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Paramount Launches Next Trek Series

STAR TREK: DEEP-SIX NINE boldly voyages to the bottom of the sea.

By Dan Cziraky     June 25, 2000

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A strange rift in time and space--a gateway to a parallel dimension--has opened up somewhere near Gastonia, North Carolina, allowing our faithful Fandom correspondent to report on events until now unknown in our dimension, events that take place in a mind-boggling Alternative Universe that resembles our own, yet differs in many ways. Are these events shadows of things to come in our world, or are they mere distorted echoes of things that have already happened here? We leave that for you to decide as we present the first of our reports from the AlternaVerse.]

After more than a year of speculation and rumors, Paramount Pictures Television has announced the next series in the STAR TREK franchise. Executive producers Richard B'urhman and Brannon Branagh beamed with pride as they introduced the cast of STAR TREK: DEEP-SIX NINE, the fourth series spun-off from Gene Roddenberry's original STAR TREK (NBC-TV, 1966-69). The new show will follow the exploits of the crew of the U.S.S. Deep Star Six, a vessel designed to navigate the vastness of space but also able to plunge beneath the depths of planetary oceans. The crew are specialists in underwater rescues, and will travel to whatever worlds require their services. On board as co-executive producer will be Sean Cunningham, no stranger to ocean-going fantasy adventures, having produced the special effects epic, JASON VS. THE ARGONAUTS.

Said B'urhman, 'The crew are trained and equipped to handle all sorts of aquatic emergencies, such as the evacuation of an undersea colony or the rescue of crippled exploratory vessels.'

In command of Deep Star Six is Captain Eileen Wright, portrayed by Rena Mero, perhaps best known as the World Wrestling Federation's Sable. Mero has several genre TV appearances to her credit, including a guest-star turn as an alien assassin on Peter Weir's Sci-Fi Channel's series LAST WAVE. Veteran performer Patrick Duffy will portray Dr. Perry Winkle, a specialist in aquatic trauma. Duffy, best remembered as Bobby Ewing in CBS-TV's primetime drama DALLAS, also once starred as NBC-TV's THE MAN FROM ATLANTIS. Jaime P. Gomez, who recently finished a run as Detective Evan Cortez on CBS-TV's M.A.S.H. BRIDGES, will co-star as Lt. Cmdr. L'Vaje, a member of the water-breathing, humanoid species of Grapdelites. Completing the main cast is Brinke Stevens as Lt. Geri Niam, a member of the sea lion-like Xian species, who is the crew's chief aquatic equipment specialist. Stevens, a low-budget sci-fi and horror movie favorite, actually possesses a degree in oceanography.

'As a little girl, I was always watching the classic STAR TREK episodes with Kirk and Spock,' Mero told an assemblage of the press. 'I wasn't a huge fan, but I had friends who lived and breathed the show. Still, it was a great show, and holds up well. It's inspired so many other series, from BABYLON 5 to FARSCAPE.'

Stevens was a little more enthusiastic regarding her new role. 'Oh, I was a total geek for STAR TREK as a kid!' she admitted with a laugh. 'One time, I even shaved my eyebrows into points like Spock. I was a little bit of an outcast, and brainy and bookish, so I completely identified with Spock. In fact, my favorite episode was 'Spock's Time.''

Although her Lt. Niam character doesn't have pointed ears and eyebrows, she does wear a fair amount of make-up for the role. 'I have a pelt, which is tan when dry but gets darker when wet,' she commented. 'I've got tiny, swept-back ears, and gigantic, black eyes, which are contact lenses. I also wear glove-like finger extensions, to give my hands the look of sea lion flippers. I've got ones for my feet, too! Fortunately, they decided the whiskers just weren't going to work out.'

'I've always admired the positive spirit expressed in STAR TREK,' said Duffy. 'Plus, I get to pull all my scuba and swimming training from THE MAN FROM ATLANTIS out of mothballs. I just hope these new trunks are a little more forgiving than those were--it's been over twenty years, after all!'

