I hope this isn't too long, but it's written with a calm sense of detached analysis:
I've developed my own set of points on "what went wrong with BSG", or "how it went wrong", which for some time I narrowed down to four points:
- Ron has a very loose and indulgent writing style, as a direction reaction to how he felt constrained under Berman and Braga.
- Related to point 1, Ron has a very loose command style in the writers' room. From what we can glean, he just kept haphazardly incorporating new ideas from other writers...who assumed Ron wouldn't use their suggestions for new subplots unless he had figured out how to incorporate them. The result was a too many cooks in the kitchen situation. Ron didn't have restraint.
- Literally half the core writing staff left between seasons 2 and 3. One of these days I hope Toni Graphia, Carla Robinson, and Jeff Vlaming write tell-all books about their experience on the show and why they left. Who would voluntarily leave what was being hailed as "the best scifi show of the past 20 years" at its height? Who would voluntarily leave? And Ron downplayed that they even left.
- Admittedly, there was network meddling to make Season 3 a season of standalones and drop the running plotlines -- Farscape Season 4 all over again -- the difference was that Farscape could bounce back in the finale miniseries because they actually planned out their storyarcs; Ron was self-admittedly just making it up as he went along.....so they couldn't just coast along on the momentum they had from season 2 anymore. That, and Ron wasn't honest that this was happening.
But I've mentioned all of this before.
What really struck me was this interview Ron recently gave in Wired.com about his days on Star Trek: The Next Generation:
Looking back now on our workload, I just shake my head at our pace. Star Trek: The Next Generation was my first series, so I didn’t know anything about that when I started. I just assumed it was normal to make 26 episodes a year on a seven-day shooting schedule. Sometimes we’d do a show in six days, and it wasn’t uncommon for there to be days on the set where we shot nine or 10 pages. That was just our routine, but now I look back on it with horror. Doing that now would make me nauseous, especially since shooting for eight days is the norm out there today.
Thirteen episodes is a good comfortable number now. It was difficult doing 22 episodes of Battlestar Galactica. In fact, it was a marathon. I don’t know how in the hell we did 26 a year for The Next Generation. I do remember being exhausted at the end of every season, when we got two weeks off, which we had to beg Rick Berman for. The writers were always the first back in, and it was nonstop.
In terms of [my favorite] episodes I worked on, “Tapestry” stands out as one that is very personal to me, because it had a lot of commonalities with my life. It talked about how we adults beat ourselves up over the many mistakes we made when we were younger, because we think they’re horrible transgressions. But with perspective, we see that those past mistakes are what made our present lives possible, and grow from it. “Tapestry” was really important to me. I loved that episode.
And then of course “All Good Things….” The final episode turned out beautifully, and it had no right to! [Laughs] Brannon Braga and I didn’t write it until the end, because we were really busy slaving away for a full year on the film Star Trek: Generations, trying to make that thing work. We didn’t write “All Good Things…” until a month before it was shot, and only for a couple of weeks. We just banged it out, and it worked 10 times better than the movie did! [Laughs] It’s such a wonderful end to the series. It just flowed. We didn’t have time to second-guess ourselves. We didn’t have time to go around and around about what it could be. It had to be good, and we had to get it right, and we did.
Now, consider Ron's past, what led to Star Trek TNG:
Moore attended Cornell University through the US Navy's Reserve Officer Training Corps program, intending to be commissioned as an officer in the Navy upon graduation, with his ultimate ambition to pilot the F-14 Tomcat. When he was later medically disqualified from flying, that career path was no longer possible.
However, while at Cornell, Moore had enjoyed "writing on the side", as he put it, and joined a number of campus literary societies. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, Moore decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a writer. His career was not doing well, but he began dating a woman who worked on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In 1989, Moore, an avid fan of the original Star Trek, convinced her to take him on a tour of the lot. He had written a script for the show, which the producers liked enough to actually film. It became "The Bonding", and Moore was soon hired as a staff writer.
That was from Memory Alpha, but here's the thing: other websites like IMDB actually point out that Ron dropped out of Cornell in his senior year. Which was roughly 1986ish. Nothing wrong with being obsessed with being an F-14 pilot a la Topgun and that his love for fighter pilots was central to the BSG reboot; I mean he's open about that, that's part of who he is. He's also said that Starbuck's backstory mirrors his own: she was going to play pro-sports but a knee injury prevented her from doing that, so in ROTC she switched to flying Vipers and found she was very good at it. Ron's backstory is kind of the reverse: went ROTC hoping to fly jets but was physically disqualified, but while in college dabbled in political science studies and in writing, found he greatly enjoyed it, and indulged this new path.
-->but consider just how one-in-a-million Ron's success story is: literally a fan-script he forced in on a set tour in 1988 which got accepted.
Imagine just how down in the dumps Ron must have been, I mean mentally, in that two to three year gap between Cornell and getting that fan script accepted. Moreover....fan scripts to your favorite TV show *are not* a stable career choice. It wasn't just that he liked TV writing, he was a big Star Trek fan. Of course, who wouldn't try their hand at a fan script in the same situation, if you're in LA trying to break into writing, do what you feel comfortable with. But while "Tapestry" has universal appeal about the regret over the "road not taken", I get the feeling Ron kind of beats himself up over how close he came to just flunking out of life post-Cornell but pre-Trek, and that it was kind of luck that he got into Trek. But that's random theorizing and not really the basis of what I'm saying.
