Passing the Crown: How RDM rules over the Outlander fandom.

Written by: Holly Richter-White


When the reigning Queen of England relinquishes her crown, it's expected to be the biggest event in British history in over 70 years.
No such fanfare for HERSELF, Diana Gabaldon, our Queen of Outlander. Although her reign ended in 2014, she is in fact, and thankfully, alive and kicking.  Kicking herself? Hmm.. perhaps? But probably not.  She did in fact sell the rights to the Outlander series, willingly and freely, for the current television series, envisioned and led by showrunner Ronald D. Moore.

In the first season, it was relatively simple to translate book to the visual medium that is television.  Sure there were more voice overs (V.O.) and flashbacks than are typically acceptable in TV shows, but because the book was linear, so was the TV show.  And generally speaking, fans were pretty happy with the adaptation.  Not so for DIA or even Voyager to come. Already for S2, devout fans are now finding the disparity between the book's plots and characters, and those utilized in the TV show, up to Ep 7 (FAITH).  


Let me say this: when I read DIA for the first time, I did so with a mind to its adaptation. (It's really hard to not think like a screenwriter when you read.) Even I wondered how they would adapt a non-linear story without losing new viewers.  And that is the key. Alongside us, the best fandom according to Radio Times, they NEED to acquire and maintain NEW fans.  

You can't do that, with a complicated timeline in DIA, without moving things around, by changing character motivation (i.e. Jamie's expanded PTSD plus revenge) and character depth (Murtagh needs to play a prominent role, as Jamie can't have exposition into the air, or god help us, voice overs!)  So fans were up in arms over this. So we're perfectly fine with changing Murtagh's screen time but not Fergus's?  Did we get a 20 ep. order recently to accommodate all of us book fans, which no new viewer could stand to watch?  This is all about compromise.  Between the book medium (Diana as artistic written interpreter) and the visual medium (Ron as artistic visual interpreter).
But this fate (a very real split between the two mediums) was always pre-determined (the day the rights were sold); it just wasn't known, or rather, accepted.


Source

There can be only one showrunner, and it is RDM.  Semantics are important. Maril has repeatedly said she has had to fight with RDM to "win".  He has the first say, and the final cut.  The writers write what he asks of them.  Look at the "BJR on your knees" scene or the massive fight afterward between Jamie and Claire in S2EP5.  That was all RDM's idea and design. Not in the books, but fans loved it regardless.   
The "revenge" mindset of Jamie- RDM.  
The pro-Frank sentiment- RDM.  
RDM trumps everyone else.  He knows what will sell Outlander to a new viewing audience, and the existing fans.
It is a monarchy- a dictatorship of sorts, ruled by one. What it's not, is a democracy.  Sure, Maril, as his trusted advisor, or Matt Roberts as his trusted writer, can pipe up with an idea, but they have to converge with Ron's vision for the overall show, in order for him to accept it. And as for Diana, as long as the relationship is cordial, and of mutual respect, she'll continue on as a consultant.   But as Ron becomes more familiar with the characters, she'll be needed less- a natural evolution.


They bought the book, but cut out the fatty parts. For you carnivores (I’m vegetarian), it's akin to buying the whole cow but only using the meat on the bones (but thankfully keeping the spine).  That's the core plot, the main characters and many key scenes.  But you discard the head and the fat- represented by secondary characters, half of the romantic scenes and dialogue, and secondary plots.  And since this is a visual medium, you get visual "filler" in lieu of text and dialogue.  And of course, there's just... less of it.  The book is 947 very dense pages, the scripts add up to 715 thin pages (55 pages/minutes x 13 episodes).
Compare this with Game of Thrones, written by Diana's friend, George R R Martin, with showrunner David Benioff.  Ask any avid reader, and they'll say 'holy liberties' showrunner! By the end of S5, there were 22 major differences between the books and the TV series. Imagine Murtagh being killed saving Jamie at Wentworth, or BJR living years past the date Claire told him he would die, or Dougal accompanying Claire back through the stones.... Knowing the disparity in GOT's adaptation, I consider myself a very fortunate fan under the capable hands of RDM. 

