Did Star Trek: DS9 copy Babylon 5?


Lemming of Discord
Jun 4, 2006
Tallman wasn't just a major cast member, but also remains in a long-term relationship with JMS. I would think that gives her a special insight into the matter.

Also, whether JMS had the authority of not to bring legal action has no bearing on whether people within Paramount consciously or unconsciously sourced material from JMS for inspiration.
Tallman was in a relationship with JMS around ten years ago for a couple of years. They broke up in 2010, so it was quite some time ago.

The problem with the conspiracy theory is that we know where Deep Space Nine came from: Brandon Tartikoff (generally regarded as one of Hollywood's straightest operators in an industry of sharks) developed the idea when he decided to leave NBC and move to Paramount in 1991. His brief at Paramount was to make the TV division more profitable as the only show Paramount had that was successful was ST:TNG so his first thought was simply "ST:TNG spinoff", because it was a no-brainer. When he arrived at Paramount, in his first week on the job, he called in Rick Berman and Michael Piller and told them to develop a spin-off on the spot, to air in 18 months, which they were completely unprepared for. The idea he gave them was "make The Rifleman to TNG's Wagon Train to the stars" (Roddenberry pitched TOS and TNG as "Wagon Train to the stars". Wagon Train was a Western about travellers constantly on the move and The Rifleman was about an ex-soldier turned sheriff of a frontier town who just wanted to raise his son in peace). Berman and Piller took this a bit more literally than he thought they would, with a show set on a starbase on the surface of a new planet with a Starfleet commander with his son.

They started turning that into DS9 almost immediately, writing and producing the Ensign Ro episode as a backdoor pilot literally within weeks of that meeting. It was only when the budget costings came back and cheerfully told the producers that the show would cost three times what TNG did if they set it on a planetary surface (unless they had every other episode take place indoors and never ventured outside, which was a bit pointless), so that's when they moved it to a space station (originally called Deep Space IX but they had to change it because journalists kept calling it Deep Space Ix and suggesting that Ix was the name of a planet or something).

The idea of the head of Paramount's TV division rooting around old dusty storerooms at Paramount looking at script ideas someone had presented three years earlier so he could steal their ideas has always been a bit tinfoily, not to mention also extraordinarily legally dangerous: the pitch documents Straczynski and the team at Clare Craft sent to Paramount were presented on a non-copy basis, so when Paramount formally passed on the B5 idea in 1989, they had to physically return all of the materials. Copying them would be illegal and leave Paramount open to massive liability, especially given that Warner Brothers were one of the few entities in Hollywood capable of taking them on and beating them in court.

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002
The problem with the conspiracy theory
The suggestion that all the development and scripting of DS9 came from only one person unfamiliar with B5 just comes across as legal PR management from Paramount, and it seems strange that you would buy into that at the exclusion of all other sources.

JMS has been pretty clear on the issue:

Additionally, he previously highlighted this on Twitter as corroborated:

And here's more:
The Star Trek DS9 vs Babylon 5 Controversy - Babylon 5 Books

For the five years it took to make and sell Babylon 5, Star Trek was the bane of our existence, the constant stumbling block we had to overcome in nearly every meeting. We were told, repeatedly and enthusiastically, that there was no market for any SF series other than Star Trek. Their logic was as shortsighted as it was absolutely unassailable.

Ironically, one of the places that did understand what we were doing was Paramount Television, which made overtures to us about picking up the project after reading the spec movie and the series bible and treatment...only to suddenly change their minds at the last moment, no explanation given.
Also from that piece:

We almost didn't get there because after we shot the pilot, I got a call from Walter Koenig—who played Chekov on Star Trek [and who would later play Bester on Babylon 5]—who was having lunch with a guy at Paramount. He said, "I wanted you to know they're doing a show based on a space station [Star Trek: Deep Space Nine], a diplomatic outpost, jumpgate [wormhole, in Trek lingo] nearby, commander with a sort of a mystical history and destiny [Benjamin Sisko], female second in command [Kira Nerys] and a changeling [Odo], which you have in your movie. They're trying to subvert what you're doing and co-opt it."


I wanted to sue their asses off, but Warners said, "If we sue them, they'll countersue us. Both shows could be lost in litigation, and you'll never get your opportunity." So I bit the bullet and didn't take action. Warners owned the show at that point, so we had to sort of sit back and watch them trying to eat our lunch every week.
The argument seems pretty clear that Paramount used B5 as a model to develop DS9, but both shows went off in their own unique directions - enough to quell any initial bitterness.


