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Ron Moore is living every sci-fi and Disney fan’s dream.
After launching his career on Star Trek favorites The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Moore revived Battlestar Galactica for Syfy (earning a prized Peabody Award in the process) and spearheaded Outlander‘s transition from the pages of Diana Gabaldon’s book series to a global hit on Starz.
Now, as the prolific writer and showrunner returns to space with season two of Apple’s For All Mankind, Moore is setting his sights on another longtime love: Disney.
Following a decade set up at Sony Pictures TV, Moore recently signed a rich overall deal with Disney-owned 20th Television where he’s already lined up an update of Swiss Family Robinson and hopes to put his lifetime love of Disneyland and Star Wars to good use.
Moore joined The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg and Lesley Goldberg on the TV’s Top 5 podcast for a wide-ranging interview about revisiting Star Wars after his stalled attempt to bring the property to ABC in 2013, the bright future for Starz’s Outlander (a spinoff and renewal!), his response to Sam Esmail’s Battlestar Galactica as well as For All Mankind. Below are experts from the full podcast interview.
From Star Trek to Battlestar to For All Mankind there is a fascination with space and space exploration that goes through many of your shows. What was the geekiest space-related thing that young Ron Moore ever owned or did?
I built models of all the American space craft I could get my hands on. I wrote letters to NASA and I drew pictures of spacecraft, suggestions for them.
The second season of the show jumps forward nearly a decade and you could brought in a new cast of astronauts. What excited you about following the young hot shots from the first season as middle-aged astronauts in the second season?
From the beginning, I was attracted to doing it as a generational story. To see the space program expand and become real, it had to take place over decades. I thought it was interesting to follow a group of characters, watch some of them grow up, watch others grow old and die and do it as a generational story. There was a miniseries that I loved when I was a kid in the 1980s that was called Centennial, which was based on a book and followed the story of a mythical town in Colorado, from Indian times all the way up until the late 20th Century. I loved that story as a kid. It was the same thing, you saw characters grow old, you saw their children, their grandchildren. I wanted to replicate that for the show.
You spent a decade with an overall deal at Sony TV and reunited with former studio chiefs Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg at Apple. What has it been like working with them and for a platform like Apple?
Zack called me and wanted to talk about the NASA show [he’d been pitching] and suddenly we have a new series. The working relationship was already established, and then there was a good chunk of people beyond Zack and Jamie that want from Sony over to Apple as well. There was a certain familiarity of how things would get done. That said, then all those people were adjusting to a completely different corporate environment. It’s a tech company that is getting into entertainment and there were growing pains to figure out. As I started working with Apple, I’m not used to people saying things like, “Well, Cupertino hasn’t weighed in on that.” The first year was a lot of growing pains of any company setting out to do something for the first time but it was greatly aided by the fact that I knew so many of the people who were in the Apple TV+ division.
What were the notes you got from Cupertino?
They were interested how we were portraying technology, how fast is the technology going to evolve in the show. [Apple CEO] Tim Cook came to the set and sat at the Mission Control consoles and enjoyed himself. He got lost in the consoles the keyboards: “Oh yeah, I remember this kind of CRT.” I would go to Cupertino for various things and was always [warmly received]: “For All Mankind, I love that show! I was a huge fan of the space program.” I’d walk down the corridors and you would just see pictures of astronauts and space and it was clear that there is a great fondness and love within the tech world for the space program and for NASA. We were doing something that not only interested them on a business sense but it was also appealing to something that touched them all emotionally and very personally as well.
The show is from Sony TV, which as an independent studio, has faced an uphill battle getting shows on the air given everyone’s push for ownership. Why did you leave?
I left Sony last June when my Sony contract was up. I talked to various studios and I ultimately decided to join 20th Television, which is now part of Disney. I am continuing to work on For All Mankind and Outlander for Sony but I’m starting to do projects for Disney. I decided to go there mostly because my childhood was built around a lot of things that were Disney. I am a huge fan and aficionado of the Disneyland park in Anaheim to the point where I would go there by myself periodically and ride the rides. The opportunity for me to get to work on a lot of the classic IP that Disney has and things in their library that meant so much to me as a child growing up and that I have shared with my children ultimately was just something I couldn’t pass up. It was with great regret that I left Sony because they have been so good to me and I had such strong, amazing relationships with them.
You flirted with a Star Wars live-action show with George Lucas for ABC nearly a decade ago and it never got off the ground. And now you’re at Disney at a time when they’ve got a dozen live-action Star Wars shows in development. How many conversations and how many different ideas have you already pitched about going in and doing a Star Wars show for them?
It’s always something that’s on my mind but clearly, they have their Star Wars plate full at the moment. I’m not sure this is the moment that you go in and pitch a new Star Wars series over there. I would love to do something in that franchise. It was fun to go work on the abortive live-action show that I did way back when. I got a tremendous amount of thrill of writing lines for Darth Vader in one episode and it would be fun to do that again. It’s just not the first piece of development I’m doing over there but hopefully I’ll be allowed to do that at some point.
How do you look at the fact that we have a landscape in which two months ago Disney announced a dozen Star Wars shows? How does that even process in your brain?
It’s amazing. I am old enough to have gone to Star Wars in the summer of ’77 and seen it originally and then you had to wait years to see the next one. Now it’s just fun. I used to read the novelizations and the comic books in between movies and you saw what a rich universe it was and how many stories you could tell in so many different ways. The idea that they are now spreading out the Star Wars saga as not just the main line of the Skywalker story but doing things like The Mandalorian and all these other shows … I can’t wait to see all the different possibilities that get opened up.
