Glen A. Larson one of television’s most influential creator/producers has sadly passed away at age 77.
Larson has place in the hearts of everyone who was raised in the 70’s and 80’s thanks to his varied contribution to television with shows such as ‘Battlestar Galacticia,’ ‘Quincey M.E.’, ‘Buck Rogers In The 25th Century’, ‘Knight Rider’, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and ‘Magnum P.I.’, which are all perhaps his most well known television series.
Television wasn’t Larson’s first career choice. Apparently he was a singer with a Rock N Roll band in the 1950’s, which was when he first met Stu Philips who pretty much scored many of the producers television shows. Larson went on to write a great many of the songs that were featured in his television shows.
Larson passed away on Friday after his personal battle with Cancer at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica.
During the 70’s and 80’s Larson was a powerhouse producer, who’s television output seemed only to be matched by the late Stephen J. Canell. In the 70’s Larson wrote and produced series such as ‘It Take’s A Thief’ and the NBC series ‘McCloud’ before going onto re-write the pilot script for ‘The Six Million Dollar Man,’ which starred Lee Majors and going onto produce a further two ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ 90 minute films, which helped convince NBC Executive Barry Diller to commission the series.
Other shows Larson created included ‘Alias Smith & Jones,’ ‘B.J. and The Bear,’ ‘Switch’, Manimal and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. He spent his early career at Universal Studios, inventing new shows and reworking others, before moving to 20th Century Fox in 1980 with a multiseries, multimillion-dollar deal.
With Lou Shaw, Larson conceived Quincy M.E., which starred Jack Klugman — coming off his stint on ‘The Odd Couple’ — as a murder-solving Los Angeles medical examiner. A forerunner to such “forensic” dramas as CSI, the series ran for 148 episodes over eight seasons on NBC from 1976-83.
CBS’ ‘Magnum, P.I.’, toplined by Tom Selleck as a charismatic Ferrari-driving private instigator based in Oahu, Hawaii, also aired eight seasons, running from 1980-88 with 162 installments. Larson created the ratings hit with Donald Bellisario, with whom he had worked on Quincy and ‘Battlestar Galactica’.
NBC’s ‘Knight Rider,’ starring David Hasselhoff as a crime fighter aided by a Pontiac Trans-Am with artificial intelligence (K.I.T.T., drolly voiced by William Daniels), lasted four seasons and 90 episodes from 1982-86. And ABC’s ‘Fall Guy’, with Majors as a stuntman who moonlights as a bounty hunter, lasted for five seasons and 113 episodes spanning 1981-86.
In a 2009 interview with the Archive of American Television, Larson was asked how he could possibly keep up with such a workload.
“I tried to stay with things until I thought they were on their feet and they learned to walk and talk,” he said.
“If you believe if something, you must will it through, because everything gets in the way. Everyone tries to steer the ship off course.”
Perhaps a show that most science fiction and fantasy fans remember Larson the best for is ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ which sadly only lasted for one season. Although that show only lasted for one season it had a huge impact at the time with both American and International audiences, but was ultimately cancelled by NBC because it was too expensive to make. Starring Lorne Greene and Richard Hatch as leaders of a homeless fleet wandering through space, featuring special effects supervised by Star Wars’ John Dykstra and influenced by Larson’s Mormon beliefs, Battlestar premiered as a top 10 show and finished the year in the top 25. But it was axed after 24 episodes because, Larson said, each episode cost “well over” $1 million.
“I was vested emotionally in Battlestar, I really loved the thematic things. I don’t feel it really got its shot, and I can’t blame anyone else, I was at the center of that,” said Larson, who years early had written a sci-fi script, Adam’s Ark, with a theme similar to Battlestar’s and had been mentored by Star Trek’s Gene Coon. “But circumstances weren’t in our favor to be able to make it cheaper or to insist we make two of three two-hour movies [instead of a weekly one-hour series] to get our sea legs.”
Much like Star Trek before it, Battlestar became much more beloved after it was canceled. Universal packaged episodes into two-hour telefilms and added a “Battle of Galactica” attraction to its studio tour that proved hugely popular. A new version debuted in 2004 on the Sci-Fi Channel, followed by a spinoff, Caprica.
Yet for all his success, Larson much like his contemporary’s had his critics.
Writer Harlan Ellison, in a 1996 book about his Star Trek teleplay for the famous episode “City on the Edge of Forever,” infamously called him “Glen Larceny,” accusing him of using movie concepts for his TV shows.
It goes without saying that Larson was both a creative and divisive figure within the television industry, but I for one can’t imagine what television of the 70’s and 80’s would have been like without his varied and diverse input.
Rest in peace and may the lords of kobol offer you safe passage to the 12th colony.