Lemming of Discord
Jun 4, 2006
The problem with any kind of coverage of Babylon 5 is that it is overwhelmingly dependent on Joe Straczynski's POV, because he's pretty much the only person on the show who knew what the Internet was in 1994 and his opinion, his ideas and his perspective was allowed to dominate. If you look at the full story of all the people involved, you'll find a lot of other people with different perspectives and different views of the things that happened. Patricia Tallman fell out badly with JMS over the way that B5 ended, for example, and is pretty castigating of him in interviews in the Babylon 5 Season-by-Season series of behind-the-scenes books. It was years before they became friends again. The same with Claudia Christian, whose departure from B5 was down to the production team reversing a verbal promise they'd made to let her have time off to shoot a movie she'd agreed to when the show was cancelled between Seasons 4 and 5, and she felt pretty betrayed over that because she'd been instrumental in stopping several other castmembers walking over their pay cuts. However, JMS has spent 21 years blaming Christian for the mess instead. The same with Foundation Imaging leaving the show, that was down to internal studio politics and money but JMS bought some BS story from the other producers and spent years regurgitating it even though it was a pack of lies.

A case in point: during the development process an independent TV development company, Clare Craft, picked up the B5 pilot script and took it themselves to Paramount. Paramount did not "make overtures" about the project, they straight-up said, "This is interesting but we want to focus on Star Trek: TNG and we don't want to compete with ourselves." Clare Craft then took all the material back (this is critical, because it means that Paramount didn't have any of the materials left behind to steal from; if they had made illegal photocopies and these had been exposed, Warner Brothers could have later nailed them to the wall in court for tens of millions of dollars: there wasn't any point to it).

Just because Straczynski has said "DS9 ripped off B5" for 25 years straight doesn't make it true. Michael Piller and TNG producer (and later Voyager showrunner) Jeri Taylor (both friends of JMS) both denied it straight up, and Piller was the effective creator of DS9 (Berman got a credit as co-creator on there, but about 90% of the work was Piller's). Straczynski has said that he doesn't believe Piller stole any ideas at all from him and was later reduced to saying that, "Well, maybe an executive in a suit dropped some ideas from the B5 document (that they no longer possessed)..." It was all very vague and weak.

And the thing about the shapeshifter is silly. The T-1000 in Terminator 2 made everyone sit up and go "Woah!" and every SF movie and TV show and even music video (remember Michael Jackson's Black or White) was directed to have its own morphing effects. The shapeshifter in B5 was there for the same reason, and was not a recurring character (and in the end was turned into a changeling net without too much fuss). Wormholes are also established Star Trek phenomena; they showed up in TNG Season 3 and even Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

That some ideas from B5 ended up being similar to ideas on DS9 whilst the show was on the air is another matter (although DS9 writers Ron Moore and Hans Beimler both blew their stacks at the idea, and Moore at least is very well-respected in the industry, including by JMS). Interestingly, there was one time that DS9 actually changed something to avoid being seen to copy DS9 (the Cardassian intelligence service was known as the Grey Order, but changed to Obsidian because of B5's Grey Council). But that went both ways: apparently Warner Brothers told JMS to bring in a starship on B5 because the Defiant had been a big hit on DS9 a year earlier. Straczynski always said the White Star was his idea and a logical outgrowth of the story, but other people behind the scenes have said nope, it was actually a studio directive in response to the Defiant.

Remember that JMS himself wrote that "truth is a three-edged sword" (your truth, my truth and the real truth somewhere inbetween), and simply believing everything JMS has ever said on the matter without either interrogating it or listening to what he said years later (where he sheepishly rolled over on just about everything controversial he said when the show was on air) is not wise.


Author of the AD2045 sci-fi series
Dec 14, 2018
Plaugarism is a huge problem in the film/TV industry. Quite evident in the runs of several similar films at once - the Robin Hood and Rob Roy/Braveheart films come to mind but many other examples am sure others have noticed.
Unfortunately it is the nature of the industry and partly down to the creative process, where one idera leads to another. Trekkies could say Babylon Five and even Star Wars only came about because of the original Star Trek series, which itself could have found inspiration in things like the original Flash Gordon series.
As a writer myself, it is a massive problem not to be ripped off ideas wise, which is why I stopped writing screenplays, as these are far more susceptable than novels - due to the lower word count and ease of 'migrating' ideas.
What's the answer? Wish I had one.


Dec 12, 2018
I like both shows but I'm not sure that "copied" is the right word. The station in Babylon 5 is a rotating cylinder like Rama I think, while DS9 is classic utopian Star Trek station(Cardassian made sure). And I think that in that point in time in the 90's when DS9 was filmed they didn't have much places to go except station(DS9), or too distant voyage and coming home(Voyager) or back in the early days thing(Enterprise).

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