Considering there’s so much evidence out there of it, it’s probably not a big surprise that Glen A. Larson has not been one of my favorite people over the past decade or so.
His opposition to the SciFi Channel reboot of “Battlestar Galactica” really got under my skin, and the fact that he had not really introduced anything new to the television world in quite a while helped fuel my position that he should enjoy retirement, and let entertainment continue to evolve without him.
Yet, looking back at the life of Larson, there is so much we as fans should thank him for, starting with “Battlestar Galactica.”
The series premiered in 1978, when I was just 2. I would not even know about it until I was almost a teenager, and by then, it was only the basic premise. It wasn’t in reruns anywhere I could watch it, and this was long before the days of DVD box sets and Netflix.
But I remember “Knight Rider.” Boy, do I remember “Knight Rider.” My childhood was filled with these amazing memories of spending time with my dad weekday evenings watching the primetime lineup of the major networks. I remember “The Incredible Hulk,” “The A-Team,” and of course my favorite show at the time, “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Yet, in 1982, this new show would replace them all in my mind. It had a talking sports car, lots of action, and technology that would cement my love for science-fiction. “Knight Rider” was an amazing show that I was completely convinced when I was 6 and 7 was absolutely real. Whenever we would drive somewhere, I was on constant lookout for KITT, hoping he and Michael Knight were making their way to my small hometown in northern Pennsylvania.
I remember one day we were in a nearby town, and I was sitting in the car waiting for my mom to run some errands. I could see the little bit of traffic passing by a few blocks down, and one car appeared only for a second. It was definitely a Trans Am, and it was black. And while it was in the distance, and I could only glimpse it, I was convinced it had the iconic hubcaps of KITT as well.
When my mom got back in the car, I was so excited, and begged her to drive in the same direction I thought I saw KITT, but let’s just say my mom was never the biggest science-fiction fan.
Of course, whatever I saw was not KITT. He was a Hollywood creation, like the entire “Knight Rider” franchise. And it was created by Glen A. Larson. This is the same man who brought a number of other amazing shows to television including “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” and “Magnum P.I.,” a show even my mom would join the rest of us to watch since it had a handsome Tom Selleck in it.
And while “Knight Rider” jumped the shark when KITT was retrofitted by a street gang, I would come back for all the future iterations — at least in the beginning. I was there for “Knight Rider 2000” in 1991 that included an early role for “The X-Files” star Mitch Pileggi and a cameo from “Star Trek’s” James Doohan. I even was there for the crazy dystopian television movie “Knight Rider 2010” that was the first to feature a Ford Mustang as the main car.
I was excited for “Team Knight Rider” in the late 1990s, and even tuned in for a few episodes of the 2008 version by NBC. And while I think it will take a lot to ever bring the Knight Rider franchise back, I still enjoyed my childhood days spent watching David Hasselhoff talking to his car.
Many people point out that Larson was best at looking at popular entertainment trends and creating a television version of it. In fact, many still say “Battlestar Galactica” is derivative of the Star Wars franchise. And maybe it was. But isn’t that how television and movies operate anyway? Someone finds success in something, and then everyone has to copy it. When “Lost” was successful, how many shows popped up like it? “Law & Order” was a smashing success, and suddenly everyone had a courtroom-based show. “CSI” created the entire string of forensic procedurals. And don’t forget what “Survivor” did to reality television.
It saddens me that Larson never accepted that others would take his creations and try and do something new with them. While the original “Battlestar Galactica” has some great themes and great messages, audiences have changed in the decades since, and so must the story. Even a film concept that Larson reportedly was working on would have to diverge from the style and feel of the original, because entertainment has evolved.
Could he have done it? Maybe. Should we be upset that he fought so hard against what would become one of my favorite shows of all time, the 2004 series from Ronald D. Moore?
Not now, but I still think we were justified then. When the network that rebirthed “Battlestar Galactica” bought the brand name of this very site, it was very hard for me to let go. When you develop a brand like “SyFy” and nurture it for so long, it’s strange seeing it belong to someone else.
But if whoever takes it does great things with it, then it becomes so much easier to support it. And in the case of NBC Universal, while I am not the biggest fan of everything they’ve done since 2009, I am still proud of the many things they have accomplished, and how they have made the Syfy name (yes, it’s a small “f” when talking about NBCU, and a capital “F” when talking about when I owned it) look good.
I do wish Larson would have done the same. Once he saw what Moore did with the franchise, and how amazing a show it became — even if it was different from Larson’s original vision, it’s hard to ignore the extraordinary impact this show had on a society that was just starting to recover from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In fact, I think the show helped a lot with healing, while providing amazing characters, great writing, the best music ever from Bear McCreary (that I still listen to this day) and top-notch acting.
Whether we agree with his opinion of what happened to “Battlestar Galactica” or not is beside the point now, however. The most important thing we can do is remember a great man who brought us some great television, and let’s hope that his name lives on through the continuing evolution of programs he brought to the small screen.