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For The Love Of Sci-fi

January 23, 1994|SUSAN KING

J. Michael Straczynski had a personal agenda when he created the syndicated science-fiction series "Babylon 5."

"When you first watch the pilot you think, 'This is the good guy and this is the bad guy.' Then what we do in the series is a gradual move-around of the chairs. No one is what they appear. I don't believe in one-dimensional characters."

Prime-time sci-fi series that have failed ("Space Rangers" and "V"), Straczynski says, have made the mistake of stressing razzle-dazzle special effects over characters. Sci-fi fans "tune in to watch characters. You have to give your characters and your actors multidimensionality."

The other reason the co-executive producer created the series is more nebulous. "People of my generation," says the baby boomer, "often have the sense they have gotten off the merry-go-round somewhere. Whether it was Kennedy, Vietnam, King, or Watergate. Something went wrong.

"We have lost that infatuation with the future and got bogged down with what is happening now," Straczynski says. "We have forgotten that we are part of the grand parade that's building the future everyday."

Part of his mission with "Bab 5" is to instill a sense of wonder about the future and remind people "we are building something. There will be a future. You can't tell me in 2million years of evolution that the culmination is Beavis and Butt-head. There must be something grander going on here."

Straczynski says he believes what distinguishes "Bab 5" is that members of the creative team are fans of the sci-fi genre.

Growing up on such black-and-white horror flicks of the '50s as "Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman," Straczynski also voraciously read sci-fi literature. "The first books I read of the genre was Ray Bradbury's 'The Martian Chronicles' and 'The Shrinking Man' by Richard Matheson. I sold short stories and novels in the dark fantasy, science-fiction genre."

What Straczynski hopes to achieve with "Bab 5" is to take what he learned from that literature and apply it to the series, "particularly the epics like 'Dune,' 'Martian Chronicles" and Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings.' They are large sagas. They have a beginning, a middle and an end."

So does the series. "It covers five years of storytime and with luck, we will run five years. Then that's the end of the story. The way it's structured is that each episode stands alone, but the more you watch, the more you will see a larger story."

Straczynski wanted to avoid the problem that he said David Lynch's cult series "Twin Peaks" had. "I loved that show dearly, but if you missed one show, you were lost.

Of the 22 first-season episodes of "Babylon 5," Straczynski has written 12. "It is constructed like a novel, so that every episode for about five years has been blocked out."

A copy of the series' bible is in his computer and another is in a safety deposit box. "This thing means a lot to me," Straczynski acknowledges. "This is what I have been working for all my life. Once I've done this, I will have said all I wanted to say in television."

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