Outlander showrunner Ron D. Moore has been the vision leader for this successful STARZ show. Here’s why he may step down after Season 4.
Let me preface this article with a few points right off the top:
- I love me some Ron D. Moore. Ever since his days on Star Trek: The Next Generation — never mind my love affair with his work on one of the greatest shows ever written: Battlestar Galactica — he has been one of my favorite showrunners in the business today.
- I don’t want RDM to step down. He is a premiere “name-brand” showrunner in today’s climate of over-exposed, over-saturated, binge TV that is growing at an ever rapidly increasing rate with less and less talent to run shows competently. In other words, he’s one of the few showrunners in whom I can place my full confidence because he truly knows what he’s doing.#TrustRon
- Ron Moore has not given any indication that he is stepping down publicly. But, if we dive a little deeper, some of his recent quotes and actions with regard to the Outlander series seem to be subtly telling a different story.
So let’s have a look at what makes me think that Ron will be stepping down…
What’s Already Changed: The Facts
Ron already seems to be distancing himself from the minutiae of the show. Here are some examples:
- He doesn’t speak NEARLY as much as he used to on the aftershow interviews. Initially he did the post-show outakes himself. Now he often interviews his fellow producers and writers, Matt B. Roberts and Toni Graphia — when he appears at all.
- “Ronald D. Moore’s Outlander Podcast” changed its name this season to “The Official Outlander Podcast.”
- Ira Steven Behr (Ron’s right hand man, self-proclaimed consigliere and great friend since their days on Star Trek) abruptly left the show before Season 3 production.
- Anne Kenney also left the show, and four reasonably inexperienced writers were brought in to fill out the writers’ room.
- Ron has only one writing credit for Outlander Season 3 — The Battle Joined. In previous seasons, he’s written a total of six episodes. In contrast, Matt Roberts has seen an uptick in his writing AND has been given two of the most important episodes of the season: “A. Malcolm” and the finale (which in the past was usually written by Ron).
- Ron serves as the executive producer for the highly anticipated and well reviewed Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams series on Amazon, has a writing credit on one episode for it, and has been doing a decent amount of press on it.
- Ron has never produced or written on a show for more than five years. We will be coming up on year five of Outlander when Season 5 has to go into production.
These points were obvious even before Variety released its RDM interview in which he described his role in Seasons 3 and 4 like this:
I’m still the showrunner, but a lot of the day-to-day showrunning is done by [executive producers] Matt Roberts and Toni Graphia … I’ve delegated more authority to them. Matt is on the ground a lot in the U.K., and Toni is in charge of the writers’ room. And they both report to me and I still sort of oversee the whole production. But I’m not on the front lines like I was.
I can’t begin to tell you the VOLUMES spoken in this simple statement here by the man himself! He even DOUBLES DOWN by saying:
They’re competent, and good, and smart, and they add different things than I would to the production … you want your people to take on more responsibility, and you want them to grow within the show, and you give them room to do that. Sometimes you just have to be willing to delegate, and not feel like you’re the only one with the answer.
Now delegating in and of itself is not unusual; showrunners simply can’t be everywhere, every day.
For example, Damon Lindelof ran The Leftovers from L.A. But when the show moved from New York in Season 1, to Texas in Season 2, and then to Australia in Season 3, Lindelof’s executive producer/director Mimi Leder ran most of the day-to-day activities. So with regard to RDM and his team, his delegation this season is not as damning as it may sound. But, again, this is another tiny red flag that waves uncontrollably in the back of my brain.
What Could Suggest Change: The Intangibles
- Ron’s comments at San Diego Comic Con 2017:
It’s a transitional season. You know, the franchise kind of pivots from this point because, it’s not really a huge spoiler, but essentially, the show will relocate to the American colonies after this season…Claire and Jamie and their family really do kind of relocate to North America after this season and establish a place called Fraser’s Ridge, which is up in the mountains of North Carolina — and that’s where the rest of the season in the books takes place.
In and of itself, this is a relatively innocuous notation. The show is in transition for Season 3 as it marks the beginning of its “story home” moving from Scotland to the colonies. But a tiny red flag arose when I read his follow-up comments:
So this is a really important year because it’s leaving sort of one setting, traveling literally across the Atlantic Ocean. You know, we went down and shot on the Black Sails ships and sets in South Africa to do that section of the story, and then end up in the Caribbean…it’s been difficult for us because it takes us a long time to shoot the show. It’s very complex logistically. It’s a big period piece that travels and goes to different countries and continents and doesn’t really have standing sets, and it takes us a long time to produce it.
Again, not a overly complex statement: Outlander is a hard show to shoot and it requires a ton of production effort given the period detail, scheduling, budgeting, and the ever-changing set pieces. If, however, one takes a deeper look into what he is saying, what does it portend for our favorite show and its title couple of James and Claire Fraser?
Essentially Moore says the show transitions from being a vast and wide-ranging production to one that has its roots set in a singular space, “Fraser’s Ridge.” Clan Fraser finally settles down and continues their life in the colonies in one place. For the production of the show, this is potentially a seismic shift in how it can be shot.
