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For example, if actress Andrea Thompson (playing Talia Winters) hadn't left, would Lyta Alexander have returned? Would Talia have worked for the Vorlons and served the same function in the series that Lyta did? What about Jeffrey Sinclair? I thought his character was purposely written out at the end of Season 1, but I recently learned Michael O'Hare left the show due to health problems. If he had stayed, would Sheridan have been brought in, and if so, when?

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    It's a little hard to quantify - he's talked about building 'trap doors' into his plot for departing actors, planning out how he might handle the story if and when it happens, but how much of that was put down in advance and how much was changed later... you see the dilemma? Good question though. – Radhil Sep 25 '16 at 18:12
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    @Valorum - Don't you mean Na'Toth and Na'Toth? Na'Toth was one of the rare instances in the show where they replaced an actress but not the character, because of the heavy prosthetics. – John Sensebe Sep 25 '16 at 20:09
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    Lochley was a direct replacement for Ivanova in season 5, as Ivanova was a replacement for Takashima from the pilot movie. – John Sensebe Sep 25 '16 at 20:15
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    @JohnSensebe - No, according the JMS, Valen was always planned, and he dropped too many hints, which made it easier for him to write out Sinclair and replace him with Sheridan. – Xavon_Wrentaile Sep 25 '16 at 21:37
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    @JohnSensebe Ivanova wasn't a direct replacement for Takashima. Takashima's plotlines were split up among at least 2 characters. – Izkata Sep 26 '16 at 4:17
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+300

JMS always planned to accommodate cast members being unavailable by having "trap doors" planned for every character

The trouble, of course, is that unlike writing a novel, where the characters exist only on a sheet of paper, actors and writers are some discussion on the best of days)[sic]. They can get sick, they can get into contract disputes, they can be hit by meteors, they can decide to buy a house in Cambridge and raise hedgehogs under an assumed name. There are, in short, *always* unpredictables in any such endeavor.

Consequently, in drafting the story for Babylon 5, I made sure to compensate for any possible changes. For lack of a better term, there is a "trap door" built into the storyline for every character. Obviously, you don't want to lose anyone, but in every case any such change momentarily shifts the story about ten degrees to one side for a little bit, and then you're back on track again. (GENIE 5/19/1994)

He elaborated on this later:

One of the first things I had to do, in plotting out the storyline, was to set aside trap doors for *every single character*, because you never know when or how the real world is going to impinge upon you. An actor can quit, or get hit by a car, or slammed by a meteor...there's no way to control the characters the way you do in a novel. That's a given. But you can't bring X-million viewers along to a certain point, then say, "Well, all the stuff we were going to do we can't because X isn't here."

So in a way, the structure of the story is kind of like a computer game tree...pull out a piece along the way, and it goes down a different path, but ends up at exactly the same point at the end. It's the difference between different *results* and different ways of *getting* there.

You can do a story about a platoon in WW II, for instance, and some of the platoon may live, die, be injured, whatever...but the story of WWII is the story of WWII. (Unknown source, quoted on Midwinter.com)


Changes from "The Gathering" to the main series

The pilot "The Gathering" was filmed about a year before the main series. There were several major cast changes that happened between then that JMS had to write around.

Dr. Benjamin Kyle and Lyta Alexander

These two characters appeared in the pilot "The Gathering" and had an explicit tie to the Vorlons.

Case in point: Dr. Benjamin Kyle and Lyta Alexander. Here are the only two humans who have seen or scanned a Vorlon. This is Very Important to the storyline. Alas, as later events unfolded, things did not work out, and the characters were dropped...but their story remained important, in that it was established that they were soon afterward recalled to Earth under mysterious circumstances (as noted in "War Prayer"), which actually helps the storyline in many ways. (GENIE 5/19/1994)

This was written before Lyta Alexander returned to the show due to the need to write out Talia Winters, but it's clear that this still fit with his narrative.

Dr. Kyle was going to become more of a parental figure to Sinclair and more of a scientist than his replacement, Dr. Franklin would be:

If Dr. Kyle would have stayed around, he would have moved more into the position of advisor/paternal figure for Sinclair. He also would have continued to be more scientist than doctor. (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 11/11/1994)

Talia Winters got a lot of Lyta's planned arc:

Much of the Lyta arc will now go to Talia, but there's now a different way of getting her into that arc. (GENIE 12/19/1993)

It seems to me that the "different way" of getting her into that arc was that instead of having enhanced telepathy powers due to Kosh (as we eventually saw with Lyta Alexander), she got them through Jason Ironheart in Season 1's "Mind War".

