Question: I have no idea if you'd know this or not, but you're my last hope. I was watching the new version of Battlestar Galactica, and was thinking about the original one and it dawned on me. How did they rig up the robot dog? I assume that was a midget in there. Thank you, and I understand if you don't know. Marc P., North Providence, R.I.
Televisionary: Man, is my face red, Marc. Until you asked this question, I had just assumed that the show was real broadcasts from the future and that they used an actual robot. Turns out Muffit, the mechanical Daggitt that spent most of its time monkeying around with young Boxey (Noah Hathaway), really was a monkey. Well, a chimp, actually. (So spare me your corrections, please, dear readers I know a chimp is an ape and not a monkey; I know everything... well, except for the stuff I don't.)
A 4-year-old chimp named Eve (short for Evolution) played Muffit on the series, which ran for a year on ABC beginning in September 1978 and then returned as Galactica 1980, a series of short movies that ran from January to August 1980. Eve was chosen by her trainer for the simple reason that she didn't mind putting the clunky Daggitt suit on.
That wasn't the only low-tech underpinning of the high-tech show. The Galactica itself was just a 6-foot-long model, but it achieved the effect of looking huge because the folks working for special-effects guru John Dykstra (Spider-Man, Stuart Little) went out and bought model toy kits for various trucks, planes and tractors and glued hundreds of bits from the kits to the outside of the ship so it looked gigantic when passing by the camera. (Sound like the opening shot from Star Wars? Dykstra did the effects for that, too, and Galactica as a whole struck Fox execs as being so similar that they sued Universal, which produced the show.)
And don't by any means think that such humble tech solutions meant the show was a low-budget effort. Far from it, Galactica was said to be among the most expensive shows ever produced at the time, costing a whopping $7 million for its first seven hours, according to industry talk.
Much of that came from Dykstra's efforts; since this was in the days before computer animation, effects-heavy filming was very slow and detail-oriented. "[T]here's no way you can hurry it," Dykstra said after the three-hour pilot, which was supposed to shoot in 27 days, took 50.
With that kind of a price tag, the expectations were high for the series. (You don't think studios and networks lay out that kind of cash for so-so ratings, do you?) And if the pressure from the business side wasn't enough, Dykstra, who was also a producer on the show, felt it from the cast, too. "The actors are already talking spin-off and lining up spin-offs from the spin-offs because they think they'll get their wives in a spin-off and then she'll spin-off..." he said.
That wasn't the cast's only concern, either. Lorne Greene, who played head honcho Adama on the series, worried that the setting didn't give him as much to do as the Ponderosa did. "On Bonanza I gave orders and then went out to help implement them," he told TV Guide in 1978. "Here I just give orders. I don't get to leave the ship.
Maren Jensen, who played his daughter, complained that there were too few women on the series, and noted that even when the gals got a story line it tended to be aimed at pleasing the guys in the audience. "It's very much a macho show," she said in 1979. "The men have the most of it. There've been a few sexist things. In one show, we had women pilots, and every last one was a raving beauty. Who knows what life will be like so far ahead in time, but will all the women pilots be young and gorgeous?" (Mind you, the fact that she was cast because she, too, was a raving beauty didn't bother her much at all.)
In the end, it was the budget and lack of humanity that did the show in. Once people realized that the effects were the lion's share of the show, and even the space buffs had had their fill of the neato tech stuff, ratings dropped off. As TV Guide critic Robert MacKenzie wrote when discussing Fox's charges that producers ripped off Star Wars: "If that's true, they didn't steal enough. All they got away with was the hardware."