Does Virtuality have a future? Producer Michael Taylor looks ahead

If you've seen ads and heard descriptions for Fox's Virtuality and still aren't sure if it's a made-for-TV movie, the start of a new series or something else entirely, fret not: Creator and executive producer Michael Taylor is only too happy to classify the two-hour opus for you. "It's not a movie; it's not a single-serving film," Taylor said in an exclusive interview Thursday night in Los Angeles. "It is a two-hour backdoor pilot. That is what it is, and it makes no attempt to answer any of the questions it raises."

Taylor previously served as co-executive producer for Battlestar Galactica, a now-historic show that made few network concessions (save for a few re-imagined four-letter words) en route to critical and commercial success. Speaking exclusively to SCI FI Wire at the premiere of what he hopes will be the first episode of a series, Taylor said that he and fellow executive producer Ronald Moore held nothing back while developing Virtuality, including the potential for multiple seasons. "Ron and I made absolutely no concessions, nor, for that matter, were we asked to," Taylor insisted.

(Officially, Fox has not picked up Virtuality for a series, and it's not on the network's fall schedule. Virtuality airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT; you can read our review here.)

"Fox is calling it a movie, but they want a lot of eyeballs on it too," Taylor added. "So we've conceived a whole season; we conceived multiple seasons. We know where this show is going, and it's going some really weird and interesting places. And that first season? Wow. It becomes an exciting thrill ride. It's a thriller, a story still about technology, it's a beautiful, crazy stew, and it's a hell of a ride."

Virtuality follows a small group of scientists and interstellar travelers who embark on a 10-year mission only to encounter a series of mishaps after they pass the point of no return. Taylor said that he made sure that the various cast members would be around and available if the show itself started a multi-year run. "There is a business plan," he said. "Actors are signed for at least a year or two or however many years to help the show get off the ground." At the same time, Taylor said that his and Moore's conception of the series didn't preclude them from taking a few digressions if they were lucky enough to stay on the air for a while.

"Creatively, you have to have an idea where your show is going," Taylor explained. "On the other hand, on Battlestar, Ron always had a sense where the show was going, but the journey was the thing. I don't think we really ever planned more than half a season's worth, more than 10 or so episodes at a time, because you also want the opportunity, when you have a strong concept, have a strong situation in place, to let that change. You want to let the characters and things that happen to the characters, situations you had not conceived of when you start thinking of a series, start to change where you're going."

Acknowledging other recent shows such as Lost and Heroes, which struggled to find a suitable balance among predetermined storytelling, the appetites of the viewers and the unpredictable events that can occur during a two- or three-year period, Taylor said that flexibility is the key to allowing a show to expand and evolve.

"That's how a show acquires a life of its own, and that's how a creative project develops organically," Taylor said. "It becomes something more living than something that's just mapped out on graph paper. That's really the way it has to be. I mean, of course we have enough of a plan to tell the network where we want to go in the first season, and an idea, glimmerings of where we want to go ultimately. But the main thing is to set up a strong situation, which I think we do here, set up potential opportunities, know where we're going to go in those first 10 episodes and just take off like a rocket and see where it takes us."

Taylor indicated that the conception of the show was deeply personal to him, and highlighted one particular theme he's most interested in seeing explored. "This sounds like a more intellectual theme, but it's against a backdrop of what happens with our characters," he said. "On the first hand, Battlestar was such a broad tapestry, in a way, a political tapestry, but it made me fall in love with the idea of writing about just characters, writing about people. The idea of just having these 12 people in a test tube and getting to write about them and how their relationships change."

"That's a show in itself, just the isolation, just the environment," Taylor continued. "But add virtual reality and add the complications and themes we're exploring of how we're already interacting with the Internet in our own lives—how so much of our lives is lived online. In a way, we're already living a virtuality, and it seems so contemporary. Where Battlestar had a political resonance, this seems to have a more technological and cultural resonance—and, in a way, it seems a more contemporary show than Battlestar. It's where we're going, not where we've been."

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