- A “massive” expansion at Wardpark Studios: By the time season 5 rolls into production, according to BBC News, the privately owned studio where Outlander is shot, produced, edited and based for some of its production and which has four sound stages across 48,000 square feet could add two more stages, a back lot and offices in a 30,000-square-foot development pending local and state approval. Why is this a big deal? Well, it’s no secret that Outlander has almost single-handedly revitalized the film industry of Scotland, so when one reads that it is helping lead to such a big budget increase in studio space, one can only assume that the execs at STARZ, Tall Ship Productions and SONY all intend to take full advantage of their newly minted facility to help lower costs. It behooves the local government, the national government, and the film industry of Scotland in general to approve the financing for it, especially when it was reported that Wardpark was also home to a recent MAJOR production by Disney/Marvel — Avengers: Infinity War. There’s too much money to be made by everyone involved not to approve it.
- The role of a showrunner: If the expansion at Wardpark Studios happens and producing Outlander becomes that much easier, would it not be safe to assume that the complex logistics behind producing Outlander Ron mentioned earlier become easier as well? If you remove the issues with location discovery and maintaining a standing set, isn’t it reasonable to assume that one would not need the fine touch and expertise of a veteran showrunner? Instead, they would just need someone who is well versed in the story who is able to handle a writers’ room. I say this because the title showrunner is relatively amorphous. He or she is kind of like a small business owner. Showrunners are responsible for the direction of the company, advertising, the vision of the employees, the budget, etc. They’re the chief cook and bottle washer. Ron runs the whole deal—the story, the writers, the sets, the tone, marketing, the budget, dealing with the fans—and he has to make it all work within a certain time period in addition to making sure the network is pleased. You need someone who is really good at it to make a MASSIVE show like Outlander work. But if that changed? Maybe not.
- Standing sets: Now, I have not read the books so I have NO IDEA where the story goes, even from where we are in in Outlander Season 3. But if story becomes ensconced in Fraser’s Ridge, it reasons well that Outlander production could finally afford to have standing sets given the predictability of keeping the show located to one setting. As such. the costs would likely go down provided they don’t have to travel like they do when they had to go on location to places like South Africa. Being able to maintain standing sets at a newly expanded Wardpark Studios, and FINALLY be in one space, is a big freaking deal. Because if the costs go down, the production gets easier and the show is more likely to be renewed as long as it maintains decent ratings and subscriptions keep rolling in for STARZ. Unlike broadcast networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS etc., who rely on the funds from advertisers and who therefore care about ratings because they want to make sure their advertised product is actually being seen, subscriptions are key for pay-network television like STARZ, HBO, etc. Yes, ratings matter, but networks like STARZ are beholden to the subscriptions because that’s how they get their money. When income goes up and costs go down, well that’s an effective business model. It also means that you potentially don’t need a showrunner as experienced as Ron.
- Terry Dresbach: The sense I get from Ron’s wife, and head of the costume department, is that she may be growing tired. If her social media account is any indicator of her feelings, she often doesn’t feel appreciated by the fans or feel she’s getting the recognition she deserves from the industry as a whole. Once they get to Fraser’s Ridge, there’s going to be a lot of the same old-same old for costumes for a while, too. Once again, I am just a show watcher so I don’t know what is coming down the road, but Terry is VERY creative and in an entirely singular class in her abilities and talent. So I’m not sold on a basic costume structure holding that much interest to her. My point is, if your wife doesn’t want to do it anymore, that could be a factor in moving on. It feels trite to say, but do we consider applying the the whole happy wife, happy life mantra here?
- Ron’s age. Ron is 53 years old. Now that is not old by any stretch of the imagination. In terms of the TV world, however, the most prolific showrunners (or at least guys and gals I would consider to be on his level) are relatively younger. For example: Damon Lindelof – 44. Vince Gilligan – 50. Shonda Rhimes – 47. The Duffer Brothers – 33. Nic Pizzolatto – 42. David Benioff – 47. D.B Weiss – 46. Greg Berlanti – 45. Marc Guggenheim – 47. Noah Hawley – 49. Bryan Fuller -48. In other words, Ron is on the higher end of the mainstream showrunners.
- The rest of Ron’s career: So, does Ron want to commit what could be the remainder of his professional career to Outlander? Maybe. It doesn’t seem like a bad gig to me—live in Scotland, produce a highly touted show, which also just happens to be the most popular programs on your network and, oh, by the way, remain one of the most powerful showrunners in the business. But, then again, maybe not. The fact remains that in order for him to take advantage of his considerable talent, it seems reasonable that he would want to branch out and explore other material before the job of showrunning just becomes too hard. Can he explore his creative juices AND be an effective showrunner (by effective, I mean to the caliber that he is already established)?
