What the Networks Don't Know About Science Fiction
by J. Michael Straczynski

Those of you who have seen me before in other presentations know that I tend to work extemporaneously and without notes. Two seconds of preparation; three months of apologizing. I was told to make this one a little more coherent, so I brought notes. I was asked to make a more formal talk about media and science fiction and television and how they all come together in "Babylon 5." So I'm going to try and cover a lot of different areas and be completely incoherent in a lot of different directions, at the same time.

It All Started with Dragnet

The first area, is, really, to talk about how television views science fiction, how science fiction views television, how "B-5" made it, and what's coming in television. Then I will discover radium and cure cancer. (APPLAUSE)

I want to start off by talking about "Dragnet." What the hell does "Dragnet" have to do with science fiction? Everything. Prior to that show, cop shows were viewed as of limited interest in a ratings level. There were those who liked police procedures liked to watch them, but they never did very well in the ratings. They were considered somewhere over here as opposed to real drama.

Then along came "Dragnet," which as much as we look back at it now and it's cliché and it's silly and its flat characters--Joe Friday and his partner, Dumbo--for its time, it was startling. It showed police officers who got married, got divorced, had dinner, went on dates, took day classes, night classes, and, for the first time, showed them as being people.

Every cop show that has followed and built upon that foundation is a direct heir to what "Dragnet" did. It broke the ground.

A number of years later up came a new show called "Star Trek," which, for the first time, took what was considered to be a non-starter, genre-wise--very flat characters--and made it into a character-based series. NBC didn't handle that show very well so, as a result, it, kind of, died in the ratings, but the theory was there. These were characters who had real lives, real backgrounds, real interactions with each other; it was about more than just solving a technical problem, as was the case with many of the other previous science fiction like "Tales From Tomorrow," back during the '50s and early '60s.

It tried to deal with real characters. The problem was that after they went off the air, they were perceived as a failure, and no one picked up the ball, unlike the cop-show genre. And, really, for a number of years, again, no one picked it up. And those who did tend to get into the area even tried to deny they were science fiction.

What the Networks Don't Know About Science Fiction

The producers of "V," for instance, and the follow-up series, "V2" denied they were doing science fiction. "We're doing a war story," they said. "It's World War II. The aliens are just there because you have to have aliens." And they had complete contempt for what science fiction is and the literature and the history of science fiction.

I interviewed a couple of the producers in the show for the "Elliot Herald Examiner" back in Los Angeles, and they said: "As long as we have the ray-guns and the lizards and blowing things up, we have the science fiction fans automatically." What does that tell you about the mentality through which they perceive science fiction?

All too often when you do a cop show or a medical show, you hire a person who knows about cops, a person who knows about medical stories. In science fiction, they hire guys, as in the case of "War of the Worlds," from "Love Boat!" It's the truth. In fact, I was talking to the guy who produced "War of the Worlds" and I said: "Let me get this straight. You have the entire planet forgetting that we were invaded by Martians. How did this happen?" And he said: "Well, either you buy into it or you don't. It doesn't have to make sense." (LAUGHTER)

Science fiction, they said, means you don't have to make it make sense, which is wrong and untrue; and you guys out in the audience know this is true. They said, "'War of the Worlds' is not science fiction." I loved that one.

"Lois and Clark," in some ways, is a similar situation. The producers didn't want to do "Superman." They wanted to do "Moonlighting in Tights." (APPLAUSE) So it was all Lois and Clark, and, on occasion, "Oh, all right, bring the guy in the cape in; we'll have him do something for us."

But they had a certain amount of reservation because the genre is really, they felt, more for kids; it's more about, you know, cute, fuzzy puppets and stuff. And this was one of the problems that we had in trying to sell "Babylon 5." They didn't understand what science fiction was. Number one, they were afraid of it. They were afraid of the concepts behind it; they couldn't understand what we were talking about. We went to talk to them about a five-mile long space station, and they could see Mir; it was, like, this tiny little bucket.

