Wednesday, November 9, 2016

More Buck Rogers

Based on my site traffic this week, you peeps don't much care for the politics.  Well, the election is over, and we got that out of our system, so let's get back to the good stuff, shall we?

Last week I discussed the hare-brained idea of making a gender-flipped Buck Rogers TV show.  Buck Rogers is a near contemporary of John Carter, and John Carter is in the public domain.  So I checked to see what the status of the Buck Rogers IP was, and it turns out the answer is…murky. 

To start with, the book that started the whole thing, Armageddon 2419 A.D., was released in August 1928.  (In Amazing Stories magazine.)  But most of the IP that makes Buck Rogers what he is, including the name "Buck" itself, was introduced in later Sunday morning comic strip form.  So you could argue that the whole shooting match enters the public domain once the clock hits zero as measured from that original 1928 publishing date. 

Even ignoring that issue, it gets better for lawyers and worse for  the rest of us non-lizard people.
Don Murphy is a Hollywood hotshot partially responsible for the train wrecks Natural Born Killers, Transformers, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  He wants to make a Buck Rogers, but doesn’t want to pay royalties to the IP holder because he claims it entered the public domain in 1950 or 2010, depending on how you read the statutes.  Long story short: The courts have decided that you can’t sort the legal status of the IP until after the potentially copyright infringing work has been made. 
The good news here is that this keeps Murphy’s filthy hands off of Buck Rogers for a few more years.  There’s no way a studio is going to risk $100 million on a property with such vague copyright status.
The bad news here is that this keeps pretty much everybody’s hands off of Buck Rogers for a few more years. 
The other good news is that this also gives me another chance to post pictures of Erin Gray.  This time with a ray gun.
Worth being frozen in time for 400 years for.
As to the structure of Buck Rogers, it really is the perfect set-up for a story.  You've got the man-out-of-time thing going on, so the protagonist is learning about the world of 2419 B.C. right along with the viewer.  It's far enough in the future that you can posit any sort of  new tech or transh-uman dystopia or alien incursion into the solar system that you want. 

You've got a whole universe to explore, so you can use Buck as a framing device in much the same way that Lost and Doctor Who or even Quantum Leap used the premise as an excuse to throw the protagonist into any sort of story you want.  You can have Buck stranded on a desert island one week, fighting gangsters in a mega-city the next week, and exploring strange planets at the end of worm holes the next.  You can make his base a sci-fi Casablanca and throw countless alien spies and space princesses at him.  It's open ended and flexible in a way that few shows are these days.

Princess Ardala, dressed conservatively.

Even better, Buck Rogers is part of the zeitgeist as the most famous pulp space-rocket and ray-gun property.  The average person doesn't know about the American orgs fighting back against the ruling Red Mongols who conquered America.  You could use the Tiger Men of Mars, the Asterites, or the Mekkanos, or not, as you saw fit.  You pretty much have carte blanche to write your own 25th Century, once more giving producers the option to use an  established IP that is the same, but different.

It's obvious why producers should be salivating over the prospects of reviving Buck Rogers once it hits the public domain.  Last time I said that the legal trouble saves us the pain of watching a bad Buck Rogers movie crash at the box office, but if the IP is in the public domain, there's at least a chance that multiple versions of Buck hit the media, and for the most appealing one to stick around for a good long while.

One can hope.

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