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Battlestar Galactica: Sam Esmail wants to 'experiment with form' on still-developing Peacock revival

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Jan 15, 2021, 2:46 PM EST

Last year, we learned that Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail and Assassin's Creed screenwriter Michael Lesslie had teamed up for a fresh take on the beloved sci-fi franchise Battlestar Galactica to air on Peacock, NBCUniversal's new streaming service.

Though a lot's happened since then, including the announcement of a new development on the Battlestar movie front, Esmail and Lesslie are still hard at work developing their version of the story first created by Glen A. Larson in the 1970s and repopularized by Ronald D. Moore in the 2000s. So, what will their take on Battlestar look like? Esmail's not entirely ready to say yet, but get ready for a series that uses the freedom of streaming for something a little unconventional. 

“We’re still working on the pilot," Esmail told Collider in a new interview. "Look, it’s a big universe, it’s a big world, I want to respect the Ronald Moore Battlestar. I spoke to him before I even took on the project to make sure that it’s all kosher with him, because the last thing I want to do is step on his toes, and the one thing we both agreed on is that it won’t be a reboot of what he did. Which I think we both wanted.”

Esmail went on to elaborate that he and Lesslie, who will serve as showrunner on the series, are "still trying to figure out the world via the pilot," so he couldn't offer much in the way of story details. What he did offer, though, was a robust discussion about how the show hopes to use the Peacock streaming platform to its advantage for an unconventional release schedule. In the streaming game right now there are essentially two schools of thought — release the entirety of a season all at once or release new episodes weekly like traditional television — and Esmail and Lesslie are apparently hoping to generate some kind of hybrid of both, depending on the needs of the story. 

“When I spoke to Peacock about it, and Mike Lesslie who’s an amazing writer – he’s the one who’s showrunning and writing the pilot – the one thing we got excited by is do we release an episode a week, [release all at once]? For me it was like let’s get in there and tell the right story and it will tell us how many episodes," Esmail explained. "We may dump three episodes in a row because it’s a three-episode-long battle sequence that needs to be dropped in a row even though they’re three signifying chapters, and maybe each chapter is switching a point of view within that battle sequence. There may be a 20-minute episode that’s the backstory of one of the characters that gets dropped right after that.”

Releasing multiple episodes at once for an otherwise weekly series isn't necessarily anything new. Lots of shows, including The Stand on CBS All Access and the just-launched WandaVision on Disney+, drop more than one episode to emphasise a season premiere or finale sometimes, but Esmail's hoping to go further than that. Because the mythology of Battlestar Galactica is vast, and lends itself to exploring an ensemble of characters and their backstories, he and Lesslie are discussing ideas that are essentially spinoff episodes, little one-shots that exist alongside the main story that viewers can choose to watch, or not.

“So I can’t tell you the number of episodes, but it’s also kind of a little meaningless because I think we’re gonna look at it as sort of like a spider web where we can plot and point and say, ‘Well this isn’t chronologically after Episode 1 or Episode 2, it’s the backstory of someone, but let’s release that so audiences can check that out if they want or they can just jump into the battle sequence,'" Esmail. said. "We’re really gonna experiment with form in that way, and again I think with a property like Battlestar it lends to that.”

There's a reason why most streaming services stick to a straightforward binge-watch model when it comes to the structure of their shows. It's easy, it's convenient, and it keeps customers on their couch for hours — but that doesn't mean there's not still new ground to break in a world where a viewer can simply point and click on what they want to watch at any given time. We've seen Netflix make some strides already with choose-your-own-adventure storytelling, and now Esmail is hoping to use the elasticity of a streaming format to play with more nonlinear storytelling options.

Will he follow through with those ideas? We may find out soon. He hopes to begin shooting the new Battlestar Galactica series later this year.