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Televisionary Exclusive: "Virtuality" Writer Michael Taylor Responds to Kevin Reilly's TCA Comments

At yesterday's Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour press Q&A, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly didn't directly mention drama pilot Virtuality, from Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor, by name but he did speak about the network's commitment to airing programs that are "bold" with a "point of view."

By its very definition, Virtuality, about the crew of interstellar vessel Phaeton who find escape from their mundane existence in virtual reality (where they are seemingly attacked by a glitch in the system), would seem to perfectly fit that description.

The two-hour pilot, directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) and produced by Universal Media Studios, stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, James D'Arcy, Sienna Guillory, Clea DuVall, Kerry Bishe, Joy Bryant, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Erik Jensen, Gene Farber, Omar Metwally, Jimmi Simpson, and Richie Coster.

After the press Q&A, James Hibberd of Hollywood Reporter's The Live Feed (along with several other reporters "in the huddle") asked Reilly for an update on the project. According to Hibberd, "Ron Moore's Virtuality pilot is being recut, possibly from two hours to one" and he quoted Reilly as saying, "It could air as-is and a certain segment of the audience would flip for it. But it's a little dense."

I contacted Virtuality co-writer Michael Taylor to confirm whether or not the pilot was in fact being recut and he confirmed that, yes, director Peter Berg is working on a one-hour version of the pilot for FOX executives to take a look at.

Additionally, he gave me the following exclusive statement about the status of Virtuality and responded to Reilly's comments about the "dense" quality of the produced pilot:

"Ron and I think the show is great as is. A lot of people definitely would dig it, and not just the Battlestar audience; this could have an even wider appeal, and as a network show it should. And we've also already cut it down quite a bit from its original two-hour run time to satisfy network concerns about pace and to prune some storylines.

But at the same time, Reilly's right about it being a little dense. It's dense in the same way Battlestar was/is, in that it introduces a bunch of complex, intriguing characters, along with a compelling sci-fi scenario with several layers to it. In other words, it's dense in the way good science fiction often is. The pilot puts a bunch of balls in the air but I think it does a great job of juggling those balls and setting up the scenario up in a way that makes it easy for the audience to understand without having to be hit over the heads with a lot of heavy-handed exposition. That said, it's definitely challenging material, the kind of story you need and want to pay attention to, especially in the pilot. But to us that's what made it so much fun to create, and what will ultimately pay off in series, by allowing us to tell exciting layered stories in the mold of shows like Lost (and Battlestar, of course).

Pete Berg is confident he can recut the show into a one-hour format, and he certainly has the chops to do it, as well as the experience (Friday Night Lights) of creating network shows that are both emotionally compelling and accessible. So Ron and I are taking a hands-off approach and letting him do his thing. Hopefully, Kevin Reilly and the other execs at Fox will like what he comes up with and we can look forward to seeing this show on the air."

I'm curious to know what you all think: Is this a further sign that complex, character-driven serialized storytelling is on the wane at the broadcast networks?

Stay tuned.


Anonymous said…
I'd really like to see the original two hour version of this pilot but hope that they at least air the one hour version. I like what Michael Taylor said about science fiction being "dense in the way good science fiction often is" and completely agree!
Anonymous said…
This was one of the few pilots that I thought sounded good and I can't believe that Fox is screwing around with it after all of this time. I want to see the show now and wish that they would put this on instead of shit like Till Death. Why bother developing high quality sci fi shows if all they are going to do is dump it on Friday or throw it away? Probably should have been on Sci FI any way.
R.A. Porter said…
@Captain Jack, SciFi doesn't have space for it on their schedule. Now, if it had been fake ghostbusters busting fake ghosts, or if it had been midgets wrestling, the fine folks at SciFi would have rolled out the red carpet.
Anonymous said…
I find this really troubling as it does point to the networks stepping back from developing serialized dramas. If Lost were being piloted today I think that ABC would probably pass and that's a scary thing to think about. Fox has had a mixed bag with dramas over the years and you only need to look at Dollhouse to see why they get scared by serialized stuff. One more sign why cable is where innovative creators need to be.
Anonymous said…
@R.A. Porter Why doesn't Sci Fi have room on the schedule? They don't really have much scripted stuff now that SGA is done, BSG is ending, and Caprica won't air until 2010. Their line-up is mostly reality junk like GH and stuff. They should be lucky to have Virtuality.
Anonymous said…
Solution: if Fox doesn't want a show as complex as this, move it to FX so intelligent people who want "dense" shows can watch it in peace.
R.A. Porter said…
@Captain Jack, they don't have room on their schedule because they don't like to air science fiction.
Anonymous said…
Oh, absolutely. The X-Files was the last truly great thing that Fox left alone simply because it was so successful under Chris Carter's vision. Millennium was "too dark" and Fox dumbed it down to make it more like the X-Files and more melodramatic under idiots Morgan and Wong.

Now Fox is again ruining a fine piece of work by two great writes from my favorite shows, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Another favorite, Seinfeld, would have never been allowed on this network; they'd have made it into "That '70s Show" or some obvious crap.

"24" is such a load of garbage with its formulaic story-telling, justification of right wing politics, and incredibly forced, dull drama, and dramatically unrealistic character twists. I refused to watch much beyond Season 1!

If the network has trouble with the pilot, it's sure to have trouble with any future installment. It will keep pressuring the show to dumb itself down or simply cancel it.

In a way, I'm glad. Now Ron can concentrate on "Caprica" and deal with a network that actually respects his vision, including his politically insightful content, which might lead Americans to realize how wrong Israel has been over the last 60 years and that terrorism is a complex issue and often results from brutalizing occupation -- whether by Vichy France, America in Iraq or Vietnam, or Israel.

Fox is for gutless garbage nowadays.
Anonymous said…
I'm worried. I don't exactly understand which parts they want to cut out. I just hope they don't get rid of the reality show within the show as I loved these scenes in which the characters sit in the confessional. It created some sort of intimacy between me and them, when I read the script.

And honestly I dig the darkness, so I'd be really happy if they moved it to FX, so that it can be the way it was intended to be. But that probably won't happen. :(
Anonymous said…
Gutless garbage also includes anything by J.J. Abrams such as the dramatically unrealistic "Lost" that's filled with convenient moments of light-heartedness and sensationalism and evil parents. Also included is the shameless "Fringe" -- a blatant but unsutble and gruesome rip-off of the lamest aspects of The X-Files and adherence to more of Abrams' formula. Fox has more respect for the guys who brought us The Transformers film and, one of the worst shows of all time, Alias, rather than trust Moore and Taylor.

Anonymous said…
@mulfeld: I was with you until you started trashing LOST, ALIAS, and FRINGE. I think you're alone in that regard.
Anonymous said…
Like others, I'm intrigued by the possibilites of this series and a little concerned about Fox's view of our intelligence . . . That aside, thanks Jace, for the update. I've been wondering about Virtuality.
Anonymous said…
If it helps, adam, I was a bigger fan of "Lost" in earlier years and I still enjoy it somewhat and think much of the cast and acting is good and do respect Lindeloff and Cuse, even if I feel jerked around by the Season 4 developments. For example, and I haven't looked at any spoilers for the show ever, but it's obvious all the people that died in Season 4 like the Rousseau, Alex, Jin, and Claire aren't really dead because their deaths were sudden and not milked the way the show usually does every little dramatic moment.

It's still way better than most TV shows, especially when compared to the '80s or much of the '90s, but I get pissed that these writes make millions, while Ira Steven Behr is thrown to the curb for trying to write politically relevant and dynamic stuff.

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