Let’s be honest- what we have is minor plot and character changes in Outlander.   We all may suffer from a bit of fan myopia- we live in a contained environment, a shell, where we spend most of our time talking to each other, so we may not be seeing reality as it exists. (A good example here is when we all thought they would certainly receive Emmy noms or BAFTA noms but got NONE).


Have you noticed how many people flock to Diana after a controversial scene in the TV show?   Her words, (a.k.a. the “Word of God”) are still held in high esteem even though she has no creative control, and is acting solely as Ron’s interpreter.  What a saint she is, to help fans transition from book to screen.  Without it, I think there would be significant fan backlash, for Season Two (the France portion at least). This rich “source” also has aided the actors work out character motivation. Sam Heughan has stated repeatedly that he reads the book and asks questions of HER(royal)SELF to acquire many rich details before filming.

I think, beyond the books, we will discover that there is indeed an ‘Outlander TV story bible’ just like there is for GOT, The Wire, The Shield, etc….written by RDM. This helps writers focus in on key plot points and characters the showrunner has identified as critical (almost acting like the spine of the story), but also aids in ensuring the memory of previous plot points (off book) is long.
And while RDM has the last say in most cases, it is not in every case. In the end, the bottom line rules above all else; profitability is the ends to the show’s means. STARZ executive “suggestions” to RDM exist to limit risk of lost revenues.  

And yes, there has been one known successful example of executive intervention, whereby a controversial ending to an episode (S1E16) was removed to avoid alienation and backlash by existing fans who wanted/needed *feels*, not heightened drama. But, it was also done with the eye to improve new viewership. 


How are you coping with the power of RDM this season? 

40 comments

  1. An intricate and complicated dance...

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  2. I thought the books were too long so I like this new TV version.

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    1. I really liked the PTSD plot line. It's a long and real post-event complication but in order to do it, they had to cut elsewhere (on yes, a long book) and create the needed discord b/w Jamie and Claire. So I too like the new version.

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  3. I have been a book reader for years and out of the 8 books DIA is one of my least favorite book. With that being said I have to say that I felt RDM, at least with the 1st 7 episodes, have stuck closer to the DIA storyline of then with the Outlander.

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    1. Yes, I thought Outlander book 1 was closer to the tv medium than DIA but I like the changes. I think many feel the same about DIA as a non-favourite book, especially the parts in France. But costumes and set designs have made France come to life for me, so I am most appreciative of that.

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  4. This is such a big bag of barf..Many shows do much more complicated things and also deal the more complex issues..for for RDM its so hard. and if you like short books stick to short stories...He might starts with having all the writers read all the books so they can stop trying to fix things in the next season..DG Writes the best dialogue around and they keep exchanging it for cheesy lines. Is that just bad taste? And it would be nice if RDM stopped chopping Jamie down to his own size..They had a great chance at epic with that character and didn't take it..they went with the pissed off feminist (which is not a what a feminist is} instead. I like the actors much of the show but cant help be amused that they missed such a great chance for and Epic production with the material and actors they have. So many have told not readers have told me it just got tooo boring. If I were not Dian's fan I would not be watching.

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    1. Is my article barfy or the adaptation? LOL. I understand how you feel, but his objective was not just to carry existing fans, it was to create new ones, and you can't do that with a direct adaptation unless you cut numerous secondary, and necessary plot lines. I'm just glad it's not a movie!

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  5. Ron has said repeatedly in his podcasts and interviews that he tries as much as possible to run his shows and writer's room as a democracy and whomever has the best idea, that's the idea they will go with. Sometimes, he does has to go with a direction or story point that works best for production reasons. But his writers and fellow production team members have all said that Ron is a very fair show runner and will listen to any idea that is brought to him. I think its a little unfair to say he rules the show as a monarchy because that just doesn't seem to be the case. Yes, ultimately the final say is his but it seems he really does try to run his productions democratically as possible.