And we had artwork made up to suggest to them how the station would work, the parts that would rotate. And, at one point, I was in a meeting with an executive at an unnamed network--CBS--and I show him the interior of the station--the garden area--and it rotates to create the gravity, and you see a guy standing on the floor and a guy standing on the nominal ceiling. And the exec says, "Well, what keeps them on the ceiling?"

My partner is already, it's like, "Oh, god, what's he gonna. . . ."

I said, "Crazy Glue." (APPLAUSE)

He said, "Well, that won't work. They have to move around and talk to people and stuff."

I'm all in favor of prisoners' work programs, but there has to be a limit, you know?

And they don't know about science fiction; they're afraid of it. The number one comment we got--we went to HBO, ABC, NBC, CBS, Show Time, everything--they all said the same thing: "There is not room enough in the marketplace for any space show but 'Star Trek.'" That was the number one reason we were told why they wouldn't look at us.

And it's the mind set that there are only "Trek" fans and that science fiction, as a genre, doesn't work. So we were out there to make them understand that, no, there is room for more than just one show, and it took us five years to find somebody who believed in us and who understood what we were trying to do.

Redefining Television Science Fiction

In many ways, "Babylon 5" has now revised and refined how people view science-fiction television in Hollywood. The arc progression that we used--the five-year arc--is now being used over on the new Gene Roddenberry Show. "Dark Skies" had it for a while. There are more in the works now.

As Henry was saying before, television lends itself toward a long-term story where you pay it off not in the same episode or even four episodes later, but years down the road. People can stay with it, as they stayed with Dickens when he did short stories and novels that would be stretched out across a long period of time in periodicals that ran at that time.

And we're seeing now more science fiction coming along and a recognition gradually that there is more quality work to be done in science fiction than you thought there was. It isn't cute kids and robots.

A small aside: I had a meeting at ABC a couple of days ago and in the course of the meeting--talking about a new series development--they said, "We figured out the new next thing that the audience wants. We think what the audience wants now is quality." (LAUGHTER/APPLAUSE) If I am lying, strike me dead! Honest to god, exactly what you said.

Guys tried to get a Merlin series off the ground for years; now suddenly "Merlin" comes on, does huge numbers, and they're saying, "We have to get more shows about magic. Magic! That's what it is. It's magicians! That's what they want. Magicians!"

No, they want magic, not the same magicians. It's not the same thing.

And, hopefully, gradually they'll come around to understanding and view science fiction as more than just a kid's form. Again, in other science-fiction shows whether it's "Sea Quest"--you have to have a kid--"Buck Rogers"--you have to have a cute robot and a kid occasionally. It's not what they think it is. And that process of education has taken us a very, very, very long time, and they're learning from us how to do these things.

What's also helped is that we have more science-fiction fans who have grown up in the genre, and aren't afraid of the genre, making shows. The old ones are dying off and the young ones are coming in to show them how it's done and have a respect for the genre.

They've also learned from us the producer's model that we use on the show. We have made the show now for five years and in the course of that time, our methods of production have been such that we have only gone overtime, two or three hours at a time, fourteen times in five years. We have come in under budget every year, every season. They don't understand how we do this.

Warner Bros. sent a platoon of vice-presidents to the stage and said, "Show them how you do this; we don't understand how you're doing it." And they still don't. (LAUGHTER) It's the gene pool, folks; it ain't my fault because what it is, it is a form of thinking differently about television than what they're used to doing, about planning things out--which I'll get to more in a moment. Do I have a conclusion here? Lord knows, I hope I have one. Yes, I missed one part of it. Never used notes before!

Babylon 5 as an Ethical Drama

One of the main problems in accepting science fiction in television is one of my main problems with television, that the questions television tends to ask tend to be trivial and ephemeral. Will they get the robber in time? Of course, they will. Will they stop the bus of kids from going over the cliff? Unfortunately, yes. Will they defuse the bomb in time? Yes, and it's always the red wire, not the blue wire.