Lyta was originally going to become closer to Kosh, a subplot that was transferred to Sheridan:

If Lyta had stayed on B5, her arc would be pretty close to that of Talia, except that she would have begun to form a strong link to Kosh, first in the form of dreams, then something with implications that could be read as menacing or benign. (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 11/11/1994)

Laurel Takashima

The first officer on board Babylon 5 was originally meant to be a PsiCorps plant who would leave after a year or two. This plotline was transferred to Talia Winters.

Takashima would have been the one to be Control. A Psi Corps plant. (Her background on Mars would've been the perfect time for it to have happened.) When Laurel went away, I took that one thread and passed it along to Talia, setting it up as early as the very first episode, when Talia and Ivanova first meet, and later reluctantly have a drink. (CIS 4/16/1996)

The actress became uncomfortable with the role, and she was replaced by Susan Ivanova. JMS had let slip that Takashima was planned to betray Garibaldi in the Season 1 finale, so he decided not to reuse the plot for Ivanova. Instead, Garibaldi's second in command became the traitor.

Takashima would have been revealed as having been in on the Vorlon assassination attempt by season's end, and would have betrayed Garibaldi in the events in "Chrysalis," either giving him over to those involved with the coup, or pulling the trigger herself. While we would know this, our characters would not, for as much as another full season. (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 11/11/1994)

Following her departure, it was decided that Catherine Sakai would be Asian to match Takashima's ethnicity.

When [Takashima's actress Tamlyn Tomita] opted out, I went instantly after Julie Nickson, an asian actress to play Catherine Sakai, Sinclair's love interest, a recurring role in the show. (AOL 11/30/1995)

JMS later described how the character of Ivanova would have come about had Takashima stayed with the show:

If Laurel *had* stayed with the show, by the middle of year two the fact that she was Control would've been revealed via the password incident. At that point, one particular possibility was that her second in command under her -- a rather dour Russian lieutenant named Ivanova -- would've been promoted to take her place, while Laurel was moved off the chessboard. (This was planned because we knew going in that Tamlyn Tomita had a growing film career, and we probably could've only kept her for a couple of years in the best of circumstances. So why not turn that to your advantage?) (Unknown source, quoted on Midwinter.com)

Ko D'Ath

The original attaché for G'Kar was played by Mary Woronov, who found herself unable to wear the contacts and makeup for the role.

So to repeat: we'd had to replace Mary Woronov with virtually no notice after we found that she really had a hard time with the narn prosthetics (wouldn't wear the contacts, and other stuff). (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 7/27/1994)

She was written out and replaced by Na'Toth, who has her own interesting story below.

Carolyn Sykes

Sinclair's original girlfriend was removed when actress Blaire Baron chose not to return to the show. As a captain of a merchant ship, she was originally supposed to fill the same role of Catherine Sakai and later Anna Sheridan.

One of the major plotlines on Babylon 5 involves the discovery of Za'ha'dum, the homeworld of an ancient and malevolent race known as "the Shadows." Originally, this discovery was to be made by Sinclair's on-again-off-again romantic interest, planetary explorer Carolyn Sykes (Blaire Baron.) When Baron didn't return to the show, her character was retconned over with Catherine Sakai, also a planetary explorer, also Sinclair's love interest. When Sinclair was ultimately replaced with John Sheridan, the planetary explorer becomes Sheridan's wife, Anna. (Gizmodo)

Note that the quote is incorrect: Sykes was a captain of a merchant ship, not a planetary explorer. Still, it seems like this was the intended direction.

Also, JMS hinted that he had plans for her that would develop by the end of Season 1:

Carolyn Sykes would've gotten into major trouble with one of the major EarthCorps. (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 11/11/1994)

This plot doesn't look like it got transferred to any other character.


Changes in the main series

Cmdr. Jeffrey Sinclair

At the actor's request, JMS did not talk about Michael O'Hare's mental health problems until after he died, but he did mention that this influenced the narrative in a way he felt was a positive development.

