JMS on CompuServe (Mar 10, 1998) *POSSIBLE SPOILERS* (1/2)

bbarrett at bbarrett at
Tue Mar 10 15:16:45 EST 1998

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 The following posts may contain SPOILERS for
 upcoming Babylon 5 episodes.

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 [ Summary of subjects in this section: ]
    Sb: #23310-#The Progress of Year 5
    Sb: #23382-Dramatic Structure
    Sb: #23383-#Robin Atkin Downes 
    Sb: #23354-Strange relations
    Sb: #23068-<SotS> Soul of Secrets
    Sb: #23029-<Secrets of the Soul>
    Sb: #23362-<tVftG> Prismatic View
    Sb: #23483-B5 Ratings
    Sb: #23526-#B5 Ratings
    Sb: #23510-#B5 Ratings

 #: 23310 S2/Bab 5: General
    08-Mar-98  11:03:04
Sb: #The Progress of Year 5

Hi Joe.

Given that you've received some criticism of year 5, I thought I'd provide my 
own (for what it's worth) perspective.

I've enjoyed Babylon 5 from the time when you were simply announcing it on 
Compuserve (your messages are always enjoyable).

I've watched it from the beginning, and the only true disappointment I felt 
was after I watched the pilot (the first time).

The thing that I most enjoy about the series, and the reason I think you may 
be getting more "flak" over season 5 is that you are not afraid to turn 
everything around, look at it differently, and treat it in a totally new 

You don't always succeed, but, in my opinion, you always are intriguing. You 
move lightning fast at times (end of season 4), you take your time when you 
believe it to be necessary (season 1), and you build dramatic tension when 
you feel the issues are complicated (season 5).

For those of us ready to totally shift gears, rethink what you're doing, and 
be willing to accept a new and different show every season, you continually 
delight. I'm not going to say that season 5 is my "favrit'" yet, but there 
are still about 15 more episodes to go; I'm happy to wait and watch.

I applaud the fact that you are willing to change the show, to turn it, shape 
it and mold it. I think some of the "disappointment" of this season to others 
is that it IS different - many had become comfortable at what they had seen 
before, and just wanted more of the same.

Others, who are willing to take the changes, have found you moving into an 
area they simply don't like as much, and their "criticisms" are valid as long 
as everyone realizes that they aren't criticizing you or your writing style, 
but simply saying "hey, this new stuff isn't my cup of tea".

I find the only problems to be when people see you moving into areas they 
don't enjoy, and then assuming that "the story sucks" rather than the fact 
you've simply moved into another direction.

If you started telling Babylon 5 as a horror story (which might even be what 
Thirdspace is about), then I probably wouldn't enjoy it as much, since that 
isn't an area I like. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it; it just 
means that I wouldn't enjoy it as much.

I guess I'm just saying - THANK YOU for being willing to be different, even 
though some will not thank you, because they want it to be exactly what they 
like, no more, and no less.

Take care,

 #: 23384 S2/Bab 5: General
    08-Mar-98  22:05:12
Sb: #23310-#The Progress of Year 5

      Thanks...I agree with pretty much everything in your note.  The thing 
about this show, one of many, is that I do tend to look at each season as a 
separate volume in the story, and I try to give each season a unique and 
distinct flavor...from the main titles (the book's "cover) to the stories, and 
the *way* those stories are told.  The first few episodes are always the 
transition point, the plateau, where the changes are worked out.

      The other thing is that in the past, I've generally said "this is part 
of the arc" by doing a lot of finger-pointing, flag-waving and jumping up and 
down.  I figured that after 4 years of seeing that the first third of the 
season is generally setup for the consequences that will follow, that I 
wouldn't have to do so much "fireworks-pay-attention" to this stuff...but I 
may have been wrong in that respect.  No, I haven't *said* "this is 
meaningful" even though it is, and will be more obviously so in hindsight, 
because I figured by this time in the game everybody knew the routine and I 
wouldn't have to red-flag it in advance.

      I was talking about this to some of the folks on the show, and they had 
the same reaction, offering: this is a history, and sometimes when a major 
event takes place, nobody knows it's happened yet.  On the day the stocks 
began to fall, could someone have stood up and said, "And from this came the 
great depression?"  When Archduke Ferdinand was killed, could someone have 
said, that day, "And from this comes World War One and World War Two and the 
Cold War."  You only see the pattern in hindsight.

      What's being laid out in the first part of this season are the threads 
that will become increasingly important, and fundamentally change the lives of 
everybody in the show...but because it's not being flagged as such, some 
people tend to dismiss it as filler.

      As one person noted to me today in email, it's as if someone wrote to 
Tolkein and said, "Listen, the book is okay, but on page 248 why the hell did 
you spend so much time on hobbits when the story is about Aragorn?  What the 
hell is it with you and hobbits?  I'm not saying that I'm going to stop 
reading the book, but unless you get back to Strider fast the story is going 
to suck and wander."

