1 9 7 9 – 1 9 8 1 (USA)
37 x 60 minute episodes
The character of Buck Rogers started out as a comic strip in newspapers in 1929. Created by Philip Francis Nowlan, the comic ran until 1967. At its peak, Buck appeared in 450 newspapers in 40 countries, printed in 20 languages.
A popular 1939 serial version starred Buster Crabbe but when Buck blasted off as a TV series in 1950 – with Kem Dibbs and then Robert Pastene playing the title role – it lasted less than a year.
It was the success of Star Wars in 1977 that ignited Universal’s interest in a new Buck Rogers series. Former Outer Limits producer Leslie Stevens recruited Star Trek writer DC Fontana and her brother Richard to write a two-hour telemovie. That project gave way to a version in 1978 written by Leslie Stevens and Glen A Larson.
Captain William “Buck” Rogers’ spaceship, Ranger 3 – the last of NASA’s deep space probes – goes off course in 1987 and into an orbit which freezes his life support systems and returns him to Earth 504 years later.
Rogers awakens from a deep sleep in 2491 to find Earth in the aftermath of a late 20th Century nuclear holocaust, now trying to fight off attacks from the Draconians – led by beautiful but evil Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her henchman, Kane (originally Henry Silva and then Michael Ansara).
Because of his piloting skills, Rogers becomes a valuable member of the Earth Defense Directorate, which is headed by Dr Elias Huer (Tim O’Connor).
Buck also finds himself a part of a fighter squadron headed by very sexy pilot babe Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray).
Among his other compatriots are Twiki, a likeable robot (voiced by Mel Blanc) who becomes Buck’s pal, and Dr Theopolis (voiced by Eric Server), a mechanical brain who is part of Earth’s Computer Council – usually seen as a disc around Twiki’s neck.
The TV movie impressed Universal so much that they released it as a feature in spring 1979. The film made $35 million when it was released in 1,500 US cinemas in March 1979 – an amazing feat for a film designed for television.
The film’s success interested NBC in doing a weekly hour-long series for the 1979-80 season.
In the second season, Buck, Wilma, and Twiki leave New Chicago and join the crew of a starship named Searcher, commanded by Admiral Asimov (geddit?).
From here on, the show became a kind of second-rate Star Trek rip-off with Buck wandering the galaxy like a sexed-up Captain Kirk, searching for lost Earth colonies.
Aboard the Searcher are batty old scientist Dr Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and Crichton, a snobbish robot (voiced by Jeff David) built by Dr Goodfellow and Twiki.
The humans are later joined by Hawk (Thom Christopher) – a half-man, half-bird from the planet Throm – whose people were hunted almost to extinction by a band of murderous humans.
Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers
Colonel Wilma Deering
Dr Elias Huer
Voice of Twiki
Mel Blanc (1)
Bob Elyea (2)
Eric Server (voice)
Henry Silva (1)
Michael Ansara (2)
Jeff David (voice)