Acting in the Dark: JMS predetermined the entire five-season run of the show but didn't tell the actors what would happen to their characters down the road; they would only know once the episode scripts were given to them. This was to make the journey the individual characters went on feel more realistic.
When asked about sequels, Straczynski was known to say that he didn't see how it would be possible "so long as Andreas Katsulas (G'Kar) and Richard Biggs (Dr. Franklin) remain dead." That said, he did The Lost Tales after their passing, and now with his Hollywood success, there seem to be very early feelers out about a real movie.
He's also noted that Ta'Lon, played by the still living Marshall Teague, is similar enough to G'Kar that he could be used for further stories.
Though with Jerry Doyle's death in 2016, followed by Stephen Furst in 2017, this is seeming less and less likely.
Author Phobia: JMS has said that Londo's dream of standing on his homeworld and watching the sky slowly fill with the Shadow ships was based on one of his own recurring nightmares. He had been curious if other people would find it as terrifying as he did.
A lot of the cast was dealing with deep personal issues during the show, more so than usual for the entertainment industry. Michael O'Hare was a schizophrenic (and this fact was not known by the public or even the other cast members until JMS revealed it after O'Hare's death), which led to his replacement, Claudia Christian was a rape survivor who later became a severe alcoholic (she's doing well now), and Jeff Conaway had serious drug problems (which contributed to the pneumonia that ultimately killed him). Yet the cast had amazing chemistry together. It's really amazing how they've all stuck together despite what they've been through, and it makes the story arcs where the characters deal with personal issues even more meaningful.
By Season Five, JMS was exhausted and in poor health from years of overwork and an unhealthy office. The writing quality took a noticeable dive, especially early in the season as he struggled to adjust his plot lines one more time.
David was surprised, however, when JMS said that he intended on keeping the line in there as is. His exact words were "You people really are dangerous over there."
Lennier also manages to take a minor stab against Scotty, when Sheridan asks for more power to the engines: "If I were holding anything back, I would tell you." (When Scotty came back for an episode of TNG, he revealed that he would often hold back reserve power behind the captain's back, so he could turn the ship Up to Eleven when Kirk inevitably asked for more.)
In "Babylon Squared" Garibaldi insists upon accompanying Sinclair and company to the time distortion; Sinclair refuses, saying it is unwise to have the entire command staff away from the station at such a critical moment, an obvious dig at the Star Trek franchise's tendency to have the most or all of senior staff away from the ship on an away mission.
Majel Barrett guest starred in the third season as Lady Morella, the third wife to the late Centauri Emperor, as a means to quell the fan-anger between the shows. She'd previously been one of the biggest Trek-associated supporters of the show, frequently telling fans at conventions to check it out.
Of course, the shows shared quite a few writers and guest actors between them, with one or two of the B5 cast appearing in guest roles on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine after B5's conclusion.
Andreas Katsulas (G'Kar) appeared in "Trek" before Babylon 5, playing the Romulan starship captain Tomalak and coming the closest the Romulans have ever gotten to getting one up on Jean-Luc Picard.
There are even similarities and parallels between the shows in theme and naming: the Prussian-themed Centauri and the Cardassians, the deeply introspective and ascetic Minbari/Vulcans, the previously-conquered and recently-freed Narns/Bajorans (the Narn are an interesting mix of Klingon warrior cult and Bajoran religious fanatics), the black-suited and jack-booted Psi Corps/Section 31, the meddling and nearly opaque Vorlons / Prophets, and the corrupting ageless demonic Shadows/Pah-Wraiths. Of course, the most blatant parallel is the Minbari Leader Dukhat and the Cardassian leader Dukat.
Apart from he Dukhat-Dukat naming parallel, the two characters share next to nothing else in common. Dukat turned into an overambitious lackey for the Big Bads, like Londo. Dukhat actually has more in common with Trek's Kai Opaka.
The Minbari association with 3 would seem, however, to explain Deep Space Nine's titular station design. Three sections (core, habitat, docking), three sets of docking pylons, three vertical docking levels (2-pylon and 1-ring), 9 docking ports around the perimeter, three spokes....
The punchline: in 1998, Peter Jurasik co-wrote Diplomatic Act, a novel wherein the lead character, an actor in a science fiction show, is kidnapped by aliens who think he is genuine article. The book is similar to Galaxy Quest, which was released one year later.
In Severed Dreams, we see an ISN Newscast get cut short when an explosion rocks the building. Debris can be seen landing on the newsdesk, with the anchors crying out in fear. The debris wasn't supposed to land that close to the actors, and their reaction to almost having it land on their heads was genuine.
