Edinburgh TV Fest: Ron Moore Says Sci-Fi Provides a "Free Pass" to Address Tricky Issues

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The 'Battlestar Galactica' alum talks about Cylons, al-Qaida and Bryan Cranston's involvement in upcoming anthology series 'Electric Dreams: The World of Philip K. Dick.'

Science fiction gives creators and writers a "free pass" to address controversial contemporary issues in a way that doesn't scare viewers, Ron Moore, executive producer of Starz's Outlander, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Voyager, said Wednesday at the Edinburgh Television Festival.

"If you put these things in a science fiction context, you get a free pass, not just from networks, but from audiences as well, because you are allowing them to think about things in a way that doesn't threaten anybody," he said during a sci-fi master class at the fest. "If you call them Klingons [in the Star Trek universe], it's different than if you call them the Soviets. In Battlestar Galactica, if they are the Cylons, it's different than if you are saying it's al-Qaida."

Concluded Moore: "There are different emotional buttons it pushes with anybody. So by just taking one step back and removing all the contemporary labels, you can still get to some interesting thematic ideas, you can explore really deep philosophical questions, political questions and socio-political questions and religious questions, but you need to kind of give everyone permission not to get upset."

He showed a water torture scene from the first season of Battlestar Galactica and explained that the writing staff had "just even heard of the concept of water boarding" and seen the first images of Abu Ghraib when the scene was written. "It was very much in the moment and it was important in that show that we were talking about what was happening in real time," Moore said. "It was an opportunity to sort of explore a lot of those things — heroism ... what should a good guy do."

He also recalled: "We had a huge fight with the network about it at the time, not so much because of the themes that I am talking about now, but because it was too graphic. In the early drafts, she knocked his teeth out. It was much more brutal and graphic, and then we kind of compromised."

Moore on Wednesday also was asked about upcoming anthology series Electric Dreams: The World of Philip K. Dick, based on the sci-fi author's short stories. The show from Sony Pictures Television and British broadcaster Channel 4 will be written and executive produced by Moore and Michael Dinner (Justified, Masters of Sex), with Bryan Cranston exec producing as well. When the project was first announced, the team said Cranston also was planning on appearing in the series.

Asked about Cranston's level of involvement and acting plans now, Moore said: "He is one of the producers. He is very involved in it. ... His participation in front of the camera is a different question. We are not sure, and he is not sure. A lot of it depends on schedules and timing. I know he'd like to, but we are still in the very early stages of this."

Moore also addressed the new CBS All Access series Star Trek Discovery, led by showrunner Bryan Fuller. “I know Bryan well, and we’ve worked together,” he said. "He is going to approach that show in a very different [way]. ... He has a very fresh and exciting opportunity. Knowing Bryan, he will seize that opportunity and strangle it for every possible thing he can get out of it.”

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