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    1. Monarchies are not bad- you still have trusted and respected advisors (Ira, Matt, Maril, Toni, Anne) at your side, but it's not a proportional voting system either, where the whim of the many will overturn his vision either. I could have sworn I heard Ron say it was not a democracy. He's the one who's accountable at the end of the day.

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  6. Personally, I don't care for RDM's changes. I don't mind simplifying, but the character changes are too much. I'm giving up on the series, since he has changed the core relationship between Jamie and Claire. Making a triangle of the romance by adding more and more Frank has destroyed the essence of the book for me. Unlike other die hard fans, I can't accept everything he does as wonderful just to keep the series going. Betraying the book fans who have supported this series for 25 years just to engage new, non-reader viewers is the ultimate insult. It can die on the vine, as far as I am concerned. I had thought at one time that I could overlook what he has done because surely he would react to some of the book fans criticisms, and get back to the books, but now I see that he will not. He simply doesn't care. Well, neither do I. I don't need STARZ for entertainment. . .there are other wonderful programs to watch. On Sunday nights, I will watch Masterpiece Classics. If the BBC can create wonderful adaptations which remain faithful to the sources, I would think RM could also. The fact that he doesn't indicates a total disregard for the book fans.

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    1. I agree. Ron made Claire completely unlikable and diminished Jamie to the point that he is nothing like the hero in the books. I loved the first few episodes, but gave up after 108 when I saw that the relationship between Jamie and Claire was never going to be like the one Diana wrote. Almost every Jamie scene and romantic book scene I wanted to see was cut or badly rewritten in the show. Without Jamie and the romance being central there's no reason to watch.

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    2. Adaptations aren't for everyone. You simply cannot fit everything onto a visual medium. I've adapted books to screenplays and it is hard to cut dialogue and replace it with a shoulder shrug, or (gasp) cut a great scene altogether because it's restating the same thing, again, or not moving the story forward. You can't please everyone, but I do have an understanding of why/how which helps me cope better than most, I guess.

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    3. For me it isn't a matter of not liking adaptations. I normally love them. For example, Poldark and The Last Kingdom are both brilliantly done. My issue with Outlander is that Ron Moore has decided to intentionally diminish Jamie and change the focus of the story to be about anything but Jamie and Claire's relationship. It's like the story from the books is being rewritten by someone who hates what I loved about them. Diana recently quoted her husband who said something to the effect of: "The books are more the story of Jamie told by Claire, but in the show they are telling the story of Claire." I agree, and that's why I stopped watching.

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    4. Hang in for the next 2 episodes because I think jamie and Claire will get back on track when they return to Scotland. i too did care much for paris plot changes but did enjoy the amazing sets, costumes and new characters ie the king, bouton, mother hildegard and annoying price charlie and of course Fergus the cutie pie

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  7. As an original book reader (1991)... I know the history of Diana's selling and reselling of book rights over the years. The fact that all of this came together and RM managed to get the rights and do justice to the books in a multi episode medium is nothing short of miraculous. As DG has said...we'll always have the books! I consider the series must see tv...over and over again. It is simply part of my Outlanderverse...just like the source materials of her books and Davina Porters audio versions. As someone who has felt somewhat alone in my obsession for 25 years...surrounded by friends and family who didn't quite understand what the big deal was; it is very rewarding to see them watching and enjoying the show with me. To me, there is no downside to RM show running. I love having a few surprises tossed in...the casting is superb and the essence of the story is there.

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    1. No wonder Diana loves her fans. You epitomize her grace and charm, and the tolerance to try new things.

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    2. Well put, Marsha. I came to the books after watching the first few episodes. I have a good friend who has been a fan since day one of the books. We love to share what we find on the internet, the adaptations(likes and dislikes), and of course the books. DG does say it best when she says "we will always have the books." But I love to watch the sets and the costumes and even the tender moments that J&C share. I have enjoyed all of the expansion of minor book characters(WILLIE!) and even the elaboration/change of story lines. These books are expansive and I just enjoy the show for the show. Pass the popcorn....or dram!

