SAN MARCOS, CA: Don Berg
At a Creation Convention in San Diego last weekend, the host claimed that
JMS was shorting the Babylon 5 arc to 4-years instead of 5-years.
Can you assure us that this is FALSE?

JMS: Nothing has been firmed up or finalized about the fifth year.  At a meeting
     at WB just three days ago, it was brought up as a continuing possibility. 
     (brought up *by them*)

Question from ALBUQUERQUE, NM: Collin Anderson
In the first season Sinclaires wife or was it girlfriend(I cant remember) encoun
tered a ship at a planet that drained all her  ships energy. I remember that GKa
r warned her not to go there. Is there going to be any more exploration of this
plot line(Who these beings were that she encountered)?

JMS: Yes, we'll see that ship and those beings again soon; we've seen them once
     already, in "Voices of Authority," and we'll see them again.  GA

Question from DJN: Rich B
Was PsiCop Al Bester named after author Alfred Bester who wrote..'The Stars My D

JMS: Yeppers.

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Trevor Hart
JMS, hello, is Othersyde going to go to reprint as I cannot find a copy?

JMS: There aren't any current plans for taking either of my two published novels
     or my published anthology back to print; I wrote them a long while ago, and
     my feeling is that they're good for what they are, first attempts....
     but as much as some who've read them (and are doing better now) have
     encouraged me to do so...I dunno...I just think I'd be best letting them go
     for now.

Question from CZL: Michael Lieber
why are the seasons so irregular in length with the season just ending now in
the U.S. and starting again next week?  love the show

JMS: They program episodes specifically for sweep periods in February, May,
     occasionally July, and November.  That's when stations set their advertising
     rates, and they  hold 'em for that period.  So now they use October...
     to ramp up the ratings for the November sweeps, since it takes folks a while
     to find out we're on the air again with new episodes (due to the new and
     daring approach to our PR, stealth programming).

Moderator: From ratings info I've seen, things seem to be very much on the
           upswing, right?

JMS: Absolutely.  We just cracked the top 20 the other week, the first time we've
     been that high in a while; the following went to 26, but that was because of
     the World Series, which killed everything.  WB is very pleased.

Question from NEWPORT BEACH, CA: Stephen C. Smith
     Joe, you contended a few months back that 1/3 of the fans would agree with
the Shadows' motives after seeing "Z'ha'dum."  Having read the posts from viewer
s who've watched the episode, does that seem to be the case?

JMS: Well...maybe closer to 20%.  Some have made arguments for the logic, but not
     the methods.  A few have come forward and said they see the point...and now
     that we know who they are, we can take care of them. 

Question from LONDON: JM
who is your favourite B5 character?

JMS: All of them, for different reasons.  I love writing for Londo; sometimes you
     have to work a little to get a character to talk to you; with Londo it's the
     opposite.  Getting him to shut up.  I love 'em all. 

     (I stunned them, it seems.)

Moderator: argh.  All the questions I've been asking have been deleted...

JMS: smooth.
     KILL HIM!

Dupa: BANG!

Willmoth: And they call it moderation :-)

JMS: well, moderation is good if not taken to extremes

Moderator: The Question Queue works fine, sometimes.

JMS: (operator error, don't say anything to him about it)

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Pink Planet
Greetings from Pink Planet (our german fanzine)!
My question: What is Mordens first name?

JMS: What is Mordens first name?  Mister.  (Actually, I'm trying to avoid giving
     that out, as it would personalize him too much, and I prefer him as a force
     of nature.)  

Question from PROVIDENCE, RI: Ed Jusczyk
Why does Ivonova wear only one gold stud earring in her left ear?

JMS: It's a testimony to the character's fictional brother, who died in the war,
     and Claudia's real brother, who passed away.  

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Mary Broderick
Are the portions of the eloquent passages spoken by G'Kar at the end of Z'Ha'Dum
 foreshadowing in regard to things to come for Sheridan and Geribaldi?  {e.g., S
heridan - "The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be
born in moments of revelation."

JMS: Hrrmmmm.....could be, could be.  (WHO SENT YOU?  HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS?  WHY

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: G'Kane
Are there any news about the spin-off? And if it is made, will the story be inte
resting enough for you to stay with it and write at least some episodes?

JMS: Yes, there's been some movement; WB has asked for a treatment, which has
     been given to them, and they like it.  There are more conversations going on
     this coming few weeks.  We'll see.  If we do get a go on it....
     yes, I'll stay with it.  Babylon (in whatever form) is my baby.  You don't
     toss your kid out into the world undefended.

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Markus Tiedtke
What is your favourite episode?

