RIP Glen A. Larson – SF King of US Television Robots, Cyborgs and AIs

Queen of Robots would like to take the opportunity to honor and recognize the passing of insanely prolific TV showrunner/producer Glen A. Larson on November 14, 2014. More than anyone else in American television, this single individual helped shape two generations of viewers’ ideas about AI, robots and cyborgs.

Any producer would kill to have just one or two hit shows under their belt – this Mormon and former Four Preps vocalist had more than a dozen.

He created the original Battlestar Galactica as well as the original Knight Rider, Automan, the 80’s version of Buck Rogers in the 24th Century and the original TV film pilots of the Six Million Dollar Man.

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Lucifer and Cylon Centurion from Battlestar Galactica

BSG brought us a species of alien robots, the Cylons. Unlike the droids of Star Wars that inspired them, Cylons were by turns devious, backstabbing, politically manipulative, menacing, and deadly. Before BSG, the strongest image on television of robots were the “helpful” Robbie the Robot, Tobor the Great, or Rosie, the robot maid from The Jetsons- great for comedy relief, maybe, but slow-moving, bumbling, undramatic characters incapable of holding their own in sustained, fast-moving plot lines with lots of moving parts. (Even Astro Boy’s original 60’s appearances here in the states were more played as comedy than drama.)

BSG filled a huge gap in American SF fan culture- the space between Star Wars‘ initial release and Empire Strikes Back in 1980 – and helped pave the way for longer running ‘serial format’ SF TV shows like Babylon 5.

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K.I.T.T., from Knight Rider

Meanwhile, Knight Rider’s KITT remains one of the strongest representations of a high-functioning artificial intelligence on US television outside of Max Headroom – a snarky, personable, and loyal AI in a box that just happens to be inhabiting a sweet sweet ride instead of a robot frame or a television set.

Automan, powered by ‘blazing 2400 baud speed’ (though ultimately little remembered and a LQ knockoff of Disney’s blockbuster Tron) was one of the first attempts to portray digital avatars and Things From The Internet interacting with the real world.

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The Six Million Dollar Man‘s iconic opening is still being referenced today by popculuture saavy shows like The Venture Brothers, and “we can rebuild him, we have the technology” was a meme before memes were a thing.

Finally, The Six Million Dollar Man popularized and hypercharged the otherwise little remembered “Cyborg” novels by Martin Caidan, transforming an injured astronaut into a government crime-fighting cyborg and encouraging millions of kids to try to make That Noise while jumping around the playground (much as that five-note-scale would later be failed to be reproduced by humans during the golden age of 80’s Transformers fandom)

Larson had a huge role in popularizing science fiction on television – maybe as much impact or more than even Gene Roddenberry. Much respect for his achievements and sympathies to his family and friends. He’s off with the Lords of Kobol now.