The questions that science fiction asks, at its best, are not ephemeral; they are questions of moment, of importance, that take the mirror of reality and turn it this way, that much, to see the problems in a different light. Case in point: We did a show called "Passing Through Gethsemane." In this episode, we posit that in the future they have said that the death penalty is barbaric and cruel; we're getting rid of it; and replacing it with the death of personality, meaning they wipe your memories entirely and create a new personality and a desire to serve humanity, to serve the state.

Well, what happens when, let's say, a monk, a man of god, discovers that he had been a serial killer--mind-wiped, his memory is erased and given false memories--and serving man for the last l0 years. What's the disposition of this man's soul? How does he apologize to his god for things he doesn't recall having done? Is his soul that of a killer or a holy man?

These are questions for which there are no answers. These are questions that I've put in there so that you guys would argue about them. If I can start a bar fight, I'm a happy man. And that's been the hardest part of the adjustment, to understand that it's not the rockets; it ain't the ray-guns; it ain't the aliens or the explosions. It's what Faulkner called the human heart in conflict with itself. That's the nature of the drama, what science fiction is and gradually seeing that sea-change come about--"The audience wants quality now." "Well, thank you so much."

And now we see the media-in-transition-aspect of all this as science fiction is becoming for the networks more of a viable option. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. We may get more crappie science fiction. I don't know.

The Origins of Babylon 5

What I do know is the background of "Babylon 5" which I'll get to now and how we tried to fit it into this whole thing. I grew up reading the sagas--"Lord of the Rings," the "Foundation" books, "Childhood's End," all of them, "Dune," I actually made it through "Dune"--[APPLAUSE]--and wondered why these aren't being done.

And as I grew up I discovered the British television shows. I discovered "The Prisoner," "Blake 7," "Dr. Who." (APPLAUSE) I said, "Well, they can do these long-term stories." "The Prisoner"? You know, 20, what?, 26 episodes, l8 episodes? One big story--the beginning and middle and end. How extraordinary! Why aren't we doing this? "Well, we just haven't done it." It's not a really very good answer.

So as I grew up and worked my way into television through a back door because they wouldn't let me in the front door, I began to say, "Why? Why? I wish I could do this some day." So on the one hand, I had the notion of a big saga that I wanted to tell. On other hand, it was looking at television production and seeing how wasteful it is. Thirty percent of all the money allocated to series is wasted for lack of preparation.

And this is foolish. If someone gives you twenty some million dollars to make a show, it behooves you to act responsibly. This is a new concept.

I thought there were two different shows at first: This big, huge saga and a very small, contained budgetary science-fiction show. And one day I was in the shower, and these two collided in my head. And I saw that they were the same, exact show--I have to use the mentality of this one to present the ideas in that one--and ran out of the shower, naked and wet, and wrote down what I saw in a moment of perfect clarity.

I saw the entire arc of the show, how it would work, what it would be. An hour later, my wife said: "Will you get out of there? You're messing up the sofa." But I knew what I wanted to do. It would just take us a long time to find a network that believed in us. I didn't know it'd be five years, but I knew it would take time. I knew we had to re-think how we do television.

One of the things we tried to do was to emphasize the notion, again, that if you're going to sell a show, you must know what it is you're selling. Very often people will sell a television show and come back and say, "Oh, my god, we just sold it. Now what'll we do? What's the concept? How do we take a one-joke premise and make it last for an entire series?"

So I sat down and, in advance, worked out every year of a five-year arc. And where that comes in handy on the production side is that before we shoot a frame of film, I can say to my line producer, "I need to have this set of Episode l4. Episode l9 has this big, huge CGI battle sequence. This prosthetic has to be worked out for 35 aliens by Episode Number 7."

