[B5JMS] JMS: It was a good story, well told

b5jms-admin at cs.columbia.edu b5jms-admin at cs.columbia.edu
Sat Mar 10 04:23:27 EST 2001

From: LaGardner at webtv.net (Ray Gardner)
Date: 9 Mar 2001 17:10:40 -0700
Lines: 167

Well, here it is.  I've been lurking here for months, ever since the
SciFi airings began, and I'd promised myself that I would not post
anything until after the show had finished its run.  No comments to you.
No what-ifs.  No questions.  Not until after "Sleeping in Light".  So I
waited and watched.  And laughed and cried.  And marvelled.  All at the
wonder of Babylon 5.

Before I get into the ranting and the high praise, I guess I should
share a bit of myself.  I've been, grudgingly, a fan of SF most of my 22
years of life.  It was the kind of thing that I refused to admit even to
myself (Much like my enjoyment of daytime soaps).  But the extent of my
enjoyment of SF on TV was limited to the Aliens and the T2's of the
world and, of course, Star Trek.  Mainly because it was the only SF show
I could admit to watching without suffering the wrath of my slab-o-meat
jock buddies, and even that one was frowned upon.  But by that time, ST
had ingrained itself into pop culture so thoroughly that whether you
watched it or not, you knew enough of it to stay in style.  

Of course, thanks to some heavy brainwashing by Paramount Studios during
my formative years, I'd become convinced that the ST brand automatically
implied quality.  So I stuck with it and showed disdain for any show
that dared to tread in the same waters as it.

Including Babylon 5.

I remember reading about B5 in a TV guide eons ago and coming to the
conclusion that it was gonna suck SO hard.  A show.  Set in space.  In
the future.  With aliens.  But NOT Star Trek?!  I remember thinking,
"How dare they?"  I didn't recognize anyone in the first season cast,
with the exception of Rick Biggs (I knew him from Days of Our Lives.
Soap addict, remember?) and Andreas Katsulas, whom I recognized from a
few things, but could never quite put a name to the face.  I'd heard
terms like Minbari, Narn and Vorlon batted about to and 'fro, but since
they weren't Klingon or Vulcan or Romulan, I wasn't willing to give B5 a
chance.  If I was gonna see aliens and humans interact on a space
station, then I was gonna stick with DS9, Thank You Very Much.  Then I
heard it was piloted by some guy named Straczynski, whom I vaguely
associated with The Real Ghostbusters, and it gave me even more
incentive to avoid the show like the plague.  Which I did.  For the
entire duration of the five-year run.  

By the time B5 went off the air, I had still heard precious few things
about it.  I knew it certainly had resolve, having been saved from the
TV Reaper quite a few times.  I knew that it was establishing quite a
following among SF fans, and critics alike.  I'd also heard that TNT was
gonna be airing the final year of the show and then the reruns.  By this
time I was completely disillusioned with Trek (since Paramount was
content to beat its good name into the ground with decent-to-mediocre
movies and spinoff after spinoff until I could bear the strain no
longer), and had very quietly given up on SFTV with the exception of a
handful of diversions like Gargoyles, Stargate SG-1 and the Joss Whedon
masterpiece Buffy.  Even then I refused to entertain the notion of
watching B5 reruns on TNT, though I did sample Crusade during its brief
run (and without ANY of the backstory.  Lost does not even begin to
describe it).

Then came The Complete Book of Scriptwriting.

I'd been pursuing writing and drawing since high school, and had become
fascinated with the idea of screenwriting both as a hobby and a living.
I'd read tons of screenplays, and books on the subject, but none of them
gave any attempt to be anything but how-to's (and I think it's
impossible to teach someone how to write) with no regard to the nature
of the business.  During searches of my library's database, I frequently
came across a book written by that guy Straczynski.  I always figured
that it was the same guy from RGB, so I wanted to take a look at that
one.  Curiously, it was always checked out or stolen, while other less
informative books were seemingly always on the shelves.  

Flash forward a few years, and I'd finally gotten my hand on a copy of
the book.  I was totally in awe of the author's effort to make the book
as conversational as possible.  Never once did TCBoS seem like an
instruction manual; it was always more of a down-to-earth variety,
written by someone who'd spent years in the trenches of the business and
was merely imparting wisdom to those who had already made the decision
to write, not for those who wanted to be taught HOW to write.  It was
during the reading of this book that I discovered exactly "what" Babylon
5 was all about.  