[Michael's departure] will also allow us to pursue some new directions avenues for the show that will help to expedite the overall story. Sinclair disappearing for an indeterminate period after the events of "Chrysalis" will allow us to tighten the screws of the story, and heighten the tension of things going on in the storyline. (GENIE 5/19/1994)

A more minor change was that the explanation of his past was moved from Season 2, Episode 3 to Episode 1:

if Sinclair had stayed with B5 at this juncture, the events in "Points" (the reveal of the Minbari surrender) would've taken place in episode 3 instead of 1. Episode 1 would've consisted mainly of the events in "Revelations," which was mainly as a bystander to the events around him, since the sister aspect specific to Sheridan obviously wouldn't be there. (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 11/11/1994)

Sheridan was created as a replacement character for Sinclair (in other words, Babylon 5 would not have received a new leader if Sinclair wasn't leaving), but JMS does note that he felt the need for a character like Sheridan to appear by the time of Season 2:

Sheridan, or more specifically the need for someone like Sheridan began to get through clearly toward the latter part of last season, as I began planning out season two's progression, and kept looking at elements of the story and trying to find ways to get Sinclair into the heart of them. They felt contrived, for the most part; and the other characters, like Londo and G'Kar and Delenn, were really moving forward in a big way. The role of Sinclair was becoming primarily that of a "problem solver," and when that happens, a sort of glass bell falls down around the character, and you can't do much with him.

So what the writer has to do is break that bell in one way or another; do something totally unexpected to him, and bring in someone who has a direct, personal connection with the storyline emerging in season two, so it's not contrived or forced. (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 11/11/1994 1:38:00 PM)

Catherine Sakai

Since Sakai's only connection to the show was through Sinclair, the character was removed from the show. It's no coincidence that Anna Sheridan had the same job as Sakai (a planetary explorer) and a connection to the man in charge of the station, much like Catherine Sykes before her.

See also: What happened to Catherine Sakai after Sinclair left B5? for her ultimate fate in 100% canon spinoff material.

Na'Toth

The first actress cast for Na'Toth was Susan Kellerman, who had severe claustrophobia during the makeup test and walked off the show. The shooting schedule was rearranged and she was absent for the first few episodes because of this. (JMS vaguely recalled this in the Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 9/1/2009)

Caitlin Brown was then chosen for the role, but after one season decided that she didn't want to continue both due to the discomfort with the prosthetics and a concern that wearing a mask would negatively impact her film career. It was decided to recast Na'Toth rather than create a new attaché because JMS had more plans for the character:

We didn't recast Sinclair because that character is going somewhere from whence he may (and will) return, and because that serves the story; in this case, we are recasting Na'Toth. By the end of season one, Na'Toth knows stuff that I need that character, G'Kar's aide, to know. (Though I was briefly tempted to do the Murphy Brown Secretary line, with G'Kar getting a new aide every so often due to terrible airlock accidents...but I went to lay down for a while and the notion passed.) (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 7/27/1994)

The information by the way, was about the Shadows:

Specifically, when G'Kar came back, I needed someone there who he could talk to about the shadows, and get us into that part. Someone who knew he'd been gone, and why. Otherwise, he'd be spilling his guts to a total stranger, and he wouldn't do that. Hence, you need Na'Toth. (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 6/26/1995)

The role was recasted with Mary Kay Adams playing Na'Toth, who did well in auditions, but had a much weaker performance on film. This was deemed unsatisfactory, so Na'Toth quietly disappeared.

We cast the person who was right for the role. If the person's not right, we don't cast them. The only time it hasn't worked out as well as I'd've liked was when we cast Mary Kay Adams, who was very strong in the auditions, and then made an actor's choice to play the character very quiet, to not push against Andreas...but you fade into the woodwork if you do that. (CIS 9/5/1997)

Her fate was revealed in Season 5 where she was played again by Caitlin Brown.

Talia Winters

JMS planned to have Talia Winters have a "sleeper personality", a plot transferred from Laurel Takashima, and planted clues to it as early as the first episode.

Takashima would have been the one to be Control. A Psi Corps plant. (Her background on Mars would've been the perfect time for it to have happened.) When Laurel went away, I took that one thread and passed it along to Talia, setting it up as early as the very first episode, when Talia and Ivanova first meet, and later reluctantly have a drink. (CIS 4/16/1996)

Given the sudden emergence of Control in Talia Winters' final episode (and that her departure was due to the actress wanting to leave the show, rather than a planned departure by JMS), I think it's reasonable to assume that this was a planned trap door that was opened early.

According to Claudia Christian (Susan Ivanova), the two characters' relationship would have been explored more had the actress stayed on the show.

"I think that if Andrea Thompson had not left, we would have definitely explored the relationship further. That was the intention, but because she wanted to get out, we had to wrap it up quickly." (SFX, July 1997)

Of course, Talia Winters' departure led to the return of Lyta Alexander, who was the original telepath from The Gathering.

General William Hague

The side character recruited Sheridan into resisting Clark's regime and was supposed to play a big role in Season 3's "Severed Dreams." However, Robert Foxworth's agent double-booked him with Deep Space Nine and he was killed off:

He bailed at the last minute, even though we had first dibs on him. Not much point to forcing an actor to stay if he wants to go; you just get an unhappy set and a less than stellar performance. That situation led to changing a grand total of 3 lines. Anything in Hague's situation is what's called a "moveable piece," meaning it can be easily assigned to others. (Babylon 5 Moderated Usenet group 4/23/1996)

This reason for the character's sudden death was referenced in an outtake for the episode.