So they have a cheat sheet, in hand, each season and can plan things out properly the way you'd plan out a novel. It's no different.

Behind the Scenes

We don't allow changes on the set. I don't care who you are as an actor; the lines are in English; they're properly written; you ain't changin' 'em. If you can't act properly, that isn't my problem. We had one actor who said, you know, "My needs aren't being met as an actor." Get fewer needs. Real simple solution.

And we work with the director, so that everyone's on the same page at all times; we're always six scripts ahead of where we are shooting-wise, so that the directors always have time to prepare and work toward that goal. We have no cute kids and robots as regulars in the show. (APPLAUSE) We have them as guest-stars once in a while, and we kill them. (APPLAUSE) You're a blood-thirsty lot, aren't you? (LAUGHTER)

My goal was to make sure that we treated this show as we treat any other show, that there wouldn't be a difference in cinematography, in writing between this show and, you know, an "L.A. Law" or a "Hill Street Blues" or whatever it will be. It's just another form. You don't write it differently because it's science fiction.

And a lot of directors came out of the "Star Trek" mold where you, sort of, light the whole walls and you shoot the walls and the person who's standing in front of the wall. And we tried to tell them, "No, you don't do that here. You light the characters first, and it's about the characters first and foremost."

We also would assign-out the stories to freelancers. Very often in television, the way it works is, a persons comes in, pitches you an idea for an episode. If you like it you buy it; if you don't, you don't. And it's a very slow, inefficient process. Again, if you're going to sell a show, know what it's about. Therefore, I would write up a premise and give it to the freelancer, so he would have something in his hand, go out and begin writing on it.

The pitching-thing is nightmarish, quite frankly, for both sides. We once had a person on another show I worked on pitch l7 stories at us, and each pitch takes about five or l0 minutes;___ work out the time-frame yourselves. The engineers can do it in their head, and the rest ____.

One person on "Murder, She Wrote" came in to pitch a story, sat down, and said, "So. Amnesia." In a story, you have a one-word idea. Amnesia--work it out. No, we work it out so that each writer who comes in has got an assigned story to work from, and it's all part of the larger storyline, which, again, isn't much done in television. It's kind of a revolutionary way of doing things, not counting soap-operas which, again, don't work toward a definite end; they want it to not end. Ever.

Holiographic Storytelling

I also wanted, again, to do the story-arc thing where you have something different--it's a holographic story. If you see one episode by looking at a piece of glass with a pattern on it, and by itself the pattern is very clear and distinct. Watch a second episode and put it behind it; now there are two patterns but there's a connection, something going between them. The more episodes you see, the more you are aware of the thread that wraps through all of them.

And, thus, as I've mentioned before, as you watch an episode or a series of episodes, you see more than you're seeing because you're aware of the contexts in the backgrounds and what went before and what follows after. Things have more meaning suddenly. And, again, the networks said, "You can't do that. The average memory capacity of a viewer is l0 minutes." You have to assume that they're morons.

Another executive at a network was talking to me--CBS, and the IQ level at CBS is not great--and said, "Here's the reality that we have, people who are financially well-off, have cable; they've got laser disks; they've got tapes; they've got direct TV. They don't watch network television. We have to look to those who are not financially very well-off, of a lower educational level and pitch down there somewhere, not up where HBO is." That was their attitude.

Hence the reaction of astonishment when I said a moment ago, the new thing is quality. This has never occurred to them before because they figured you guys are all just low-level Bozos.

I also want to try and experiment with our format. I hate conventionality and, thus, wanted to do something where, for instance, the first half of an episode is a team of reporters comes to the station; we see them doing interviews; see what's actually being said. In the second half, you see the broadcast, and you see how the media can take what is said in a very simple context, invert it, and make it mean something entirely different because you should always suspect these things.

Whether it's true or not, you have to be a critical audience member. I wanted to do an episode where it was two people in one room talking for an entire episode, to see if I could do it.

