Outlander: Why did Outlander almost never happen? Star reveals rejections

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Starz series Outlander continues to go from strength to strength with fans spellbound by the epic love story of Jamie (played by Sam Heughan) and Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe). The show is adapted from American writer Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling books of the same name, which were first published in the early Nineties. However, the television series almost didn’t happen and was turned down by many networks before finding its home on American broadcaster Starz, which was relatively unknown at the time.

Why did Outlander almost never happen?

Speaking on the unofficial Outlander podcast Outcasts to actors and hosts David Berry and Tim Downie, executive producer Maril Davis opened up about the pitching process for the show and how hard it was to get the series made.

Davis explained: “We pitched it around town basically and as at the time there were seven books and they’re huge.

“All of Diana’s books are really long and so everywhere we would go we would bring in the entire stack of books and put it on the table.

“Just to be like, ‘Look at all this amazing material. We’re not going to run out. We’ll all probably be dead before we run out of this material type of thing.’

“Actually, of all the places we pitched this – we pitched it to HBO, Showtime, all those normal people around town – Starz was the only place we went that they were not only the most interested and wanted to do the books as they weren’t asking us to go off-book.

“But they had all read the first book which was so impressive because these books are quite long.

“And we’re all quite busy and most people don’t have time to do that. From the get-go, we knew that was the perfect place to be because they didn’t want us [to go off the books].”

She went on to explain: “Some places were like, ‘You’re going to veer off-book, right?’ We were like, ‘No. What’s the point of doing these books if we’re not going to stick to them?’ It was kind of how it came to be Outlander, part of it.”

From her words, it appears Starz gave the producers the free rein to stay faithful to Gabaldon’s source material.

She said the reason the novels were taken to the pitch meetings was to demonstrate “in a visual way” how much material the show potentially had and what they could do with it.

This decision seems to have paid off for the show, which continues to get bigger with each season. Outlander may not become the show fans know and love today if it weren’t for Starz picking it up.

Reflecting on her relationship with the broadcaster and others, Davis said: “I love, love, love the people I work with, particularly at Starz.”

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The executives at Sony and Starz backed Outlander from the outset.

She continued: “It’s been a relationship that’s been lovely for me and I find those relationships quite easy.

“I think the difficult is if they don’t like something like someone’s hairdo in dailies or script-wise, we get a lot of notes obviously.”

Davis added she was “a mediator” and navigated notes from actors, directors, studio executives and other producers.

Over the years, Outlander has mostly stayed true to the books and honoured the story Gabaldon set out to tell.

However, as time has gone on, there have been more divergences from the novels for the sake of the television medium and brevity.

There are going to be a total of 10 Outlander books with Gabaldon working on the ninth manuscript with the novel expected to be coming out soon.

But it’s unclear how much longer the TV series will run for but there are hopes it could be a few more seasons yet.

The actors Balfe and Heughan are contracted for season seven, so there could be at least this number, but it will be dependent on a renewal from Starz.

Season six is looking to start filming soon as producers asses the situation with the coronavirus pandemic causing a delay.

Outlander seasons 1 to 5 are streaming on Amazon Prime Video now

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