As the UK and Scotland prepare for the results of the Scottish independence referendum, there is one question on all our minds: HOW DOES THE REFERENDUM AFFECT OUTLANDER?
Earlier today, in advance of the referendum on Scottish independence, Outlander author Diana Gabaldon authored a piece on her opinion on the matter for The Telegraph. It read, in part:
For months, people have been asking my views about the Scottish independence referendum, and I've been saying, "It's not my country; I don't live here. Much as I love Scotland, I think it would be inappropriate to express a personal opinion regarding Scottish politics."
But at this point, so close to the vote, I don't think I can do harm or good to either side. And I've been asked once again for my opinion because of what I'm told are my "unique perspectives."
... Me? It isn't my country. But I do have a country; I'm an American. Given our own cultural and historical background, Americans on the whole are deeply sympathetic toward people who feel (rightly or wrongly) that they have been oppressed by government, and we tend always to want to support people seeking democratic self-determination. Aye or Naw? Put me down as "Mibbe" - but with the best wishes for the future of Scotland and her people, however the present vote goes.
Gabaldon's unique perspective, as both the mother-in-law to a Scotsman and a writer of books based in Scottish history, is bolstered by the raised profile of her Outlander series, since the show started airing. And yet, no one in the UK (which, as of now, still includes Scotland) has seen the show on television.
Where Is Outlander?
The Outlander premiere broke ratings records for Starz when it premiered in the U.S. and was quickly renewed. It's premiered in Canada, Australia, Denmark, Japan, and has distribution deals with a number of other countries. It'll even air in Ireland this month. It's a show that Visit Scotland is using to market the country as a vacation spot/ And yet, there's been no word on the show making to British airwaves. Why is that?
If you ask some people, the reason is that Outlander has been so conspicuously absent from the place in which it's set has to do with the referendum on Scottish independence. One of the major plotpoints of the book, and the show, is that it's set around the Jacobite rising of 1745. And its portrayal of British officers in Scotland at that time has them as dandies at best and sociopathic at worst. Last week even had our English heroine expressing sympathies for the Scottish cause.
And so, the theory goes, no British channel was willing to pick up Outlander prior to the September 18th vote. We've got this redditor citing her husband as a source:
Real question - why isn't this being shown in the UK? DG has said "we haven't found a network to show it there," but that doesn't seem to explain it. My husband says they are censoring it because the Scottish vote Sept. 18, but that also seems far fetched. Does anyone have the real scoop?
How Could the Referendum Be at Fault?
Is there any other evidence that this is true? Well, that depends on your definition of evidence.
It certainly stands out as odd that a show that so prominently features Scotland, Scottish history, and Scottish actors has shown no sign of being aired there. Then there's this Facebook message from Outlander author Diana Gabaldon explaining the state of the show's international sale, dated February 14th:
a) The Sony Corporation owns the actual film rights to "Outlander" (and its sequels). However, they license the production to
b) the Starz premium-cable channel. This means that
i.Starz is actually _making_ the show, and in return,
ii. Starz then has distribution rights in the United States—but _only_ in the US.
c) So, SONY is responsible for making the show available in other countries. They would naturally LIKE to do this, to as great an extent as possible, since that's how they make money off the show.
(Fwiw, one thing I did while in Scotland last week was to go—at Sony's request—to a cocktail party for potential international buyers, and schmooze. They were entertaining buyers from the UK, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and another country I forget. Everyone was very nice, and very clearly interested in/excited by the series.)
One of the Sony people explained to me that historically, most foreign countries wait 'til after a new show has been out for at least one season, before deciding whether to buy it or not. However, this same person also noted that that trend has been changing of late, and that s/he would not be surprised if foreign sales happened more quickly with OUTLANDER, as there's so much interest in it. (So YES! Definitely keep on agitating with your local TV outlets and keep demonstrating your interest—it does help!)
So the international rights are in the hands of Sony, not Starz, who haven't commented on it. And all of the countries Gabaldon listed except for the UK have made deals to air the show.
You hear all these rumours that it's about Scottish independence and they don't want to inflame people towards the Yes vote. It's because of the Jacobite historical background, which is very important to the story.
Days later, she clarified that statement and gave an update to the state of the negotiations with British broadcasters:
There are in fact negotiating with one or more UK TV suppliers. Why that deal has not come to a conclusion, I don't know, they have been at it for three months at least.
There has been talk and rumour and speculation, even though there is no evidence on which to speculate, but the most common rumour is they are waiting until after the Scottish referendum - but there is no evidence to suggest that is true. You can take that for what it's worth.
Both statements are consistent in that they refer to the idea that Outlander is being blocked in the UK because of the referendum as "rumors." The second just happens to be more detailed. That's a comfortable reading of it. The other, more paranoid, reading is that the second statement is the result of panic over the first.
There's also the fact that Outlander star Sam Heughan is in favor of a "Yes" vote, saying:
If we vote Yes, I think the rest of the world will admire us - a new, young and exciting Scotland. And we can begin building a better Scotland.
To him, add Graham MacTavish (Dougal MacKenzie) and Grant O'Rourke (Rupert MacKenzie). So maybe if the channels were tentative about buying Outlander before, they may be concerned about raising their profile in Scotland. Assuming you're inclined to believe the theory at all.
Will the UK Ever Get to See It?
For their part, Yes Scotland didn't say they didn't believe it and potential buyer Sky denied that it was a factor in their decision:
A spokesperson for Yes Scotland said: "It would be an act of ridiculous censorship for any executive to make a decision to reject it in fear that it would drive even more voters from No to Yes."
And a representative from Sky told The Scottish Sun: "We're considering acquisitions for our customers constantly. All decisions are made purely on the merit of the story and the right fit for our channels."
Whether or not it's true — and, in my opinion, it would be hilarious if it was — doesn't really matter. Those who believe it will feel vindicated if a UK air date is announced shortly after the conclusion of the referendum. Those who don't won't be affected at all. We who do have Outlander just hope that the UK viewers are soon able to legally see the show. It has great acting, wonderful cinematography, and Heughan's abs.