Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is an American science fiction adventure television series produced by Universal Studios. The series ran for two seasons between 1979–1981, and the feature-length pilot episode for the series was released as a theatrical film several months before the series aired. The film and series were developed by Glen A. Larson and Leslie Stevens, based upon the character Buck Rogers created in 1928 by Philip Francis Nowlan that had previously been featured in comic strips, novellas, a serial film, and on television and radio.
The first made-for-TV movie was released theatrically in March 1979. The movie made $21 million at the North American box office, prompting Universal to move ahead with a weekly series later that year. The movie, which was also released internationally, featured all of the main protagonist characters who would be seen in the weekly series, as well as the series chief antogonist, Princess Ardala of the planet Draconia, and her associate/henchman Kane.
The opening narrative:
The opening narrative was also modified for the second season, both in terms of the narrator's voice and content. In the first season, William Conrad delivered the following opening narrative:
The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William "Buck" Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later.
In the second season, Hank Sims (best known for his announcing work on many of the programs produced by Quinn Martin Productions) delivered the following alternate narrative:
In the year 1987, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes. Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut, Captain William "Buck" Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension. In a freak mishap, his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit one thousand times more vast, an orbit which was to return Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later.
These were abbreviated and altered versions of the narrative heard in the original pilot movie, delivered by Conrad:
In the year 1987, at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes. The payload, perched on the nosecone of the NASA rocket, was a one-man exploration vessel: Ranger 3. Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut, Captain William "Buck" Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension: an awesome brush with death. In the blink of an eye, his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit a thousand times more vast, an orbit which was to return the ship full circle to its point of origin, its mother Earth, not in five months... but in 500 years. For 500 years, Buck Rogers drifted through a world in which reality and fantasy merged into a timeless dream.
The introduction narrative from the pilot episode ("Awakening") was also different:
For 500 years, Captain William "Buck" Rogers has been miraculously preserved, frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Now, in Earth year 2491, he is rudely awakened by the sinister forces of the Draconian realm.
The series was shown in the UK by ITV, beginning in late August 1980 with the feature-length two-part episode "Planet of the Slave Girls" (the pilot film, which had been released theatrically in Britain in summer 1979, was not actually shown on British television until 1982). ITV broadcast Buck Rogers in an early Saturday evening slot, where it competed against, and beat, the BBC's long-running science fiction series Doctor Who, which started its 18th season on the same day. As a similar effect had occurred a couple of years earlier when several ITV stations screened Man from Atlantis against Doctor Who, this prompted the BBC to move Doctor Who to a new weekday slot for its next season in 1982 (even though Buck Rogers had actually been cancelled in the United States by that point). Ironically, the BBC would repeat the Buck Rogers series themselves (on BBC Two) in 1989 and again in the late 1990s.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the complete series on DVD in North America (Region 1) on November 16, 2004. While it does contain every episode (from both seasons), the pilot episode included is the theatrical version and not the TV version. The set contains five double-sided discs.
The series was released on DVD in Europe (Region 2), though each season was released separately as opposed to in one set like the Region 1 release. Season 1 was released on November 22, 2004 and season 2 on October 31, 2005, neither of which had the same cover artwork or menu screens as the Region 1 release. Notable differences are the addition of subtitles for various European languages, and translated text sections on the DVD boxes. The back cover of the European season 1 box set also erroneously shows the character Hawk, who did not appear until season 2.
On January 24, 2012, Universal Studios re-released Season One by itself in North America, as a six disc set. The discs were single-sided for this release, in contrast to the double-sided discs released in 2004. Season Two was re-released with single-sided discs on January 8, 2013. As a bonus feature, the second season set includes the television version of the original pilot film, "Awakening", the first time this version has been released on DVD.