Vir Cotto

While only a temporary, minor departure, Stephen Furst wanted time to do other acting, so he was written as the Centauri ambassador to Minbar so that he could be absent for a larger portion of Season 3.

when Stephen Furst wanted to do fewer episodes so that he could appear as a regular in the sitcom "Misery Loves Company," he said, "Look, I really want to do this, so if you could cut me down to, say, 8 episodes, and just pay me for those 8 instead of the contracted 13, that'd be great." And that deal was made, and made quickly. (Unknown source, quoted on Mindwinter.com)

Anna Sheridan

Originally she was played by Beth Toussaint via a video message for John Sheridan in "Revelations". When the time came for Anna to reappear on screen at the end of Season 3's "Shadow Dancing" and throughout "Z'ha'dum", the actress wasn't available so they recast the role with Bruce Boxleitner's real-life spouse Melissa Gilbert.

"Z'ha'dum" had a flashback to the video in "Revelations", but this time with Melissa Gilbert in it. The entire sequence from that episode was reshot, with the possibility of that version being used in future airings of "Revelations".

Re: the Revelations scene...we actually shot that entire sequence, with the notion of possibly re-editing "Revelations" and inserting the Melissa piece instead...sort of TV by way of soviet revisionism...and of course it was always that way...what other version was there? (CIS 9/24/1996)

Susan Ivanova

She was originally planned on being present in the fifth season, but due to a contract issue (JMS and Claudia Christian have differing accounts of what happened), she was dropped. Her role in command was replaced by Lochley:

Scoggins is on board for season 5 as Captain Elizabeth Lochley, who is going to full the void in the command structure left by Ivanova. (CIS 9/6/1997)

Originally, it was planned that Ivanova would have had latent telepathy emerging and be heavily involved in the telepath colony arc of Season 5:

It's no secret that I would've had Ivanova becoming somewhat linked to Byron romantically (she would see him as a character like Marcus, which is why there are certain similarities, and she would take a chance only to find it wrong this time, underlining that she'd missed her one major opportunity thus far for a good relationship). This was expressed to Claudia toward the last part of S4, so she knew at that time that her latent ability would be coming out, and that she'd have a big part in S5.

In this scenario, Lyta would have become a devoted follower of Byron's, much as she has, but it would have been more love from afar: protective, somewhat unrequited but hoping for more...so that when he met his fate, Lyta would end up right where she is now, just by a different road. (CIS 8/5/1998)

Note that Ivanova is still present in the final episode of the series, "Sleeping in Light" (production number 422), because it was originally filmed as the 22nd episode to Season 4. JMS wanted that episode last, so it was moved to the end of Season 5 and a new Season 4 finale, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" (production number 501), was filmed when Season 5 began filming but before Season 4 finished airing. Because of this, Claudia Christian is credited in the opening of the Season 5 finale, but not the Season 4 finale.


Unused Trapdoors

Ever wonder why each of the ambassadors had an attaché? It was so that should they ever have to leave, there would be a ready replacement.

Additional trap doors in the form of assistants and attachés were added for each of the core ambassadors: Lennier of the Minbari was Delenn's trap door, Na'Toth of the Narn was G'Kar's, Vir of the Centauri was Londo's. Since each ambassador was on a diplomatic mission and subject to bureaucratic oversight, this scheme made it plausible to continue the storylines should any of the ambassadors leave the show. Thankfully, none did, and as a result the show had a rich stock of supporting characters to carry it forward. (Gizmodo)

  • Thank you - I had half of this running around in the back of my head, but sourcing it all is a nightmare. – Radhil Sep 25 '16 at 22:32
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    @Radhil Sourcing it sure was a nightmare! Not only did I have to search for everything, I realized there were more characters who left than I had remembered. Also, I found that there were some quotes on Mindwinter.com that aren't on JMSNews, so I was working with copies of quotes. – Thunderforge Sep 25 '16 at 23:34
  • I was like "why on earth have I favourited this question?", then I realised it was so that I could come back and give a bounty for this magnificent work of effort. +201 for you mate! – Möoz Nov 30 '16 at 2:39
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    “they can decide to buy a house in Cambridge and raise hedgehogs under an assumed name” — “Joseph, why are we sending all these royalty checks to some British guy named Spike E. Rodent?” – Paul D. Waite Nov 30 '16 at 17:16

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