- I don’t think Outlander is going anywhere: Considering that content is not an issue for continuing the series—Diana wrote 8 books and is hard at work on the 9th—STARZ could use this quality original content to compete with the likes of HBO, NETFLIX, SHOWTIME and even AMAZON. Thanks in part to Outlander’s success, subscriptions are up at the network, ratings continue to break internal records each year, and, again, it’s more than likely that costs are probably going to go down for production. If I’m right, then can Ron keep up? Implicit in Ron staying as showrunner of Outlander is that his options become more limited because it means he can’t go all in on just one project. He’d be too busy keeping track of all his projects to carve out his full attention. Even if for a little bit of time.
- The best interest of Outlander: While I love Ron Moore (see top), this question has to be asked: Does Ron, or more importantly, we viewers, even want an Outlander where the showrunner isn’t able to give his full attention to the show because he’s splitting his duties with other projects? Is it a huge deal? Outlander Season 3 is already being considered a relative success in most critic circles in spite of RDM’s involvement in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. But Outlander does requires a lot of time, effort and attention-to-detail. Not only that, but Outlander fans (and I include myself in this too) are pretty freakin’ needy. We want it all and we want it now, and we want it our way. We demand a lot from our favorite show, and we should. So is splitting time in Ron’s best interest, and OUR best interest? I don’t know. Again, just something to consider.
I know a lot of this is circumstantial evidence. Nothing here explicitly serves as a smoking gun that he would either leave the show, or that he is even THINKING about leaving the show. That’s why these are intangibles. But something just doesn’t pass the smell test for me here. And so, here’s what I think will actually happen…
My Outlandish Theory:
Outlander WILL BE renewed before Outlander Season 4 concludes because STARZ is starved for good quality content.
Ron will want to move onto to do other projects, but STARZ will demand that he stay on Outlander as an Executive Producer—yes, to keep him involved with the project, but mainly to keep his name in the lights for their advertising purposes. The title is also usually given to those who get a project off the ground and serves as a industry style “thank you” for all their hard work.
Having said that, Ron will leave the show in the hands of his trusted colleagues: his Tall Ship Productions partner Maril Davis, as a producer, his longtime Battlestar Galactica partner Toni Graphia, as a number two, and Matt B. Roberts (who brought the Outlander series to Ron and obviously has the MOST passion for the story), as the new showrunner.
Matt as a showrunner only makes sense. He is passionate about the story, and has clearly taken on a larger producer role within the show (his script writing, location scouting, taking the reins on set, and a larger presence on the podcast/aftershow). You can tell he has a huge on-set and production presence just from his own social media posts. But, even though he has procured plenty of experience, especially in Outlander Season 3, the idea of producing Outlander would become easier for a freshly-minted showrunner like himself with fewer complications due to standing sets and having a true home in the newly expanded Wardpark Studios.
To potentially help ease Matt into a new role as “commander-in-chief,” Ron has already reestablished the writers’ room with plenty of younger and inexperienced writers who have only had Matt as part of the executive decision making process. Matt is young enough that he could take the show all the way to the end. He’d have the helping hand of a trusted confidant of RDM and veteran writer in BSG alum Toni Graphia, and still able to flex his considerable talents on future projects he is passionate about.
It’s a perfect setup: Maril helps take care of the finances and deals with SONY and STARZ as she does with aplomb right now, Toni helps run the writers’ room, and Matt takes care of everything else. Boom.
I know a potential showrunner change sounds like a lot, and if you really love Ron’s work or really love the direction of the show, it can sound scary. I would urge you not to worry about a showrunner change. It’s happened to PLENTY of shows that still saw long and prosperous runs: LOST, Daredevil, The Walking Dead, 24, The West Wing, Veep, Seinfeld, heck even Gilmore Girls.
Another facet to consider here: RDM implies that after Outlander Season 3, and into Outlander Season 4, the story takes a completely different narrative arc as a result of the change in setting. So if he were to leave after season 4, he would have been in charge of the first natural arc of Outlander, and he can make a clean break while handing off the show to Matt for the next natural narrative arc.
Plus, let’s not forget the fact that, in this scenario, Ron would still be on Outlander and remain as an executive producer. He could still watch over the project from afar, keep tabs on it while fulfilling other creative endeavors, and he would still have a say in where the story goes.
If anything, I see Ron’s career following the trajectory of another heavyweight in the showrunning/TV production world: Carlton Cuse. Cuse ran Nash Bridges, but he is most widely acclaimed as the co-showrunner of LOST with Damon Lindelof. But after his run on LOST concluded in 2010, Cuse, who was 52 at the time, dipped his toes in many projects. Since the LOST finale, he has either written on, or executive produced, the likes of Bates Motel, The Returned, Colony, The Strain, Locke and Key, and is currently showrunning Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan on Amazon, which is set to come out next year. Oh, and he even wrote a feature film called San Andreas starring the most powerful star in Hollywood right now: The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson).
This is why I think Ron ends up leaving—because he can still work on Outlander, but produce any show he wants, write any script he wants, and still leave his Outlander baby in the hands of the trusted associates he has hand picked. To me, a move like this for Ron makes sense, and MARK ME, it’s going to happen.
Do you think Ron Moore will step down as showrunner after Outlander Season 4?