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Drew interviews Battlestar Galactica's Ron Moore
Posted by Drew at 2008-03-18 9:09:12 AM, edited 2008-03-18 1:29:45 PM (205 comments) | Permalink
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I don't watch a lot of TV. Hardly any in fact. Mainly because I don't have a lot of spare time. I tend to pass on shows that most people like because they're not great.
I follow very few shows, and Battlestar Galactica is one of them. Its fourth and final season starts on April 4th.
The original BSG was a campy sci-fi show from the late 70s described as a wagon train in space. 12 human planetary colonies are destroyed in an attack by robots (cylons), forcing the survivors head off into space in search of a mythical 13th colony called Earth. Some (most) of the plot elements were highly questionable. For example, in the pilot the survivors decide to go gambling on a vegas-like planet complete with lounge-singing alien women who have too many eyes/lips/ears/etc but still only two boobs.
I loved the show as a kid but like most old sci-fi it doesn't stand up to the test of time. And by not stand up I mean it blew ass.
There was a companion series called Galactical 1980 that tried to address Galactica's arrival at Earth, but it was just more nonsense. There were flying motorcycles, disputes with ranchers in California, and time travel adventures to fight Hitler. I didn't make any of that up.
20 years passed.
I'm not sure when it started but at some point Hollywood realized all you had to do to garner an instant audience was to resurrect an old TV show or movie and "re-imagine" it. This led to a flood of remakes that still continues to this day, and some even stranger derivatives such as Hasbro landing a four-movie deal based on its board games.
It was bound to happen that a questionable show would be remade into something better. Enter Ron Moore.
Rather than attempting to sound like an expert on material I just now looked up on Wikipedia, here's what I know about Ron Moore without doing any research. His credits include:
Star Trek: TNG - didn't watch much of this
Star Trek: Deep Space 9 - didn't watch much of this either
Some other stuff - didn't watch any of it
Carnivale on HBO - pretty freakin good although the plot started to drag when it got popular, which I suspect was not a coincidence. (Actually I did finally look this up, the plot started to drag right around the time Moore left the show, probably not a coincidence either).
Most of what I know about Moore stems from my friend and Fark Mod Emeritus Wil Wheaton who worked with him on multiple occasions and who once told me (paraphrased) "Ron wrote all the good episodes of Star Trek". Of which there were apparently many, regardless of the fact that Ashley Judd remained clothed in her episode. I don't think Moore had anything to do with this, however.
Moore decided to strip out all the dumb stuff from the 70s version of BSG and remake it into a much darker, dystopian vision. Without going into a long description of how it's different, I can sum up thusly: comparing old BSG to new BSG is like comparing Gilligan's Island to Lost. Although you have to also pretend that Lost got better as it went on, because BSG certainly did. Lost, not so much. It's plot resembles its name.
The reason BSG is good is simple: Moore decided to make a show that was a drama first, sci-fi second. Emphasis was placed on character development, not special effects. This is probably why the show works for me, I take a dim view of science fiction shows. I come into a new scifi show assuming they'll rely too heavily on crappy ubiquitous special effects, and 99% of the time that's exactly what happens. Not so with BSG.
BSG challenges viewers to consider what they would do in a similar situation. For example, say you're against torture, something not many people are in favor of outside of the current administration. What about torturing a machine that looked human? What if it was capable of feeling pain, even severe pain? What level of abuse would be profoundly disturbing? And finally, what if this machine belonged to a group responsible for the recent murder of your entire family, all your friends, and for that matter everyone you ever met?
To give you an idea of how far this show can spin your moral compass, during Season 3 I actually caught myself at one point rooting for a character to commit genocide. BSG uses its science fiction setting to highlight the other side of issues you previously thought were settled in your own mind. It does so just enough without becoming preachy or belaboring the point. And it will never tell you which side of the argument is right or not. In BSG, oftentimes characters when make the right choices it turns out to be the wrong decision.
A few months back, someone from the sci-fi channel sent me an updated image tag for our database. I mentioned to them offhand that I was a fan of BSG and wouldn't mind helping with the Season 4 launch. They asked what I wanted to do, I randomly said "interview Ron Moore." One thing led to another, and it actually happened.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Moore, who was kind enough to oblige an interview.
Drew Curtis: Thanks for agreeing to do this. I appreciate it.
Ron Moore: Sure.
Drew Curtis: Just so you know where I'm coming from, I'm actually a pretty big fan of the show and that's saying something because I pretty much hate about 99.9% of all TV out there.
Ron Moore: (laughing)
Drew Curtis: I just don't have enough time to waste on it honestly. Luckily my wife does so I can kind of watch over her shoulder and she'll check out pretty much anything. Me, I'm a little pickier. There's only about two shows I'll watch. Battlestar Galactica is one of them. I've been enjoying it since the beginning.
First question for you - what's your favorite show on TV right now?
Ron Moore: That's a good question. I don't watch a lot of TV either in terms of fiction programming. I tend to watch a lot of news and political coverage, so I watch Charlie Rose a lot, and I watch Situation Room on CNN obsessively. Probably the thing I watch more than anything else are tapes of Seinfeld.
Drew Curtis: (laughing) No kidding?
Ron Moore: Yeah, I have four episodes of Seinfeld on my Tivo at any given time and every night I sit down to watch a couple more.
Drew Curtis: my wife has our Tivo looking for Scrubs, that thing's getting like 20 episodes a day.
