“Instead of us getting to the moon and saying, ‘Yay, us, USA, USA, we did it! Okay, now let’s just pack our bags and go home’ — if we’d been beaten at the last minute by our arch-rival, it would’ve spurred us and … made us redouble our efforts.”
What if the Soviet Union had landed on the moon first, and America lost the space race? Would America’s reaction have been one of defeat, or of reinvigoration? If we had lost the moon, might we have redoubled our efforts to explore space, unlocking untold possibilities for humanity? That is the premise of a new show on Apple TV+ called “For All Mankind,” created by the renowned science fiction screenwriter and television producer Ronald D. Moore, who I am delighted to be speaking with today.
Ron has worked on a wide variety of TV shows over the past few decades, including “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” and “Voyager.” He is also the creator of “Outlander” and, of course, he is the co-creator of 2004’s “Battlestar Galactica.”
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation, including brief portions that were cut from the original podcast.
Pethokoukis: “I take this step for my country, for my people, and for the Marxist-Leninist way of life, knowing that today is but one small step on a journey that someday will take us all to the stars.” These words are spoken in Russian in season one, episode one of “For All Mankind” by the first human to walk on the moon in that alt-reality, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. In this reality, Leonov was the first human to walk in space and would’ve been the first human on the moon had the Soviets gotten there first.
The idea that the Soviet Union won the space race sounds like a great idea for a dystopian drama. And as an aside, Ron, I’ll say that that scene evoked a huge emotional reaction out of me, seeing the Soviet on the moon, talk about Marxist-Leninism. But it’s a very aspirational show in terms of space exploration and social progress. So what inspired you to go in that direction with the show?
Moore: This goes to the roots of how the show came about. Zack Van Amburg, an executive at Sony Studios for years, and I talked some time in the distant past about doing a show set at NASA in the Skylab era. Nothing ever happened about it. Then flash forward to when Zack took over the reins as one of the co-chairs at Apple TV+. He calls me up and says, “I still think about that show we talked about doing — the show at NASA in the ’70s. What if we did it? What if we did a Mad Men-style show at NASA in the ’70s?” I got excited about it, “Oh, that’s really cool,” because I was a big space buff.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that while you could do that as a character piece with NASA in the background, the story of the space program of those years, in my opinion, was kind of a depressing one. It was about budgets getting cut back, the horizon getting closer and closer. The big ambitions about having moon bases and more space stations and going to Mars all just kind of went away.
The show I wanted to do was the space program that we didn’t get. The one that I was promised growing up as a kid, where we did all those things, the Apollo kept going, the space race continued, and we went out into space and beyond more aggressively and with greater ambition.
So then it became, “All right, how could that have happened? Why would that have happened?” As I thought about it, it became clear, at least to me, that one of the ways it could’ve happened was if the Soviets had beaten us to the moon. Instead of us getting to the moon and saying, “Yay, us, USA, USA, we did it! Okay, now let’s just pack our bags and go home” — if we’d been beaten at the last minute by our arch-rival, it would’ve spurred us and pissed us off and made us redouble our efforts. As if to say, “Now we’re really going to the moon, and now we’re going to do all these other things because we’re so angry and so upset about getting beaten at the last minute.”
It was always sort of meant to be an aspirational show because I just wanted to play that story of what I thought the space program was going to be and what it could’ve been, and then it was a question of, well, how could we get there? That’s how the Soviets beating us came up.
To me, taking it that direction is not intuitive. Certainly, you can imagine everything else that seemed to be going wrong. In the late ’60s, there was a lot of unrest. You had Vietnam. The economy was beginning to turn. And in your alt-reality, then we lose the space race, too. It may not have been very good television, but, certainly, for me, the natural version would’ve been just been America concluding that we can really do absolutely nothing right, and sinking into more malaise and a deeper pessimism.
Yeah, absolutely, you certainly could tell that story. I just didn’t want to tell that story. In terms of science fiction, my roots go back to growing up as a fan of the original “Star Trek” series in the ’70s when it was in strict syndication. The ideals, the optimism, and the aspirational quality of that show really spoke to me and formed me in a profound way. I got fortunate enough as an adult to actually work on “Star Trek,” which was an amazing dream come true for me. But the idea of what space stood for to me as a child which I had a chance to then revisit in “For All Mankind” — that’s absolutely the direction I wanted to go.
