Babylon 5 is an upcoming reboot of the original series in development for broadcast on The CW. Series creator J. Michael Straczynski is writing the pilot and will return as showrunner and executive producer, with Warner Bros. as the producing studio. It was announced on September 27, 2021 and is described by The CW as follows:
- In a from-the-ground-up reboot of the original series, John Sheridan, an Earthforce officer with a mysterious background, is assigned to Babylon 5, a five-mile-long space station in neutral space, a port of call for travelers, smugglers, corporate explorers and alien diplomats at a time of uneasy peace and the constant threat of war. His arrival triggers a destiny beyond anything he could have imagined, as an exploratory Earth company accidentally triggers a conflict with a civilization a million years ahead of us, putting Sheridan and the rest of the B5 crew in the line of fire as the last, best hope for the survival of the human race.
The same day, JMS responded to questions on Twitter, confirming the reboot is in progress: "To answer all the questions, yes, it’s true, Babylon 5 is in active development as a series for the CW. We have some serious fans over at the network, and they’re eager to see this show happen. I’m hip deep into writing the pilot now, and will be running the series upon pickup."
JMS also confirmed it is a reboot instead of a continuation of the original series. Reasons for making it a reboot included the new skills he's developed from the TV shows and movies he's worked on since the original series, new tools and technology now available, and several cast members vitally important to the original story are "still stubbornly on the other side of the Rim". Continuing to tell the same story in the same way without them would not be possible and there "would be no fun and no surprises" if he tried. "How do you telling [sic] continuing story of our original Londo without the original Vir? Or G’Kar? How do you tell Sheridan’s story without Delenn? Or the story of B5 without Franklin? Garibaldi? Zack?"
Instead, JMS is following the cues of Westworld and Battlestar Galactica, taking "original elements that are evergreens and put them in a blender with a ton of new, challenging ideas, to create something fresh yet familiar." His goal is to answer the questions of "[If] I were creating Babylon 5 today, for the first time, knowing what I now know as a writer, what would it look like? How would it use all the storytelling tools and technological resources available in 2021 that were not on hand then? How can it be used to reflect the world in which we live, and the questions we are asking and confronting every day? Fans regularly point out how prescient the show was and is of our current world; it would be fun to take a shot at looking further down the road."
JMS concluded with a summary of Babylon 5's main achievement: it was the first show to introduce viewers to the concept of a multi-year story with a pre-planned beginning, middle and end, which became the norm for other television shows, and he hopes to create new forms of storytelling to push television to the edge of what's possible. He gave credit to The CW, stating "how supportive and enthusiastic everyone at the CW has been and is being with this project. They understand the unique position Babylon 5 occupies both in television and with its legions of fans, and are doing everything they can to ensure the maximum in creative freedom, a new story that will bring in new viewers while honoring all that has come before."
A follow-up message on September 28 said that discussions with WB for a new iteration of the series began in June 2021.
As the series is in development, the cast or a premiere date have not yet been announced. JMS has updated his Twitter profile to specifically state story ideas should not be posted, to prevent a recurrence of what happened with "Passing Through Gethsemane". In short, a fan suggested an idea that was the basis of the episode while JMS was working on the script. He had to shelve the script for over a year, until the fan gave him a signed and notarized release of the idea.
Previous revival attempts
During J. Michael Straczynski's solo panel at San Diego Comic Con in July 2014, he announced he was working on a movie reboot of Babylon 5 for a 2016 release. At the time, no further details were available and a video of the panel was not available on YouTube. Likewise, the Studio JMS website and Facebook page did not have information on this movie. (Note: The link to Studio JMS has been changed to the archive from May 11, 2015 as the site was marked as under construction that summer and did not return.)
At his 2016 Comic Con panel, he briefly spoke about a new Babylon 5 TV series. He could not provide details at the time, but said it could happen. He was approached by Warner Bros. in 2015 for a new B5 series that would be shown on a new distribution system they were attempting to launch. He "didn't want to do anything on the cheap any more", hinting at Babylon 5: The Lost Tales. He had three conditions: a budget of $2-$3 million per episode, WB would commission a full season, and he would be granted full creative control. They agreed to all three. However, the "distribution system" collapsed a few months later, leaving the idea of a reboot as just an idea.
In April 2018, JMS provided a series of updates about the status of Babylon 5. Warner Bros. would not spend any more money on the series, whether for remastered Blu-ray or HD versions, and would not allow any other B5 series to be produced, which applies to series that originated with PTEN. Warner Bros. would also not sell B5 due to wanting to keep it as an IP (intellectual property) and to avoid being embarrassed if it did well elsewhere. As long as the company continues to exists, the TV rights to B5 will stay with them. While JMS kept the movie rights for B5, other studios are reluctant to commit because they would want all the rights together.
Later messages by JMS discussed the problem of remastering the episodes. A majority of the problem lay with the fact that Warner Bros. did not keep a lot of B5 material and resources. Most of the visual effects would need to be recreated from scratch. The cost for remastering was estimated at over $2 million per episode, for a total cost of over $220 million for the entire series.
However, a new remastered version did become available for sale in November 2020 on iTunes and Amazon Prime video, and was available for streaming on HBO Max two months later. The original negatives for filmed elements were scanned in 4K then downscaled to HD resolution, while the CGI and composite sequences were digitally upscaled to HD "with only some minor tweaks where absolutely necessary". The remastered version kept the original 4:3 aspect ratio of the original series.
- "‘Babylon 5’ Reboot From Original Creator in Development at The CW", The Wrap, September 27, 2021
- Tweets by JMS regarding reboot, September 27, 2021
- Discussion started in June 2021, tweet by JMS, September 28, 2021
- JMS explains why he's adamant about not seeing story ideas, Twitter, September 28, 2021
- 20 Best Things We Saw and Heard at Comic-Con 2014, Rolling Stone, July 28, 2014
- Comic-Con: You Want More Babylon 5?, IGN, June 28, 2016
- JMS tweet regarding remastering B5, April 19, 2018
- JMS tweet on could B5 be sold, April 19, 2018
- Can B5 rights go into the public domain?, tweet by JMS, April 19, 2018
- B5 TV rights vs. movie rights, tweet by JMS, April 19, 2018
- "‘Babylon 5 Remastered’ now available to buy, or stream on HBO Max", Engadget, January 26, 2021