Scoop on "Virtuality", the first U.S. science fiction series to include gay characters

Jose Pablo Cantillo and Gene Farber

In the new issue of TV Guide, William Keck shares a few details about Virtuality, a science fiction pilot that Fox is considering adding to their schedule. Why should you care about yet another new sci fi show? Because this one will be the first U.S. science fiction show to include actual gay characters. Take that Star Trek!

At this summer's Television Critics Association tour, I had a chance to speak with Virtuality's head writer and executive producer Ronald D. Moore (who you probably also know from his various gigs on Star Trek and, of course, Battestar Galactica). I also chatted with Fox's President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly about the show his network might be picking up. Both gave me some scoop, plus Moore opened up about science fiction writers' — including himself — failure to put gay characters in their various worlds. We also chatted about why that has happened and what needs to change.

Virtuality, which is set in the near future, is about a spaceship on a ten year deep space mission and it just happens to include a gay couple played by Jose Pablo Cantillo and Gene Farber. About the couple and their relationship Reilly told me:

It's a great relationship. It's a very straight forward, honest portrayal. They are front and center. The pilot's story centers around the corporation backing the whole thing and [they] want the [gay couple] to get married. They are the only unmarried couple on the ship and there is a proposal in the [episode]. And the one guy is saying "Are you just doing this because of the corporation? You never wanted to get married before. " And the other guy is saying, "No, this the push I needed. So there is an engagement in the pilot.

Ronald D. Moore, Kevin Reilly

Photo Credit: Matthew Imaging/FilmMagic and Getty Images /Jean Baptiste Lacroix

More below the fold including the Cylons' sexuality and how Moore feels about not including gay characters before now.

In a separate conversation Ronald Moore added:

They’re a married gay couple and they were just included when we were coming up with the core cast of characters. Michael Taylor and I were talking about it and I think it was his idea and we just – he goes through part of the concept of how that group of astronauts were chosen initially, that they were – it’s hard to tell you about without giving away the whole concept of it, but they weren’t just a group of astronauts that went through the traditional vetting astronaut process.

They were all sort of symbols for specific reasons for this particular mission and for almost PR reasons ... they were put on the ship and the [gay couple] sort of struggle with that role of – "Is that the only reason we are here?" kind of thing. But they’re professionals in their own right. They have a complicated sort of storyline of what they’re willing to show.

When asked how prominently the gay characters will be featured, Moore said:

It’s pretty much an ensemble because in that series we got 12 people in the universe and so they’re all kind of like on the same table because that’s our world. We’re not going to have a lot of guest stars. We’re not going to really have a big world to play in other than these virtual realities, so I don’t know that they really fall into a category second lead or anything like that. It’s really an ensemble.

I also asked Moore to address science fiction's failure in general to include gay characters.

We’ve just failed at it. It’s not been something we’ve successfully done. At Star Trek we used to have all these stock answers for why we didn’t do it. The truth is it was not really a priority for any of us on the staff so it wasn’t really something that was strong on anybody’s radar. And then I think there’s a certain inertia that you’re not used to writing those characters into these dramas and then you just don’t. And somebody has to decide that it’s important before you do it and I think we’re still at the place where that’s not yet a common – yeah, we have to include this and this is an important thing to include in the shows. Sci fi for whatever reason is just sort of behind the curve on all this.

And given that he has worked on some of the biggest science shows of the past twenty years, how does that failure make Moore  feel?

It makes me guilty. I always feel guilty when these questions come up because it’s something that I don’t do and I haven’t done enough of and I hope I do do, but I haven’t really done it. Okay, in Virtuality I’ve started to do it, we talk about it – hopefully we execute that well in Caprica. I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to – I don’t know how to quantify the why of it, you know, why does this happen like this? Because certainly there’s no shortage of gay writers in science fiction rooms, so we’re all sort of part of the conversation together.

As to why science fiction has failed to create those characters, Moore said:

I think some of it has to do with [how] certain science fiction deals with action/adventure sort of roles and action/adventure sort of archetypes and traditionally gay and lesbian characters are not part of those archetypes. So when you are doing a version of Die Hard on the Enterprise like we did in Next Generation, there’s not usually the gay or lesbian characters part of that equation Which doesn’t mean that of course none of these characters can’t be that, but it doesn’t usually like – oh, yeah and then there’s usually the computer guy and there’s this guy and you’re not usually thinking in that template and television writers and film writers think in templates.

We think a lot about, oh, let’s do Casablanca. Oh, let’s do this. And oh, let’s do our version of that kind of story. And unfortunately gay and lesbian characters are not generally part of those archetypes from which we draw, so already you’re not in the headset of incorporating them into your world because they’re not part of the things that you’re using as a foundation to draw upon. It’s a problem.

When I told Moore how much I loved Battlestar Galactica, but that as the seasons went by and so many important social issues were explored except gay ones, I grew frustrated, he admitted:

I would not argue with you at all. It’s certainly something we did not succeed in.

Michelle Forbes, Tricia Helfer

Battlestar Galactica did deal some with female bisexuality, most notably in the television movie Battlestar Galactica: Razor which included a relationship between Admiral Caine (Michelle Forbes) and one of the Sixes (Tricia Helfer). Asked about the Cylon's sexuality, Moore said:

We sort of always talked about the Cylons being basically bisexual in all formats. They didn’t really have gender roles within the twelve models kind of thing, but we never really played that idea out so I don’t know if we ever really established that as part of the mythos, but that was something we sort of talked about.

We pretty much established that some of the Sixes, there was the Six that was in a relationship with Admiral Caine so we know that that’s part of some of the Sixes, whether that means that applies to all the Six models, we just never got into that depth, that kind of detailed stories of them.

Moore is also executive producing the BSG spin-off Caprica. Might that have any gay or lesbian characters?

We’re in the process now of starting to think about what Caprica the series will be and what the storylines are and it is something that we’re talking about in our sort of nascent writers’ room where we have some people together and we’re just talking about what it could be and we are talking about it as an active thing, like okay, how can we work in gay, lesbian and bisexual storylines into this and that – it’s just not there yet, but it is part of the discussion.

Hopefully, Virtuality will get picked up and along with Caprica, American science fiction shows will finally move into the 21st century.

Latest News