This was a groundbreaking show in many ways. Its innovative five-year story arc set a standard for later shows like Lost. This storyline wasn't just bold in a narrative sense. As a low-budget syndicated show, it fought each year to survive another season. Fans always worried it would be cancelled before the space war saga was complete. (As it turned out, the lackluster final season suggests it could've ended a year earlier anyway.)
Babylon 5's dark new universe was a nice break from the beige-hued safety zone of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation (and would influence the darkness and, yes, multi-year story arc of the best Trek spinoff, Deep Space Nine). It was chock full of interesting new aliens, exciting space battles and a giant story arc centered on the Shadows, giant insectile creatures whose violent motives were one of the show's great mysteries.
As Sutherland points out early on, Babylon 5 has not aged well in many ways. You have to tolerate some flimsy sets outfitted with Ikea furniture, more than a bit of wooden acting, and some blue-screen work that, for various technical reasons I don't understand, does not transfer well to DVD.
Straczynski cites the British TV sci-fi series Blake's 7 as an inspiration for Babylon 5. I didn't catch up on that show until recently, and it took great effort to look beyond its laughable shoestring budget and focus on the widescreen story and compelling characters. Like that show, Babylon 5 has a grandiose, inventive pulp space-opera plot straight out of E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series (seasons 3 and 4 are the peak of the show for me), as well as some astoundingly good CGI and makeup, and a thrilling score by Christopher Franke of Tangerine Dream fame.
In short, it's the little show that could -- and did -- many great things on a miniscule budget. Its cult following remains strong to this day. Sadly, numerous attempts to spin off the franchise fizzled out because none were as creative as the original series.
Back in the 1990s, I welcomed each new installment of this adventure the way I used to eagerly await monthly comic books when I was a kid. While The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek were huge influences on my early efforts at writing, Babylon 5 is the show that made me want to refocus my life, move to Hollywood and become a TV writer.
Last month at Comic-Con, I finally got to meet Straczynski and tell him just that. "You're doing it right," he replied.
And that meant the world to me.