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When a Novel Crosses Over Time and Television
August 1, 2014  | By Donna J. Plesh  | 1 comment

[Editor's Note: TVWW contributor Donna J. Plesh died April 2, 2015, from ovarian cancer. She was 71. Donna covered television since the early 1980s, initially for the Orange County Register and its TV magazine. She also was a member of the Television Critics Association. Donna was always a cheerful spirit within the TVWW network and often gave readers a kind, up-close viewpoint in her interviews with a wide variety of television stars. She will be missed.]

Diana Gabaldon was working as a research professor in the late 1980s when she decided she wanted to write a novel. One novel led to another until Gabaldon had a wildly successful series on her hands that was a fusion of romance, history and time travel. Now, the first novel, Outlander, has been adapted for a 16-part series of the same name set to premiere on Starz, August, 9 at 9 p.m., ET.

Starz is also making the first full episode available a week earlier (August 2nd) online at Starz.com/Outlander.

Outlander is the genre-mashing story of Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe, top), a married World War II nurse who, in 1945, is swept back in time to 1743 where she is obviously thrown into an unknown world. Early on, she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a romantic Scottish warrior.

Tasked with bringing the fan-favorite Outlander story to the small screen is Executive Producer and Writer Ronald D. Moore, no stranger to television or science fiction, with credits including Battlestar Gallactica, Star Trek and Roswell.

During a Television Critics Association panel discussion, Moore said, “My immediate take was (the novel) was a TV show, just the nature of the story, the scope of the story. When we sought out the rights, they were trying to develop a feature [movie] version, but just couldn’t quite make it play because it’s just too big of a story, and all the things that people love about it are about taking your time with the story and developing the characters… you could only really deliver this piece of material in a dramatic series.”

To get the ball rolling, Moore and his producing partner, Maril Davis, met with Gabaldon to talk over story lines, characters and their ideas on adapting the book to the small screen.

Moore continued, “I saw my role from the beginning as, you know, not reinventing this material but adapting it and sort of delivering it… There is a dedicated base of fans who love these books who have read them for many years, and it’s the favorite book to a lot of people. I want to give them their story, but I do have to translate it into a different. We approached the series with an eye towards authenticity towards being real for what really happened in the 18th century and for delivering a real world and not really reinventing it for modern sensibility.”

The series, filmed on location in Scotland, will be broken into two seasons. The first eight episodes will air this year, with the next eight in early 2015.

“Scotland is a character on the show very much,” said Moore. “I mean, it is a love letter to Scotland in many ways. (Balfe and Heughan on location in Scotland, left) We have, predominantly, a Scottish crew, and a lot of people in the surrounding area are helping to support the production, and it was important to us to give it a sense of authenticity to this time and to this place.”

When asked if she feels pressure from fans about her work Gabaldon, present for the same panel said, “Speaking as the writer, I often get asked, ‘Do you feel an obligation to do what your fans want?’ And the answer is absolutely not. I am creating this and would hope that they like it, but my obligation is to the book and the book alone. It’s going to be the best I can make it, and if people like it then I’m happy, but I’m never going to write something just because I think someone else would like it.”

Moore concurs. “That was the attitude I took on Battlestar and Star Trek, which had very devoted, passionate fan bases.”

Gabaldon said she is not writing scripts for the series. “They show me scripts… glimpses of this, that, and the other, and they ask my opinion every now and again. I have been extremely amazed and very touched at the degree to which they trust me,” she said.

Moore said it’s reciprocal. “She trusts us with something that’s very personal to her, that’s her creation, and it’s my job to interpret and try to develop it for another audience. But it was important from the beginning that we have a good relationship with Diana. I’m a writer. She’s a writer. As a writer I wanted her to feel proud of what we do with her work,” he said.

While not a lock for another season, it seems possible, considering Starz recent track record of renewing historical series such as Black Sails and Da Vinci’s Demons. During the TCA press tour, Starz Chief Executive Officer Chris Albrecht said, ”Diana has given us years of great drama. So if it’s as if the audiences and our subscribers are as interested in it as we think, and the fans really get behind it and, you know, tell their friends about it, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t continue Claire’s story over the centuries.”      

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Thanks again for the heads up - never would have known about this.
Aug 1, 2014   |  Reply
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