Special Effects

Very often, again, in one of the main areas where TV shows go over budget is in effects, and I wanted to ride the new wave of technology in what was being done--virtual sets, computer graphics. We were the first show to have CGI on a regular basis; the first one to do this level of virtual effects, this kind of compositing because there's a lot that can be done that's not being done because the same guys who are afraid of science fiction are afraid of technology. And, thus, you're screwed at both ends.

We tried to say, "Let's not be afraid of anything and, in particular, let's be willing to fail on occasion. Let's try something bizarre once in a while and if we fail, so what? They can't put you into TV jail; they can't kill you and eat you (except CBS); there's nothing wrong with failing. If you fail six times but you hit it three times, that's three more than you would have gotten if you hadn't tried. And that's worth the time and the effort."

One thing that we also tried to do with the show is to try and be, as much as we humanly can be, scientifically accurate. It's rotational gravity; it's ships that don't bank as they would normally in atmosphere; dealing with the problems of zero-gravity environments, different languages and life forms.

We tried to deal with it as honestly as we humanly could, and I think that we succeeded in doing that as much as one can on the theory that it's as easy to get it right as it is to get it wrong. And getting it right is often more interesting.

And they said, "Why wasn't it ever done before?" "Well, you didn't think through the physics before."

A Thinking Person's Series

Now I understand that in saying this that this will never be a huge show. It will never be a massive cult phenomenon like "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" because it's a thinking-person's show. You have to watch the show and bring to the table things you wouldn't think about to get all that is in there.

If you're not, you'll be frustrated by certain parts of it and want to move on, which is OK by me.

All I wanted to do was to tell an interesting story and it took five years to do it--[LAUGHTER] Scheherezade was right--and I've tried entertain myself primarily for those five years because if it doesn't entertain you as a writer, it won't entertain the next guy.

Why I Quit Science Fiction Writers of America

Which brings me to the area of, how can I put this? Why is science fiction screwed right now as a genre? Why I quit The Science-Fiction Writers of America?

About l0 years ago I recognized that media was going to be a very important part of science fiction, much more than had been in the past, because until then it was "Star Trek" and that's about it.

And I said to guys in the organization: "You've got to start making some more forward-planning moves toward looking at and understanding science-fiction media and building some bridges here.

Consider: Once upon a time, if you look back at the history of television and movies, very often it was a movie based on or a TV episode based on a short story or based on a novel. I watch a lot of the old '50s science-fiction shows and you see, again, "based on a story by" or "based on a novel by." That tended to be the rule. Now, with some exceptions--and there are always exceptions, "Starship Troopers" being one; "Contact" being another--it's the other way around. Now we have movies coming along and inspiring books and short stories. In fact, I recently was called by a leading science-fiction magazine and asked if we would do six or seven "B-5" stories to appear in a science-fiction fiction magazine.

I haven't said "yes." So far I've said "no" because I'm not sure that with media-related novels already out there that I want to break down the last bastion that should be just print, not media-influenced. But I saw it coming. I said, "Guys, you've gotta start treating media with respect; give them a dramatic Nebula because it will bring out the producers; and make them know who you are because if you don't tell them what science fiction is, they'll invent it.

And they'll do it wrong. And, of course, they did. And SFWAdid not do this. And as a result, I left, which was not the most earth-shattering development in the history of mankind, but what happened afterward verified what I said.

Right now, in the science-fiction print field--I'm sure that you, gentlemen, know as well as I do--the mid-list, the mid-level titles are disappearing. You're seeing more media titles. And I confess to having "B-5" novels done with a certain degree of uncertainty about it.

Middle-selling writers are going away, and they're taking the Hollywood approach of looking for the big blockbuster and applying that now to print. Is this correct for you gentlemen, your opinion of it? Yeah.

