Sci Fi Channel is bringing back “Battlestar Galactica,” ABC’s campy 1970s space opera, with a boost from original series star Richard Hatch.
The 59-year-old actor first appears in the third episode of the new series, which is shooting this day at an abandoned warehouse near the base of Vancouver’s Portman Bridge. Galactica fleet Capt. Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber) is taken hostage by a group of convicts led by Tom Zarek (Hatch).
As the production crew readies for the scene between Zarek and Adama, Hatch, who once played Apollo, and Bamber, the current Apollo, are as easy as a Sunday morning while hamming it up for a photographer.
“There wasn’t the discomfort I thought would be there,” Hatch says later in his trailer. “It was a weird kind of deja vu — like I was coming home.” The new series premieres 9 p.m. EST Friday with a two-hour episode.
Despite Hatch’s upbeat on-set demeanor, there was no such warm fuzziness when talk about reworking the franchise began.
Before the release of Sci Fi’s miniseries version of “Battlestar” in December 2003, Hatch — who had worked nearly six years to revive the property — criticized Sci Fi for ignoring fan appeals for a “continuation” series with original cast members.
Hatch turned down a cameo and criticized miniseries writer/executive producer Ron Moore for his reinterpretation of the original series, including the switch of macho fighter pilot Starbuck (played originally by Dirk Benedict) from male to female.
The miniseries lacked “passion, energy, and excitement ... nothing giving you any reason to care,” Hatch said at the time. “It’s not ‘Battlestar Galactica.”’
In spite of a boisterous online campaign to boycott the four-hour miniseries, “Battlestar” gave Sci Fi its highest ratings that year, and became the most-watched cable miniseries in 2003.
Hard feelings aside, the decision to bring Hatch onboard was pretty much a given when “Battlestar” was picked up as a regular series, according to Moore. “It just seemed like a good fit for Richard and when I mentioned it to him, he responded and went for it,” he says.
While some “Battlestar” devotees have accused Hatch of selling out, he insists he just “fell so in love with the story.”
“I will always love the original show. I wish they’d brought it back,” he says.
But, he added: “You now have to deal with what is. In all truth, this is a totally different take ... once I (could) look at it for that and see where they wanted to go, it was very hard not to get excited about it.”
And who knows? Maybe Hatch’s appearance in the new series (he’ll also be in Episode 11) can rouse some enthusiasm from the holdouts.
“The meeting of these two characters works on so many different levels,” says Bamber, his face made up to look cut and bloodied as he prepares for his on-camera assault.
“There’s even a discussion of the name ‘Apollo,’ stuff fans can get into. But it’s more important that the two characters are meeting in a very important situation with some ideological similarities and yet differences, as the two Apollos have become different,” Bamber says.
The cast includes Edward James Olmos as Cmdr. William Adama; Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin; Katee Sackhoff as cocky, cigar-wielding Kara “Starbuck” Thrace; Grace Park as Galactica pilot and Cylon sleeper agent Sharon “Boomer” Valerii; former Victoria’s Secret model Tricia Helfer as Cylon seductress Number Six, and James Callis as mad scientist Gaius Baltar.
When we last saw the rag-tag “Battlestar” bunch, they were on the run from the robotic Cylons who had nearly obliterated the human race. Now with supplies waning as fast as their weapons and their hope, Cmdr. Adama and President Roslin find their biggest challenge is the survival of humanity.
“The show will still incorporate elements of a post-9/11 world and the Iraqi war world,” says Moore of the series’ ripped-from-the-headlines topicality.
“What I like about science fiction is the idea that things that matter to me in American culture today, that I have an opportunity to explore those things, to comment on them ... without having to write a ‘West Wing’ or an ‘NYPD Blue,”’ Moore says. “Here’s another world, and it’s a lens through which we can view our own.”