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  8. I think that RDM is doing a very good job of adapting the books to the screen. I don't always like the adaptation, but I appreciate how difficult it is to bring such complex, huge books to the screen. I don't see a huge difference in the essence of J&C's characters. As a matter of fact - in the book Claire is sometimes more headstrong than on the show, IMO. In S2E7, I was a bit surprised that Claire didn't show more anger towards Jamie when he comes back, I was looking forward to seeing her walking away from him and making him go after her as it was in the book. But it was done very well, I thought, in the end. And I don't think that Jamie's character has been diminished. Due to time restraints we don't get to see as much of his sense of humour, but I do think overall the writers have been good - some better than others. My faves are the women writers and Matt Roberts. As others have said - if you don't like it, don't watch it. Reading is a very personal experience so the show may not come up to your expectations. I enjoy it for what it is - and especially because I love to watch Sam and Cait ( and Graham, Duncan et al). I always go back to the books though - they are the best way to really enjoy the story.

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    1. Yes, totally agree. I would have loved the original scene after the Bastille, but really am glad for them to get the hell out of France, and not drag on into ep. 8.

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  9. What an insult to the talented lady that wrote and still writes the Outlander series...how low can you go.Why would she pass her crown wot anyon???

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    1. She has sold the rights. That's passing the crown.

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  10. I honestly can't understand why people have such a hard time separating the books from the show.

    I choose not to reread the books right before or during each season so I can enjoy the show for what it is. My dad grudgingly started to watch with me and now he watches without me. I think RDM is doing a bang up job bringing these characters to life.

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    1. Same here. I purposely stayed away from DIA. Ron is doing a great job with his vision of the series, and that's just it, his interpretation of the same source material.

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  11. I am a longtime reader who also adores the TV series, despite any changes made by RDM et al. I savor the changes ( most of them, anyway), as it gives me a somewhat new Outlander experience each episode, kind of like the joy when reading The Scottish Prisoner and the Lord John books: MORE Outlander! Some of the complaints in the fandom, from casting, to storyline, hell, even the weekly air date are frankly mind boggling, and often rather hilarious to me! RDM, bring it on! I still have my very own book images of Jamie and Claire intact forever in my brain, and a boatload of DGs written pages to go back to anytime I want. I don't OWN the Outlander stories, and I don't get to say how it's done. I DO get to have an opinion on it, just as everyone else does, of course. I am thrilled to have Outlander presented in a visual medium, and embrace it as simply more Outlander. Different, but more.

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    1. Yes Teddie! If I want "book Jamie and Claire", I read the books too. The show is a different beast altogether.

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  12. RDM ruined it for me. I will no longer watch. I don't care how they condense scenes, or secondary characters of their air time. I don't care how they rearrange time periods or event. I DO care about maintaining the PRIMARY characters and their relationships, and they have not done that. I don't need the books. I need the book characters to stay roughly intact. I didn't get it. I have no voice of authority to get it back, so I've given up. The loss of this one viewer means nothing to them, I know; RDM couldn't care less about me.

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    1. It's too bad you feel this way. Being a GOT fan, I knew what was possible so I have an appreciation for Ron, and how he's maintained the core story when transferring over to the visual medium.

