Pilot Season: February, 1978
It was a long shot. Galaxy Quest was the fifth pilot she'd gone out for that year, Lieutenant Tawny Madison the nineteenth role she'd read for overall, and nothing had given her so much as a nibble. Rumor had it that the studio was eyeing Lindsay Wagner for the part, but didn't want to pony up the cash. At the time, all Gwen had was a bunch of background credits and two national shampoo commercials, so she wasn't feeling very optimistic about this one.
“Don't get your hopes up, honey,” her agent had said, coughing around the Lucky Strike dangling from her lip. Then she tapped the ash from her cigarette into the coffee mug on her desk and looked Gwen straight in the breasts. “Wear a low-cut top.”
The read itself was more encouraging. The script was a lot of fun – the kind of campy, kitschy sci-fi that felt more sixties than anything, but with an earnestness she really loved. Even though Lieutenant Madison didn't have much in the way of lines, she was an officer on this ship, and must care deeply about its mission. Gwen played her as confident, capable, ready to prove herself and save the universe.
“Captain, engines are online and functioning normally” had never been said with such passion.
“Thank you, Miss DeMarco,” the director mumbled, and turned to the men sitting next to him. They conferred quietly for a moment.
The guy on the end pointed at her with his cigar. “What's your bra size, honey?”
Gwen smiled. It wasn't the worst question she'd ever been asked at an audition. “Thirty-four double-D,” she said, arching her back just a little to show off the goods.
Cigar sat back, nodding approval. “Not bad,” he said, not quietly enough to the others at the table. She picked up snippets of conversation – bigger than Farrah... ratings boost... not just the ratings...
With a soft chuckle, the director waved her off. “All right, Miss DeMarco, we'll let you know.”
Two weeks went by with no word on Galaxy Quest, no other prospects, and Gwen was getting sick of having to choose between paying the rent and eating actual food. A girl could only do so much with Top Ramen and peanut butter. Maybe she should call up that sleazebag in the Valley and do some “art films.”
She flinched when the phone rang and crossed her fingers the whole way across the kitchen to answer it. Please don't let it be the landlord. Or the bank. Or a collection agency. Or, god forbid, my parents.
A familiar hacking cough responded. “Baby, we got it.”
Gwen sucked in a sharp breath, not even daring to hope. “Mona, what are you talking about?”
“The space thing,” her agent said. “The galaxy questing.”
“Galaxy Quest? Really?"
“Really really. Go look in the mirror and say hi to Tawny Madison.”
Gwen caught her reflection in the side of the toaster, grinning wide and flushed with excitement and proud. “Lieutenant.”
“What?” Mona grumbled, confused and distracted.
“She's a lieutenant,” Gwen said.
Mona laughed. Or coughed. “Whatever, I get fifteen percent. First table read is Monday after next. I'll get you the details. Good job, kid.” She hung up on that rare note of praise. The dial tone droned distantly from the handset, which was completely forgotten in Gwen's hand.
Lieutenant Tawny Madison, she thought. Reporting for duty.
Season One: 1978 – 1979
The table read wasn't a disaster, and if the rest of the cast could tell that Gwen was nervous as hell when shooting started, they didn't show it. Alexander Dane was regal, that was really the only word for him; dignified and somehow elevated, even in jeans and a sweatshirt. She avoided making eye contact at first out of some kind of deference, but as the days wore on he revealed his cutting sense of humor, and Gwen couldn't help laughing. He smiled at her and it felt good. Conspiratorial, like they were partners in crime. Tommy was an absolute angel, showing her how the steering “worked” and asking her questions about the comm panels as if they weren't just plywood and plastic. He wanted them to be real, and so they were. Fred Kwan might've actually thought he was on a spaceship, as high as he was all the time.
And then there was Jason.
Jason Nesmith, their fearless leader, Commander Peter Quincy Taggart of the NSEA Protector. Jason, who had just wrapped up a guest shot on The Man From Atlantis, following several featured appearances on Barnaby Jones, The Love Boat, and a nearly three year stint on Young and the Restless. Jason, who was laid back and relaxed like someone who knew their worth, and who earned that attitude every time he put on the uniform and took charge like Tommy was right all along, and the Protector was the only real thing in the universe.
Jason, who was drop dead handsome, and who made Gwen's knees go weak every time he barked out orders. She wouldn't mind following some more privately dictated orders, to be honest. But she was a professional, and kept those thoughts to herself.
“Excellent work, Crewman Madison,” Jason purred at her when they broke for the day, taking her hand in his and raising it to his lips, placing a soft kiss against her knuckles.
Gwen giggled and blushed and was secretly a little horrified at herself. “Commander,” she said, smiling acknowledgement.
