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BRUCE BOXLEITNER: New Adventures on the Final Frontier by Joe Nazzaro

1995 saw John Sheridan taking over the last, best hope for peace....

    Two years after the end of Babylon 5, Bruce Boxleitner now prepares for his next spacefaring challenge.

    "Basically, I'll be going from Babylon 5 to Genesis II, so there's some kind of biblical-numerical thing going on there." So speaks Bruce Boxleitner, better known to sci-fi fans worldwide for his role as Captain-turned-President John Sheridan in the ground-breaking genre, Babylon 5.

    What the actor is alluding to is the fact that he's now signed up for the lead role in a new science fiction/adventure drama, this one from the mind of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. The series, which has reportedly gone through a number of titles, from Starship Andromeda to Genesis II, is currently being shopped around by the folks at Tribune Television, who also produce Earth: Final Conflict, as well as the upcoming Phoenix Rising, staring Kevin Sorbo (Hercules:The Legendary Journeys). When TV Zone spoke to Boxleitner at his California home just before the holidays, the actor was waiting for word as to whether or not his latest project had been given the green light. "I'm already signed , I'm on a holding deal with Tribune, and I should be finding out soon what the future of the deal is," he explains. "Apparently they had these two projects-- the one Kevin Sorbo is doing, and this other one; it just happened that I was pitching another project and two of the people at Tribune are very big Babylon 5 fans, so they said 'We're really more interested, if Bruce wanted to take a look at this,' and I said yes. If I was a younger actor, maybe I'd be saying, 'I don't want to do another science fiction thing,' but I think I've got a fairly good toe-hold in the science-fiction genre, and thought if it's something interesting enough I'd do it, and this was."

    It's possible that the final concept may go through a few changes before the start of production, but Boxleitner offers an early glimpse at his character and the series premise. "It's really a man on a quest to find his family, because he wakes up on this other world and the people he went into a cryogenic sleep with are gone, so where are they, who has them, what's going on; there are all kinds of fun questions. It's like a different world, it may be Earth; we don't know.

    "In the original outline which I approved, he has a son and daughter and his wife with him, and he's the last one put to sleep, they're going to be going to this other world in the Andromeda system, and that what happens and he wakes up alone, so are we on Earth or where are they?"

    Although the actor is very enthusiastic about the prospect of working on a new science fiction drama, he hastens to point out the final deal hasn't yet been finalised. "They've got Kevin's show, Phoenix Rising on its feet and it's selling quite well, and now they're out there selling me, so it would make a nice two-hour

    In the meantime, Boxleitner is about to pay a visit to the UK, promoting his first novel, Frontier Earth, about an alien visitor sent to warn Earth about a coming invasion, who loses his memory when he lands in 1881 Tombstone, just before the infamous battle at the OK Corral. A fast-paced fusion of western and science fiction genres, the book can be described as 'Unforgiven meets The Terminator,' and Boxleitner hopes it will be a success. "I'm really brand new to this game, but I'm supposed to have a two-book deal right now and whether it goes any further than that, who knows? I'm quite excited about it, and I'm hoping that Babylon 5 fans will enjoy it.

    "Ed Gorman (Boxleitner's collaborator on the book) and Marty Greenberg are very experienced on this field, and I feel that I'm in good hands. Marty is the editor and the overseer of it, and one of the all time anthologists of science fiction, murder mysteries; all kinds of stuff, so he's quite knowledgeable in this field, so I just have to my cue from them and follow their lead.

    "I think people will be excited about it, and certain things will be very familiar in certain ways, but I think it's a great plot. I've already taken it to (former B5 producers) Doug Netter and John Copeland who are involved, so they're very interested. We've got a good realtionship with Warners, and I would really like to produce it."

Calling The End

When talking with Boxleitner, the discussion inevitably returns to Babylon 5, the series with which he's been most identified for the past several years. Although the series formally ended with the tv movie A Call to Arms, the actor returned to the original sets in April to reprise the role of John Sheridan for the new CD-ROM game, Into the Fire, produced by Sierra Online. The game has since been shelved, but there are hopes to have it released soon. Boxleitner only worked on the project for a few days, but was delighted to be reunited with some of his former B5 co-stars as well as his first director on the series, Janet Greek.

    "We shot it on tape, and basically what we did was just little snippets of dialogue talking to the camera so the player is the character and participates in the script. It was kind of strange, because we weren't doing whole scenes like we did on Babylon 5, it was parts of scenes with the rest filled in. The beginning part was Lochley, Sheridan and Delenn talking to this group of new pilots coming aboard Babylon 5, so the player is there as well.