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    2. TessQ I understand how you feel. I watch occasionally, rarely. After the rapes and when I heard Ron & Ira's plan to have BJR declare his love for Jamie and ask him to run away to the Continent. Palm to face. Like what, Dallas on steroids? I understand adaptation. Love GoT. But, GoT sticks to characterization of the character, change settings, outcomes, but a sadist stays a sadist. Not Ron, he has diminished the role of Jamie in the story, and a friend told me how much they've cut from S2. No, OL will not win on Sundays. Penny Dreadful is unique, so well written and directed..hands down over anything Ron has to offer. And let's not forget, Ron has another project starting with Cranston and many others for Sony. He won't be around as much. Kind of like Helix and then he went to OL, remember? And Helix was cancelled. How good is OL? For me, not. You do realize Ron's last projects all ended - 7/2012 17th Precinct, um never picked up. 8/2011 Hangtown, 2009/2010 Caprica (pitched as a sci-fi version of Dallas and moved away from). One reviewer stated Caprica lacked clear story telling and direction and RDM & Matt Roberts. So, I don't have good feelings for what he's 'accomplished' or done to Outlander. Poldark is a great adaptation of the books, well written, respected, acted and set and costume design. Poldark's first adaptation failed but this one, wow, Horsefield is so good writing and directing. There is no need to read Poldark, I watch it and it is the books, with the pinch of romance the original lacked. Sorry, no longer my cup of tea.

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  13. RDM has a job to do - and that's interpret a long, overstuffed yet fabulous book series into a very confined amount of time and within budget, all the while bringing in new subscribers to Starz. So, those who say he doesn't care about book readers - of course he does. Book readers - his wife Terry Dresbach and his production partner Maril Davis being two - are an important aspect of the subscriber base. But new viewers need to be brought in as well and they may or may never read the books. I don't agree that it's a dictatorship - there have been several examples where the writers, or Diana, have gotten in what they want. It's unfortunate that in order to move the plot along, a lot of the "relationship/personality" things have gotten short shrift. But so much of what readers "know" is based on what Claire thought in her head - something which is very difficult to translate. We have lost seeing some of the passionate depths of their relationship, but we've gained things too. I've always believed this was Claire's story with Jamie as her primary relationship, not Claire AND Jamie's story. As important as Jamie is, the books started with Claire and I believe they will end with Claire. And I've believed that Frank was always a major, if silent, player in the drama and have no problems with the Frank scenes. He's not been enhanced, simply his screen time has. He didn't simply disappear as many ardent Jamie 'shippers wish he did. It's kind of an insult to Claire's character to believe she left Frank without a look back - no matter how dishy and romantic Jamie was. When they met, Jamie was not much more than a boy. She had passion with him, and a deep connection, but it didn't wipe Frank off the map. In fact, it illustrates just how deep that connection was, that she was willing to forgo the relative comforts of the mid- 20th century, and a man she was in love with (albeit not as dashing) to stay with Jamie. They are not being played as a love triangle either - there's no question who Claire wants to be with. She doesn't play the "well, do this for me or I'll go home to the 20th century" card. She simply has a moral conviction that Frank's future needs to be protected. Which, in my interpretation, is much the same as the many times she's been operating on someone and is willing to hurt them in order to heal them - a surgeon's personality. She can be singular minded, with both positive and negative results. And, as a final thought - I am not someone who only says good things about the show in order to keep it on the air. Starz only cares that there are viewers. That said, I could have done without the Claire/Murtagh road show in season 1 - that was just stupid.

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    1. Yes, I do know more than a few people who couldn't stand the books when they attempted to read them years ago, but watch the TV show, and love it. And I agree about Frank's role. It has to be somewhat significant as her first marriage or nothing after would be relevant.

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  14. Over all, I think RDM and company have done a great job with the series.

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  15. "There has been one known successful example of executive intervention, whereby a controversial ending to an episode (S1E16) was removed to avoid alienation and backlash by existing fans who wanted/needed *feels*, not heightened drama. But, it was also done with the eye to improve new viewership."

    What was the controversial alternate ending there? I can't find any mention of it online. I love the show, either way.

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    1. vale, I think you may be referring to the opening scene in S2. I listened to RDM podcast on Starz and he said he wanted to end S1 with the shot of Frank's shoes as he is walking down the hall in the hospital(S2E1). Cliffhanger style.
      But they decided instead to do the epic ending with the ship sailing away.

      I agree. I love the show, too!