He smirked and gave her hand a gentle parting squeeze. “See you at oh-seven-hundred.” Then he was walking away, jumpsuit already stripped to his waist; peeling the white undershirt off as he walked, exposing the rippling muscles of his back and...
“Don't.” Alexander's voice snapped her out of her ogling.
“I know what you're thinking,” he said. “And don't. It's never a good idea. We are none of us what we pretend to be.”
She leaned into his side, jostling him with her shoulder. “Come on, Alex. It's Jason. Nothing's gonna happen.”
He raised a critical eyebrow. The expression managed to look arch and disdainful despite the large amount of purple and beige latex currently glued to his head. Gwen couldn't help laughing.
“Nothing's gonna happen,” she reiterated. “Now come on, let's get that crap off of you.”
He sighed in relief, all concern seemingly forgotten. “Oh, please...”
Nothing did happen.
Well, at least not until the show hit the airwaves and was an unexpected success. Twenty-four episodes ordered, and Gwen didn't have to live on ramen anymore. Couldn't, in fact, since the studio was increasingly concerned with her weight, her complexion, her hair. She hired stylists and a personal trainer and a nutritionist, and spent dozens of hours a week at the gym, working harder than ever to look her best.
She also kissed Jason.
She hadn't meant to, it had just kind of happened, the product of good news and high spirits and a little too many champagne toasts to their continued success. And all right, maybe a little bit the way he'd rumbled into her ear when they were shooting “Mist of Delos 5,” his strong hands easily spanning her waist, his lips brushing her skin as he spoke.
”Crewman Madison, the mist of this strange planet is filling my head with such thoughts...”
And so she'd kissed Jason, and was surprised at how sweet he was. She hadn't been expecting sweet; had maybe been expecting a little of Commander Taggart's swaggering dominance. So when he ran his fingers through her longer, blonder hair and cupped the back of her neck so gently, she wasn't sure what to do with that. After a moment he had pressed her against the wall, holding her just a little more firmly, and she just melted.
“I have to say,” he said against her lips. “I like the way you celebrate.”
And that was it – the moment it could have changed from a kiss to something more. She would have let him, wanted him to... what, exactly, she didn't know, but her thoughts were a blur of bare skin and rough hands and shared slickness.
Professional, she repeated to herself, a mantra for gathering resolve. “Well,” she said, shifting away, putting space between them once again. “Special occasions deserve a celebration.”
He laughed softly, and it took all her willpower not to pull him back in again; but she kept moving towards the door and he just leaned against the wall, watching her go with something warm in his eyes.
“I guess we'll just have to find some more special occasions,” he said.
Gwen smiled. “Or make them.” She hesitated one last time, hand on the doorknob.
“Goodnight, Gwen,” he waved his hand, playfully shooing her out of his dressing room.
The door clicked shut behind her. “G'night, Jason.”
Season Two: 1979 – 1980
“...so, yes, I'd say it's really been a challenge.” Gwen smiled at the interviewer from TV Guide, a smarmy young man in a too-big brown suit who was wearing way too much cologne. “But it's also been the most rewarding year of my life. I really love Lieutenant Madison, and I'm glad America does, too!”
The interviewer smirked and stared at her with what she was starting to think of as the “be cool, sweetheart” look. It was a look that said that's nice, honey, but let me grab your ass and I'll make you sound really good.
The unspoken don't, and I'll do my best to ruin you was just as loud.
“But that uniform, huh?” he said, bringing it back to the boobs, all class. “Bet it takes a whole team of guys to get you in and out of that thing.”
“Oh, no,” Gwen demurred, fake and indulgent. “Just one. But he's very dedicated.” The interviewer burst out laughing, loud and genuine, and fuck her running with a fork, Gwen realized a beat too late what that sounded like. “That is, my dresser, Simon, he works very hard. I mean! Did you know I get sewn into that jumpsuit before every scene? It's really intense.”
“I'll bet it is,” the interviewer chuckled. “I just bet it is.”
The shitty interviews reducing her to a pair of breasts would have been bearable if the show itself hadn't seemed to be doing the same. Three episodes into the filming of season two and already she'd been stripped, kidnapped (and stripped), been mind-controlled by aliens (who apparently wanted to see her bra), and been tied spread-eagled on a plywood throne painted to look like marble and gold, wearing not much more than a silk hanky and some string, with a big “iron” collar around her throat.
“Seriously, Irving?” she yelled at the producer. “I thought I was working on network TV, not making a porno!”
He shrugged like the whole thing was out of his hands. “Babe, them's the breaks. And if you want out, there's plenty of tits in this city that could fill out that suit. You wanna be Tawny Madison, you maybe don't give us reasons to look for another set, you savvy?”
