One panel that I had to attend at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was a reunion of the cast from Babylon 5. That was the show that my wife and I both watched just after we got married. She was a casual fan of science fiction, not the fervent fan I am, but she liked that show because of the complex plot and the fantastic characters. I had to revisit this show through this panel.
I didn’t think it would be too difficult to get into because it’s not been in reruns for some time, nor on Netflix (A crime!), and remains a niche show. It was a revelation when I saw at 8 AM the day of the panel on Patricia Tallman’s Facebook page her statement, “You have to get tickets early so check that out.” Ye gods! I needed tickets? Where did it say that? Oh, in the Quick Guide put out by the convention. I could hear my former students laughing that I hadn’t read the instructions. Oh, Karma, I could only conclude that I was paying you off at a vastly accelerated rate. I jumped out of bed, showered, and ran to the convention center to get in, what I assumed would be, a long line. The word long is not grandiose enough a word. The line began inside the convention center, went outside, and wound upstairs — overlooking the Sails Pavilion. It was 8:30 and I decided to tough it out, since this was the one panel I had to see. Talking to people, I found I was in a major catch-all line for all ticketed panels and limited autograph signings. Most people there were trying to get an autograph from Stan Lee — My hopes raised! Thankfully, it was an overcast morning and there was a breeze, so there was no baking in the sun.
At ten o’clock the lines began to move and the throng I was in made its way to the Sails Pavilion. Once there we all walked briskly (“NO RUNNING!) to the booth where tickets were given out. I made my way to the Bab5 booth, just behind a man who pulled a winning ticket. Something really wonderfully then happened. Every winning draw received a pair of tickets. The man who drew was alone and didn’t need the other ticket and offered it to me. I had a ticket and never had to draw, so I thank Ken immensely for the kindness of strangers. Seating was assigned, so I didn’t have to worry about making a beeline to the Horton Grand Theater.
Once at the theater, ticketed fans went it, and then were allowed to change seats ten minutes before the panel as stand-bys were allowed access. This was great! I went from the back of the room to dead center. I couldn’t believe my luck! The theater comfortably sat 250 people and we were eager for the panel to begin. Jerry Doyle could be seen in the wings waving at fans, fueling the fire and then moderator Patricia Tallman came onstage to applause and introduced the attendees. Going left to right was Patricia, Jerry, Bill Mumy, Mira Furlan, Bruce Boxleitner, Robin Atkin Downes, Claudia Christian, and Stephen Furst. Peter Jurasik, memorable in his role as Londo Molari, had been scheduled to appear, but was recovering from a heart attack — which induced gasps from the audience. Pat said that he was doing fine, but he didn’t think he should come to Comic-Con so soon. He had given her a statement to read: “The hair was not my idea, it was Joe’s: blame him. The accent was my idea: blame me.” This was a funny way to begin the panel.
My tape recorder didn’t pick up the conversations, so I’m using the notes I took. Please be aware this is not a complete transcript of what was said, but is pretty darned close.
Jerry Doyle: I notice on my name tag there’s something written on the back. “Please be aware there may be kids here under 18.” Are there kids here under eighteen? Any? (Maybe two hands go up; both from teens) Fuck that. We’re in the shitter (Laugher from panel and audience).
Each member of the panel then stated what they’ve been up to since Babylon 5 finished its run.
Jerry Doyle: I’m on the radio on EpicTimes.com. It’s a digital platform; we go after anybody who’s not acting good. I did get mugged at FedCon. I was knocked unconscious at ended up in a German hospital where no one spoke English and I didn’t speak German. I had no recall of who I was until two nurses came in — and I really would like to thank them — and asked, “Were you on Babylon 5?” “Yes! Yes, I was! I’m Jerry Doyle!” I stayed in the hospital for a few weeks and came out with twenty-seven staples in my head.
Bill Mumy: I have a brand new CD out titled Ten Days. It was recorded and mixed in ten days. This is the 50th Anniversary of Lost in Space. I produced all the bonus features on the BluRay. I had written a script years ago that would wrap up the storyline of that series and it’s been recorded as a table read featuring all the surviving cast members. I’m also involved in Space Command, featuring this lovely person sitting next to me (He gestures to Mira, who smiles warmly).
Mira Furlan: I just have to say I was watching this kid (Bill) when I was a kid. You stayed next to my theater, where I performed, when you filmed Captain America in ’89, and did you see any of my performances?
Bill and Mira: No. (Laughter)
Mira Furlan: I’m involved in Lantern City (She gestures to Bruce) and Space Command (She gestures to Bill). I’m writing my book until I die. I’m being a mother of a teenager 99% of the time.
Bruce Boxleitner: I’m doing Lantern City. We launched that in 2012. The third issue of the comic is out. We’re working up to a movie.
Claudia Christian: I’m waiting for that call (Laughter).
Jerry Doyle: Radio sucks, Bruce (Laughter).