And this I saw coming l0 years ago and said, "Look, if you are science-fiction writers who deal in forward-thinking areas, why should a new kind of technology, moving pictures frighten you? Sound films have been with us for a while now. Get with it!"

And it has made, I think, the science-fiction writing community more insular, more fearful, and there were some moves at the last World Con to get media novels barred from Nebula consideration because they're, again, afraid of it. They won't let it compete on the same ground as a regular novel.

And what we're looking at now is a situation where the science-fiction arena, which I grew up in and I want to see preserved, is being swallowed by media novels. Where you see good writers out there--I'm not sure why I'm railing against the media all of a sudden; I'm part of it--but you see really top-flight writers who can't sell it.

Robert Scheckly has a hard time selling original fiction. I grew up on Scheckly; I grew up on all these guys. And I'm seeing them now where they're saying, "To make ends meet, I have to write a 'Star Wars' novel." And this is wrong.

And this requires the science-fiction writing community to drop their prejudices, drop their old-fashioned ideas, and get out there and learn what's going on in Hollywood.

When we had the whole dramatic Nebula fight at SFWA, I got letters from guys who said, "You media hacks make a lot of money for doing no quality work at all. I spend my whole life getting ten cents a word. You guys can all go screw yourselves."

Well, that's great but now look what's happened. And it is my hope that the upcoming generation of people like yourselves, who've seen that you can do if you have the right mentality, decent science fiction on television, will have an effect on loosening up some of the prejudices of those who are around currently in the science-fiction literary establishment to say, "No, you guys have got to work together. You can't fight each other."

And that was my one and only sermon for the day.

TV Tomorrow

"TV Tomorrow"--my last segment--and we're all very grateful for that.

There are a lot of changes happening in current television right now with the high-definition revolution, the visual revolution. In some ways, though, I am skeptical of it. There is a show called "Absolutely Fabulous," which I love, and at one point, Adena says, "I don't want more choices. I want better stuff." (APPLAUSE) And I said, "Boy, she does work in television, you can tell"--the writer, I should say.

We now have more channels than we ever had before. I have a digital set-up at home for satellite . . . and like 100-paid channels and there's l00 music channels and there's 200 regular channels. And a lot of it is just wasted space. They have a game-show channel now, which is all game shows. And you already know who won, if you're smart enough.

And does the media revolution mean more quality programming? "No, it does not. It means more crap." (APPLAUSE) It means you'll have to work harder to find the good stuff because you now have to go to 500 channels to find "The Prisoner."

On the flip side, it does provide more opportunity because there's only so much stuff they can pull out and re-run on game-show channels. When that happens, they're going to be looking for new material, and that's why what we're doing on "Babylon 5" is emblematic of what's coming in the future.

We do desktop television; that's the simplest way of putting it to you. The budget on our show is less than $900,000 an episode; the average budget for this kind of a show is $l.5 million. Up to $2 million that they had on the war show--"Space Above and Beyond--___ $2 million.

So you have a scenario where in five or ten years down the road, it'll come down to a point where the people who are now making independent films can make independent television shows.

I have in my possession, back in California, a digital camera--it cost me two and a half grand actually--which can do video tape on digital tape at a higher resolution than most TVs can handle. It's studio quality for $2,500.

And this is going to keep on coming down and putting more and more of the tools of television into the hands of this motley crowd. (LAUGHTER) The tools of post-production are becoming cheaper. We edit on the Avid which, essentially, takes the film, digitizes it, stores it on a hard disk, and you go through and pick your takes out, and you edit it from there. You, then, take the information on a floppy disk--dump it off to a super computer that assembles the film, and you're done. You've edited your show.

And music capabilities are getting more and more lower-priced these days, so there could be a point--I would say within the next five or l0 years--where you can go out and say, "I have produced independently l4 episodes of a new show. It has a beginning, middle and end." It's a one-year project that you can put on your network, if you're not CBS--[LAUGHTER]--or you can put it on your cable outlet, or on your channel over here, or on your compressed channel from overseas.

