Click photo to enlarge
Jamie Bamber plays Lee "Apollo" Adama on "Battlestar Galactica."

Suggest to any rabid fan of "Battlestar Galactica" that the show isn't the most awesome science fiction ever made for television and/or that Starbuck isn't the hottest woman in prime time and he (or she) will fight you. Maybe not to the bitter, bloody death, but he will fight you "... with overpowering verbal bluster.

That's the thing with cult television shows. They attract intense followers. And in the case of "Battlestar Galactica," they're as intense as the tone of the show, which is intensely intense.

"Battlestar Galactica" kicks off its final season April 4. It's a fact that probably slipped past a lot of you because you thought the series died back in 1980, when ABC scrapped Lorne Greene's rusty spacecraft, and the school buddy you avoided in public ditched his Cylon costume at Goodwill.

That's another thing about cult TV shows. Not everybody keeps up with them.

But if you had been keeping up with "Galactica," you would know that it returned to television a few years ago in "reimagined" form on the Sci Fi Channel. You would know also that, even though it is set in outer space, it roils with down-to-earth relevance and post-9/11 issues, and it has a gritty, genre-defying aesthetic.

And most importantly, you would know that even many people who aren't sci-fi nerds (Peabody Award voters, for example) believe it's one of the best shows around — cult or otherwise.

But if we're limiting the discussion to cult shows — especially the ones overlooked by the masses — "Galactica" has to be considered right up there with the all-time heavyweights, like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Farscape," "Xena: Warrior Princess" or "Jericho."

These are shows that attract relatively small but rabid followers. People who just don't watch a show, but worship it. People who collect action figures, attend conventions and bombard networks with thousands of pounds of peanuts.

Demented? Maybe. But TV writers and bloggers love these folks, because they bring the passion and they keep us on our toes. We also admire the way they delve into the esoteric minutiae of a show and obsess over every twist and turn it takes.

For example, going into this new season "Galactica," fans are deeply interested in figuring out the identity of a mysterious fifth Cylon — or humanlike robot — just as "Lost" fans were determined to learn about the Oceanic 6. Yeah, crazy stuff.

They also want to know what the deal is with Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), a tough-as-nails fighter pilot who was thought to have died in battle, but mysteriously resurfaced two months later. She swears she has been to Earth and promises to lead the beleaguered members of Galactica there.

Is she really Starbuck? A ghost? A Cylon? Don't ask me. I think I'll leave the obsessing to others and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

KING REMEMBERED: Beginning at 9 tonight, CNN launches a series of extensive news reports called "Black in America." First up is "Witness to Murder: The King Assassination," a gripping, two-hour installment that has reporter Soledad O'Brien recalling the events that led to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis 40 years ago.

O'Brien takes viewers back to the infamous Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel and, in meticulous detail, retraces the steps of King and James Earl Ray, the man accused of killing the civil rights leader.

Interviews with those close to King, as well as recollections from police officials, witnesses and Ray's brother, help to fill in the blanks. O'Brien also explores alternative scenarios that have been raised over the years.

MORE SHOWS RETURN: Slowly but surely, network shows are finding their way back to the air with fresh post-strike episodes. Tonight brings the revival of "My name Is Earl" (8 p.m., Channels 3 and 11), which offers an hourlong episode with a guest appearance by Paris Hilton.

Also back are "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (8 p.m., Channel 13; 9 p.m., Channel 5) and "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., Channel 13; 10 p.m. Channel 5).

Meanwhile, TV's dance craze also continues tonight with the debut of "Step It Up & Dance" (11 p.m., Bravo). It has 12 contestants doing some fancy footwork in hopes of nabbing a $100,000 prize. Elizabeth Berkley hosts.

Reach Chuck Barney at 925-952-2685 or cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Also check out his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tvfreak.

SEASON PREMIERE
  • WHAT: "Battlestar Galactica"
  • WHEN: 10 p.m. April 4
  • WHERE: Sci Fi
  • GRADE: A