On Friday night, Fox premieres Virtuality, a two-hour movie (that could be a backdoor pilot, possibly) for a new show from the mind of Ron Moore. Virtuality is another space-set series, but it's quite different from Moore's Battlestar Galactica. It deals with a crew of astronauts heading out into deep space, who escape the monotony of spaceship living via virtual reality, and also, all of their non-virtual doings are being recorded and sent back to earth as a reality show. It's got a lot going on, so Moore decided to take questions from reporters on a recent conference call to help explain how this whole series came about.
When did you come up with the idea of blending a sci-fi thriller with a reality show element to it?
Moore: It was sort of in stages. When we first started talking about the concept it was about a long-range space mission, which I was intrigued with. I was interested in the idea of what do you do with 12 people in a metal tube for that long. I thought there were interesting dramatic possibilities right there and, okay, what would they realistically need to do. What would NASA or the space confederation do at that point to keep them from going crazy? They'd probably have a really advanced virtual reality program to help them while away the hours and there's interaction between those two worlds.
Somewhere in those discussions we started talking about when they would be broadcasting pieces back to earth, obviously, like astronauts do today, and hey, what if they made a reality show out of that? Then it all kind of started to come together. You had these three layers of storytelling going on in the show where you had what was happening in the real world on the ship, what was happening in the virtual space and then what was the reality show that was seen back on earth. Were the needs of the reality show starting to impact what was happening on the spacecraft? Were people being manipulated in order to make better drama for the reality show? The astronauts themselves would start to wonder about are they telling us the truth about what's happening back on earth or is that something to just get us to be upset for the cameras. It did sort of become this really interesting sort of psychological crucible that they would all be put in.
There's a lot going on, because you have the mission to save Earth. You have the virtual reality module. You have the computer virus. Then you have the streaming reality show. When you were writing it were there any major hurdles or blind alleys? Did it get confusing?
Moore: Yes. It was a tough thing to juggle. It's a very ambitious piece and I think that was the reaction on the part of Fox when they saw it. It's a very challenging, very complicated piece of work and there are a lot of moving parts. We knew that sort of going in and writing the script wasn't easy. There was a lot of sort of trying to decide how much time you spend in any one of these three categories and at what point do you shift from the audience's point of view from one to the other. What's the language for that? Where are we going to introduce certain characters? How often do you go to the first person confessionals and the reality show, etc., etc.? So there were a lot of just complicated questions. Then those same questions were there in the editing process. When do you go to which piece of material? I think it was a really interesting challenge.
How is it different from on Star Trek when you would have holodeck episodes and people would get lost in the holodeck?
Moore: Well, it's a different concept. The holodeck is a physical space that you would go into and three dimensional forms were actually physically created in front of you that you could feel and touch and interact with, etc. The computer would generate them as long as you were in them. This is truly a virtual space, which is much more akin to putting on contemporary, sort of virtual headsets, but sort of taking it to the next level where you do have an experiential sort of ability to touch and sense and taste and smell things in your mind, so it's different sort of on the mechanical level. In terms of the story level, we're not playing the idea that if you die in the virtual space you die in the real space. It's not ... from that sense. It doesn't have the safety programs like it did in the holodeck where the safety is off and if you get killed in here you get killed.
Is this at all kind of similar to the holobands that was introduced on the Caprica pilot?
Moore: I was sort of aware of the similarities between the two. They do have different purposes and different sorts of constructs to them. They both involve putting a set of goggles on your face, so they're similar in sort of that perspective. In Caprica it's really much more akin to the Internet where you go out and the virtual spaces are practically infinite and they intersect with one another. On Caprica you can go from the V-Club where we establish in the pilot is sort of a hacked world and then, presumably, there are World of Warcraft-type of worlds, etc., etc. It's all sort of interconnected into their version of the Internet.
In Virtuality we're looking at something much more discrete, much smaller, much more of a gaming type of environment where an astronaut has a specific virtual reality module that they go into and play whatever game or have whatever experience they want, but there is no expectation that you can cross from one module to another.
Because of the nature of Battlestar, you had to be very serious dealing with the space ship and everything. Does Virtuality allow you to have a little bit more fun with the concept of people in space?
Moore: Oh, yes. 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 groups 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 turns 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.
So a little more opportunity for humor maybe?
Moore: Oh, yes. There's definitely more humor. There's more humor probably in the first ten minutes of Virtuality than there was in the run of Battlestar, let's put it that way.
This was originally supposed to be a pilot for a series, right?
Moore: It is a pilot. It's a pilot for a series and Fox is going to broadcast it as a two-hour movie. It was a two-hour pilot, so they're broadcasting it as a two-hour movie, but in my mind it's a pilot. It's always been a pilot.
So it still can become a series?
Moore: I think you never say never. They haven't picked it up to date. Their attitude, I think, is kind of wait and see. I think they want to see what the reaction is going to be. What are the critics going to say? Is it going to get word of mouth? Are fans going to gravitate to it or is the science fiction community really going to turn up for it? Is there going to be a certain buzz and excitement? I think right now it doesn't look like it's going to series, but I think if enough people watched and enough people got excited about it anything is possible.
Do you think this is a story that can be told in two hours?
Moore: It certainly does not resolve itself in two hours. I mean it sets up for a show, so it's got some pretty heavy things that go down in it and kind of leaves you going, 'Whoa! Where is that going?' by the end of it.
What sort of stamp did you have on the last Battlestar movie, The Plan?
Moore: I supervised and I give suggestions and follow-ups and I try to keep the story and the concepts within the Battlestar world, but I really let Jane [Espenson] run with it. I mean it's really her piece and [Edward James Olmos'] piece. I was very happy to sort of let them take the reins on this one.
Will there be any surprises?
Moore: I think there are definitely surprises. It's really a piece for people who love the show. If you love the show you're probably going to be really intrigued by The Plan, because it's going to have all of these little bread crumbs and throw away lines and indicators and suggestions from other episodes. You've seen the show. You've watched the finale. You know how the story ends. Okay, here's like an additional slant on some things that you didn't know about.
What made you want to include a reality TV component in this particular story?
Moore: At first I think I was certainly one of the skeptics that reality TV was going to be with us for any great period of time. Certainly, that's been proven wrong. There seems to be a fundamental interest of people watching other real people or at least what they perceive as real people as opposed to watching fictional programming. There's certainly something. There's a powerful draw there of us wanting to look in on other people's lives and seeing them pretty much as they actually exist.
Why we include it in the show was it just felt like it's become such a staple of pop culture at this point in time. It seemed interesting to then incorporate it into a science fiction setting, which was something that we had never seen before or heard of and thought that's an interesting sort of spin on it. We've all seen video that's been broadcast back by the astronauts from the Apollo missions to the Space Shuttle, but we've never seen it done in a format where it's trying to be a reality show at the same time. I thought that's an interesting challenge. It's kind of a different hook for the audience and it might be kind of a cool angle for the show.
What is your relationship with reality TV? Are you a fan?
Moore: I started off as a skeptic/hater of it. Now, actually, there are definitely reality programs that I like. I think probably at the top of that list, I'm a very late convert to Deadliest Catch, which I had heard about for a few years. I was even on a panel once with the executive producer and never really watched it. Then this last season finally my wife and I decided to give it a try and I was really taken with it, really drawn into it and impressed with the quality of the production and the seriousness with which they do this reality show that's really a documentary every week. From there I like Project Runway. I like Top Chef. I've been suckered in, as it were.
You're not watching The Hills?
Moore: I am not watching The Hills. I'm holding certain lines. There are certain places I just can't go.
Virtuality airs June 26th at 8 PM on Fox
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