“Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” was one of the many things that made being a kid in the 70s and 80s even more special. The show ran for two seasons on NBC and was watched eagerly by an audience hungry for Star Wars quality science fiction shows. I was among that audience and I loved the show. To this day the opening narration has remained grounded in my memory;
“The year is 1987 and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes…”
Oh! A thought occurs — There weren’t any NASA shuttle missions in 1987. The series premiered in 1979 and ended in 1981, so there’s no way the producers could have predicted that there wouldn’t be any. The reason there wasn’t a shuttle mission in 1987 was that following the Challenger explosion in January of 1986 the shuttle program was put on hold for a while to give NASA time to assess and reassess the shuttle program. Eventually the next shuttle mission came along when Discovery was launched late in 1988.
Anyway. Back to the opening dialogue;
“The year is 1987 and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger III and it’s pilot..”
Did you know that there actually was a Ranger III mission? It wasn’t a deep-space probe or a shuttle mission, but it WAS lost in a freak mishap. In 1962 the unmanned mission, Ranger III, was launched with the goal of landing it on the moon. By landing, I mean, intentionally being crashed. Anyway. Something went unexpectedly wrong with the guidance systems and it completely missed the moon. A freak mishap!
I might as well also mention that NASA doesn’t reuse mission names. The final Ranger mission was Ranger 9 in 1965. Had the Ranger missions continued beyond 1965, Buck Rogers wouldn’t have flown a Ranger III, he would have flown a Ranger 10 or higher.
Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yeah. The opening dialogue;
“The year is 1987 and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger III and it’s pilot Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life-support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, five hundred years later.”
I’ve started re-watching the series and I know that I should be bothered with how 80s it is, but I’m not. I’m really enjoying it! Even the cringe-worthy scene in which Buck teaches Princess Ardala how to disco. I enjoyed that too! As I continue through the series I’m sure I’ll find reasons to cringe in later episodes. I recall there was a lot more disco chest hair and 20th century references the people of the future are too blockheaded to figure out. And then there’s the space-ships being fueled with strings of Christmas lights?
The first episode of the TV series is Awakening. It was originally planned to air on television in two parts, but after it was filmed the decision was made to release it as a theatrical release. Battlestar Galactica had been successfully released into theaters a year earlier so this wouldn’t be the first time a made-for-television series appeared on the big screen.
The film hit theaters on March 30, 1979. I read somewhere that the Buck Rogers theatrical release ended up grossing more money during its first week than Star Wars did in it’s first week. I don’t know about that, but there’s no doubt it did extremely well brought in a lot of box-office profits for the studio.
The Buck Rogers in the 25th Century television series premiered on September 20, 1979 on NBC and ran for two seasons until April 16, 1981.
The most obvious difference between the theatrical version and the television version are the title-sequences. Both begin with an opening dialogue; the television title-sequence goes into cool montages of spaceships and images of the future while an orchestral theme song plays. The theatrical version, however, goes from the dialogue to giant “Buck Rogers” letters on which beautiful women from Buck’s past and future slide and pose while gazing at the camera seductively. And when I say, “slide” I literally mean, slide. The music playing during all this is a song titled, “Suspension” which was written by Glenn Larsen and performed by Kipp Lemon that is hilariously cheesy. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Long before this life of mine, long before this time
What was there, who cared to make it begin?
Is it forever or will it all end?
Searching my past for the things that I’ve seen
Is it my life or just something I dreamed?