I wasn’t really interested in doing a dystopian piece or showing how it all just could’ve gotten even more profoundly worse and bad as a result of the Soviets getting us there. I guess I have a certain optimistic, idealistic faith in us that, faced with a challenge like that, that we would’ve stepped up and not just run away and gone, “Oh my god, they beat us, and now let’s just really sit and suck our thumbs and be upset.” I have a hope that it would’ve propelled us onto greater things and would’ve pushed us out into the cosmos.
Is this a show NASA is helpful with?
They’re not. We approached them early on, because a former astronaut is one of our science consultants on the show, and we have various contacts with them. Their attitude has been, “We like it, but we can’t officially support it,” because essentially they’ve taken so much heat over the years and have spent so much time having to swat down this preposterous thing that the moon landing was faked. So now, they basically have a policy that says, “If you’re doing something historical and it involves NASA, it has to be absolutely true.” They don’t want to support anything that has a fictionalized quality or an alternate-reality quality of the space program, even though ours is a very positive view of NASA, obviously. It’s very supportive of it and tries to be as accurate as possible. So they just kind of said, “We’re with you in spirit, but we’re not going to give you the official support.” If you look closely, you’ll see that our NASA logo has been slightly altered.
Yeah, if you look at the meatball NASA logo, you’ll see that the red V goes in the other direction.
Amazing. One of the characters on this show — because I fairly recently had read a biography and especially his involvement with Disney over the years — was Wernher von Braun, who is played in the show by Colm Feore, who is president of the 12 colonies, Battlestar fans may remember. What is your take on Wernher von Braun, someone who was controversial because of the V-2 rockets and World War II and so forth?
Yeah, it’s interesting. That aspect really came from my partnership with Matt and Ben, who co-created the show with me. They had already done research on Wernher von Braun and were interested in him as a historical figure, and they got deep into Operation Paperclip. I didn’t really know that much about that before we got into the project. I had to personally struggle with my own childhood… hero-worship is too strong a word, but I certainly thought he was one of the program’s heroes and looked up to him. I tried to dismiss the “Well, you know, he was a German, and, sure, he fought for Germany, but it was a war, and these things happen.” So I hadn’t really gotten into the nitty-gritty of the evidence of what had piled up and what he probably knew.
What came to us, or what was shown to me as we went through it, is that there was no smoking gun. There was no absolute proof that he knew what was going on in the camp that was supporting his missile facility. But it’s hard to imagine he didn’t know. So what we did is we tried to play as close to the truth as we could in the show, where the photographs were real, and the evidence that was cited in the show was real. Even his response to it was drawn and inspired by things he actually said during his Army interrogations when he was asked about these things — why he was in the SS, and that, yes, he went to the rocket factory periodically, and he didn’t know. So we tried to just present what seems to be the historical fact of it and let the audience draw their own conclusions.
This is the space program we did not get. For another research project I’m doing, I stumbled across what The New York Times said in 1971 after Nixon slashed NASA’s budget for space operations. This was from a New York Times editorial:
“The budgetary myopia which forced this penny wise, pound foolish decision can only vindicate the critics who have insisted that Apollo is motivated by purely prestige considerations, not scientific goals. It is being abandoned now that the easily bored world audience has begun to yawn. All this represents an inglorious letdown for an effort whose brilliant outcome was and is one of the proudest fruits of human ingenuity and courage.”
So they had always been skeptical, and now they felt that “Aha, what we’ve thought all along.”
Is it possible to have something like the space program — where it’s not going to be obvious to people why this really matters for their everyday lives — without some sort of external force driving it? In the case of Apollo, there was the race between the US and the USSR, democracy versus communism. Without that kind of conflict, can we have a space program that spends a lot of money and does things that seem like they’re, at best, a kind of basic, theoretical science that is not helping create jobs here on Earth?
Moore: I think it’s certainly harder now than it would’ve been if we had kept going then. And this is the premise of the show: If the national effort had continued in the moment and had kept going, it could’ve been a “lost leader,” in a sense. The benefits may not have been immediately apparent. But if we had just kept going long enough, we would have gotten to where we are now, where you see business and commercial interests coming in, you start to see public/private partnerships, and you start seeing the diversification of what it means to go into space. Once you start getting into space tourism and you start getting into places where there’s money to be made in manufacturing or mining of the moon, asteroids, or other planets, you start seeing other benefits on Earth and you start to see technological change coming about on Earth because of the space program. It’ll start to build upon itself.
