Sam Esmail on What to Expect from the New ‘Battlestar Galactica’, Including an Experimental Release Strategy

The 'Mr. Robot' creator is executive producing the new take on the franchise for Peacock.

Pretty much ever since Battlestar Galactica concluded its TV run in 2009, there’s been talk of some kind of reboot or remake or continuation of the franchise. Of course the Syfy series itself was a re-imagining of the 1978 TV series of the same name, but Ronald D. Moore’s new spin on the sci-fi story succeeded in serving as an allegory for post-9/11 America. It was thrilling and political and surprising all up through the end, and trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle is a tall task – but one that Sam Esmail is excited to tackle.

The creator of Mr. Robot is executive producing a brand new take on Battlestar Galactica for Peacock, a series that he has consistently maintained will not be a reboot of what Moore originally crafted.

Details on this new Battlestar Galactica have been scant, so when Collider’s own Steve Weintraub spoke with Esmail recently for an extended, exclusive interview, he asked about the status of and what to expect from this new Battlestar Galactica. And while Esmail was tight-lipped when it came to story, he did offer some tantalizing details of his approach to this series.

Esmail revealed that before he even agreed to executive produce Battlestar, he sought out Ronald D. Moore’s blessing:

“We’re still working on the pilot. Look, it’s a big universe, it’s a big world, I want to respect the Ronald Moore Battlestar. I spoke to him before I even took on the project to make sure that it’s all kosher with him, because the last thing I want to do is step on his toes, and the one thing we both agreed on is that it won’t be a reboot of what he did. Which I think we both wanted.”

As for the current status of the Peacock show, Esmail says they’ve worked out their overall take on the series and are now drilling down on figuring out exactly what the pilot will be with writer and showrunner Mike Lesslie:

“It’s still in the early phases of trying to figure out the world via the pilot. I think we’ve got the basic construction of the type of story we want to tell, the part of mythology that we’re gonna explore – because Battlestar does have a rich mythology and again I have to give Ron a lot of credit for that – and so now we’re sort of closing in on what that pilot’s gonna look like.”

Mr. Robot famously began as an idea for an original movie that Esmail then expanded into a TV series, so he knew from the very beginning how that story would end. But Esmail explains that Battlestar Galactica is quite different in that you’re following an ensemble of characters, and while it’s still early days, he says it’s possible they’re not going to force themselves to come up with a firm ending right at the beginning:

“The expansion of [Mr. Robot] into a series feels easier than when you take a concept like Battlestar, which is inherently an ensemble cast of characters, where you’re not telling just one story but you’re kind of jumping into the lives of multiple characters and their arcs. So there’s a bigger canvas that you’re playing with. I think what we’re doing is we’re gonna work out some of the construction of where, thematically and sort of the mythology, of what type of story within that time span and within that part of the mythology we’re gonna tackle, what we’re gonna explore in this series. But I don’t know specifically – and again we’re still early – I don’t know specifically if we’re gonna work out every beat of how it’s going to end in the same way that I did with Mr. Robot. It’s very different because of how personal and singular Mr. Robot was in its story.”

When asked how many episodes they’re thinking per season, a smile lit on up Esmail’s face as he then began to explain that they’re thinking of attempting a unique release strategy for Battlestar Galactica:

“When I spoke to Peacock about it, and Mike Lesslie who’s an amazing writer – he’s the one who’s showrunning and writing the pilot – the one thing we got excited by is do we release an episode a week, [release all at once]? For me it was like let’s get in there and tell the right story and it will tell us how many episodes. We may dump three episodes in a row because it’s a three-episode-long battle sequence that needs to be dropped in a row even though they’re three signifying chapters, and maybe each chapter is switching a point of view within that battle sequence. There may be a 20-minute episode that’s the backstory of one of the characters that gets dropped right after that.”

Esmail continued, explaining that they hope to change up the form of how television gets released, but they’re not committing to anything until they let the story dictate the best way to present it to the audience:

“So we’re gonna really experiment with form on this one because Battlestar, again given the rich mythology that’s in there already, we want to hit every nook and cranny and because of the format, because of Peacock and streaming – and they’ve been such great partners with us in trying to experiment – we want to get in the writers room and let the story tell us how it wants to be released.”

To put it a little clearer, he explained this approach as more of a spider web than a straight line:

“So I can’t tell you the number of episodes, but it’s also kind of a little meaningless because I think we’re gonna look at it as sort of like a spider web where we can plot and point and say, ‘Well this isn’t chronologically after Episode 1 or Episode 2, it’s the backstory of someone, but let’s release that so audiences can check that out if they want or they can just jump into the battle sequence’. We’re really gonna experiment with form in that way, and again I think with a property like Battlestar it lends to that.”

Given that Esmail clearly adores this property and is obviously a talented showrunner, why isn’t he spearheading Battlestar himself? He explained:

“Mike is writing the pilot and he would be the showrunner, and I would just produce… I felt like for me, in terms of that specific hard sci-fi… it’s probably a level one too deep for me, and I didn’t think I’d be the perfect candidate. But I know what I like about Battlestar so that’s why I think I’d be better in more of an EP role on this show, and again Mike who’s tackling it is doing a fantastic job.”

It’s unclear if Esmail would direct any of Battlestar, but he certainly could – he helmed every episode of the second, third, and fourth seasons of Mr. Robot and the entire first season of Homecoming. But it’s also unclear right now when filming on this new Battlestar Galactica series might get underway, although Esmail says he’s hopeful they’ll start this year:

“I want to shoot later this year. Again a lot of that is up in the air given COVID and just the lay of the land in terms of where the world is and where we can even shoot it. The other thing is this is gonna require a big production just to even start up production and build the sets and start getting the VFX fine-tuned. One of the things I always attribute to the Ron Moore Battlestar is the VFX is just outstanding and pretty groundbreaking… it will be tough to get it off the ground this year, but that’s my goal. I’m pretty impatient, again I’m a fan of this show so I want to see it as soon as possible, so I’m gonna push for 2021.”

Mr. Robot concluded its run at the end of 2019 and Esmail is currently preparing to direct a pilot for ABC, so it’s not like he’s not busy. But it’s exciting to hear the unique plans he has for such a beloved sci-fi franchise, and I’m particularly intrigued by the experimental release strategy if that comes to pass. There’s a long road ahead, but as a huge fan of Moore’s series, I’d say everything I’ve heard here only makes me more excited for this new spin on the franchise.

Look for much more from our interview with Esmail on Collider soon.

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