JMS: It'd probably be a toss-up between Severed Dreams and Z'ha'dum, if you only
     look at the first 3 years.  If you toss in year 4, I'd have to say "Falling
     Toward Apotheosis."  

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: William Smith
JMS, your show is the greatest! Can't wait for the season finale tomorrow! I wan
t to ask you, 1) do you have any advice to a future writer, 2) what did that com
ment, "We are ALL Kosh" mean, and 3) will the entire show be published as a nove
l sometime?

P.S. Could you send me a copy of the "Ark"?

JMS: 1) Keep writing, don't let anything stop you IF that's what you want to do,
     don't mistake a love of reading for a passion to write; 2) it's a metaphor,
     operating on a different level, 3) who knows, but there are no plans....
     currently for that.  And I can't send you a copy of the Ark as it wouldn't
     fit into the mailbox, what with 2 of every kind of animal in it. 

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Norman
We liked very much the songs in sung by Erika Gimpel in "Walkabout" and the Gosp
el in "The rock cried out, no hiding place". Is there any chance they might be a
vailable on some of the Babylon5-related CDs ?

JMS: Re: the Rock song, no.  Re: the Walkabout songs...Chris and I keep going
     round and round about that.  I'm against it, as I like the soundtrack to be
     kept instrumental.  We'll see who survives the discussion.  

Question from LONDON: Darran
Joe, at 'The Encounter' con in Blackpool this year you reeled off a list of name
s you would like to appear in B5. One of them was Paul Darrow (Avon from Blakes7
). If you had him on the show what sort of roll would you envisage for him.

JMS: I haven't a clue at this point.  I'd have to give that serious thought.  (I
     rarely write a part for a person, but find the right person for the part.)
     I see we have 217 people  

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Angela
I've read that TNT plans to pick the show up in syndication... Will they start a
iring immediately, or will we be forced to wait x-years?  Also, any news on movi

JMS: No, they'll go with the show a few months after it's over, the exact timing
     depending on when that happens.  If we were to finish in summer, they'd go
     in November; if in fall, then January.  On TV movies, nothing I can comment
     on for now.  

Question from EBB: Susan Christ
When John had the ritual dinner with Delenn & Lennier, what did Lennier say when
 John left, and what was Delenn's reply? I've been wondering all this time!  Tha
nks for the translation of Marcus' Minbari line in "Shadow Dancing", BTW.

JMS: Now I'm supposed to speak Minbari?  What, do I look like a linguist to you?
     Do you have any IDEA the subtleties of the Minbari language?  Why, if I were
     to even TRY to translate that, I could start a war!

Moderator: I thought the translation in the blooper reels was the
           acurate one!  :)

Question from EBB: SysOp J. Shaun Lyon
Joe, any word on how many Season 4 episodes (3 or 4) in this run through Novembe
r?  The Lurker's Guide isn't sure about "Falling Through Apotheosis".  ga.

JMS: OKay, buddy, but you'll be the first on the new battle of the line.
     We're playing 401-404 in November, then the next batch in February.

Question from DJN: Rich B
Any word on B5 being released on video in the US and sold in stores rather then
mail order.

JMS: (Oh, I'd also put "The Long Night" at the very top.)  No, no word on
     releases yet...WB doesn't sully its hands with piddly little TV shows when
     they can put big-budget movies out where they are guaranteed big incomes....
Dupa: <Wubble?>

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Rebecca Grigsby
Jms, will we ever see Talia Winters again?

JMS: Not in my universe.  

Question from LONDON: James&Deb's
Jms you stated that you have just realized that you have no sensors.Have you
changed any scripts because of this.

JMS: (sigh...the ravages of a public school educational system)...not so much
     changed, as went into them now knowing I can do more than I thought.
     Suffice to say it gets really really weird(er).  

Question from ROCHELLE PARK, NJ: Mara K. Malovany
I heard an actor speak at a convention once where he said that one of the jobs
an actor has is to "physicalize" the script.  Do you think that is accurate,
and, if so, can you think of a scene where the actor really nailed the
subtext, in a way which surprised/pleased you?

JMS: Yes, I think that's accurate.  The most obvious place where it worked was
     where Londo looks through the window to Narn being bombed below.  There's no
     dialogue, and he has to convey a range of emotions just through his face....
     which is a terribly difficult thing to do, and he did a superb job of it.  

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Mike Casady
what other projects have you worked on?
JMS, are there any special guest stars planned for this season?

JMS: Nobody major, no.  We've got Wortham Krimmer, noted for daytime stuff, and
     Victor Londo, and of course Walter Koenig returns 4 times this season, but
     no, this season is primarily about our characters in deep guano. 
     Er, Victor London.