If that had happened, like it did in the show, I think it could’ve all played because the national effort would lead everything, then private industry gets in, and then we’re in an active, ongoing space program. Then it’s not so much about “How much money is Congress spending every year?” It doesn’t get bogged down in whose district is supporting what aspect of the space program and everybody arguing, “Why are we spending money on space when we have people who need the money here on Earth?” — which is where we are.
If you could’ve avoided that and gotten to the place where the national effort pulled along the private enterprise into space, then the national effort can recede and can become more about pure science and about true exploration. Then things like moon colonies, space stations, and literal space tourism — just getting people to see the benefits of space and the spin-off technologies —it all just becomes part of life. It’s not coming from the space program, per se. There’s access to space, there are things that are happening in space, people aspire to work in space or possibly live in space. And they know when something’s gotten from space.
It’s like, we could get to that future, but the path that we took was just so complicated because we did step back at the moment of victory, and it’s made it much harder to now rekindle that interest. Because how can you top Neil Armstrong? The moment of Apollo getting to the moon was such an amazing accomplishment. It was the peak. Then, what, the Space Shuttle is supposed to top that? The International Space Station is supposed to top that? They can’t, whereas if we had kept a presence on the moon, if we had continued going in the ’70s…
And I know there are a lot of political reasons why we couldn’t. But just to posit it: If we had, then eventually now you’re blazing a trail for private interests to get more involved because there’s an ongoing space program. It’s not just these one-off things that are so expensive and so difficult and have so much riding on each and every launch.
I think we can get to that place. It’s just we’ve made it harder for ourselves, and now we’re getting to the place where we’re just trying to get back to the moon. It’s so ironic, you know?
Right. In the show, one of the lead characters, astronaut Ed Baldwin, portrayed by Joel Kinnaman, criticizes NASA for being too risk-averse. Is that just a purely in-show criticism? Or is that a real-world criticism when we think about the things that have either gone wrong or not really been as spectacular as maybe many of us had hoped decades ago?
I think it’s a little bit of both. In the show’s context, I felt like that’s where the characters would go. They would be looking for reasons why they got beat, and it was like, “Well, this is why we got beat: We got too risk-averse after the Apollo 1 fire. It made us too cautious, and we lost that spirit. That’s the reason.”
In real-world terms, I think there is some validity to that. I think that the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger accident, and the Columbia accident were magnified to the point in the public imagination that then everything at NASA became about safety. I’m not saying that we should risk astronaut lives willy-nilly. That’s not the point at all. But these are inherently dangerous things that we’re attempting. We’ve gotten to the point with space travel where we’re so concerned about that aspect that it feels like they’re really unwilling to take much risk at all.
And it’s an inherently dangerous undertaking. So then you’re sort of saying, “Well, we’re going to do very, very little of it because we have to be so, so, safe in every single possible way because we’re so deathly afraid of losing somebody.” The truth is it was predicted that we were going to lose more than one orbiter when the Space Shuttle program was first posited. So it wasn’t a shock on a certain level that it happened. It’s an inherently dangerous business. But, as a result of what happened, the way it was portrayed, and the way we dealt with it, the American public just became like, “God, we just cannot risk their lives anymore.” That works against the idea of, “You have to boldly go. You got to be bold. You got to take the risk.”
Do you personally care about a space program that isn’t just factories in space but also one that really pursues manned exploration beyond the moon, beyond Mars — that someday there’ll be a Discovery 1, like in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” headed toward Jupiter and there’ll be humans aboard that? Is that something you care about, or something you think we should do?
I do care about that. I subscribe to that aspect of space travel. You can say that’s because I grew up with science fiction and the early Apollo and all that, and that’s all absolutely true. I have that gene that hears that call that wants to fly, that wants to look up at the night sky and say, “I wonder what that glowing point of light is. I want to go see what’s there.” There is a pull that speaks to me very deeply about wanting to go out there, explore, and go find those things. I feel like that taps into a basic human thing that’s always been with us. Why do we go across the ocean? Why do we climb the mountain? All these things are clichés that we talk about when we compare it to space travel, but they’re clichés for a reason because it does speak to that same basic human impulse.
