28. Babylon 5
Network: PTEN, TNT
Air Dates: February 22, 1993 – November 25, 1998
Stars: Bruce Boxleitner, Michael O'Hare, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Richard Biggs, Andrea Thompson, Bill Mumy, Jason Carter, Tracy Scoggins, Stephen Furst, Patricia Tallman
There's a real correlation between the abundance of quality TV programming in the last two decades and the wider acceptance that shows should be created with an end in mind. The model where a network runs a series until the wheels fall off and the ratings dip is no longer a given. J. Michael Straczynski's sci-fi epic Babylon 5 was conceived of as a story spanning five years; thus it lasted five seasons.
The contemporary idea of the showrunner as the author who ultimately shapes the narrative is visible here, too. Straczynski, the executive producer and creator, wrote 92 of the 110 episodes, which span the years 2258 and 2262 in the bustling life of the Babylon 5 space station. The space station is a center of trade and diplomacy in a future where the Earth has united as one nation in the face of intergalactic exploration. The storylines are complex, even by Game of Throne standards, full of rich character dynamics and inter-species relations that allow the show to comment on politics and religion in meaningful ways. This is the space opera for the Model UN kids. And with special effects that felt bleeding-edge at the time for TV.
Today, the effects are quaint, but the stories resonate with the same depth and force. Straczynski achieved his goal, and made a TV series that feels like a novel. —RS