With his Syfy series “Battlestar Galactica,” executive producer Ronald D. Moore took a beloved ’70s science fiction series and reworked it into a sprawling space drama that tackled themes of faith and what makes us human, winning fans and acclaim from within and outside of genre fandom. For his next series, Moore is adapting another property with a passionate fandom — the “Outlander” series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, which tell the story of a former World War II British Army nurse named Claire Randall who ends up getting transported to 18th century Scotland, where she meets and becomes romantically involved with a man named Jamie Fraser.
Starz, who are planning on debuting “Outlander” later this year, emphasized the devotion of “Outlander” fans in a teaser reel that, along with early footage, showed crowds holding up signs and shrieking in a way that recalls “Twilight.” Moore came to the TCA winter press tour with Gabaldon and stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan to talk about the new series, but also to essentially reassure fans that the series would be true to the books.
Gabaldon assured that Moore had looped her into the conversation about making the series, spending a weekend talking through not just the story but the backstory and extra materials she had. She also noted that having the series be too painstakingly true an adaptation wouldn’t be a good idea: “Television is a different medium and to do a literal page by page translation of the screening would just not be a very good TV show.” She noted that, in instance, Moore had suggested an opening scene that wasn’t in the text showing Claire at work during the war to establish her competence and skill.
“I saw my role from the beginning as not reinventing this material but adapting it and delivering it because there is an audience for it,” Moore said. “There is a dedicated base of fans who love these books who have read them for many years and I take that obligation seriously. I want to give them their story, but I do have to translate it into a different medium because there are differences of being a reader and being a member of an audience. So in writer’s room, we always start with the book. Maybe we change or maybe we add some things that could have happened but aren’t mentioned there. Maybe we have to change something, but we always take pains to get back to where the book takes us because that’s our job.”
Of pressure to meet fan expectations, Balfe said “It doesn’t serve you to think in that way. I think there’s a responsibility to do the best job that you can do, but that’s every job. It’s just really nice to know that you have this built-in audience — I think of it as an added bonus.” Gabaldon noted that as an author she looks to do what’s best for the books, not what the fans say they want, and Moore added “That was the attitude I took on ‘Battlestar’ and ‘Star Trek,’ which had very devoted, passionate fan bases. You still have to write the show and make the best that you can. It’s not a democracy. You can’t just like throw it out there and do what the fans want because they all want different things.”
As for whether the series skews female, Moore said “I loved the book as soon as I read it,” and added “the fan base and the readers are predominantly women, but they have prosthelytized quite a bit with boyfriends and husbands, and it’s a great page-turner. You’re propelled into this big epic tale right from the get go, and I think the show will be the same way. I think it really, truly can appeal to both men and women.”