A couple very interesting thing have been happening with the SciFi Network’s new Battlestar Galactica series. I enjoyed the original when I was young, but that was back when I thought that The Dukes of Hazard was cool, so I don’t trust my judgment on shows from the late 70’s anymore.

I haven’t really had time to watch much of the new show (I’m somewhere in the middle of episode #2 right now), but it seems promising. I’m not sure which way they’re going–will it end up being pretentious navel-gazing, a halfway-decent space opera, a philosophy lesson set in space, a hard sci-fi war story, or what?–but it hadn’t scared me off yet.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the show is its producers aren’t treating it like a traditional TV show on a traditional network. Instead, they’re taking a number of steps to interact with their audience that are largely unprecedented. First, the SciFi Network has made the first episode available online. This is something that I was speculating about late last year, but I’m surprised to see SciFi actually making the first episode available.

Second, the show’s executive producer has started releasing show commentary as a podcast, also available from SciFi’s website. This isn’t very different from the director’s commentary that a lot of special-edition DVDs and LaserDiscs have had for years, but this is the first TV series that I’ve ever seen with a commentary track.

The producers of Battlestar Galactica seem to be making a concerted effort to interact with their fans, rather then hiding behind the usual corporate facade. Battlestar Galactica is probably the perfect show for this sort of treatment–it’s a high-publicity show from a small-ish cable channel, it’s one of the few science fiction shows on TV today, and science fiction fans are about as vocal and well-connected as any group you’re likely to find. Witness the fan-funded attempts to continue Farscape and Star Trek: Enterprise after they were cancelled. So anything that the SciFi network can do to draw more viewers and build a community around Galactica will probably pay off handsomely for them over time.

I’m surprised that there isn’t a Battlestar Galactica blog yet. Oh, wait–there is.

If the show does well, we’ll probably see similar efforts from other studios over the next few years–downloadable episodes, actual commentary from producers and directors, and honest attempts to interact with fans. We’ll also get more cynical attempts to cash in on the concept and canned publicity stunts that are supposed to look fashionably cutting-edge, but will largely just be embarrassing for everyone involved.