Consider how Ron approached the TNG finale and the BSG finale:
One of the most shocking things to me about the BSG finale, how it failed to tie together plot threads or other things that felt "rushed"....was that in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Ron later readily admitted that his attention was divided THREE WAYS at the time, between writing on the BSG finale, writing/developing the pilot for his "Virtuality" show (which didn't take off), and writing/developing the pilot for "Caprica" (which also didn't take off).
His attention was divided three ways and each suffered. He openly said that in the end, they came so far down to the wire after he was working on Virtuality and Caprica that he just RACED OFF the BSG ending.
But why feel so confident in that? So confident that he loves it and openly, confidently admits he wrote the BSG finale at the last minute?
In many ways, this is how Ron approached the entire series, if you think about it: putting things off until the last minute, or biting off far more than he could chew with zero concept of the budgetary and time constraints.
"Writing time" is a finite resource, which must be husbanded and shepherded, and spent only when sure of the maximum amount of return on your investment. Ron would just keep restarting over and over again (one week Apollo is fat, the next he's a marine, the next he's a lawyer, etc.). Ron said that by the end, they had something like 20 minutes of footage left over from any given script (which they often made use of by editing into later episodes, splitting into two parters, etc.).
Well, consider how Ron approached the TNG finale:
by his own admission, in these interviews, he was new to movie-writing and they had to write Star Trek: Generations a few months before the TV series finale (because the movie would take a while to produce). And he said they spent so much time agonizing over Generations that by the time it came to write the GRAND FINALE of TNG, he had barely a few weeks and was working under the gun.
The result? He wrote a *Hugo-award winning*, universally praised finale for TNG.
Put this all together and what do you get? Ron went from being a college dropout with his dreams in tatters, to joining the Star Trek writing staff in Season 3, and then at the end of Season 7, winning a god-damned Hugo Award for an amazing Trek finale....a finale written under extreme time constraints with barely weeks to go. That's a difference of five years. Look at the *complete turnaround*.
The Hugo Award for "All Good Things..." was Ron Moore's finest hour. Not just that it was a triumph of TNG, I mean for Ron the man, he'd completely turned his life around within five years.
What lesson did he get from this?
As Bart Simpson would say while taking a test, "crisis brings out the best in me".
The lesson wasn't necessarily a conscious one, you see. I don't know if Ron thought of it, but he seems to have internalized it: its how his "creative process" works.
or at the very least, if you think that's too much of a stretch, Ron is convinced that he is at least "capable" of still turning out good work under such pressure; more of a simple "necessity is the mother of invention" kind of thing.
Moreover, consider how honestly surprised Moore seems in this interview, as a sort of belated reaction, to the physical limitations of a TV production schedule:
TNG was produced for a broadcast network. Other projects like "Game of Thrones" or "Rome" are made by high-end premium channels that can afford it. BSG was made on a cable-TV channel....it didn't have the budget available to the other two kinds of shows.
Consider just how shocked they seemed, in interviews, at how the workload piled up when season 2 went from 13 to 20 episodes. Honestly surprised. Even though the workload had almost doubled.
And here's the point: you'd think they'd realize, "hey, we've doubled the episode order, maybe we should hire more writers"....instead by the end of season 2 half the core writing staff left under unexplained circumstances.
A major point I must stress is that at Paramount, Star Trek was a machine, it was "infrastructure" -- to the point that for a while, they were running two series at once, with two delegated writers' rooms. There was a whole hierarchy to get scripts in, etc.
The physical writing staff available to handle the BSG workload couldn't keep pace.
Moore should have recognized this and he didn't. I don't know about hiring more writers.....what I mean is....he had about half as many writers at a given time as worked on a TNG season of 22 episodes. So when his episode order went up to 20 episodes.....why does it seem that Moore didn't even bat an eye at the heavy workload? At the time constraints this produced?
His BSG writing staff had to produce twice as much work in the same amount of time, and that time crunch really started piling up.
Thus, "Point 5" in my "list of things that went wrong", is that fundamentally, if you look at his work history, Moore by his own admission isn't good at budgeting out the FINITE amount of time that the writing staff has to process each season....and indeed, Moore's career seems to have reinforced the view to him, that he works best when he's under time pressure.
I mean seriously....why the heck was he working on Caprica AND Virtuality while STILL busy with writing the BSG finale? I can sort of understand Caprica, albeit I think they should have waited and done that properly.....but why work on Virtuality? Most writers would have realized IN ADVANCE that this kind of overbooking was doomed.
Much to my shame, I'll use a Voyager analogy: remember in "Dark Frontier" when Voyager manages to overpower a small Borg scout ship by beaming a torpedo into its engine room? But then Janeway gets emboldened by success, and keeps taking bigger and bigger risks, until she's quite reckless?
Similarly, I think the sheer impact of going from dropping out of college in the mid-1980's to *within 5 years* winning a Hugo Award for writing on Next Gen's finale really had quite an effect on Moore. And when you look at the circumstances surrounding his writing of Next Gen's finale.....down to the wire, frantically written with only a few weeks to go, time lost juggling a separate project (film seven).....I think that, perhaps not consciously, this is where we can look back and see the origin of Moore's mentality that "crisis brings out the best in him".
Moore in his own words at the Paley Center 2009 panel said he thought of it like Jazz....he openly admitted he just writes himself into a corner without foresight....and then his true moment of brilliance is when *at the last minute* he feels he can amazingly tie all of these elements together.
But it was a large degree of luck the first time, and impossible to consistently achieve.