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  16. Diana has sold the rights!RDM & all involved doing a good job,in the books Claire get at times more annoyingly headstrong,I do miss Jamie's humour though it got lost somehow,hoping it'll back in Voyager,if we'll get a season 3?!But I'm so happy to see my fav.characters come alive on TV!Thank You Holly!

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  17. I was introduced to the books by the show and have felt that the fact that the author supports the show has been a huge benefit to the TV series. The working relationship between Diana and Ronald has appeared to be one of respect. While I have now read all 8 books and love them, I am also completely caught up in the television series. There does seem to be more of Jamie's dialogue cut than anyone else's and I do believe the show has diminished the character of Jamie as it has built up the character of Frank. I loathed the first episode of season 2. The Frank we saw was not the book Frank. He was much more sympathetic and then we saw a diminished Jamie by the decision to not resolve the trauma of BJR's rape and torture at the end of season1. It did create more of a triangle for Claire. In the books there was never a question of whom she belonged with. It was always Jamie. In his attempt to create more screen time for Menzies, he has changed the dynamics of the relationships. I keep watching in hopes he will right that wrong. I am not interested in Frank. It is Jamie and Claire I want to follow. He has to get that right if he hoped to retain readers along with attracting new viewers. Sam is a powerful actor. Give him the lines and screen time to shine and he will.

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  18. Thankfully, I came to books only a year or so ago so I had immediate access to all the books. As a huge fan of all the books I have to admit that DIA was probably my least favorite. Accordingly, this season's TV series has not resonated nearly as well with me as the first (which was pure magic). I don't fault RDM for that because the source material is what it is. I do agree with other commenters on this site who argue that the character of Jamie has been severely shortchanged in the first 7 episodes of this season while Frank has been elevated. That is a huge deviation from the books and has been a major disappointment to the fans. Having said all that, I do believe RDM's adaption for Season 1 was nothing short of spectacular and expect him to do the same for Voyager, which is one of my favorites.

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  19. From the beginning Ronald D. Moore has approached Diana's magnificent story with respect and care and always - always with an eye for excellence. With Diana's writing genius, Ron's creative excellence and Terry's fabulous costumes it is a win-win-win for all of us. Dinna fash over the small stuff that takes it from book to screen. The one wee complaint I have is that for Episode 1 of Season 1 Ron did everything - writing, directing, producing -- it was outstanding and got the series started in the best possible way. We needed him to do a repeat for Episode 1 of season 2. It was good but didn't quite have the RDM stamp on it and therefore just a bit less than stellar. Starting each season with a renewal of his vision might be a good thing. And, Ron, thank you for involving Diana Gabaldon in the process. It is as it should be. And, thank you, thank you for casting Caitriona and Sam.

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  20. @Stephen3827675 More like you've walked into an orgy and you're the only one still dressed.

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  21. The key piece of the story that makes it unique in literature is the passionate, respectful and witty nature of the Jamie/Claire connection. Without it, this is just another sweeping saga, historical romance.

    Linear storytelling, secondary plots and characters, use of V.O., pov challenges. All these things can be manipulated without harming the heart of this story. But to underestimate the importance maintaining Ms. Gabaldon's level of attention to the core relationship is to miss the point of adapting this story for TV in the first place.

    Fans may differ on reactions to individual scenes or dialogue choices, but it seems they are unanimously in accord in their demand for more care to be paid to the Jamie /Claire story in the future.

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  22. The key piece of the story that makes it unique in literature is the passionate, respectful and witty nature of the Jamie/Claire connection. Without it, this is just another sweeping saga, historical romance.

    Linear storytelling, secondary plots and characters, use of V.O., pov challenges. All these things can be manipulated without harming the heart of this story. But to underestimate the importance maintaining Ms. Gabaldon's level of attention to the core relationship is to miss the point of adapting this story for TV in the first place.

    Fans may differ on reactions to individual scenes or dialogue choices, but it seems they are unanimously in accord in their demand for more care to be paid to the Jamie /Claire story in the future.

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