Claudia broke her ankle during "The Geometry of Shadows" but, thanks to a hasty rewrite (Susan getting trampled by the Drazi), was able to work through it. Though she might have wished it hadn't as filming the scene aggravated the injury, generating such a blood-curdling scream that it was rumored she actually broke it during filming.
Lyta's eyes turn black whenever she is using her telepathic powers against the Shadows (or even just to interface with their technology), which requires quite a bit of effort and strain from her. It is worth noting that the black contacts that Patricia Tallman had to wear to get this effect were by all accounts immensely uncomfortable, so the cringing was not all faked.
In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum has a scene where Sheridan starts to apologize to Talia for using her, and she cuts him off by slapping him. According to both JMS and Bruce Boxleitner, Andrea Thompson got herself so worked up in preparation for that moment that she didn't hold back when slapping him. The reactions on the set were all genuine.
In The Gathering, Takashima's dialog is clearly looped, but no one else's is. This is because PTEN balked and wanted a "softer" performance from their female lead. JMS was pissed, and it was reportedly a factor in Tamlyn Tomita's exit from the show.
The part of Lyta was written specifically for Patricia Tallman by JMS, who is a huge geek for zombie films and loved her performance in the Night of the Living Dead remake. Tallman had (unsuccessfully) auditioned for other movie roles, including a Trek movie, and worked as a stuntwoman on numerous TNG episodes. She was obviously chomping at the bit for something bigger, so when JMS delivered Tallman the role she was ecstatic, and promoted the show around-the-clock.
PTEN nixed the character and replaced her with Talia before the show went to air. In hindsight, it's clear few people involved in the production trusted Tallman, a stuntperson, to convincingly act. Not one to take a network note in stride, JMS called Lyta back into action the minute Andrea Thompson (Talia) was written out in season two.
The character of Warren Keffer existed purely because of this, the studio demanded a hot-shot crack pilot character. JMS admits to hating that character type. Naturally, he got killed off at the earliest possible opportunity. Actually he wasn't that bad a character all told, though some of his dialog was rather cheesy.
In the Babylon 5 script books, Word of God states that he had Season Five plotted out... and then his only copy of his notes were stolen while at a con. The resulting attempts to recover them led to the self-admitted awkwardness of Season Five... Of course, this still wouldn't be necessary if it weren't for the potential canceling of the season. Executive & Obsessed Fan meddling?
Notably, around the end of Season 2, all Executive Meddling stopped. The studio just stopped sending notes with suggestions and demands, apparently either deciding to just let JMS do his thing or forgetting about him completely. This may have had something to do with PTEN's quick decay from an aspiring network to a mere syndication package.
Fun: Jerry Doyle was never an actor. He went to school for aerospace engineering. He just randomly decided to try a shot at acting and got cast in B5 (of course he was in some small things prior, most hilariously as a Bruce Willis "Wannabe" in an episode of Moonlighting.) Garibaldi is Jerry Doyle, so he's not actually acting. He's just playing himself.
American actress Claudia Christian portrays the supposedly born-and-raised Russian Susan Ivanova, but barely gives herself any accent beyond occasionally giving herself a stilted speech pattern in some early episodes. The In-Universe explanation is that she spent most of her life studying abroad so her mother could prevent the authorities from learning Susan was a latent telepath.
Beata Pozniak, who is Polish, plays Russian Consortium Senator Susanna Luchenko in "Rising Star". In a bit of Reality Is Unrealistic, she used an accurate Russian accent in the role but fans complained it sounded fake.
Hostility on the Set: Claudia Christan and JMS didn't get on. They're still sniping at each other through tell-all books and interviews.
Similarly, Jerry Doyle interpreted Michael O'Hare's standoffishness and difficulties communicating (caused by his rapidly declining mental health) as Prima-Donna antics, and the two grew hostile to the point that O'Hare's guest appearances in Season 2 were all done on separate sets, and the two never appeared on screen together after season one wrapped.
JMS was a frequent poster on the Usenet group rec.arts.tv.scifi.babylon5.moderated during the show's run.
Back when nearly all of the World Wide Web could be linked to on one page, it seemed that most web sites had some sort of sci-fi series tribute somewhere. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a particularly popular choice for enshrinement (it was on at the time, see?). B5 has one up on it, though: the NCSA Mosaic browsernote An ancient ancestor of both Internet Explorer and Fire Fox had a semi-secret page (about:b5) where the developers expressed their love for the series and provided a few links to fan sites in case you wanted to learn more.
