Television reboots are all the rage mostly because the entertainment industry prefers name recognition over original ideas. But there are some properties that truly deserve a re-look because they didn’t quite achieve their goal the first time around or they were cut short.
What Is It? Buck Rogers is of course the classic space opera hero who awakes from suspended animation five hundred years in the future to bring his 20th century grit against threats like the tyrant Killer Kane. He first appeared (as Anthony Rogers) in the book Armageddon 2419 A.D. then moved to the comic strips and movie serials. His first appearance on television was in the early 50’s kid-show Buck Rogers which aired on ABC . He then returned almost thirty years later in the better known series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century which aired for two seasons on NBC.
When Did It Originally Air? First Series: ABC, 1950-51, Episode Count Undetermined. Second Series: NBC, 1979-81, 2 Seasons Totaling 37 Episodes
Where Did the Original Fall Short? The first series was a kiddie space opera in the same vein as Captain Video and his Video Rangers and Space Patrol, and none of the episodes (filmed live) are known to have survived. The second series delivered some fun moments of tongue-in-cheek camp, but a little of that went a long and didn’t compensate for the ever-diminishing quality of the scripts. And then the second season changed course to an ersatz, humorless Star Trek wannabe.
Why Reboot It? Because its Buck Rogers, and seriously, how is it that we do not have a decent series (or even movie) with this character by now, especially with all the advancements in special effects? The entertainment industry loves name recognition and Mr. Rogers is known worldwide. You don’t have to do much explaining with this character and you can take him in any of a number of directions. The reboot could pay homage to the original comic strip and movie serial and take a similar tongue-in-cheek approach to the late 70’s series (just hire some decent writers). It could also go the darker, Battlestar Galactica reboot direction, but then we have more than enough grim sci fi / fantasy on television at the moment, and a fun (but clever) space-based show might just be the right change of pace that the genre audience is looking for at the moment. There are currently talks of a Buck Rogers movie, but I don’t know that anything is moving too quickly on that front. I’m thinking that a TV adaptation with a decent budget would play well in the States and internationally and could be almost a sure fire hit if done right (i.e., not the snooze-fest that was Syfy’s Flash Gordon). It seems like almost a travesty that neither Buck Rogers nor Flash Gordon have received the treatment that they deserve in the current age when they are such iconic characters of the sci fi genre. And the time to change that is now.
Stillborn Reboot: There was an attempt to revive Buck Rogers as a web series in 2009 by James Cawley, the guy who produced and starred in (as Captain Kirk) the fan-made Star Trek: Phase II web series. He planned on hearkening back to the original comic strip and serial and he even produced a short teaser that featured Gil Gerard and Erin Gray (from the 1979 series) as Buck’s parents. But things apparently fell through, and nothing more has come of the web-series. The only remnants that I am aware of is this short teaser which actually looks quite promising.
Where Can I Watch the Original? The 1950’s series was filmed live (as were most television shows at that time) and no known kinescopes (filmed recordings of the television broadcast) are known to have survived. The late 70’s series has had a full release on DVD and I believe several of the streaming services carry it and it has also been widely syndicated.