Gwen closed her eyes and counted to ten, then got back on the set. She still wanted to be Tawny Madison. Still believed in who her character could be.
“For what it's worth, you look amazing” Jason said, still visibly hungover even though it was two in the afternoon. He didn't have any scenes today, but was apparently invested in trying to bang one of the bikini-clad extras over the craft services table. Two days ago it had been an ensign, and the day before that a Rwefurian ambassador in head-to-toe blue body paint.
“Thanks,” Gwen muttered, really wishing she could stop caring.
For all that she was reduced to sexy scenery, the scripts had actually gotten better on the whole. There was a real emotional core to the relationship between Commander Taggart and Doctor Lazarus, and the fact that Jason and Alex could not stop fighting off screen gave it a particular sharpness and tension on screen. For all that Alex bitched about Jason being too drunk to hit his mark, and Jason retaliated by not pulling his punches during the climactic fight, the episode “The Suns of Warvan” garnered Alex an Emmy nomination. Another episode, “Today is the Tomorrow of Our Yesterdays,” got a Hugo nod. Jason did an interview and photo shoot for GQ.
Gwen's TV Guide interview was six paragraphs about her boobs and how they fit into her suit, her Freudian slips included. At least she wasn't arrested for narcotics possession, like Fred.
So after a long day of shooting yet another damsel-in-distress scene – her already tight uniform ripped to shreds and the itchy pink marks of rope burn around her waist – when Jason failed to hook the sexy guest starlet of the week and asked her if she wanted to grab a drink, she said yes. Three martinis later, they were making out in the back of a car; and two fingers of scotch after that he was two fingers deep and her back was pressed to the cool glass of one of the floor-to-ceiling windows in his living room, his tongue hot and heavy in her mouth. It was nothing like the sweet kiss of almost a year ago, and as he roughly shoved her thighs apart to bury his face between them, she wondered which was more genuine.
“You need cab fare?” he asked, after they were done, and Gwen felt a little sick.
“Fuck you, Jason,” she said, and he grinned like he thought she was joking.
“Promises, promises. See you on set tomorrow.”
She sighed and slipped her shoes back on. “Yeah, see you."
The show got renewed for a third season. Twenty-six episodes.
She fucked Jason five more times and hated herself a little every time. It didn't help that he was the best sex she'd ever had, which honestly said more about her sad sex life than anything.
When Jason slipped his hand up the skirt of the actress playing the Gemerian moon princess while Gwen was still in the room, she pretended not to see it. Pretended not to notice the way the woman sighed and leaned against him. Pretended not to remember what those hands felt like on her own skin.
Pretended not to care.
Viewers loved the new “complex” relationship dynamic between Tawny and the captain.
Season Three: 1980 – 1981
Jason Nesmith was voted number one in TV Guide's “Ten Most Eligible Bachelors on Television.” He outranked Alan Alda and Tom Selleck. Tom. Selleck.
He also never shut up about it. He rolled up to set in a brand new convertible, practically raining issues of the magazine like confetti; giving them to everyone in the cast and crew, the caterers, the security guards at the studio...
And he'd signed them all.
Gwen groaned in disgust. “The ego on that man, I swear to god.”
Alex tore the cover off his copy, wadded it into a little ball, and chucked it at her face. “You slept with him. You can't possibly be surprised.”
“Ha ha,” she said, punching him in the arm a little harder than necessary. “That'd be funny if it wasn't true.”
It was pretty common knowledge that Alex had spent the entire off-season trying to leave the show. The latex and ludicrous storylines were bad enough, but the fact that Dr. Lazarus had inadvertently gained a catch phrase was apparently the last straw. But the producers drove a metaphorical dump truck full of money to his door, and he wasn't made of stone. Jason got a sizable salary bump as well, like he needed the incentive to keep being a sexy, beloved leading man.
Gwen got a mini-skirt added to her uniform, a two-episode suspension when she pushed back on it, and a not-so-thinly veiled threat to replace her with Connie Selleca.
She also got fan mail. Lots of it. And sure, there were a lot of creeps and losers asking for nude pictures and things like that; but there was also Stacey from South Dakota, who was pursuing a degree in computer engineering because of Lieutenant Madison. There was Hannah from Iowa, who was six-years-old and wanted to know everything about how the ship worked, because Gwen was her hero and she was going to build a spaceship one day. There was Liz from Nevada, who became Gwen's favorite forever when she wrote “it's disgusting the way they focus on your body, when it's SO OBVIOUS that Tawny is smarter and more capable than most of the men on the ship. ESPECIALLY Taggart.”
Gwen framed that one and hung it up in her dressing room.
There was an unofficial fan club, which published a monthly “zine,” and occasionally had meetups and events in the LA area. For a while, Jason was a frequent guest, always eager to be worshipped by his adoring public. That changed mid-season, when suddenly he had a bodyguard on set and was worried about stalkers.