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Ken Weaverling
Why has Philadelphia been forsaken, and how can season 5 ever be a reality with
the fourth largest viewer market without a station?

JMS: I don't know.  The programming part is beyond my comprehension.  I know
     they're working on it, but the problem is that station prospects are
     shrinking rapidly.  They make whole night-time committments to Fox, or
     and with only 1 or 2 independent stations around, and 14 hours per week
     available, and literally 250 syndicated programs, you can get squeezed out.
     It's not WB's fault, it's the shrinking marketplace.  There are only...
     so many stations.  If local fans want the show, they have to pressure the
     stations, cause WB can't do squat about it otherwise. 

Moderator: Do you think that WB will spend more effort on the new
 Mad Max series as opposed to B5 next fall?
JMS: I hear that's been scrubbed.

Question from SAN MARCOS, CA: Don Berg
Has there been any correlation between higher Babylon 5 ratings and
favorable comments on the Howard Stern radio show?

JMS: I dunno.  It certainly hasn't hurt us.  Probably helped, though he was
     saying the same things when we were lower-rated.  I just think primarily
     we're just finally finding our audience.

Question from HONOLULU, HI: Mark Ambard
You have written with a spiritual bent. The three parts of the Minbari are like
the Trilogy, the  purity of the cult in Grey 17 evokes Leviticus etc. What is yo
ur background spritually and where are you now. I know you wrote a couple gospel
 songs that you seem to be very quiet about. Regrets?

JMS: My not terribly relevant to this.  (I sit and look at the
     monitor for a moment.)  Okay, that's a lie.  It is, however, personal to me,
     and thus not fodder for this discussion.  Where I am....
     is that I'm an atheist.  I have, however, read nearly every religious book
     from cover to cover, including the bible, twice, and the Bahagavad Gita, and
     parts of the Koran, the Torah, you name it....(or Quoran, depending)....
     and I look for those elements that are dramatic and interesting and human,
     and I use them shamelessly, but with respect. 

Question from EVANSVILLE, IN: Seeker
How does Harlan Ellison influene the show?

JMS: How does the sun influence your day?  He's there as needed, chiming in with
     the idea of the Ombuds, for a killer weapon we needed in year 4, other
     stuff.  He's peripatetic and ubiquitious.  (That for the person who spelled
     secede "succeed". 

Question from EAL: Les P. George
Greetings Great Maker,

Has there been any progress on B5 merchandise like videos?

Also, if Harlan's health will not permit his writing the proposed sequel to the
OL episode "Demon with a Glass Hand"  by himself,  would it be possible for you
and he to work on it together?


JMS: Videos, no.  (Didn't I juat answer this?)  Other merchandise, though, is
     coming out; a second CD, Hamilton Collector's Plates, the Fleer cards, new
     models next year from Revell/Monogram, other stuff....
     as for Harlan's script, we'll see. 

Question from NEWPORT BEACH, CA: Stephen C. Smith
Which character has surprised you the most, i.e. has led you in a direction diff
erent than you'd planned?   GA

JMS: Probably Vir.  He's surprised me on many levels.  Suffice to say that in the
     first 6 somewhere next season, there's something I'd slotted for another
     character to do.  I'd intended for that character to do it right up....
     until the page before that other character was going to do it, when Vir
     stepped up in my brain and said, "No, *I* should do this."  And as soon as
     he said it, I knew it was right.  You'll see. 

Question from CGZ: Al Kuntzler
Joe, I was wondering what the status was concerming new novels and comics?

JMS: There are 3 new novels coming out from Dell, the first being a terrific book
     by Jeanne Cavellos following the events of the Icarus and Anna Sheridan;
     then two more, one following Sinclair to Minbar, the other one....
     a Londo/Vir story that ties into the first part of year 4.  There are plans
     for the comic to start coming out again next year. 

Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Victoria Martindale
A friend who started watching the show at the end of Season 2 has a hard time be
lieving that Londo was ever a sympathetic character, while I feel in many ways,
he still is.  Can you give us some insight into the evolution of his character?

JMS: Well, what level of sympathy we show, and to whom we show it, is often more
     a factor of the person doing the perceiving than that which is perceived.
     For me, he's a fascinating character, sometimes sympathetic....
     and sometimes not.  You want to beat the crap out of him one minute, and
     you're in love with something he's done the next.  The first part of year 4
     takes his evolution a step further, and it's probably some of the most....
     dynamic, interesting and emotional stuff we've ever seen Londo do, and it
     puts you right back to re-evaluating his character.  Lovely stuff.  

 [ End of non-spoiler section of chat from November 2, 1996
   The next section contains the remainder of the conference,
   including possible spoilers.  -- Brent ]

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