There’s a reason why in “2001,” the movie, when the ape-man throws the bone up in the air, it becomes a spaceship: Because it is a tool to an idea, and once you invented tools, you want to go somewhere. The tools should take you to something. You start to reach out and explore. So, for me, manned space flight is a very important thing. I really get excited about the idea of people going to Mars, going to Saturn, going out somehow beyond the solar system, going into deep space. It’s like there’s a huge universe out there, and we’re just sitting here tooling around the same big ball of mud for millennia.
When do you think we’re going to see season two?
Moore: It should be sometime after the new year. Apple hasn’t given us an air date yet, but it’ll probably be sometime after the new year. I know that just because I know how long post-production’s going to take, and we just came back and picked up the last two episodes of season two literally a couple of weeks ago. We came back in under the quarantine protocols, shot the last two episodes, and now we’re in post-production on them. That’s going to take weeks — a couple of months — just to get the episodes ready, so they can’t be on the air before the new year.
There is a season two trailer out, which suggests the space race continues, but so does the Cold War. We see more of a militarization of space. Without going into spoilers, can you just give me a little bit of what your thinking is when you were contemplating what a second season might look like?
Yeah, we mapped out a big journey at the beginning of the show of what each season was going to be like. The second season did feel like, okay, now we’re going to jump 10 years roughly and get into the ’80s. Now, Reagan is president, and the Cold War has moved into space. So the Soviets and the Americans have expanded their lunar bases, and then you start getting into an era when Reagan and the Soviet Union were going face-to-face down on Earth. Well, wouldn’t they also go face-to-face up in space as well? We wanted to play that and see how our alternate history would treat that. There’s some interactivity between the events that happen on Earth and how they affect what happens on the moon and in low Earth orbit, and vice versa.
You see the Cold War competition between the superpowers get really intense and get hot. Yes, it starts to have more of a military aspect, as Reagan brings in his philosophy and the Soviets become more aggressive because they have now had an enormous victory in the Cold War —getting to the moon first — and an increase in their prestige around the world. They are getting more allies, the Warsaw powers are more stable, and we just have a different kind of Communist threat on earth. It just felt like it’d be really interesting to now see, well, how would this play out on the moon? How does that play out in terms of the space race?
You have Reagan narrate that trailer. A lot of space historians consider him a very pro-space president, given, for instance, the race to the Space Shuttle program. In his 1984 State of the Union Address, he talked about a permanent human presence in space, as some other subsequent presidents have. And, of course, in his speech after the Challenger disaster, he said, “Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain.”
Is that the Reagan we’re going to get? Are we going to get the utopian, “We can start the world over,” “If aliens invade, all the nations will pull together” (which is something he actually said)… Is that the Reagan we’re getting?
I think you’re going to see aspects of that Reagan, yeah. It’s really interesting for me, as a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat who was not a fan of Ronald Reagan in my college years. Now, this version of history does play to a lot of his strengths. We are having Reagan listen to the better angels of his nature, as it were. He was a big supporter of the space program, so there is that aspect of it. He was a straight-up cold warrior in a lot of ways — and so was Jack Kennedy, and so were a lot of people. But also, the same Ronald Reagan that could figure out how to make peace with Gorbachev is also a part of our show.
Yeah, again, there’s that dreamy, utopian, “Hey, Mikhail, let’s get rid of all nuclear weapons.”
It’s what sometimes gets lost as people focus on, again, the cold warrior aspect. So, no, I’m super looking forward to season two. That sounds phenomenal.
One of the ideas I write a lot about — which is one of the reasons I was so excited to have you on — is this idea that America is no longer the future-oriented, techno-optimistic nation that it used to be, with the retreat from space perhaps being one bit of evidence. But there’s also a lot of other stuff — what we spend on infrastructure to ensure our GDP, science investment, underfunding entitlements, not doing much on climate change, electing a president whose campaign is based on all forms of nostalgia. So a lot of those things, to me, make it seem like we are not a future-oriented country, and you can trace a lot of these trends back to around 1970 or so. I think the culture is part of it, so it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing.
Back in the 1960s — you mentioned ‘Star Trek,’ which you were a big fan of, even before you later became a writer for ‘The Next Generation’ and some of the other incarnations. And we also had shows like ‘The Jetsons,’ and even ‘2001’ was also, I think, a techno-optimistic film.
But then in the ’70s, we started getting a lot of pessimism. You got all those Charlton Heston movies, like ‘Soylent Green’ and ‘Omega Man.’ And then today, you see America’s vision of the future, and it really seems just to be dystopian scenarios: zombies, plagues, climate disasters, and oligarchical societies run by the super-rich surveillance states.
