Ron Moore: Expect a Spacier Roswell

Ron Moore: Expect a Spacier Roswell
By Don Lipper
Special to
posted: 07:41 am ET
08 December 2000

Ronald D. Moore was on the writing staff for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, as well as writing two Trek flicks, Generations and First Contact. Along the way he won a Hugo and was nominated for an Emmy.

Now he’s landed in the strange new world of The WB network’s teen alien angst series Roswell and he’s boldly taking the series where it’s never been before. If you wanna know about the new direction, here’s a sneak peek as to why the show’s not just aliens in Dawson’s Creek. How did you get involved with Roswell?

RDM: Last spring sometime my agent called me up and just said, “are you interested in Roswell?” I’d never seen the show, I’d heard of it, I know where it had been critically well received, and of course I knew Jonathan [Frakes, known in Trek circles as a film director and Next Generation’s “Riker”] was working on it, but I hadn’t actually seen it.

So they sent me over about a half dozen episodes from the first season and I just sat down and watched them and I got into it. I found it very endearing and very human and honest.

I really liked the cast, I really took to the characters and the actors playing them and the writing. I was especially taken with Shiri Appleby [Liz]. The relationship between her and Jason Behr [Max] was tremendous and it really appealed to me.

So I had a meeting with Jason Katims who created and runs the show and we hit it off, and talked about how we’d like to work on television and what are the important things to each of us, and writing and working on staff and it was a good fit and so we made a deal. What is important to you when you’re working on a show?

RDM: First and foremost, I want to be proud of the show I work on.

I was very proud to work on Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. It meant a lot to me that I was able to write on a show that I could tell people to watch and that I felt I was doing good work on. That was primary.

I also really value a close-knit staff, where we’re all in it together and we’re all friends that hang out, argue, cry and laugh together and work out the stories. I didn’t want to step into a political problem. You can argue and have creative differences, but if it’s all about the work, that was fine.

Next page: Roswell’s second season

~ Did they have a direction for the show’s second season before you came in?

RDM: If you watch the evolution of the first season, by the end of it you see them looking to find the voice of the show. By the end of the first season, I think they had found the direction they wanted to go.

The last five or six episodes sent them in a very specific directions. The season finale, called “Destiny”, revealed a great deal about these kids. Suddenly their mother comes in this message and says, “You were the leader of the planet, this was your bride, this is your sister, this was her husband, you were all sent here, you all lived before, you were killed, you’ve been sent here to one day come back and help us.”

Once you laid that out, it propelled you in a certain direction for the second season, they couldn’t really ever go back to being just kids. Suddenly the stakes had been raised and the universe had been opened to them in a very different way. They sent out a signal and the implication was, people are coming, and bad shit’s going to happen next year.

So at the beginning of this season we all sat down and talked about how to deliver on that promise. Where do you go from here? So there was a general direction the show was going [in] before I even got here.

Next: on writing a non-ship show

~ You have the experience of Next Generation, DS9 and Voyager. How is it different writing for a show where they’re not on a ship?

RDM: They’re people, it’s more human. The characters are allowed to be more flawed and more human because they’re not projected into this 24th century future. They’re not Starfleet officers and they haven’t gone through all this training and they’re not supposed to be people that have seen it all.

With the Trek crews, there was always a presumption that if a shapeshifter walks through your door, they’re not supposed to be totally blown away and start screaming.

The kids are kids, dealing with the outlandish situations that they land themselves in. But they’re still kids and trying to go to high school and trying to maintain lives and relationships. There’s more freedom of character, because you can really play the full panoply of human emotion and play the reactions and their conflict and their conflicts among the groups and the shifting relationships.

It’s a different canvas than Star Trek. On Star Trek I was able to paint things bigger and in broader strokes. We were dealing with the fates of empires, federations and galactic wars and questions of great import for all of humanity.

Here, the stakes are much smaller. It’s a very small core group of people and yes, there’s another planet out there someplace, and the events here have great meaning for untold millions of people elsewhere. But the heart and soul of the show is about the core group of characters, who are mostly kids, and how they deal with these things that are dumped on them every week.

Next: young people, small dynamics

~ What other advantages does having such a young cast give to you as a writer?

RDM: It means that, at the age that these kids are, they’re growing up, trying to mature and they’re not fully formed people yet.

All the Star Trek characters, even the youngest of them, except for the Wesley Crushers of the world, were adults that had accomplished certain things, they had gone through intense training, they had made all these different cuts, and they were the best of the best.

And here, these are just kids who struggle, some of them aren’t doing so well in school and others have personal problems. They’re dealing with many different problems, more relatable problems, than the Star Trek characters were. Roswell is a different form of science fiction television where the big sci-fi premise is this really huge backdrop and character is this little tiny thing that occasionally you squeeze in with rewrites.

