Aye, Outlander‘s James Alexander Macolm MacKenzie Fraser is a sight for sore eyes. But author Diana Gabaldon says those — including Starz Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Hirsch — who see Starz’s adaptation of her novels as little more than a vehicle for shots of a shirtless Sam Heughan are really missing the show’s point.
On Monday, Gabaldon tweeted in response to Hirsch’s remarks at the Television Critics Association Friday and an interview in The Hollywood Reporter, both of which included comments about the cable network’s female viewership. During the TCA session, Hirsch told reporters that “Starz delivers the highest audience composition of women 18+ in premium cable” and has maneuvered its programming to best capture the “premium female audience.” In the interview, he elaborated:
Outlander — you can say that it’s great because women like it because she’s a surgeon who goes back in time, but there’s also another side of that, which is there’s some eye candy for that audience and people like when [Heughan] has his shirt off. You have to be really thoughtful about when you’re looking at a piece of content and whether it’s really going to be female or not. And it’s not easy.
Outlander‘s protagonist is a female character named Claire (played by Caitronia Balfe), a nurse-turned-doctor who travels back in time, falls in love with Jamie Fraser and is rather badass. The story is told from her viewpoint for the first several books in Gabaldon’s series; after that, she remains a main character and focus of the action. Starting with its first season, the TV adaptation earned some buzz for the decidedly female gaze applied to its sex scenes.
Gabaldon addressed Hirsch’s take on the series by noting that she’s got more than 30 million books in print worldwide, and in her fan mail, “I can’t say I see a lot of people talking about Jamie with his shirt off, unless it’s mentioning the shock and poignancy of his scars.” (Note for the uninitiated: Heughan’s character’s back is a mass of scars, thanks to being flogged multiple times by a sadistic Redcoat. The marks are a frequently-referenced visual in both the books and the show.)
She added that while women certainly watch, often “her husband or boyfriend is usually watching it with her” and that, in the responses she’s seen, “What they mostly say they like is the intelligence of the story and the complexity and strength of the relationship between Jamie and Claire. They also love the visual beauty of the show and the emotional depth of the acting.”
She added: “If you’re looking for a place to lean in, though, I think maybe ‘intelligence” might be a good place to start.”
Read Gabaldon’s tweet in full below: