Last week Sci Fi Channel announced the pickup of nine more episodes of its Peabody Award-winning series “Battlestar Galactica.”
The pickup completes a partial fourth-season order that left the show’s fans in suspense over the fate of the show. A third-season storyline drawing parallels to the war in Iraq won critical raves, yet ratings have slipped, leaving some comparing the show to another serialized cult program struggling in its third season, ABC’s “Lost.”
Developer and executive producer Ron Moore spoke to TelevisionWeek about the show’s future, its ratings, the long-planned “Caprica” prequel and the return of fan favorite Starbuck.
TelevisionWeek: You’ve said the show is going into its third act. How many seasons do you want that act to be, and, if this is a different answer, how many do you anticipate that it will be?
Ron Moore: It’s a hard question and something I’m grappling with right now. It’s going into the third act and there’s a couple chapters left, and they could be 10 episode chapters, 20-episode or 30. We’re moving toward the climax of the series and resolution of storylines. We’re just in the process of sitting down and mapping out the fourth season. We’re excited about having those decisions in-house. So far, the network has very much been saying, “We’ll take our cues from you.”
TVWeek: Your show was renewed for 13 episodes, then this week you got the extra nine. The renewals of some NBC shows have hinged on budget cuts — was that the case here?
Mr. Moore: Not so much with us. It got into complicated things. Budget was a factor, but it wasn’t like, “Your budget is too high, cut it by this much and we’ll talk again.” We’re not going to be on in 2007, so then it’s a question of how many episodes will we broadcast in 2008? There were a lot of moving parts in terms of finances. It was a long, tedious accounting conversation. But the episode budget is pretty much stable. It wasn’t like, “You have to kill X amount of characters,” or, “We’re gonna cut your special effects budget in half.”
TVWeek: Despite increased publicity about the show, there’s been a softening in ratings this season. There are a lot of theories as to why. What’s your take?
Mr. Moore: I really don’t know. Launching in the fall, we ran into a buzzsaw with baseball and a lot of things. On Friday nights we were losing a third of our audience due to time-shifting — that’s a huge hit. Things have stabilized and bounced back now that we’re on Sunday night. There’s also the serialized nature of the show … people feel like they can’t just pick it back up. But that’s offset by people buying a whole season’s worth of DVDs. I don’t have a grand unified theory of it. I got my fourth-season pickups, so I don’t really give a shit [laughs].
TVWeek: “Battlestar” was one of several NBC Universal shows that produced webisodes last year, until the Writers Guild of America ordered members to cease writing short-form content due to a lack of separate compensation for the work. Were you happy with the first round of webisodes?
Mr. Moore: I thought we did a good job with them. It was a big learning curve. We had to piggyback on the existing production. There was no money to build a new set or even go to a different set — we had to shoot it right on the same sets we were using that same day. That said, the story we came up with … it was an interesting story.
TVWeek: Why are you participating in the work stoppage?
Mr. Moore: That got caught up in a guild issue. It became apparent the WGA and NBC Universal were not seeing eye-to-eye on webisodes. When it became clear the writers weren’t going to get credit, I said I didn’t want to do this anymore. Then the guilds said we weren’t allowed to do them anymore anyway, and I’m a WGA member. At that point it became way above my pay grade, as they say. The two-minute webisode is a very strange beast. Two minutes to a cliffhanger. I don’t know if webisodes are going to be a long-term [product].
TVWeek: After “killing” one of the most popular characters on the show, Starbuck, she reappears in the last scene in the March 25 finale. Does that mean she’ll be back for season four?
Mr. Moore: Yes, definitely.
TVWeek: Katee Sackhoff [who plays Starbuck] made it sound in media interviews as if she’s off the show and getting new jobs. Was that part of the ruse?
Mr. Moore: We were trying to walk a very fine line. She was very careful how she phrased it. We wanted people to feel the loss. We didn’t want to put Katee in the position of lying to people. She did look for other work and is getting other work — just other work that won’t interfere with her “Battlestar” commitments.
TVWeek: Sci Fi also announced a two-hour “Galactica” movie to air this fall. Will that pick up where season three leaves off, or will it be something different?
Mr. Moore: It will be completely different. It didn’t feel right to try and resolve the cliffhanger with a single airing and DVD release. It didn’t make any sense. We told a story that takes place in the past in the “Galactica” universe but relates to events in the fourth season.
TVWeek: What is the likelihood of the “Caprica” prequel series at this point?
Mr. Moore: Still in development. They’re not picking it up as a pilot right now. They’ve talked about doing a two-hour version of it, or a DVD. The longer it goes on, the less likely it seems that anything will happen.
TVWeek: There’s a real difference watching “BSG” on Sci Fi and when it airs on UHD months later in HD and 5.1 Surround Sound. Has this lag time been frustrating that viewers aren’t watching the original airings the way it was shot?
Mr. Moore: I don’t see it that way. We don’t cut it in HD. When I sit in the Avid room, it’s not in HD. As a practical day-to-day matter, there’s no reason for me to be watching it in HD. … When it comes out on UHD months later, I’m usually sort of surprised. “It’s gorgeous! Look at that, you can see the reflection on the glass and everything.” My head isn’t geared toward HD at all.