      Bottom line...I'm doing now exactly what I have done with the show from 
day one: I'm writing this to please myself, to tell the story that *I* want to 
see.  If others want to see that, great; if others don't, that's fine too, 
because the exercise is getting the story told the way I want it told.  And 
that I have done.  And in the long run, that's what's pulled people to this 
show: it's a singular vision, a one-man story, told the way one person wants 
it to be told, as in any novel off the shelf.

      I just hope, when all the shouting and hand-wringing is done, and the 
season is over, and all the threads of the story lead right back through to 
the beginning of this season, showing the filler to be nothing of the sort, 
that these same folks will come out and say they were wrong, as those who said 
at the time that there was no arc in season 1 have done since the show has 
gone into reruns and the arc has become totally evident.

      I can hope that because I specialize in writing fantasy, you know....


 [ Editorial Note: I normally do not comment on the contents of this 
   archive, but I feel compelled to clarify something implied in JMS'
   reply above.  The majority of posts on CompuServe after this last
   episode, "Secrets of the Soul," have been of the neutral to negative
   variety.  It seems that the majority of posters simply weren't 
   impressed with it (which is unprecedented on CompuServe, at least in
   my memory).  The reply above would seem to indicate that the 
   primary complaint was that the episode seemed to serve no purpose.  
   That is not the case.  The majority of comments, my own included, 
   acknowledged the advancement of the plot, but indicated a failure 
   to be moved emotionally by the episode.  To most, it seemed to be 
   lacking life, not lacking importance. -- Brent ]

 #: 23382 S2/Bab 5: General
    08-Mar-98  21:17:14
Sb: #Dramatic Structure

So I've been re-watching the first two seasons, as well as season 5, and also 
watching some other series which some people compare to B5, when I realized 
one of the major differences between B5 and many other shows on television: a 
sense of dramatic structure. I'll be watching another show and looking at the 
clock (a bad sign right there) and wondering "how the heck are they going to 
resolve this in 5 minutes" when along comes some deus ex machina or 
techno-babble solution. But on B5, not only does this not happen, but we even 
actually get a denouement (something most TV writers apparently don't even 
know about). Not to mention the use of foreshadowing and flashbacks. 

Maybe something I read once is true, that there are now so many hours of TV 
being written that writers aren't getting any training and don't know anything 
about dramatic structure. All I know is that Babylon 5 is a real anomaly, and 
while I love it, it's kind of sad that it stands out so much. 

Of course, this is from someone who went out of his way to watch Murder, She 
Wrote when someone became story editor. It was good, too. (OK, and Captain 
Power and TRGB, too, but those were guilty pleasures.)

Anyway, keep up the good work. I'll watch anything you work on.

-- Wiggo

 #: 23393 S2/Bab 5: General
    09-Mar-98  00:14:05
Sb: #23382-Dramatic Structure

      Thanks...the denouement or falling action is where you get to show the 
consequences, that's often where a lot of the more interesting things happen.  
Otherwise, it's just "okay, it's over" and that's it.  I'm a big subscriber to 
the notion of proper dramatic structure, and I try to hew to it on a large 
scale with the overall arc, and each individual episode.  You can track every 
episode, and every season, from the progression of introduction, rising 
action, complication, climax and denouement.  I figure it's a solid literary 
framework that has worked for several thousand years, it's *got* to be good 
enough for TeeVee....


 [ Summary: Asks how the actor playing Byron was chosen for the role. ]

 #: 23394 S2/Bab 5: General
    09-Mar-98  00:14:05
Sb: #23383-#Robin Atkin Downes 

      We were impressed by his portrayal of Minbari, and that led to him 
coming in for Byron.


 [ Summary: "Will the NBA playoff delay affect the broadcast schedule 
   of the independant stations showing B5 here in Canada?" ]

 #: 23386 S5/Seas. 5 SPOILERS
    08-Mar-98  22:05:13
Sb: #23354-Strange relations

      Good question...I don't know.  I will have to inquire.


 [ Summary: Comments negatively on the episode "Secrets of the Soul." ]

 #: 23248 S5/Seas. 5 SPOILERS
    08-Mar-98  00:03:12
Sb: #23068-<SotS> Soul of Secrets

      1) It wasn't filler, it's setting up one of the major arcs of the story.

"It sucked, IMHO, and I expect you to do better from now on! <grin>"

      2) "grin" at the end of a note does not excuse bad manners.


 #: 23029 S5/Seas. 5 SPOILERS
    06-Mar-98  17:07:10
Sb: #23001-<Secrets of the Soul>

Joe, the love scene was at the least interesting and at most quite 
"stimulating".  Certainly it was inevitable between the characters but I was 
surprised that there seemed to be so little foreplay, so to speak.  I was also 
surprised by the gathering crowd in Byron's private chamber.  In that society 
is love making not considered a private/personal matter?

A more mundane question: was the scene difficult to shoot; was Pat concerned 
about doing a nude scene or was it shot so that a body double was used for all 
nude/semi-nude shots? I notice that no such conjugal activities have been 
required of Mira and Bruce (yet).