Neal Stephenson, the sci-fi author, has publicly lamented this, and here’s a quote from him: “No one will be inspired to build the next great space vessel or find a way to completely end dependence on fossil fuels when all our stories about the future promise a shattered world.” Do you think our culture produces too many dystopian stories, and do you think it matters?
Moore: I think I agree with both questions. I think we do have too many dystopian future worlds, and I think it does matter. It’s a little easier to write a dystopian piece, in all honesty. It’s easier to make things really crappy and show people at their worst. You know, “What if this disaster had happened and all the people are dead except for…” It’s really easy to go to those places, because it’s a natural place of drama.
It’s harder to write “Star Trek,” which is why there’s really no other competitor for ‘Star Trek in terms of what we’re talking about. Trek stands alone in its optimistic idea of the future, at least in terms of pop culture science fiction on film and television. There’s really nothing else, and Trek kind of owns that space. Not only did it say, “Here’s an optimistic vision of the future,” but it’s a future that probably almost everybody now buys into. If you ask people what they hope the future’s going to look like, they’re probably going to describe a future that’s very much like Star Trek: a world that conquers disease, poverty, and racial tension; nations no longer go to war with each other; and we go out into the galaxy in peace and for freedom, representing democratic values. That’s the dream, and that’s what Trek is all about. It’s harder to find drama in that situation. It’s harder to figure out what the conflict is. You have to work a little bit more. So it’s a little easier just as a writer to draw up the dystopian scenario.
I think that is a really good point that Stephenson made in that quote, — if that’s the whole diet, then no one is going to be inspired to do things. “Star Trek” inspired generations of people. When I was working at “Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine,” people were constantly coming to us who worked at NASA or worked in Silicon Valley. They had gotten into those professions because they were inspired by “Star Trek,” because they either wanted to be astronauts or they wanted to be engineers or wanted to make a transporter. They just were so inspired and excited by the ideas that they saw in that vision of the future that they literally dedicated themselves to doing it.
We need to provide that for people. We need to give people that kind of hope and that kind of inspiration if we want them to achieve those things because I think culture is very powerful. It does influence how we think and how we behave and what we achieve.
Is there an appetite for that kind of content? To me, on TV, I’m not sure there’s anything more optimistic than the opening credit sequence of “For All Mankind.” With the music and the graphics, you think, “Okay, good stuff’s happened. We’re headed toward the future.” But, again, to some degree, the market is saying, “We want zombies.” Now, probably, we’re going to get even more outbreak and pandemic kinds of science fiction. But is there an appetite for optimism out there from Hollywood or Netflix?
I think there is, and sometimes the business is slow to pick up on what there’s a market for and what kind of appetite there is. A classic example is during the Depression, where suddenly everyone just wanted to go to the movies and watch something optimistic and carefree and forget about their troubles, and then Hollywood serves that appetite. You just need one of these things — some optimistic piece — to catch people’s attention, and then suddenly you’re going to be inundated with 50 of them.
Right now, it’s just that shows like “Walking Dead.” Nothing against Walking Dead, but Walking Dead and shows like that have gotten so much viewership that everybody just piles on. Hollywood is just very imitative, and when they see success over there, they just keep shoveling more and more and more of that out to the audience because the audience is eating it up. But, eventually, you get to a saturation point, and then it’s like, “Enough already. I don’t want to watch another zombie piece.” Then somebody offers you something completely different, and the audience will flood over there.
What gives me hope is shows like “Schitt’s Creek” — a strange example to bring up right now — which I’ve just started recently getting into because I was like, “What’s all the hoopla about?” I’ve been watching it. It’s a show that has a tremendous amount of heart to it, and it is an optimistic show. It is a show about love, in a lot of ways, and people go to it and people want that. You can down a list. There’s a lot of great shows on television that are not science fiction pieces that are about heart and are about love and are about very positive human values. There is an audience for that.
So I do believe that science fiction can tap into that audience. It might be a tough sell in Hollywood at the moment, because everybody says, “Yeah, but people want more zombies.” Again, it’ll just take one of those shows or features to take off where suddenly everybody wants in on it.
Yeah. I think it’d be very easy to look at Battlestar Galactica and say, “Oh, that’s a dystopian show. How could you be any more dystopian? Most humans are dead, and not just one world but a dozen worlds are basically destroyed.” But that, to me, is not a dystopian show because they don’t give up. They decide that they’re going to save our civilization, we’re going to go somewhere else, and we’re going to start it all over again. Do you consider that a dystopian show?