Lying Creator: JMS pulled off a doozy in one commentary where he discusses Michael O'Hare leaving the show, explaining that it was totally mutual because JMS had written Sinclair as too involved in the Minbari arc (of the past) and couldn't effectively tie him into the Shadow War arc (of the future), and O'Hare wanted to do more stage work, so they decided to part on good terms and handle the resolution to Sinclair's story somewhere down the line. The real reason, not revealed until after O'Hare's death, was that he was suffering from severe schizophrenia and left after the first season to seek treatment. It was mutual and they did part on good terms, but the rest is (plausible) bullpuckey.
Anna Sheridan (played by Beth Toussaint) first appeared in a message to her sister-in-law, recorded prior to her disappearance. Toussaint wasn't available for the episode where Anna returns as a Shadow agent; Melissa Gilbert (Bruce Boxleitner's real-life spouse at the time) was cast in her place.
Delenn's mentor, Draal, is played by Louis Turenne in the two-parter "A Time in the Wilderness". In all of his subsequent appearance, he is played John Schuck. This is Hand Waved by explaining that Draal has age-regressed as a result of being linked with the Great Machine.
Apparently they had a terrible time keeping actresses around to play G'Kar's aide. His first one, Ko'Dath, disappears under mysterious circumstances because Mary Woronov had trouble with the Narn makeup and prosthetics. The same problem drove away the original Na'Toth actress, Susan Kellerman. Julie Caitlin Brown made it through the entire first season (and was awesome) before she, too, succumbed to makeup problems and quit. Her role was given to Mary Kay Adams, who was not up to the task at all, and finally Na'Toth was written out of the story altogether (the character is later mentioned to be presumed dead following the Narn-Centauri war, and is found by Londo and G'Kar in a prison cell on Centauri Prime in Season 5. For this appearance, she is once again played by Julie Caitlin Brown).
Michael O'Hare (Sinclair) was found to be suffering from mental illness, and replaced with Bruce Boxleitner in Season Two, though he did make guest appearances in Season 3.
Lt. Cmr. Laurel Takashima in The Gathering. For whatever reason, Tamlyn Tomita didn't like the direction the series was heading in, and bailed before the Season One premiere. According to JMS, he'd meant to strike up a romance between Takashima and Sinclair, and promptly replaced her with Catherine Sakai. Ivanova (another new character), replaced her as first officer, making this a twofer. She even inherited Lauren's illicit coffee planter in Hydroponics.
Make that three: Takashima was going to be outed as "Control" (Talia), the sleeper agent planted by Psi Corps. Crazy to think that 3 characters were originally funneled into one.
Make that four: Takashima, under the influence of "Control", was originally supposed to shoot Garibaldi in the back, rather than his top lieutenant.
Brad Dourif, who plays serial killers so often that his mere presence on set is considered a spoiler, appears as mild-mannered and righteous Dominican monk brother Edward.
Post-Script Season: The show was originally plotted to a five-season arc. When the PTEN syndication network crumbled around it and the show was not renewed for a fifth season, the fourth season storyline was reworked to complete the entire arc. The show was subsequently granted a fifth season, but with almost all of its major plot threads resolved. The fifth season that resulted was much weaker, and was composed of a lot of stories that had been cut from earlier seasons for various reasons.
The Production Curse: A relatively low-key example, but fans have been saddened and spooked by the number of actors in the show who have died relatively young:
Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin) is the most dramatic example - he died of a ruptured aorta in 2004, at a mere 44 years old.
Tim Choate (Zathras) died in a motorcycle accident later in 2004 aged 49.
Andreas Katsulas (G'Kar) died of lung cancer in 2006 aged 59.
Jeff Conaway (Zack Allan) died from drug-abuse-related illnesses in 2011 aged 60.
Michael O'Hare (Jeffrey Sinclair) died from a heart attack in 2012 aged 60. It was subsequently revealed, by pre-arrangement with him about what would happen on his death, that he had developed schizophrenia during the making of his season of the show, and struggled with it for the rest of his life.
Turhan Bey died at the ripe old age of 90 in 2012.
Jerry Doyle (Michael Garibaldi) died from an alcoholism-related heart attack in 2016 aged 60.
Stephen Furst (Vir Kotto) died from diabetes complications in 2017 aged 63.
Promoted Fanboy: Jeff Conaway was a big supporter of the show pretty much from Day 1.
Tracy Scoggins is a science fiction fan and had been watching the show from the start.
