Moderator: Kristin Dos Santos (E! News and E! Online)
Panelists: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Diana Gabaldon (Author), Ronald D. Moore (EP, Writer)
If I were ranking this year’s Paley moderators — and hey, everything else gets ranked in entertainment reporting, so why not? — Kristin Dos Santos would take first place easily. Faced with a crowd of extremely excited fans, she kept things fun enough to placate the audience, but also in-depth enough that the panelists got to actually say something about their show. Her strategy? She brought a goody bag with her, and after every few serious questions, she would pull something out to play a game with the panelists. The first was a game of Never Have I Ever (“Ne’er Have I E’er,” Dos Santos called it), played with honest-to-God whiskey; then she had on-screen newlyweds Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan play the Newlywed Game (Heughan roped co-star Tobias Menzies in for an assist); finally, she made Balfe play “Kill, Marry, Screw” with the Outlander characters. Did any of this provide deep insight into the show or the cast? No, but Balfe in particular has charm to spare, so it didn’t drag too much. And it allowed Dos Santos to mostly contain the more bantering portions of the program, so that she could ask some real questions during the downtime.
Other than questions about Balfe’s and Heughan’s chemistry (“We got to the end of [the scene they tested on]and I was thinking, ‘Yeah, yeah, go on!’ So that’s always a good sign,” said Diana Gabaldon) the most frequently visited topic was the way the show compares to the books it’s based on. “The intent is to continue to stay as close to the story as possible,” said Ronald D. Moore.
But he cautioned that changes will occur as a matter of necessity, because books and television are different media, and at a certain point, “what you’re doing on screen obligates you to continue down that line.” He compared it to Game of Thrones, which he watches but doesn’t read: “I have to accept that series on its own terms, as it’s presented to me week after week.” In particular, Moore pointed to the foray into Frank’s point of view in the midseason finale. (Menzies confirmed that the series will revisit Frank in season two.)
Gabaldon spoke about her input on the show — she views episodes as they’re produced, and occasionally argues to keep certain lines in the scene. On the whole, she said, “It’s a fabulous adaptation. It’s just a wonderful job.”
Dos Santos also asked about the possibility of awards (“It’s nice. It’s meaningful. If it happens, you’re proud,” Moore said, but, “I just trust that what we’ve done is bigger than that.”); what it’s like for Menzies to play two different roles (“It has felt quite an intuitive process, really,” Menzies said, crediting the costumers for their role in separating the characters.); and whether the cast anticipated the level of fandom the show has achieved (“If I’d known about all of you people, I would not have shown up at work on the first day quite as calm as I was,” Balfe said.)
Perhaps inspired by the chaos that reigned during the audience question portion of the Scandal and Teen Wolf panels, Dos Santos had a genius strategy for keeping things on track as the panel wound down. She had brought with her several keys and a pair of pliers, which she gave to Heughan to make rings out of (as in the show). To each person who asked a question, she promised one of the rings — so long as their question was not awkward or embarrassing, and didn’t ask for a hug or a selfie.
Every moderator of every panel from now until eternity should do something like this. There were zero awkward interactions. (I mean, someone asked Heughan how he dealt with the pressures of being a sex symbol, but that’s kind of a legitimate question, if you think about it, if not one I’d want to answer in front of several hundred people who viewed me that way.) Instead, the panel talked about Gabaldon’s original intentions for the series and her background in nursing, Heughan’s dedication to doing his own stunts, and the wedding episode, which was written and directed by women. (Of the latter, Moore said that though the decision to have a female creative team on that episode was intentional, it wasn’t intended to be a female gaze so much as a real gaze: “Let’s try to go for something that’s real and not do ‘TV sex.'”)
And then at the end everyone in the audience got an Outlander flask. So if you didn’t like the panel, I guess you can drown your sorrows.
By Madelyn Glymour | Contributor