    "Probably the strangest thing about being on the set was I felt as if I'd just woken up and there I was again, like this had all been a dream. It's just the four of us: Jerry, Mira and I-- and Wayne Alexander, who played an admiral on one of the days, and I believe he's playing Lorien, so there were some familiar faces in the cast and crew. We had a lot of laughs, which I guess was sorely missed in this last shooting season."

    In some ways, the CD-ROM game may have been a more enjoyable experience than working on A Call to Arms, a prologue to the new spin-off series, Crusade, which Boxleitner remembers as a somewhat strange time. "It was accepting the fact that this was it for me," he elaborates. "I just looked at it as though I was going to do the best I could on it, I wasn't going out on sour grapes. Carrie Dobro and Peter Woodward were in this movie, and I knew the gauntlet was going to be handed to them, so the best thing to do was just bear down and do the job and enjoy the last of my association with Babylonian Productions, and I was sort of the last one out of the door, of the old cast. Jerry (Doyle) wrapped a day or two before I did, and it was certainly bittersweet. The other cast members had already gone one by one, when we were doing the last episode (Objects at Rest), which was everybody saying their goodbyes, and then we had Sleeping in Light after that, so it was a very strange ending all around."

    Part of that strangeness was that Babylon 5's final episode, Sleeping in Light was actually shot at the end of Season 4, while the future of the series was still in doubt. After TNT picked up B5 for a fifth and final season, the episode was put on the shelf for a year, eventually airing after Objects at Rest, the final episode shot. "I thought it was a fitting ending when we made it," notes Boxleitner, "but it seemed kind of anticlimatic where it was tacked on. At the time, it had more of a resonance when we shot it at the end of the fourth and what was going to be the last season."

    Because many elements of the show's five-year story arc had to be prematurely tied up in Season 4, some long-time viewers felt the fifth season may also have been a bit anticlimatic. As Boxleitner claims, those viewers weren't alone. "But that's what we were handed, so we had to go along with it. By that time, I don't think we were always concerned with the storylines any more, as 'My God, we actually got another season of employment!'

    "I kept thinking optimistically by that time that we were going somewhere with this, and never did; as far as I'm concerned, it just petered out. I don't mind, I'm still satisfied when all is said and done. For the most part, it was a success, I still think. You can't nit-pick over whether the fifth season was or wasn't, there were some good things in it-- not enough, I agree, but it wasn't a total loss, and in the end, nothing is perfect. If you got 85% of what you were shooting for, that's a success."

    When Babylon 5 finally reached an end, some cast members were happy to move on to new projects, while others, Boxleitner included, were disappointed the series didn't go on, or they weren't being invited to continue their roles on Crusade. "I was really in anger mode at that time, at the way everyone was being let go and we were ending it. I know that someone said on Internet that we were living in denial, which is true, but it goes against every sensibilities I know at the time, that when you've a successful thing going, why do you end it? It just seemed to me that B5 was entering its success."

Big Screen Move

    Regarding possible new incarnations of Babylon 5, Boxleitner dismisses the possibility of a big budget B5 feature film. "I don;t believe that has a chance in Hell," he claims. "I really don't. They really can't believe there would be any interest in that-- why? They've got Star Wars, what do they (the fans) need this thing for? I did read that Joe said he sure as hell wouldn't want to tackle that right now, with Lucas' movies coming out; anything else is going to pale. I think the Space Opera has really played out for a while, and will need to be reinvented again."

    In an ideal world, if the script is good and the money was right, would the actor consider reprising his role for a feature? "Well, certainly in that perfect world, yes, but I don't believe it's really feasible. I don't think the franchise was big enough to command that kind of attention; if it was, somebody would have jumped on it by now. I think there was some interest, but when we saw Crusade fold and the problems that were happening there, it just shows you that it's just not in the cards."

    Nevertheless, as Boxleitner waits to find out about the future in a new sci-fi series, he still looks back at his tenure on Babylon 5 with tremendous fondness. "It's like living on in a different form now, and I'm still happy to have my association with it. I'm sorry for what happened to Crusade, because I feel it would have enhanced our franchise and kept the whole thing alive even more, but now, Sierra has this deal for something like 10 years, and they have big ideas for a five-month shoot on a game and everything; they've got a huge script they're now working on, and they own it outright, and are planning to carry it on, so hopefully the game will be successful in that arena, enough for them to go further, so we can keep it going for a long time. It's a sort of an alternate reality, a parallel world!"


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