And you can do that, as independent film makers can do now what they couldn't do 20 years ago in their genre. So it does open up more venues. The important question is: Once you have the venue, what is it you want to say? Why are you here? Why are you trying to tell us a story? Why should we care what you have to say?

Follow the Passion

Too many folks come to Los Angeles or get into television or film for the money, which is the wrong reason to be here -- well, actually, over there; this is Boston -- the wrong reason to be anywhere actually. What you have to do, if this is anything that matters to you is follow your passions. I can't tell you how many times I have to say that before people will understand it. That, alone, separates you from the dross --you from the rest.

When I was working on "Twilight Zone," we got, over the transom, 3,000 spec scripts and outlines--3,000. They were all read by our reader -- who is still recovering -- and of those 3,000, one, one we bought. When I read it -- it was a story about alcoholism -- and as I read the outline, I saw that this person is burning to tell this story. He has no prior credits, hasn't sold anything. We have to bring him in.

We brought him in; we talked to him. And as we discussed the story with him, I began to see that there was something more going on with him. I said, "Why do you want to tell this story? What is it that matters to you in this story?" He said, "Well, it's a good story, and. . . ." "Don't b. s. me. Why do you want to tell. . . .? There's something going on? Why is it?" And he said, "Well. . . .

And it came out that his father was an alcoholic and that this story was a way of him taking what was in him and dealing with it in a story and getting it out of his system.

And he left, and I said to my executive producer, "we have to buy this story because he's on fire." He's burning on the inside. You buy the story and you will get a good script. Give him a fucking chance!"

And he did. And the script came in; it needed a little bit of tweaking, but it was ready to go. And you could see that it mattered So it tells you off-the-bat that his story distinguished itself from the rest because they were formula; they were what they thought they should be writing, not what they wanted to write, what they burned to write.

Find what moves you to passion and do it. It's really that simple. I have guys who live here on the East Coast who say, "I hate the weather. It's always cold"--this crap, yeah, yeah,"

"Move." (APPLAUSE) "Aw, I've been here for a long time, I have. . . ." "Move! It's a four-letter word that's friendly. Move!"

Or they hate their job, and they've been there for 20 years. There has to be something you would like somewhere else. Somewhere out there is what matters to you and if you don't do it, you'll be 65 years old and saying, "Crap! I should have done what I wanted to do." I came out of a background with no prior television history. I didn't have friends in the business. I wanted to do this because I wanted to tell stories that mattered to me.

And everyone said I couldn't do this, that I couldn't sell "Babylon 5." They said that I'd never be a writer working in television--a writer at all. But I said, "It matters to me. I have something to say. And if no one listens to it or a million people listen to it, it's all the same. I have to do what my heart demands me to do.

And you're at an age now--the majority of you here--where you're looking to make some decisions about your own lives. And there will be those people, myself, others, your parents, your friends, your family saying to you, "Go over there! It's the wise thing to do. Have something to fall back on." They may be right but they may be wrong, too. You may do the thing that is wise; you may do the thing you can fall back on, but you may regret it 20 years from now.

If there's any lesson to be carried out from this today--and I hope this makes a small amount of sense--follow your passion, whatever it happens to be. If it's writing, if it's engineering--god help you--[LAUGHTER/APPLAUSE]--if it's physics, whatever it is, it doesn't matter as long as it is what sings in your heart to do because that is the only thing that will save you from the madness that is mediocrity. And that is, I guess, my only point in being here and talking to a bunch of people who know more than I do about a whole lot of different areas.

That's all I really have to offer you, is an example of eccentricity and the notion that if you don't surrender, you hold on to your dreams, it's not foolish, and it's not a young thing to do. It's all that matters in the end because, in the end, we end up six feet under, you know. What have you done with your life? And start thinking about it now, not when you'll regret it later on.

Thank you. (APPLAUSE)