Tonight sci-fi veteran Ronald D. Moore makes his long-awaited return to the small screen with his Antarctic outbreak story Helix on Syfy. But that’s apparently not enough to fill his time, because he also has an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels for Starz, which will premiere later this year. A time-jumping multi-period piece, there is a new old-timey Outlander photo for us to peruse. Moore has been busy on the promotional trail, hawking his wares, and has taken the time to talk about everything from his own shows, to Star Wars, Star Trek, and even Game of Thrones.
The story of Outlander follows a married 1940s combat nurse named Claire (Caitriona Balfe). On vacation with her husband (Tobias Menzies) in Scotland, she manages to tumble through some kind of portal into the 18th century. There she falls in love with a young warrior bro, played by Sam Heughan. As you can see, this photograph, which appeared in EW, is definitely from Claire’s pre-time travel days. She’s just hanging out in a field, having an awesome car with running boards, though I feel like having a convertible in Scotland has many of the same drawbacks as owning a similar automobile in Seattle. In the accompanying interview, Moore discusses what drew him to the project.
[W]hat attracted me the most is the central character of Claire. She is smart and funny and interesting and I like that she’s a woman of the 1940s instead of contemporary. I like the way she handled things. In order for the audience to accept [the premise], the character had to be very real and very grounded. She’s not running around making dopey comments about the 20th century and looking for telephones. And she’s a nurse, and she has a real skill that [the Scottish warriors] need. I didn’t know anything about that time in Scotland and just got pulled into this world.
Because Outlander is set to air on the premium cable network Starz when it hits later this year, you may have some preconceived notions regarding the amount of sex and violence the show will contain. After all, Spartacus, one of the network’s most known shows, is composed primarily out of breasts, blood, and man ass. Moore says, “It’s an intimate show in an epic setting. There is a fair amount. We don’t really have to add very much; there’s a lot of sex in the book. There’s a fair amount of violence, too, but it’s not a battle show — we’re not getting into the big slo-mo spurts of blood.” We got it, maybe a glimpse here and there, but nothing gratuitous, over the top, or in slow motion.
When HBO unleashed Game of Thrones upon the unsuspecting populace, they really upped the game for everyone. Not only did they raise the bar quality wise, but they proved once and for all that you really can create an epic, sprawling story within a massive fictional world on television. They blew all previously held notions of scope and scale out of the water. Outlander hopes to capture some of this fire for their own. Moore says:
[Game of Thrones] definitely opened that door and showed that fantasy and genre material has a strong audience on premium cable. They also showed you can take an existing readership and turn it into an audience and then broaden that audience. We don’t think of ourselves as their competition because they won that corner of the world and they do what they do amazingly well. We want to find our own different space.
There was a time when Moore was part of a team developing what would have been a live-action Star Wars series. While that could have been awesome, as he says, “It’s owned by Disney now,” and we’ll see neither hide nor hair of that particular property. And speaking of scale, one of the things that sank the potential series was sheer size that George Lucas wanted out of the show. Talking about what could have been, Moore adds:
What George wanted to do with it, his scale was extraordinarily ambitious on a TV budget. Lots of CGI and complicated effects work. There’s a way to do the series more on a produce-able scale, but it would still be expensive. If you’re going to put on a Star Wars show the audience is going to expect a certain level of “wow.” The scripts were written as if money was no object. George was like, “Don’t worry about it.” [Producer Rick McCallum] would groan and put his head in his hands periodically. So for us it was like, “Okay, f–k it, let’s write whatever we want.” But if you wanted to go back into it, you could realistically dial it back.
Before Battlestar Galactica, Moore cut his teeth on various Star Trek shows, including The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. Since its origins lie in television, you get the feeling that there will always be talk of a new Trek series on the small screen, and Moore has some definite feelings on the issue.
I’d love to see Star Trek put into series format again. I’ve always felt Trek had its heart as a TV show. The show is conceptually built around a group of characters that go out and deal with moral or ethical dilemmas. All those individual character stories can’t be done in a feature film because the stakes have to be enormous — the universe is at risk — and it’s always going to be about Kirk and Spock. But the show’s heart to me is an adventure story that can only be explored in the TV realm I’d love to see it move back. I think J.J. [Abrams] has done a tremendous job. It’s waiting to return to TV and do the other thing it’s known for — it’s a show about ideas and not just action.
Ron Moore’s viral outbreak thriller Helix premieres tonight, January 10, on Syfy, while Outlander debuts on Starz later this year.