Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Ronald D. Moore, executive producer and developer of the late, great Battlestar Galactica, is an ambitious man. In addition to two Galactica follow-ups—TV movie The Plan (which airs this fall), and prequel series Caprica (airing in 2010)—Moore is hoping the new science fiction pilot he co-created, Virtuality (airing Friday, June 26th, at 8-10 p.m. ET/PT on FOX), will prove popular enough with viewers to go to series. Virtuality follows Earth’s first starship, the Phaeton, and its crew of 12 astronauts who embark on a 10-year journey critical to the survival of life on Earth. They have reached the point of no return where the crew must commit to traveling to a distant solar system millions of miles away. If they commit, they cannot turn back. Tensions are heightened even further as surveillance cameras capture their every move for The Edge of Never, a reality series back on Earth. To give the crew a vital recreational outlet on the long journey, the ship has been equipped with revolutionary virtual reality modules. Each crew member can assume avatar-like identities—from a war hero to a rock star to secret lovers—as they explore self-created worlds in the ultra-life-like simulators. These are their psychological lifelines, and each module’s unique setting was chosen by the crew member before departing Earth. But there is a bug in the system. As crew members go in and out of reality, they realize that a virus has entered their private world. Is someone on the crew responsible? When the intruder crosses a violent and disturbing line, Commander Frank Pike (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) makes a difficult decision to shut down the modules. But before he can, a tragic event threatens the mission. Is it an accident or a crime? Real or virtual? I spoke to Moore about Virtuality, asking him how the idea for sci-fi thriller came up. "It was an unusual situation in that [executive producers] Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun had wanted to have a sit down—a general meeting with me—and then separately they wanted to have a sit down meeting with Michael Taylor, who was one of the writers on Battlestar. So I sat down with Lloyd and Gail, and in that conversation Lloyd had this idea of, 'I would like to do a show about the first long-range mission to Mars.' We kind of talked about that a little bit in just a get-to-know-you meeting, and kind of expanded on the idea of what a long-range mission would be. "They had a similar meeting with Mike Taylor. The same kind of topic came up. He sparked to it from sort of a different angle, and then Michael and I started talking about it separately. Then the three of us started talking, and it all kind of became this sort of 'Here’s a show.' Then we just took it to FOX. We went into FOX and pitched it to [entertainment president] Kevin Reilly and his team—and they really liked it—and it kind of went from there." When asked how it differs from Galactica, Moore says, "It’s a much less serious situation than Battlestar was dealing with. Battlestar was literally a post-apocalyptic show where the future of humanity rode on their every decision, and death was stalking them continuously. So it’s not set up in the same way. The crew aboard Phaeton signed up for what just seemed like a very straight-ahead mission of exploration and they were chosen with that in mind. They were also chosen to participate in this sort of reality show that’s being broadcast back to Earth. "So there was a conscious attempt on the part of the people who put the crew together to sort of have an interesting mix of people. There are debates within the crew themselves who was chosen just for sort of their demographic content and who was legitimately supposed to be there. Now, you’ve got a group of 12 people stuck in a metal tube going in a straight line for a decade or so, and that’s going to just sort of produce a lot of tensions and frictions and manipulations and sort of cross problems between the characters. It has a stronger element of fun and suspense, and sort of interesting plot terms in terms of what characters will do with one another than did Battlestar. Battlestar was very driven by the internal pressures of the huge weight that was on all of their shoulders from the beginning of the miniseries." In Part 2 of the interview (which will be posted on Friday), Moore will discuss some of the more unique aspects of Virtuality that set it apart from other science fiction series, and give us a taste of what to expect from Battlestar Galactica: The Plan. Virtuality airs Friday, June 26th, at 8-10 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.