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Some history

A new producer -- New characters (Hawk / others) -- What went wrong -- Read more -- Sources

"Hawk" was introduced as a new character in the second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. This season was different from the first in almost all respects, except for the presence of Gil Gerard as Buck Rogers and Erin Gray as Wilma Deering.

A new producerThe Searcher Buck Rogers

Whereas the first season of Buck Rogers was geared towards action and humor, filmed in a bright comic book style, the second season was oriented towards a more adult audience, emphasizing the characters rather than the special effects. To achieve this, a new producer was hired: John Mantley, well known from western series such as Gunsmoke and How the West Was Won. Mantley found the atmosphere of New Chicago (the main location for the first season) restricting, and did not want the characters to be constantly involved in an intergalactic war. Therefore he decided to move the show out in space, placing Buck and Wilma as crew members on the new spaceship Searcher.

Erin Gray and Gil Gerard were pleased with most of the changes that were brought to the show. Erin Gray in 1980: "We're going to see a new Buck, and I'm delighted. I'm tired of just shoot-'em-ups - I don't want that." 1 Gil Gerard, same year: "John's ideas were exactly what I'd been fighting for all year long. We both wanted to free Buck from the Directorate, not have Earth at stake all the time and get into stories that related to people!" 2 However, Gil had his doubts about going off into space. He recalls: "I said to John Mantley at the time, 'You're just ripping off Star Trek here! I don't understand it. Hawk is Spock, and so on. Can't we do something original? This is crazy!' He basically told me to shove it." 3

Hawk and Koori, Buck Rogers, Time of the Hawk: "You are all" Thom Christopher (Hawk) was very enthusiastic about the approach taken by John Mantley. In 1981: "The whole humanity aspect in the new show is great. All the scripts involve relationships with people." 4 Looking back after 20 years, he is still of the same opinion: "Almost all of the scripts had a wonderful kind of depth to them. John wanted to convey messages about innocence, intolerance and understanding. That's a thematic thing that runs all the way through the second season; a gentleness in the shows, whether it involves Hawk or not. It was very different from the fun-filled, lighter fare of the previous season." 5

New characters

The second season was set on board of the spaceship Searcher, exploring space on a mission to find the lost tribes of Earth. Sadly, no explanation was given of the sudden transfer of Buck Rogers and Wilma Deering from Earth to Searcher. (According to Gil Gerard, John Mantley did want to do a story that would bridge the two seasons, but the network refused to pay for it.2) Besides the familiar faces of Buck, Wilma and Twiki, several new characters were introduced in the new season. These included Hawk (Thom Christopher), Dr Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner).

old Hawk costume Buck Rogers rehearsals Hawk -- The main new character was of course Hawk, who joined the Searcher crew in the first episode. Thom Christopher explains where the original idea for his character came from: "One day, it seems, Mantley's son asked him if he had ever read anything about the bird people of Easter Island -- which was brought out by Thor Heyerdahl in the book Aku-Aku. John started doing some research and that's where he came up with the concept of, basically an alien being who is the last of his people and who, like Buck, is out of sync with his time -- and in this case is a birdman." 6

When the character of Hawk was first conceived, he was supposed to have been covered with feathers and to have talons for feet. Thom Christopher was very happy that these more bizarre aspects of the costume were later abandoned. "I mean I can't go walking around with claws on my hands and feet!" 6 Also, Hawk originally had a different chest jewel and a cape, which was later removed (see picture). Hawk's headpiece was made of real chicken feathers. As these kept molting, a new cap had to be made for each episode, which is why the pattern did not remain consistent.

Others -- Season two also introduced the somewhat grumpy Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner), who was supposed to be a 25th Century descendant of the original inventor of the Three Laws of Robotics. However, it was the overly enthusiastic old scientist Dr Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White) who was actually modeled after Isaac Asimov, a good friend of John Mantley's. Other new faces in the second season were those of Lt. Devlin (Paul Carr) and Lt. Carson (Dennis Haysbert). And then of course there was the snobbish and extremely annoying robot Crichton (voice by Jeff David), one of Dr Goodfellow's inventions. Twiki remained on the show, but received a new voice (Bob Elyea), which after audience protests was changed back to the original voice by Mel Blanc. The character of Wilma Deering also underwent some changes (for the worse): from commander of the Earth Forces in season one, her job was reduced to not much more than a stewardess in season two.
Buck Rogers Season Two characters

What went wrong

Although the second season had been intended to increase the Buck Rogers audience, its best ratings never even beat the previous season's worst. The existing audience, which had appreciated the style of the first season, did not like the changes and started watching other shows. This loss was not compensated as the show failed to win a new audience, due to poor publicity in combination with much preempting. It also did not help that the second season was delayed for about six months by a lengthy actor's strike. Another reason for the show's final failure is given by Thom Christopher: "I think that the show would have worked as an adult show -- purely as an adult show -- had they gone into it that way. But it just jumped around a little bit too much and it wasn't consistent, after the first two episodes -- and one very good one that I liked: Testimony of a Traitor. (...) If they had kept that and the Time of the Hawk level, I think we would've really made a lot of noise." 6

Read more

Starlog 39

  1. Starlog #39, October 1980
  2. Starlog #40, November 1980
  3. Starlog #232, November 1996
  4. Starlog #45, April 1981 (read it on The Buck Rogers Fansite)
  5. Starlog #283, February 2001
  6. Radio interview with Dave Hinman on WMT-AM, 18 March 1982 (transcribed by Joni Gillispie, copyright © 1982 by the Thom Christopher Fan Club)

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