I never did. People said that to me all the time, “It’s such a dark show.” Well, dark things do happen in the show. Terrible things happen in the show. But I thought it was a very idealistic show. There are people struggling and, like you said, they never gave up. They were trapped in the night, and they were always looking for the light. That was why I felt at the end they had to have a happy ending. There were people that were wondering if the show was going to blow everything up at the end and everyone was going to die some horrible death. I was like, “No, that’s not what this show is about.”
There’s one question I know I have to ask, because it’s come up when I’ve had this conversation with people. The tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who’s a science fiction fan, has said, “I’m a capitalist. ‘Star Wars’ is the capitalist show. ‘Star Trek’ is the communist one. There’s no money in ‘Star Trek,’ because you have the transporter machine that can make anything you need. The whole plot of ‘Star Wars’ starts with Han Solo having his debt that he owed, so the plot of ‘Star Wars’ is driven by money.” Do you agree with this characterization — that ‘Star Trek’ is the communist show?
Moore: He’s… not wrong. But I can tell you that those of us who worked at “Star Trek” completely dismissed that aspect of the show. Even those of us in the writer’s room would go, “What does this mean, there’s no money? How does this work? How does any of this function without money?”
In the original series, Kirk would say things like, “Scotty, I’m docking your pay for the next month,” and they had credits and they had bar tabs. There was some currency. There was some way that people were compensated for things, and “mining rights” meant something. It was only in the later incarnations when Gene, who I only worked with briefly when I came aboard. Gene had kind of bought into his own press release that he was a visionary, and he just decided that in the 24th century, there was no money and people “work to better ourselves,” I think Picard says at one point.
All of us on the show just went, “I don’t know what that means, so let’s just ignore it as best we can.” In fact, we even made fun of it once. In “Deep Space Nine,” there was an episode called “In the Cards.” There’s a conversation between Jake and Nog. Jake says, “You need to get some latinum because we humans don’t have any money.” Nog’s like, “Yeah, how does that work?” “We work to better ourselves,” says Jake. And Nog says, “Yeah, what does that mean exactly?” Jake pauses and he just looks at him, he says, “It means we don’t have money.” It’s the only explanation.
Apparently, I think NBC is going to try to… not remake “Battlestar Galactica,” but create a new story within the mythology. I don’t know if that means a reimagining, or whatever. But you really couldn’t remake the show in anything that looked like the version you did. There’s so much 9/11, early 2000s, and Iraq War really infused in the DNA of that show. It would have to be a lot different today, right?
Yeah, and I’ve heard that, too, and they reached out to me and gave me a heads-up ahead of time. They said, “Yeah, we’re not rebooting it or reimagining it. It’s going to be some story that takes place within the mythology of what you established.” Okay, whatever that means, it’s fine.
But our show was intentionally supposed to be a show of that moment. It did speak to things that were happening in the world then: 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, liberty versus security. There were a lot of very current things that we were dealing with in the show. So I think if you’re going to do any version of “Battlestar Galactica” now, it should speak to now. It should not try to go back. You’d have to have a different kind of show.
Just to say, I don’t have a problem with them doing it. I didn’t create the show. Glen Larson created the original Battlestar, and then I came in and gave my spin on it. So I’m not going to be the guy that says, “You can’t touch mine even though I touched his.” So whatever they want to do, they’re perfectly welcome to give it a try.
I think you and I are about the same age, and I’m very familiar with the original Battlestar, which came on the air when there was an absolute desert of that kind of content on television. There wasn’t much. You basically had to watch old “Star Trek” episodes from the ’60s. There just wasn’t a lot. So something like the original Battlestar Galactica, with its movie production values, was pretty amazing.
Oh, it was huge. “Space: 1999” was the only other thing that was on there in syndication. But I remember when I used to always look forward to the TV Guide season preview edition that would come out every year. And “Battlestar Galactica” was on the cover, and that’s how I learned about it. It was very exciting. You’re coming right off “Star Wars,” and it seemed to presage a renaissance of science fiction’s return to television in a big way. It had state-of-the-art visual effects and the whole thing.
It was a bit of a shock when it turned out to just be “Battlestar Galactica.” There were good things in the show, but it was not what you were hoping or what I was hoping it was going to be with respect to a science-fiction renaissance.