But with Roswell, even when you’re dealing with big science fiction premises, you’ve got alien invasions, time travel and all that stuff, that the personal character stories are in the foreground more, and it’s much more of the interrelationship of how this particular alien invasion affects the dynamics of the group.

RDM: Absolutely, that’s what we care about as writers on the staff. How do the events affect our group? How does it affect the Max/Liz relationship, what does it say about Michael, what can we learn about Isabel through this episode?

It’s really about this core group of people, and that’s what I think is the show’s unique charm. Science fiction is truly a background, even when it’s dominating the story. I think that science fiction has always fallen down because you have great premises and robotic characters.

RDM: That’s one of the traps. I think too often writers and writer/producers focus on the outlandish situation and how to deliver the big technical yadda yadda, and how do we get another spaceship in here, and where’s the space battle and where’s the creepy-headed monster and all that kind of crap. Roswell just approaches it from a very different place.

The reason the original Star Trek succeeded, I have always firmly believed, has more to do with the characters of Kirk, Spock and McCoy than it really did about the adventures that they went on. With Trek, through the years, the struggle has been to keep the focus on that — it’s about the characters and how they deal with these situations, not the situations themselves. My perfect example of that is ER, because no one watches ER for the trauma, they watch it for the characters.

RDM: I know, that’s a good analogy, because ER throws around a lot of techno talk and a lot of babble and medical jargon that I haven’t got the vaguest idea what the hell they’re talking about, but you’re watching it because you care about the characters who are saying it. Is there a series arc?

RDM: Overall? Yes, in general terms. I don’t think you’re going to see the characters ever get home. I think going home and what it means to go home and whether they want to go home and are they more human than alien is sort of the largest of the series arc. Where do these kids belong and where do they want to belong and what are they going to do with themselves? That’s the big overriding question of the series. Are they going to get offworld this year?

RDM: I don’t think so. Jason and I talked pretty early and said, I think the second you put these kids on spaceships, or take them into an alien planet, it’s going to change the tone and feel of Roswell, which feels very much like it belongs here on Earth.

I think if you take the kids too far out of that and stick them into something else, if you put them on the bridge of the Enterprise, I think you’re watching a different show and it changes the whole tone of the piece. But you’re sending them to New York?

RDM: Yeah. To New York, sure, or Los Angeles. Anywhere here, I buy that. It just seems more real, I can accept that and find things to play there.

And frankly, let’s face it, New York is going to be more alien and crazy than anything we ever came upon in Star Trek. The joke among the writers on Trek was always that there are more fascinating, bizarre, alien cultures on Earth than anything we ever tried to portray on any of the series.

The New York episode [felt] very unlike any of the other episodes. It starts off differently, it’s a different musical cue, it’s a different visual cue. Everything about that episode feels a little different than what we’ve done so far. And that’s a deliberate choice, it’s the first time any of the kids have gone to something like that. What sort of image are we going to get of the galactic conflict out there? We’ve got the planet where the Skins come from and we’ve got the planet where the Roswell kids come from. Are we going to see that sort of a ground war on Earth?

RDM: We go back and forth on how much combat we want to see on Earth and what the stakes should be. I think you always want that threat, but it’s a very fine line.

We got away with doing something like “Wipeout” where the entire town disappeared and none of them noticed. But you can’t do too much like that.

[uplink] Does each season have a theme in your mind? Are you working toward season five where all hell’s gonna be breaking loose?

RDM: No, I don’t think we have it out that far. We know where we want to end up at the end of this season, and because of that we know how it’s going to set the table for things next season. And beyond that is all uncharted territory.

Next: what’s up for the rest of the season

~ So what can fans look forward to for the rest of the season?

RDM: The Dupes episode answered a lot of questions of what the backstory is on the Pod Squad and the Dupes. So that cleared things up quite a bit.

After that, we do a Christmas episode, which is kind of a stand-alone episode that’s tailored to Christmas. Then after the first of the year we start a new arc that launches us in a different direction. That one starts in a pretty dark place. With Isabel getting flashes of a girl who’s been kidnapped and being held and tortured someplace. She’s trying to help her and doesn’t know who this girl is. Do you see a time coming when the franchise broadens, so that in effect, you have them fighting crime?

RDM: I think we can do stuff like that, [but] I don’t think that it would ever become their drive. We’ve talked about them using their abilities and powers and nature as aliens to help a human problem get solved in some fashion. Right from the start of this season, Roswell has broken out of the box of just being Roswell-centric. Was there the idea right from the start that, we’re gonna do a flashback episode, we’re gonna do a time travel episode, we’re gonna do the Skins invading?

RDM: Yeah, we just said “let’s go for it and let’s not be afraid to tell different kinds of stories and to mix it up a little bit.” There’s a lot of different ways to do something in this format, the canvas is larger. This isn’t Dawson’s Creek, so let’s not pretend it is. Sometimes you’re gonna fail, and that’s okay, and then you get back up and try it again.