Reality Subtext: Jerry Doyle really did suffer from serious alcoholism in his youth, enough that complications from it killed him at age 60, decades after he'd quit. He's the reason that Garibaldi falling off the wagon was played up for so long in Season 5, as he personally did not wish to risk downplaying at all how destructive the condition is.
Romance on the Set: Jerry Doyle and Andrea Thompson got hitched in Season One, though they later divorced.
Science Marches On: In Believers Doctor Franklin wants to perform a surgery to remove a blockage in the lung of a sick alien boy. His parents object to cutting him open because it's against their religion. Nowadays, this surgery could be done without any cutting at allnote beyond hacking up the blockage to facilitate removal, that is, by use of an endoscope.
Screwed by the Network: Par for the course for a '90s syndicated show, as local stations could and did pre-empt the show. Claudia Christian joked that her friends assumed she was lying when she said she was on a TV show because Babylon 5 was often pre-empted by Lakers games in the Los Angeles market.
Scully Box: JMS is a tall man and by his own admission mostly cast tall actors. One notable exception: Walter Koenig, who played Bester. In most scenes where he is shown arguing with the Babylon 5 personnel, the other actors are sitting down to avoid towering over him in the shot.
The thick digital tablets used by the station personnel might have looked futuristic in the mid 90's when the show was produced. Also, the snowy static shown on a screen whenever a camera is taken out is jarring if you are used to modern screens that simply switch to a blank black or blue screen when their signal is lost.
Then there are the computer interfaces; the buttons look like colorful candy, and the interfaces look like a child's computer game... from the 80's.
The operation that Franklin performs on the alien child in the first season can now be done non-invasively, requiring no cutting of the body. This probably would have kept the kid's parents from killing him afterwards due to their belief that the soul leaves the body if it is cut open.
The Centauri hairstyle resulted from an attempted practical joke by Peter Jurrasik about his idea for their hair (turning his wig upside-down), which JMS went along with because he wanted the actors to feel like he valued their input, and by the time the situation became clear it was too late to go back. It did end up working pretty well by making the Centauri visibly different from humans.
Claudia and Andrea were making out on set one day, as a joke, and Joe spotted them and decided to write it into the show. You never know when the muse will strike!
Thompson: And Joe always said it was about embracing his inner teenager, as well. Christian: [deflated] So, all of that politically correct, diplomatic shit I was talkin' about, you can just forget about that.
Zack Allen's complaints about his uniform not fitting were actual complaints Jeff Conaway made, unaware that JMS had heard him. He was very surprised to see his comments appear in a script.
Conaway wasn't the only actor to have their overheard comments show up in a script:
JMS: When it came to politics, Jerry Doyle and I disagreed on, well, pretty much everything. Politically, Jerry was just to the right of Attila the Hun. There is a line in Babylon 5 where his character, Michael Garibaldi, suggests that the way to deal with crime is to go from electric chairs to electric bleachers. That line is quintessential Jerry Doyle. I say this with confidence because I overheard him saying it at lunch then stole it for the show.
Averted for the most part. JMS was very much against ad-libbed lines, since he was careful about how every line was written in order to avoid screwing up the Myth Arc. In the few cases where it did happen, he had very serious talks with the actor involved (such as when Bill Mumy/Lennier hummed a mantra that turned out to be the title of the album his band made)
One notable case where an addition was allowed is in The Fall of Night, the Season 2 finale. The Earth Ambassador tells Ivanova that his pen was a gift from his wife. After mentioning this, he kisses the pen. JMS states in that episode's commentary that when he asked the actor why he did that, the actor responded "Well, my wife isn't here, so I can't kiss her, so I kiss the pen instead." JMS then chuckles and says "Ah, actors. Someday they'll all be replaced with CG. I'm kidding. No I'm not. Yes I am."
One very notable ad-lib that got kept: in the broken elevator scene of the episode "Convictions", G'kar was originally supposed to sound grim and unyielding. G'Kar's actor, Andreas Katsulas, instead chose to speak the words almost maniacally. After the take, JMS realized that the acting resulted in a one of the funniest moments of the show.
Death of Personality: A form of capital punishment practiced by Earth Alliance, actual execution having been outlawed except in mutiny and treason cases. Also known as mindwipe, and first spoken of in "The Quality of Mercy".
"Incoming message for you, Captain; it's Ambassador Mollari." "Londo? [snorts] Probably calling Collect." Still funny, though.
Also in the "still funny" category; when Zathras proclaims that he is "trained in crisis management." Buzzwords like that were huge in the 90s.
