While I was growing up in the 1980s, I used to love watching syndicated reruns on WRLH-TV Channel 35, an incredible UHF station here in Richmond that was eventually ruined when it became a FOX affiliate. During the good old days, though, I routinely tuned in weeknights at 7:00 to watch Star Trek. There was no need to call it “the original series” back then because it was the one and only live-action Trek.
During the summer, Channel 35 usually gave Captain Kirk a temporary vacation and filled the 7 PM slot with Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, which starred Gil Gerard as the legendary space hero. Though I remembered watching certain episodes of Buck Rogers as a four-year-old when it aired as a new NBC series beginning in the fall of 1979, the summer reruns gave me a chance to reconnect with the show long after it was cancelled.
The pilot for the 1979 Buck Rogers series actually made its debut as a theatrical release to movie theaters in the spring of that year. Earlier this year, I acquired a complete Buck Rogers Topps trading card set on eBay (a dangerous place for me to visit) that features the pilot movie. I love the look and feel of vintage cards from the 1970s and 1980s. Today’s cards are too slick for my taste and hold little interest for me.
Like the 1977 Star Wars movie, the Buck Rogers TV series featured lots of cool technology. My favorite was the starfighter, as pictured above. I would have been hard-pressed to choose between this and the Star Wars X-wing fighter as my space vehicle of choice in my pre-teen years had I been drafted into a space adventure.
Despite the cool hardware, circa-1979 Buck Rogers toys never achieved anything near the success of Star Wars toys of the same vintage. I can remember seeing the same Buck Rogers toys on the Toys ‘R’ Us shelves from roughly 1982 through 1987. Though I had an X-wing fighter and many other Star Wars toys, I put off buying that Buck Rogers starfighter until it eventually was too late.
As a four-year-old, I can distinctly remember thinking that Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray, above) was “mean” due to her frosty behavior towards Buck in the early episodes. I believe I had much the same reaction to Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars around that time for how she interacted with Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Oddly enough, my opinions of both women changed dramatically as I became older.
Of course, Buck Rogers also had a princess, Ardala (Pamela Hensley, above). Though a recurring villain in the first season, she was unfortunately written out of the series for its second season, which also saw several other drastic changes. Buck Rogers was morphed into a combination of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. The retooling was a mess and led to a well-deserved cancellation in 1981.
I still find the first season of Buck Rogers entertaining, though. The next time I finish a cycle of the original Star Trek series on Blu (still best viewed at 7 PM), I may well have to give Captain Kirk a vacation and watch Buck Rogers on DVD for a slight change of pace.