Bruce Boxleitner: Tron is dead. A lot of people are blaming George Clooney for that, but that’s not right. I’m not happy about it either ’cause I’m out of a lot of money! (Laughter) I’m just finishing up the third season of Cedar Cove for the Hallmark Channel with Andie MacDowell.
Patricia Tallman: Next up is Robin Atkin Downes.
Jerry Doyle: He’s hung over (Laugher).
Robin Atkin Downes: I got a little wrecked at the Fox party, but I’m fine now (Laugher). I’m currently the Master on Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain. I’ve done a lot of voiceover work in videogames: Uncharted 4 and Metal Gear Solid as Kazuhira Miller. I’m married and a dad now. I took a lot of tips and inspiration from all these guys.
Claudia Christian: I’m not a dad. I’ve done a lot of episodic television and films. I have a novel coming out soon titled Wolf’s Empire. It’s a military science-fiction novel set in a Rome that never fell. It’s got a female protagonist that kicks ass that I think you’re gonna love. It’s coming out from Tor.
Jerry Doyle: Is there nudity?
Claudia Christian: It’s more sexy than Game of Thrones.
Jerry Doyle: (Double thumbs up)
Claudia Christian: I’m heavily involved with the C Three Foundation. I’m a professional counselor now. I graduated at 16 with a GED, so I’m pretty damn proud of that. I love and miss all these people. And I’m doing Cozmos with Stephen.
Patricia Tallman: Do we want to play the clip now?
Stephen Furst: I’m so confused! I stopped acting several years ago. I’m producing now. I’ve produced Cold Moon. I’m working on getting TV pilots done. I’m working on Cozmos, which is Cheers in space with Claudia as the madame. I just got the green light yesterday for a movie that will be directed by Patrick Tatopoulos, who directed Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. (The clip was then shown from Cozmos, featuring Robert Picardo and Claudia, who’s wearing some heavy prosthetic makeup and her licking a patron’s tentacle seductively)
Patricia Tallman: I’ve been in a lot of theater this year. My teenager is now twenty. He has tats and a beard…I’m so proud of him.
Jerry Doyle: Is he the one in handcuffs? (Points up to the techie booth above the audience, out of their line of sight)
Patricia Tallman: Penny Lane (a center for abused children in California) is going strong, so thank you, fans! I have a second book coming out about my life when I was in a very a bad place. I’ve just started Quest Retreats; Adventures in Hawaii with Pat Tallman, which is a workshop where you can experience your life to the fullest. (A clip is started, but there’s no sound). Oh dear.
Robin Atkin Downes: (In a cliché movie voiceover) In a world…
Patricia Tallman: Everything was going so well (Covers face for fake cry). The clip is from my first retreat to Hawaii. (A signal is given from the booth that the sound issues have been fixed)
Jerry Doyle: Take two! (The clip is correctly shown)
Questions are then taken from the audience.
Question: Did Garibaldi, as head of the Alliance, ever learn about the chemical that Ivanova put into his shampoo that made him lose his hair?
Jerry Doyle: I finally just shaved it all off for Season 5. Nature was messing with me during the filming of the show. Every night I’d go home into bed and hold a flashlight above my head and tell (my hair) “Go to the light!”
Question: Any memories of being on Columbo, Claudia?
Claudia Christian: Faye Dunaway is crazy (Laugher from everyone). I love that show. I was twenty-six or twenty-seven. I love Peter Falk. He told me to tell Faye I was nineteen, speak with a slightly higher voice, and put my hair up in pigtails when I first meet her. I couldn’t understand why. I meet her and she says, “How old are you?” “I’m nineteen.” “Where are your people from?” “…German Irish…” “…You’ll do.” It went downhill from there. I did have a great time on the show. And I’m not telling anything out of school — Bruce worked with her.
Bruce Boxleitner: Oh yeah (Nods his head).
Question: How did it feel to be on a magazine cover or an action figure?
Bill Mumy: Real good! (Laugher from everyone)
Claudia Christian: Bill has more action figures than all of us!
Jerry Doyle: But it’s a dark day when you’re marked down at Toys R Us (Laughter).
Claudia Christian: That’s true.
Robin Atkin Downes: Thank goodness I got the part of Mumm-Ra from the Thundercats. That’s the big villain — They couldn’t kill me!…They cancelled the show.
Stephen Furst: The biggest moment of my career was when I was a Happy Meal toy from McDonald’s as Booster from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
Question: Do any of you remember what it was like the first day on the set?
Bill Mumy: It’s fresh in my mind — It’s got a special place in the cornfield (Laughter). I get a call from my agent; I’ve got a five year gig. I ask what the character looks like. I get a sketch. I contact the producer, John Copeland. I ask him how long this makeup will take to apply. Four and a half hours. I’m looking in the mirror on the first day during the application wondering what I’ve done. The actress who’s going to play Na’Toth freaks out after being the makeup chair for two hours. Everyone tried to calm her down, but she starts yelling, “I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” and rips the makeup from her face as she bolts from the trailer. I also remember my introduction to Claudia who told the boldest sexual stories I’ve ever heard. I think to myself, ‘I’m in the Twilight Zone’ (Laughter).
