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.