Along those same lines, you worked on a number of different Star Trek franchises in a world in which the conventional wisdom is you can have one going at once and that was how people approached it. And now CBS All Access has at least three Trek shows and more in the works. As someone who spent years in that world, do you have ideas for other Trek shows?
I do not. I stepped away from that personally — not just professionally — in that I don’t watch as much of it as I used to. I spent so long in it and it was such a big part of my childhood. I will still see the movies and I watched Picard and some Discovery, but it doesn’t quite dominate my life the way it once did. It’s now so vast. It’s almost intimidating, even for someone like me, to catch up on all the different aspects of Star Trek.
Can you imagine that becoming the case with Star Wars at some point or do you have a different appetite for the two different franchises as a viewer?
It’s a different scale. There’s more ground to cover for Star Wars because they haven’t spent so much time doing so many projects. Whereas with Star Trek there’s so many episodes of so many series that are laying this immense, gigantic web of continuity. I was excited when J.J. Abrams came along and rebooted the franchise and went back to the original series. However, I thought that not cutting the cord completely to the original series and literally starting over was a mistake because they kept all the rest of the continuity. It’s hard for me to imagine what it is to be a new viewer of Star Trek today because there is so much to try to digest.
Do you have a Star Wars pitch should that opportunity to pitch one suddenly present itself at Disney?
Nothing fully formed but I’ve got a couple of notions in the back of my head — ideas and arenas that I think would be fun to poke around the corners of the Star Wars universe — yes.
You’re doing Swiss Family Robinson as your first project for Disney under your new deal there. What’s the appeal?
It’s a classic movie and one that I enjoyed growing up — and one I’ve shared with my children. It touches us when we watch it. There was an opportunity to go in and do something new with it. Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), who is directing, had a concept for how to approach it that I thought was interesting. There is something about that movie that is optimistic and about family and overcoming obstacles and hardships but having fun at the same time.
As we talk about so many of the franchises you’ve had your hand in, let’s not forget about Outlander. Season six due this year. What is the nature of your relationship with that show considering your new deal with Disney?
It’s the same as it has been the last couple seasons in that I no longer day-to-day showrun it; the showrunner is Matt Roberts, who was with us from the very beginning of the project. I see the scripts and look at the cuts and give feedback to Matt and then he goes off and takes the notes — or doesn’t. My involvement will continue on both those avenues going forward.
The show hasn’t been renewed beyond season six yet. What conversations have you had about expanding the show beyond that, whether it’s a season seven or spinoffs? I’m a little stunned that a global hit like Outlander that is based on such beloved novels hasn’t by season six already had two or three spinoffs.
Yeah, I am too. Conversations are underway on both season seven and on a spinoff and I think we’re going to have good news on both those fronts before too long so I feel very optimistic about it. I agree that I would’ve been happy to see it happen sooner than this but everything happens in its time. I think both those things are probably going to happen and hopefully we’ll be able to say something about it before too long.
Sam Esmail has said he got your blessing before revisiting Battlestar Galactica for Peacock. What did that conversation entail?
He called me, which was very generous. He didn’t have to; I don’t own that story — it was a preexisting property. He was careful and quick to say it’s not a reboot. I was relieved to hear that. He said he had stories he wanted to tell in that universe that I didn’t get a chance to tell and he could do it in these other places within the Battlestar franchise. I wished him well and I appreciated the gesture that he made to see how I felt about it. The important thing to me was that it wasn’t a reboot. Sam is an amazingly talented writer and I am very curious to see what he does with it. I look forward to seeing it and being able to watch Battlestar as a fan, which I haven’t been able to do since 1978.
What’s the project that got away?
The Wild Wild West. Naren Shankar and I wrote a version of the rebooted Wild Wild West for CBS about 10 or 15 years ago. I loved that original show as a kid and thought it was an interesting mix of James Bond and the west with occult overtones that would deal with werewolves periodically. It was a really out-there genre piece and very unique. I was excited at the thought of getting my hands on it and disappointed when it didn’t go forward. I’d still love to find a way to get my hands on it again. It’s owned by CBS so unfortunately not something I have access to.
When you see what you’re able to do on For All Mankind, how often do you think back to things that you couldn’t do on earlier sci-fi shows? And how much do you think that you’ve now got the technology to do all the things you’ve dreamed of doing?
It’s astonishing. I reflect back to my years at Star Trek. We were doing what we considered pretty cutting-edge visual effects work in those days. I saw the business transition from literal models and blue screens to all CGI and virtual set work. There were things we wanted to do so desperately at Star Trek that we just couldn’t do week after week. We had one big dedicated soundstage, Stage 16, with was affectionately known as Planet Hell. Virtually all the alien planets were on Planet Hell and you just got sick of moving the same rocks around and you could only hide the parameters of the soundstage so many different ways. We would always get frustrated that we couldn’t portray real alien landscapes, we couldn’t get any real scope into the show, we couldn’t really do big exterior scenes, we couldn’t do spaceship battles very well. If you look back at any of the Star Treks before the current iterations, space battles were very limited. You could only do a few shots here and there and even on the ground combat, when Riker and company are exchanging phaser shots with the Romulans or somebody, we are literally in production meetings counting how many of those phase shots we can have in the fight sequence because they were that expensive for our budget. Now it’s whole different world. It’s a really astonishing change that has happened in that part of the industry.
For Moore’s comments on season two of For All Mankind, juggling butterfly effects on both his Apple series and Starz’s Outlander as well as his thoughts on the WGA-agencies standoff and more, listen to the full interview on TV’s Top 5, below.
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