Claudia Christian: Bill has such an eidetic memory. He remembers everything!
Question: What about when Bruce joined the cast?
Jerry Doyle: We were so happy to have him, I offered to blow him. He made me wait three days (Laughter). On the fourth day was Claudia (More laughter).
Bruce Boxleitner: I saw the show. It was very different than Star Trek. It was much darker. I liked that.
Jerry Doyle: We welcomed you until we found out what you were getting paid (Big laughter).
Mira Furlan: I remember when Bruce came and we didn’t know what he’d be like to work with. I saw Bill and said, “Billy, how is he?” He said, “He looks like God” (Laughter).
Question: Mira, how was the makeup before your character’s transformation to a more human form?
Mira Furlan: The pilot was rough. I was a non-gender character. I was washing my hands in the bathroom and someone came in, saw me, and gasped. I felt it was the end of me as an actress. I had a hard time with it. The person that helped me was Andreas (Katsulas). He told me three things: 1, Don’t whine; 2, Be grateful; and 3, Remember the old country — he was Greek and I’m from Yugoslavia — where old women were covered in black. The sweat cools you off. It was a physical torture.
Bill Mumy: Here’s a fact about the show: it was filmed in an old hot tub factory, where they would make them. It was not the sturdiest structure. When there was a earthquake — the Northridge earthquake — the studio would shake and we had to constantly evacuate.
Claudia Christian: I was locked in a Starfury and they forgot about me! I was wearing Jerry’s flight suit, which was too big for me, and I couldn’t get out. I thought, ‘This is gonna be by epitaph? Claudia Christian, actress, killed in a Starfury.’
Bill Mumy: Jerry broke his arm.
Jerry Doyle: I was divorced, living out of a hotel. I didn’t want to do that anymore and Andreas said come stay at my house. I left the hotel for him. He gave me his master bedroom. After the Northridge earthquake, the floors — which were granite — had cracked. The windows, the doors, all cracked. I said, “Do you have insurance?” He says, “Oh, yeah.” “Did you file a claim?” “Yeah.” “Where’s the money?” He says, “It’s in the bank.” He never fixed it (Laughter).
Bruce Boxleitner: My first scene was between Lando and G’Kar. I could never get a good moment then or ever because those two were scene stealers and just devoured each other. But I never “knew” Andreas because of the makeup. I had to wait around one day for him to be out of makeup to finally “meet” him. Jerry and I never had to do anything with makeup. We’d run in half an hour before filming, slab some stuff one (He mimes a pat on each cheek and a single brush to the hair), and we’re good. Nothing.
Mira Furlan: What an injustice! (Laughter)
Bruce Boxlietner: And (Andreas) was always smoking (Jerry instantly begins miming a chain smoker, along with Bruce). It was over one hundred degrees outside, in full makeup, and it didn’t phase him. Smoking and blowing rings.
Stephen Furst: I had a scene with (Andreas) where it was just the two of us in an elevator. Does anyone remember that? (The audience cheers loudly, and Stephen is surprised) Wow! Okay, if you don’t, G’Kar is in the elevator and he slits his palm and drops out blood, and for every droplet he says, “Dead. Dead. Dead…” He was such a pro and I was so taken by it, as soon as they yelled “Cut!” I ran over two him wailing, “I’m sorry!” (Laughter) My one regret from the show is that I never went outside to take a picture of him while he was out smoking during lunch. I wanted a picture of him to send to the Cancer Society and every elementary school, saying “This is what happens to you if you smoke!” (Big laughter)
Bill Mumy: Let’s take a moment for those that have passed away. Andreas Katsulas. Richard Biggs. Michael O’Hare. Jeff Conaway. Tim Choate. Robin Sachs. (Silence)
Question: What’s your biggest memory?
Bruce Boxleitner: Life-long friends.
Bill Mumy: We went all over the world to promote this show, because it wasn’t on one of the big networks. That wouldn’t happen today.
Stephen Furst: If we got a guest star or director that didn’t fit in, I’d give the wave (and he gives the wave from “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum”). (Big cheer and laughter)
Question: Did you ad lib?
Patricia Tallman: Never. The scripts were good. I think the only ad lib was when G’Kar grabbed Lyta Alexander’s butt (Laughter).
Bill Mumy: We got scripts well in advance, three or four weeks in advance. The drafts were that good. We could play a little, but not stray far.
Jerry Doyle: I had to redo a take because I put the wrong emphasis on a vowel. I asked if we’ve seen these aliens before and when they said no, I said, “Then how the hell do you know I’m saying it wrong?” (Laughter) I had to do it again.
Time was called. That was the end of the panel and the room gave a standing ovation from the cast. I have never seen a group of actors so comfortable around each other after the show’s been off the air for over a decade. Their love of each other’s company is obvious and it spilled a willing audience. It was a highlight of Comic-Con for me. Now I have to watch the series all over again.