Babylon 5 Series Treatment Review
One of the goals J. Michael Straczynski had in mind when he became active in the online community was to educate science fiction fans about what it took to produce a television series. One of his steps towards that goal is the release of Babylon 5: Treatment for a Prime-Time Series. A series treatment is the document that a creator uses to sell his idea to a studio. They are rarely released to the public, so this document has significant historical and educational significance to both Babylon 5 fans and those interested in the process of selling a story in Hollywood.
The Babylon 5 Series Treatment was sold by the Official Babylon 5 Fan Club as a collectible. It is 22 pages long - not counting illustrations and covers - and has a nice plastic binding.
The cover of the treatment is adorned with the original Babylon 5 "keyhole" logo, which was replaced when the show went into production. It is labeled "second draft" and dated September 1, 1988. A red fan club stamp certifies that the product is authentic.
J. Michael Straczynski begins with an overall description of the show. He describes the setting of the space station and the universe in which it resides. He stresses that Babylon 5 is a show about people. Even when aliens are featured, their problems will be ones that humans can reate to.
Next, Straczynski describes the characters he plans to use. Some are familiar, while others evolved tremendously before the show reached the air. Jeffrey Sinclair's description is accurate, but does not yet hint at the background and depth the character exhibited on the show. He is also widowed in the treatment, a history later transferred to John Sheridan. The positive traits of Laurel Chang, who became Laurel Takashima in "The Gathering", are described well, but there are no hints of her darker side. Dr. Chakri Mendak's description includes a reference to Dr. Benjamin Kyle's efforts to save Ambassador Kosh in "The Gathering". Michael Garibaldi's treatment changed the least in its translation to the screen. He is described as a man who is blunt with an acidic sense of humor and a drinking problem.
After a brief mention of Carolyn Sykes, who did not change between the treatment and pilot, Straczynski moves on to the major alien races and their ambassadors.
The background of the Minbari includes the Earth-Minbari War and the Minbari's surprising surrender, but the reason for the surrender is not the triluminary's response to Jeffrey Sinclair. They are also called Earth's most trusted ally ten years after the war, another point that did not translate fully to the show. The Minbari are further described as hiding highly volatile feelings under a spiritual exterior, which sounds almost Vulcan-like. Another change made before the pilot was even shot is that the Minbari have completely black eyes that are all pupil. Ambassador Delenn is male. Early online followers of the show may remember that Delenn was still intended to be a male character played by a female actress even after principal photography on the pilot had begun. This partly accounts for Mira Furlan's severe makeup in "The Gathering".
The Vorlons of Babylon 5 have very little in common with the Vorlons of the Series Treatment. While both sources have secretive Vorlons, the show's Vorlons are enigmatic, while the secrecy in the treatment stems from internal conspiracies within the Vorlon government. There is no mention of the Vorlons as being older or more advanced than the other races. In fact, it appears that the Vorlons were originally intended to be an equal fifth member race in the story. In the treatment, Ambassador Kosh (spelled Khosh here) is accompanied by his mate Velana. They have a telepath link, and a reference is made to Velana playing Lyta Alexander's role of explaining the assassination attempt in "The Gathering".
The Centauri Republic is already well thought out in the treatment. Its portrayal on screen is true to the treatment, except that the treatment refers to them as the oldest of all the alliances. Londo is also basically unchanged between the treatment and the pilot, except that his original name was Londo Collari. The description of the Centauri Republic, of which Londo is a mirror, translated well into his speech about remoras in "The Gathering".
Like the Centauri, the Narn were obviously a race that was clear to Straczynski from the beginning. Their history as an oppressed people eager to become oppressors changed little on its way to the screen. G'Kar is called Jackarr. His character evolved a good bit from the treatment, but part of that may have been the involvement of Andreas Katsulas in the role. There is little evidence in the treatment of G'Kar's sometimes whimsical nature as portrayed by Katsulas. However, other changes were obviously orchestrated by Straczynski, since Jackarr in the treatment is prudish and without vice, but the finished scripts tell a different story for the character.
J. Michael Straczynski next writes a short essay on the type of show he proposes to produce. He does not want Babylon 5 to be "OK for a science fiction show". He wants it to stand on its own merits with good characterizations and stories. He wants Babylon 5 to be a landmark show for science fiction as Dragnet was for cop TV shows.
Straczynski presents several example story ideas for Babylon 5. Some are familiar. There are references to the plots of "The Gathering", "Born to the Purple", "Eyes", and others. Other ideas never made it to the screen.
There are hints in the treatment that Straczynski is envisioning an overall story arc, but he stresses that each episode will stand on its own to facilitate syndication. The treatment's target audience is, after all, made up of studio executives whom Straczynski is trying to sell the project to. Interestingly, the impending war is mentioned, but Straczynski specifically states that it will not take place during the course of the series.
The Series Treatment is filled with beautiful color illustrations of the characters plus black and white drawings of the station by Peter Ledger. These illustrations were early production sketches used to help sell the project. Cropped versions of the character pictures appeared in a promotional flyer in 1991. The color graphics in the treatment are reproduced very well and are almost worth the price of the book by themselves.
Speaking of price... it is expensive. The cost from the Official Babylon 5 Fan Club was $35. However, watching the evolution of Babylon 5 since before the pilot aired has been an educational experience for many online fans, and this Series Treatment is a historical collector's item. Serious fans may even want to remove Peter Ledger's artwork from the binding and frame it.
Sadly, with the demise of the Official Babylon 5 Fan Club, this collectible is no longer available first-hand.