PASADENA, Calif. — Adapting a popular book series for TV comes with as many negatives as positives. It’s great that the books have a built-in fan base. But those loyal fans are tough to please.
TV producer-writer Ronald D. Moore’s latest leap into the adaptation breach is for the new Starz dramatic series “Outlander,” based on Diana Gabaldon’s “The Outlander Series.”
The first seven offerings in Gabaldon’s book series sold more than 25 million copies worldwide and were on the New York Times best-seller list six times. The eighth installment, “Written in My Own Heart’s Blood,” entered The Times’s hardcover fiction list at No. 1 after its June release.
“Outlander” spans the genres of romance, science fiction, history and adventure as it follows Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a married British combat nurse in 1945 who mysteriously falls back through time to 1743 Scotland. She becomes torn between her husband Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a Scottish warrior who comes to her rescue.
The first two episodes of the series are written by Moore, who also serves as the show’s executive producer.
“I saw my role from the beginning as not reinventing this material but adapting it and sort of delivering it because there is an audience for 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, that book that sits on their shelf that’s dog eared and they’ve read it many, many times. I take that obligation seriously,” Moore says. “I want to give them their story, but I do have to translate it into a different medium because there are differences of being a reader and being a member of an audience.”
The first person Moore had to convince was Gabaldon. Moore spent an entire weekend making sure the author felt comfortable with his company adapting the series and collecting any background material that Gabaldon had not included in the books.
Gabaldon is deeply appreciative of the support the fans have given her, but they are not her first obligation when it comes to her works.
“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,” Gabaldon says. “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 understands completely.
He has never backed away from projects with a massive fan base, having written for the “Star Trek” television franchises and re-launching “Battlestar: Galactica.” He knew he couldn’t base his decisions on what the fans would want because fans want so many different things.
Now that the series has started filming, the onus falls to Balfe and Heughan to keep the fans happy. Balfe, an Irish actress who appeared in “Super 8,” has had an overwhelming amount of support so far.
“I don’t think I was aware of the magnitude of the fans and how enthusiastic they were. But, it’s like a dream role. It’s a dream job. So it’s been only good so far, and I think it will continue to be and I don’t I think there’s nothing that really changes you. It’s just you are finally getting to do the thing that you’ve always wanted to do and love to do,” Balfe says.
Heughan calls being cast in “Outlander” a “real rewarding journey,” made easier by the material he’s been able to glean from the books on his character. It’s also been a help the series is being shot in Scotland. He sees the books as not only a romance between people separated by time, but also a loving embrace of his native country.
Men in kilts
“Outlander,” premieres at 9 p.m. Saturday on Starz.