I've always been a proponent of continuity in storytelling (be it drama
or comedy), and once I read that B5 was a planned 5-year story arc, it
began to change my preconceived notions of the show.  Then I read "The
Coming of Shadows" at the end of the book and was blown back by the
amount of character, backstory, and adult subject matter present in the
script, and the lack of a neatly-tied-together ending.  I began to
suspect that I might have been wrong about the show, and set about to
see it for myself.  TNT, however, had other ideas.

I have to admit how it was a bit ironic that, at the very moment I
decided to watch B5, TNT had decided that no one else would.  They
completely buried the show where I nor anyone else would find it without
some hardcore dedication.  More time went by.  More crappy TV came and
went, and in the back of my mind I was always wondering about the show
that had a definite beginning, middle and end.  I just *had* to see if
it was pulled of with grace.  Mostly I wanted to see if, unlike most tv
shows, B5 showed some respect to both its characters and it audience.
But with TNT's intermittent-at-best airings, I figured it would be a
while before I could find out.  

Enter SciFi.

I was elated when I heard the news of the rescue of B5 from
infomercial-style time slots.  I made sure that I would try my damndest
to follow the show from start to finish.  As luck would have it, the
post office I worked for shut down and made it so I would have nothing
but time to watch the show.  Having earned exactly six months of
unemployment benefits, I figured this would be the perfect time to see
what I'd been missing.  So I watched.  Every episode from the two-part
"Gathering" edit to "Sleeping in Light" tonight, barring a few missed
eps. in seasons 3&5.  I avoided as many spoilers as I could.  And I
laughed.  And I cried.  And cheered, sometimes out loud ("Severed
Dreams", anyone?).  And marvelled.  And I realized that I had made one
of the worst misjudgements in my whole life.   

Not since my dearly departed Homicide: LOTS have I seen characters
conceived and portrayed with such care as I have with B5.  Not since
Gargoyles have I seen a story handled with such respect and attention to
detail as I have with B5 (though in retrospect, it would appear that
Gargoyles owed much of its far reaching arc concept to B5).  Never has a
show incorporated so many elements from classic mythologies as
thoroughly as B5.  Never has a show payed off on so many dramatic points
and rewarded attentive viewers as B5.  Never has a show warranted
multiple viewings as B5.  It is totally obvious to me that B5 was a show
created by a SF fan, for the fans.  Not for the franchise-hungry studio,
or the critics (most of whom are as mindless as the drivel that they
mock), but FOR THE FANS.  And for that alone I must thank you, JMS.
You've proved that SFTV doesn't have to be about mindless technobabble,
or sexed-up ladies, or aimed at kids to stick around for the long haul.
You've proved that character has always been important to story, things
that most writers have forgotten nowadays.  And you have proved, most of
all, that anything is possible with enough dedication and
perservereance.  B5 never would have survived without you constantly
fighting its battles, big and small.  For that we can all be grateful.  

Now that SiL has hit the airwaves for the first time for me, I realize
how much I have come to enjoy the series and its characters.  Each
episode this week was a difficult goodbye for me.  The characters were
so solid that I had a hard time reconciling the fact that they were all
leaving.  And "Sleeping in Light" was the perfect end to a fantastic
show.  I fought back tears the whole episode, up until the moment I saw
you personally turn off the power at B5.  Then the moment at the end
with Delenn and Sheridan watching a beautiful Minbari sunrise together,
which segued into the final credits and curtain call of the cast & crew
*really* brought out the water works.  The end was here.  Seeing these
moments totally proved to me that this show was a five-year labor of
love; a gift to the loyal fans who had supported the show from the
beginning, and to the viewers who were smart enough and savvy enough to
realize how important it was from the start.  My only regret is that I
was not one of them sooner.

So now that B5 has come to the end for me (the first of many), I felt it
necessary to impart my humble thanks and congratulations and
appreciation (And apologies to all for such a lengthy post) to you, JMS,
for a job well done.  And a story well told.  I look forward to seeing
more from you in the future.

BTW, remember how I once doubted and mocked the Straczynski name in
primetime?  Now I look to it as a surefire sign of quality.  And in a
related story, I kept that scriptwriting book centuries past its due
date (Take that, Syd Field!).  

Thanks again.  For the memories.

--Ray Gardner
lagardner at webtv.net

From: jmsatb5 at aol.com (Jms at B5)
Date: 9 Mar 2001 21:44:03 -0700
Lines: 15

Thank you for those wonderful words, and the great story.  I'm glad the show
could be what you hoped, and what I'd wanted it to be.

Good luck with your writing.


(jmsatb5 at aol.com)
(all message content (c) 2001 by synthetic worlds, ltd., 
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine 
and don't send me story ideas)

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