That said, if you would’ve looked at all my notebooks from school at that age, you would’ve seen nothing but me drawing Vipers over all of them. Different 3D versions of Vipers. Obviously, they held up.
Oh, yeah. The designs were great. The Galactica itself was a great design. The Vipers were a great design. There was a lot of good design work in it. The Cylon Raiders didn’t photograph very well — they were just kind of weird saucers with little ridges on them that just didn’t look good on camera. But there was a lot of good stuff in that show.
We’ve talked about the lack of optimist films, but there are some. “The Martian” is an optimistic film, and so is “Gravity,” even. And I would consider “Interstellar” a fundamentally optimistic film. So it can be done, right? It can be done. Hopefully, “For All Mankind” will be part of that. Is that something you would want to do more of, whatever your next projects might be like?
You never know. I’m always drawn to what I’m interested in at the moment. I do have a very soft spot in my heart for science fiction, and I would like to do another optimistic science fiction piece. I would like to do something about the future where things did work out, it’s a good future, we solved a lot of problems, and now go tell an adventure story or tell some big scary epic in that setting. I am drawn to that as a writer to do it. So, yes, I would like to go there.
The Nobel laureate economist Edmund Phelps has a great book, “Mass Flourishing.” But his concern is that we are not creating generations of kids with a creative, venturesome spirit — that when he was young, all the kids read Jack London and Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle and now we’re missing that. If you want an optimistic, aspirational future, you need to have people who have those characteristics, and obviously the culture matters here.
Do you have any ideas on how to make a society more like that in any way other than trying to create fiction that generates those kinds of feelings?
Moore: I think the biggest thing is what we give to our children. I think, as parents, that’s our biggest contribution to this question. Show them those optimistic stories. Show them those great adventure tales. The things that you loved as a kid that are meaningful to you, that inspired you, that gave you a thrill and a chill, share those with your kids.
I was always astonished when my kids were young. They’re college age now, but when my kids were little, there were other parents in our group that would not show them certain of those things because, “Oh, they’re old, they’re black and white,” or, “They’re not going to want to read this kind of book because they want something of today.” I think that’s all a load of crap. I think that’s just stupid. Kids love good stories, and kids want to be inspired, and kids want to look up to things, and kids want to go on adventures and be starry-eyed. That’s when their hopes and their dreams are at their purest.
I think the biggest thing we can do as a society is to inspire our children. At the end of the day, we’ll grow up and the culture changes. Those of us who work in entertainment can do certain things, and, yes, I think we should try to produce those things as best we can. But nothing is as powerful as the culture that we personally, as parents, pass down to our children in terms of shows that we’ve showed to them, the films we take them to, the games we give them to play, and the stories that we just share with them. Which is not to say that they can’t watch “Walking Dead” when they get to a certain age. But it’s giving them a bigger diet than that and showing them something that’ll make them go, “Wow, oh my god.”
I remember when my son got to first grade, and he wanted to see “Star Wars” because all the other kids were running around the playground playing Luke Skywalker. He said, “I want to see ‘Star Wars,’” and I said no, I said, “You got to wait. ‘Star Wars’ is a special series, and you have to be a little bit older to understand it.” Because I knew that if you go watch “Star Wars” in first grade, it’s just a lot of noise and running around and things. You got to understand: What’s an empire? What’s a rebellion? What are some of these concepts that sound really simple but are somewhat complex?
So I made him wait until he was eight years old. I said, “On your eighth birthday, I’ll show you ‘Star Wars.’” And on his eighth birthday, I showed him the original “Star Wars.” Then I said, “And on your ninth birthday, I’ll show you ‘Empire Strikes Back.’” And then I showed him every movie in the Star Wars original canon on his birthday, and it made him a fanatic to this day. He’s the biggest Star Wars fan you could possibly imagine. But it also just lit that little spark of heroism, of romance, and of grand adventure that he carries around with him to this day. I think, as parents, you can give that to your children, and you can change the world if you do it.
That’s outstanding parenting. And finally, what sort of president does America need right now: a Gaius Baltar, a William Adama, or a Laura Roslin?
Oh, Laura Roslin, no question.
So say we all.
Laura is the one we need. So say we all.
My guest today has been Ronald D. Moore. Ron, thanks for coming on the podcast.
Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
This article first appeared on AEIdeas, a publication of the American Enterprise Institute.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.
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