Outlander’s Ron Moore on Time Travel, Pern and Everything Scottish

'It's just a big adventure story'

Does anybody remember when we stopped thinking of the typical sci-fi and fantasy fan as a basement-dwelling male virgin and started admitting that women comprise a huge chunk—frequently the majority—of the audience? It's hard to put a timestamp on that one, but you can be pretty sure that Ronald D. Moore was there for it.

Moore is probably as close to speculative fiction royalty as TV showrunners can get these days, and the writer-producer's most recent project is a shoot-the-works adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's bestselling Outlander series of fantasy novels, a twistily plotted story of time travel and romantic intrigue in 18th-century Scotland and postwar (very recently postwar, in fact) Britain. The show's mid-season finale, Both Sides Now, airs Saturday, Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. E.T.; Starz announced that the show would go on hiatus until April 4, when it comes back with Episode 9. Moore, now in Scotland, took time out of the Season 1.5 shooting schedule to speak to us about the series, the work of adapting several large and complicated novels into a compelling narrative, and the show's instant popularity among feminists.

Adweek: So this show gets a lot of love from women's sites like Jezebel that aren't necessarily speculative-fiction-focused or even TV-focused for its portrayal of a very complicated lead character. Is there any way to take into account and serve that audience specifically as you see it grow?

Ron Moore: I mean, to be honest, I don’t really think of it in those terms—I’ve had this question a few times. I just write for an audience. We have a fairly large female demographic, but we don’t talk in terms of "the audience is female and you should think about it in those terms." That's how I've approached the project since I read the book. It's just a big adventure story.

AW: When did you first start thinking about this project?

RM: I'd started reading the books five or six years ago—my wife [Terry Dresbach, also the costumer on the show, my producing partner [Maril Davis], and I were talking about future projects over dinner, and Terry and Meryl had both read those books and had never talked about them, and they got really excited about adapting them. So I went off and read them, and they had a lot of twists and turns I didn’t see coming. The rights holder at the time was interested in doing a feature, and we just kept circling back with them until they wanted to do television.

AW: How do you go about breaking down books of that size into episode-long chunks?

RM: You have guideposts—you know where you're going at the outset, and with this, you go, OK, here's the map. Trying to carve it into individual hours is challenging because you have to do a lot of internal gymnastics to condense it into an hour of television.

AW: You've got Battlestar Galactica and quite a bit of Star Trek and Carnivàle under your belt, but this is your first time adapting something straight, right?

RM: I briefly worked on a pilot that didn't get made for the Dragonriders of Pern a few years ago—it was for the The WB (predecessor to The CW), and I was working on Roswell and sold them the idea to do Dragonriders. We'd built the set and designed the costumes and were within a week of shooting, and they sprung it on me that they wanted another draft of the script. And I was young and stupid and said "yes," because I really wanted to get it made, and of course they brought in another writer to do what was supposed to be a “polish,” and he did something that I just hated that totally went against what the book was about.
Then we had a big conference call and they said, “This is what we want.”
And I said, “Well, I’ll do a pass on it, but I’m not going to shoot that.”
And they said, “Well, maybe we’ll just cancel the show.”
And I said, “Go ahead and cancel the show.”

AW: Wow, man.

RM: Agents started calling each other and people were yelling, and it was a big deal.

AW: Were you a Scottish history buff when Outlander started?
RM: I pretty much learned about it for the show—I certainly didn't know a lot about Jacobites and the clans of the century and the rising against the British. I knew more about Irish history than I did about English history.

AW: Diana Gabaldon was a college professor when she wrote these, right?
RM: Diana was a biologist, and she really enjoyed research and she just threw herself into that aspect of it, so the book is our primary resource, but we have a full-time historian on staff. And sometimes she'll point out where there's an inaccuracy, and we can choose what we want. In Episode 4, for example, there's a boar hunt, and well, the boars were mostly gone by then, so we got to choose. And we kept the hunt in, because it was fun.

AW: What do you think of the way the show's been championed so vigorously in its first season?

RM: I'm very, very pleased. It's great to see the show embraced. I think [fans] read a lot of things into it that are very interesting; they're not always intended, but it's amazing to see people draw so many interesting, important, relevant things out of it. I definitely read the Jezebel article.

AW: I feel like I've seen so much about infidelity and being torn between two lovers and so forth on TV over the last few seasons—and not in soap operas, either, but in stuff like Outlander and True Blood and How to Get Away With Murder. Why are we coming back to that?

RM: I think it's sort of an eternal theme; it just seems like it's an age-old.

AW: How will Season 2 change?

RM: It'll be very different. Season 2 is based on the second book, and the books evolve and change quite a bit. It leaves Scotland and goes to Paris in the first half, and only goes back to Scotland in the second half. What's happening to Claire and Jamie changes; the politics and the maneuvering and the double-dealing will be very different.

AW: Wait, you just got back to Scotland. Now you're going to Paris?

RM: Actually, Paris doesn't look like it used to! We're looking for a place that looks like Paris.