Ron Moore: Yeah, you just pile them up. I also watch Project Runway, and Top Chef, that's the only reality programming I watch. I'm watching Breaking Bad, that's probably my favorite series right now. I'm really impressed with that show.
Drew Curtis: Since I run a news and entertainment site, a lot of the stuff that we're using is being used as material for the Daily Show and whatnot. I loved the Daily Show but now I can't watch it. Not because it's bad, but because I've heard all the punch lines already by the time the shows air. Is that why you don't watch much in the way of fiction programming?
Ron Moore: Yeah, it's kind of distracting. As much as I like Breaking Bad, there's a part of my brain that's looking at it going "Okay, well that's interesting. I wonder how many sets they have here and that's the guest star and now what's the act break going to be...?"
Drew Curtis: Have you read any of the fan sites for BSG at all?
Ron Moore: A few, but nothing recent. I've traveled to the Battlestar wiki periodically. I've surfed in and out of other sites over time, but I generally tend to not to. When the show is on the air I'll occasionally surf through maybe four or five message board sites to see what reaction is to last night's episode. That kind of a thing.
Drew Curtis: How was it generally received? We've noticed on Fark that if people hate something they'll talk about it all day long, and if they like something they generally don't speak up.
Ron Moore: Yeah, that's pretty much par for the course.
Drew Curtis: Keeps you honest though.
Ron Moore: I'll read a comment like "This is the best episode ever in the series" and I go "Okay, next." The ones that start off with "I hate this episode so much, it betrays everything that is Battlestar Galactica...," then I sit there and read the whole thing.
Drew Curtis: Along those same lines, have you read much online of what people think Season 4 is going to be about?
Ron Moore: I've seen some of it. It's interesting to see what the speculation is and what the rumor mill is saying. I usually try to find out if actual insider information is working its way out there. There are some things that do end up out on the internet, but fortunately they're usually buried with so much bad information that it's not giving anything.
Drew Curtis: Have you ever seen any theories by people who don't know any insider information but yet still got it right?
Ron Moore: Not for the 4th Season - but I can recall in previous years where there were people that were clearly just speculating said "Well, I think it should be this or that, or I hope they do this" and I'd think "Wow, nailed it."
Drew Curtis: I remember reading an interview with J.M.S from Babylon 5 where he was talking about how he was at some kind of a convention and somebody walked up, told him exactly how the five year arc of Babylon 5 was going to end and then just walked off. And (he) absolutely nailed it. J.M.S wrote that he was floored. That would be a little freaky, I'd think. But I guess it's that whole infinite monkeys / infinite typewriters deal. Given enough people and enough time somebody's bound to get it right.
Ron Moore: Absolutely. And we're not curing cancer here, there are certain things that we're obviously not going to do. If you're smart and you're really in the show there's probably some things you can figure out in advance.
Drew Curtis: Along those lines, is there a refresher episode online that people who haven't watched the previous three seasons can check out? I know about the one on Sci-Fi.com, but as a test I had my brother in law who doesn't watch BSG go check it out. It just confused the living hell out of him.
Ron Moore: Which one did he watch, the Battlestar in 8 Minutes thing? That one's not really one for anybody to catch up on the show as much as it is for amusing people who are already familiar with it.
Drew Curtis: That was it. For what it's worth, I laughed.
Ron Moore: As far as summaries go, there is a half hour refresher David Eick and I did but I don't think that one's out yet. I think they're going to broadcast that first, and then it will be online (here). So there's a true catch up show coming soon. I think they're also going to do a marathon on Sci-Fi leading up to the fourth season premiere.
Drew Curtis: From watching some of the earlier shows, one of the things I noticed was that the younger actors would really bring their A-game whenever they were in a scene with Olmos or McDonnell. Which of the young actors has progressed the most in their craft over the course of the series in your opinion?
Ron Moore: I'm not sure if I could pick out any of them in particular. They have all matured and changed as performers. Tricia Helfer was a model before the show and hadn't done much acting at all, now she plays multiple characters in the series. Katee Sackhoff had done one series and a couple of feature things previous to BSG, and the curve her chops is remarkable too.
Eddie and Mary really set the bar high from the very beginning with the ensemble. They're like mom and dad, they lead the ensemble. They're true professionals, Oscar-caliber actors. Every member of the cast always lifted themselves when challenged by Eddie and Mary.
Drew Curtis: Regarding writing and plot lines, I've noticed that I've seen a couple websites debating whether or not you guys had an overall vision for where the show was going to finish plot-wise at the end of Season 4. Did you have some idea of where you were taking this series from the very beginning or did it evolve over time, and if so, how much?
Ron Moore: It certainly evolved over time. When the series started I didn't know where I was going to be by the end. I decided to worry about that later, and to try to just take 10 episodes at a time. I'd finish those then starting working on the direction of the next 10 shows, and so on.
As we got into mid-way through Season 3, I started to really feel that the 4th Season should be the last year. By the time we got to the end of the 3rd Season, I definitely felt like "Okay, next year's it. We're in the third act of the story, we should end the show while we're strong."
Going into the 4th Season, we had various meetings with the writing staff, big sort of conclaves where we said "Okay, what is the end of the series? Let's really break it down and talk about it." We had 3 or 4 of those kind of gatherings where we reevaluated what we wanted to do, tore it apart, put it back together again, and kept refining exactly what the shape of the 4th Season was going to be. To answer your question, all of this year we've had an idea of where we're going and how it's going to end. We really didn't start focusing on the end of the series until it was time.
Drew Curtis: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Ron Moore: Absolutely. Thank you.
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