At the press event following Battlestar Galactica's reunion at Comic-Con, executive producers David Eick and Ron Moore talked about the show, from its pitch to its current legacy. And they had a little advice about what people writing for binge-watching could learn from the traditional TV model.
During the panel, it was mentioned that the original plan for the show was to go out and explore the rest of the fleet a lot more than the show actually ended up doing. "Well, part of the pitch was, 'Here's this whole civilian fleet,' and TV was much more episodic than it is now," said Moore. "So part of the way to sell the network on what we were doing was, 'Don't worry, there will be all of these individual stories. This week we'll go to the school ship, then we'll have a murder mystery over there.' We kind of thought that the fleet gave you an opportunity to bounce around and do different stories, while you explored the mythology."
What changed the plan was season one's "Bastille Day", which took place on a prison ship; it turned out that travelling to this new ship was too expensive. Moore said that forced the action back on board the Galactica and made them do a lot more mythology. "And in some ways it shortened the length of the show, because if we'd had the opportunity to bounce around, we probably could have teased it out for a few more years," said Moore of the effect that choice had. "Because you would have had the chance to do other things, but the result was it was all tightly focused on the Battlestar, and that storyline just caught fire."
"We also needed a way to sell the show, and because we didn't know what was going to happen with the characters, it was kind of a no-brainer to go, 'Naturally there are various ships, and they will go to the zoo, and they will go to, you know, the deli,'" said Eick.
"You just sell it that way. It won't be about this military shit," added Moore.
Battlestar Galactica evolved over time from a more episodic model to a serialised one. These days there are so many shows that release all their episodes at once, with serialised storytelling as the goal. Eick thinks there's a lot of value in the hybrid model that the regular TV schedule requires, rather than the streaming one. Of early Galactica, he said, "Every episode you had to be mindful of what are they going to understand, what are they going to know. I think that helped kind of bulletproof the show in that first season."
It forced them to be practical, continued Eick. "Because we couldn't get that indulgent, we couldn't stroke ourselves about this character is having a nervous breakdown because her stepfather raped her. 'No, we need ammo. How do we get gasoline? What about the water?'"
That meant, said Eick, that "by the fourth season when we were as serialised as we want to be, we had earned it, rather than being given it. I wonder if some early young shows rely so much on serialisation and the comfort of that, that they don't build some of that foundational structure that we're talking about, that a non-serialised show forces you to do."
Moore picked up on that thread of the danger of streaming shows, saying of season one, "I remember you said that a lot of the stories we've taken, there's been a lot of character stuff and a lot of mythology. We need the Big Mac. We need that one episode that's all about, 'Let's kick some arse and blow something up.' Which is very insightful; if you step back and you look at the flow of season one, we did need the Big Mac at about that point to give the audience something else to hold onto."
In contrast to the ups and downs, Moore said, "The danger of serialisation is that you almost get into a monotone, where they all have the same beat and pace and it's all one long thing — and when you can kind of do this interesting mixture of episodic and serialisation, you can kind of take the audience on a more interesting journey."
It's a smart thing to note and absolutely one of the most common criticisms of streaming shows: That they hit a point where they seem to be filling time and don't know how to modulate the story. It's the kind of statement that makes you wish these guys were doing more Battlestar Galactica.
Of that possibility, Eick said, "I've never been in any conversation about that subject where I felt like there was a clear agenda." He said Caprica came from an outside pitch that the studio passed to them, and they'd need something like that to do another show. "We've got other day jobs now, so we don't sit around thinking about spinoffs for Battlestar. Until someone comes up and says, 'It's Baltar in the civil war,' it's hard to know what you would do and why you would do it."