Personally, I always eschewed anything beyond a topless shot and I am fairly 
certain that my puritanical attitude impeded my ascent to anything beyond 
extra and bit parts until I had to retire for medical reasons.

Any comments?


  -Gardner L. Harris

 #: 23247 S5/Seas. 5 SPOILERS
    08-Mar-98  00:03:12
Sb: #23029-<Secrets of the Soul>

      I had the group there to further reinforce their tightness, and that 
it's a different way of for Pat, no, no body double was used.


 #: 23362 S5/Seas. 5 SPOILERS
    08-Mar-98  19:54:03
Sb: #<tVftG> Prismatic View

Joe, "View" was a phenomenal episode.  Ignore any and all brickbats.

I'm passing my tapes along to a friend who doesn't have cable.  He watched it 
last night with his family, including his three- and four-year-old daughters.  
After it was done, the three-year-old started screaming, "I want more Babylon 
5! I want more Babylon 5!"  When she was informed that they wouldn't get any 
more until I brought it over, she said, "I want Meryl to come over!"

I'm going over tonight, and I'll bring "In the Beginning" to keep peace in the 
family. <g>


 #: 23385 S5/Seas. 5 SPOILERS
    08-Mar-98  22:05:12
Sb: #23362-<tVftG> Prismatic View



 #: 23483 S2/Bab 5: General
    09-Mar-98  14:57:10
Sb: #B5 Ratings

	I see that the pinheads over in the AOL B5 Forum are at it again, this 
time ravaging each other over the matter of B5's ratings. (The militant 
Trekker agitators over there are out to milk this one for whatever mileage 
they can get out of it.) While I've had the good sense not to get involved in 
their ongoing scuffle concerning this, I find myself wondering about one thing 
with respect to B5's ratings now that it's being shown on cable: are the two 
separate airings of the season 5 episodes tabulated cumulatively, or 
separately? If the B5 audience is split down the middle when it comes to 
watching the show in its two respective time slots, and if those ratings for 
the week aren't cumulative, but rather split two ways, it seems to me that 
this would be one very good reason in itself as to why B5 hasn't been 
appearing on the List of the Top 15 Cable Shows. I know that when B5 was being 
shown in the syndicated market that the two airings were combined to come up 
with the ratings figure for any given week, and I'm just curious as to whether 
it's done the same way in the cable market, or differently. 
		Thanks for any insight you can provide me with concerning 

 #: 23485 S2/Bab 5: General
    09-Mar-98  15:51:07
Sb: #23483-B5 Ratings

      No, the ratings are added for the two showings in a week.

      As for the ratings...we are TNT's second-highest rated show.  Where does 
it say we have to be in the top 15 of everything on cable or it's not a 
success?  Voyager's and DS9's ratings would put it at the bottom of the 
network pile, but it's closer to the high-middles in syndication.  The only 
ratings figure that matters is this: have the ratings been high enough for the 
show to stay on the air, and let me tell the story that I wanted to tell?  And 
the answer to that is yes.  And now the show is out there; nobody cares 10 
years from now if it was in the top 15, or 5, or 50...the show is the show is 
the show.

      And those who come in from the Trek camp to badmouth B5 because of the 
ratings should be reminded that the original Star Trek was canceled in its 
third year because of poor ratings...and was considered a failure by the 
networks and the studio.  But the show was the show was the show, and now it 
has grown.

      As will B5.


 #: 23526 S2/Bab 5: General
    09-Mar-98  21:25:12
Sb: #23485-#B5 Ratings

>>  As for the ratings...we are TNT's second-highest rated show.  Where does 
it say we have to be in the top 15 of everything on cable or it's not a 
success? <<

To expand on this point, B5 has traditionally had *fantastic* demographics. I 
don't have access to any national numbers, but it wouldn't surprise me if B5 
was among the top very few shows in the 18-34 and/or 25-54 brackets, which are 
generally considered more important than the overall ratings.

-- Marty     PPG

 #: 23533 S2/Bab 5: General
    09-Mar-98  23:59:07
Sb: #23526-#B5 Ratings

      B5 has *killer* demographics, substantially better than Lois and Clark, 
which did very good demos.

      But see, this is the let the other guy define the argument 
for you, and the second they do that, they win the argument.  "Unless B5 does 
as good as ST, then it ain't worth squat."  Well, you're comparing a 5 year 
show against a 30 year franchise...apples and oranges.  Now, if you want to 
compare B5 in its 5 years against the original ST...then B5 wins, because 
we're on two years after they were CANCELED.

      The fight is a dopey one on the face of it...caused by people who want a 
fight between the shows, and want to define the argument such that it makes 
everybody feel they have to defend something that does not require *any* 


 [ Summary: "You know, somehow I've been under the impression that B5 
   has finally come into respect so that the Trek fanatics have fallen 
   away..." ]

 #: 23532 S2/Bab 5: General
    09-Mar-98  23:59:07
Sb: #23510-#B5 Ratings

      Much the opposite; for a fanatical portion of them, this is a religious 
war, and the more B5 succeeds, the more they become unhinged.


 [ Continued in next section -- BB ]

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