The Zima ad in the background of T.K.O. might seem like an example, but JMS purposely put it in there as a gag. He said he would be amazed if Zima still existed in the 21st Century, let alone the 23rd. It actually did. Briefly.
The creators of B5 are very tight with the fandom, but the relationship is double-edged. Scoggins used to scan the B5 forums and "cry every night" at the anti-Lochley jihad.
After O'Hare left the show under the cloud, one unfortunate rumor floated around the internet. Supposedly, the "real" reason was not because Michael O'Hare was sick, but because "he has a bad cocaine habit" and therefore "never has any money." Apparently JMS supported this particular abuse by raising money to help him out! The tempestuous producer, who must've lost his cool at the fans dozens of times over the years, went nuclear when he heard about this.
Word of Gay: Well, Word Of Bi. For both Lochley (according to Neil Gaiman) and Cartagia (according to Wertham Krimmer). Although in both cases there was definite innuendo on-screen.
JMS once asked actor Wortham Krimmer to tone down Emperor Cartagia's fey behavior, to which Krimmer responded, "Well, Joe, he's bisexual, don't you know." When JMS gave an "oh really" sort of reply, Krimmer said, "Absolutely. He's the emperor. He can f— anyone he wants."
Ivanova and Talia would have become an explicitly romantic couple if Andrea Thompson hadn't quit the show, though JMS still took it as far as he could in the limited time with the shot of Talia reaching out for an absent Ivanova while sleeping in her bed. After replacing her with the returned Lyta, he elected not to transplant the romance as it would feel too forced.
Word of God: JMS remained active on USENET throughout the show's run, and would often answer questions about the B5 'verse posted to rec.arts.sci-fi.tv.babylon5.moderated. Numerous comments have long since been collected and preserved on the Lurker's Guide fan site, in the "jms speaks" sections under each episode's entry on the episode list.
It was revealed after Michael O'Hare's death that the real reason for Sinclair's departure was that O'Hare had schizophrenia. JMS actually offered to put the show on hold for a year so he could get treatment, but O'Hare refused to be the reason so many people lost their jobs, especially since there was no guarantee the show would come BACK. The wrap-up with Sinclair filmed after he managed to get his schizophrenia under control.
Claudia Christian broke her ankle◊ between shoots and phoned the studio to inform them, certain that her character was going to be written out. Instead, JMS simply wrote her accident into the script and production continued.
Oddly for Garibaldi, he never crossed paths with his "old friend" in Season 3, instead communicating over an old video recording. This is because Doyle and O'Hare got into a fight when the latter became schizophrenic.note If this seems like a Real LifeKick the Dog moment, bear in mind that no one but JMS knew he was schizophrenic at the time. Eventually, Doyle gave an ultimatum saying he'd quit if O'Hare remained on the show. Clearly, this ultimatum was still in effect for season 3 (according to Doyle, they'd promised to kick each other's asses) which is why Doyle doesn't share any screen time with him.
Jerry Doyle suffered a broken wrist during the filming of the battle sequence in "Severed Dreams". The (very) visible effects were naturally explained as the character suffering the same injury.
Wayne Alexander is a recurring actor on B5 usually playing characters behind heavy makeup (like Lorien), though he went sans fards for his best-remembered role: the Inquisitor a.k.a. Sebastian.
Robin Atkin Downes played Byron Gordon in season 5 and Morann, a Minbari, in In the Beginning.
Caitlin Brown made a return appearance as Corey, the lawyer assigned to represent Sheridan in a murder case ("There the Honor Lies"). Zig-zagged: Na'toth appeared one last time in Season 5's "A Tragedy of Telepaths".
Carrie Dobro appeared as Harrison (a doctor in "Exogenenis") and a Brakiri (in "Racing Mars") before netting the role of Dureena in A Call to Arms/Crusade.
Ed Wasser is best known for playing the recurring human agent for the Shadows, Mr. Morden, in the series. However, in the pre-series pilot movie "The Gathering", he had a bit part as an operations staffer on the station named Guerra. Neither role involved any (non-human) makeup, so they looked identical.
John Vickery played two recurring characters: the Warrior-Caste Minbari and Grey Council member Neroon, and the Night Watch officer and Smug Snake Mr. Welles. Though Minbari makeup was used for the former, their facial features are very much the same and it's fairly easy to tell they are played by the same actor.
Turhan Bey playued two rather nice elderly gentlemen in emperor Turhan and Turval.
Hugo Award: The Hugo award the show won, for either "The Coming of Shadows" (1996) or "Severed Dreams" (1997) appeared in on Ivanova's desk in "Sleeping in Light".