“What would they do to you, Jason?” sneered Alex. “Suffocate you with their panties?”
“Hey! I have been threatened, okay?” Jason snapped back. “They are a threat!”
Alex was unconvinced. “To what? Your virtue?”
Gwen almost got coffee up her nose trying not to laugh.
It was less funny when Jason showed up and begged her to let him crash at hers. “Just for one night,” he promised. “Nothing funny, I swear.”
“Gwen, they're watching my house, I can't go back there. Please, I really, really, really just need to get some sleep and not worry about who's out there watching. ”
He must've been afraid, to beg Gwen like this. She shut her eyes and counted to ten.
“Please, Gwen,” he whispered, and her resolve crumbled.
“Fine,” she said. “You know where the couch is.”
He grabbed her hand and pressed his forehead against the back of it, desperately grateful. ”Thank you, oh my god, I owe you for this.”
Finally, they agreed on something. “Yeah, you really do. Let me grab you a pillow.”
“Well, if it would be easier,” he purred, gratitude gone lecherous in an instant. “We could just share…"
He stumbled back when the pillow hit him square in the face.
Commander Peter Quincy Taggart and Lieutenant Tawny Madison came in fifth in TV Guide's “Hottest Primetime Couples” poll. It would have really pissed Gwen off if number three on the list hadn't been Commander Taggart and Dr. Lazarus.
Season Four: 1981 – 1982
The show had only gotten picked up for twenty episodes this time around. The network changed their time slot constantly, allegedly to accommodate some new sports deal, but everyone knew what was going on. Galaxy Quest cost too much to produce, and it was no longer the ratings draw it had been back at the end of the second season. They ended up on Thursdays, up against Magnum, P.I., and that was the beginning of the end.
During the hiatus, Alex had tried to go back to the theatre, doing a five-week run of Uncle Vanya off-Broadway. But he was utterly heartbroken by the reviews, and the clamoring fans who waited for him at the stage door, screaming that fucking line and not giving a single shit about Chekov or the craft.
Fred was arrested for possession again and spent six months in rehab. Compared to that, Gwen's losing out to Dinah Manoff for a part in a Neil Simon movie didn't seem so bad, but it still felt terrible. Tawny Madison's days were numbered, and she was afraid she'd never get another role as... enduring.
(“You will,” Alex said one night, drunk enough to be optimistic, but not so drunk he was miserable; not yet. “You're better than all this.”
He sighed and took another sip of his whiskey, and there was the misery, right on cue. “We all are.”)
Word from the studio was that they would be cancelled if the Nielsens were still falling after episode eighty-five aired. Anything already in the can at that point would probably still be broadcast, but there would be no new episodes; no new adventures for the crew of the NSEA Protector. So it seemed like a cruel joke when the scripts for a two-part episode came in as eighty-six and eighty-seven and were... they were good. The writer was a fan who had sent in a spec script – a kid named Reggie Piersynski, and the studio had picked him up as a kind of Hail Mary play: appeal to the fanbase and bring some fresh blood in at the same time.
It was obvious how much he loved these characters; how long he'd studied the ship and its missions. For the first time in a long time it felt like there was an actual point to the story. That they were a crew and were working together, each using their strengths and skills to survive.
Gwen got her pants back, and Lieutenant Madison got to be the one who saved the captain, for a change. She rescued Commander Taggart, and together they retrieved the Omega Thirteen device. They shot the two-parter all in one go, and it was the best two weeks Gwen had had in years. It felt like the first days again, exciting and new, and everyone was swept up in the energy on set. It felt like hope.
When the last shot called for Tawny to kiss Commander Taggart, free of alien influence for the first time, Gwen didn't even mind. She pulled Jason in by the torn scraps of his shirt and smiled against his lips until he kissed her back.
The ratings were still slipping at mid-season and, as promised, the network pulled the plug. To add insult to injury, they aired the remaining episodes out of sequence, which meant that the very last episode of Galaxy Quest to be broadcast was the first part of the Omega Thirteen adventure. Fans were furious that the show ended on a cliffhanger, and started a grassroots campaign to save the show, but it wasn't enough. Part two went in a vault, or a dumpster, never to be seen.
There was no wrap party, no big to-do. Jason invited Gwen, Alex, and Fred to his house in Malibu to drink to their success, but Fred was three months sober and Alex was already on a plane back to London, ready to get as far away from latex prosthetics as possible. She recognized a set-up when she saw one.
Gwen stayed home and drank two bottles of pinot grigio by herself. The next morning she woke up with a bitch of a headache and called her agent.
It was time to put Tawny Madison behind her for good.