Following in the webprints of STAR WARS, EPISODE ONE: THE FANDOM MENACE, Gomez' water-breathing Grapdelite character might seem an attempt to cash in on the continued popularity of Jar-Jar Binks, but B'urhman insists that Lt. Cmdr. L'Vaje was conceived long before Lucas introduced the Gun-Guns. 'It was a case of independent co-creation,' he said, adding. 'Great minds think alike.'

Other characters were still in the final stages of casting. Rumored to be under consideration for the role of Emergency Medical Hologram (Mark III), specially programmed with aquatic emergency procedures and planned as a back-up for Dr. Winkle, is Louise Robey, who played Mickey Foster on Paramount's FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES. Alicia Witt, who appeared in URBAN LEGEND is said to be up for the role of pilot-navigator Lt. Sallah M'ndahr, a member of an amphibious, reptilian species that is a more humanoid than their cousins, the Gorns (well remembered for the appearance in the classic episode 'Enemy of Mercy').

B'urhman pointed out, 'We've been to countless worlds in STAR TREK, but rarely have we seen their oceans. Some will be teeming with bizarre, alien life forms, while others will be shockingly similar to our own. Of course, not all oceans will necessarily be composed of water, either. That's a challenge we're looking forward to, to create worlds with oceans of different consistencies: hydrochloric acid, intense levels of salt or other minerals, and anything else conceivable.'

Although the crew will, for the most part, wear standard Starfleet uniforms, the series will introduce Starfleet regulation swimwear for the first time. 'There are several styles, depending on the situation,' Branagh said. 'There are swimsuits for male and female crewmembers that are similar to beach wear. For lack of a better example, similar to what was worn by the lifeguards on BAYWATCH. Then, there are the wetsuits, one-piece rubber for periods of extended underwater operations.' Although Branagh insisted the wet suits are not revealing, rumor has it they will be as form fitting as Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine costume for STAR TREK: VOYAGES.

As for the general tone of the series, B'urhman said, 'I think 'funnier' is not something that would be valid to say. Sexier, perhaps, and more contemporary in terms of style of television production today. Think STAR TREK meets SEA HUNT.'

Branagh addressed the swimsuit issue, which could be construed as an attempt to increase the sex factor of STAR TREK, such as the introduction of the voluptuous Seven of Nine on VOYAGES. 'The swimwear is Starfleet issue, and functionality definitely wins out over fashion,' he countered when the term STAR TREK: BAYWATCH is thrown at him. 'In the 24th century, diet and exercise advancements are reflected in the general population, not just in Starfleet. All of the STAR TREK casts have featured 'healthy specimens.' We can't help it if Rena and Brinke happen to have great physiques that will show through.'

B'urhman insisted, 'Captain Wright is a very confident, commanding figure; you don't want her catching you ogling her in her wetsuit, trust me! Geri Niam, because of her physiognomy, doesn't require as much protection in the water as her human crewmates, but she's still required to be in uniform, such as it is.'

Launching DEEP-SIX NINE was a priority at Paramount, which didn't want STAR TREK: VOYAGES to leave the air without another TREK series established to replace it. Although fans have rallied around George Takei and his idea for a STAR TREK: EXCELSIOR series, following the exploits of Captain Z'ulu and the crew of the U.S.S. Excelsior, as seen in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDERCOVERED COUNTRY, Branagh admitted that it was never even considered. 'George is a great guy, a wonderful talent, and I'm sure the fans would love to see him as Captain Z'ulu again,' he said. 'He's very popular on the convention circuit. But, right now, that's just not the direction the studio wants to take STAR TREK. If it were, then that's what we'd be discussing today, instead of DEEP-SIX NINE.'

Then, of course, there are the rumors surrounding the tenth TREK film. 'We have a story,' Branagh said. 'Beyond that, we can't say anything else. Well, other than that it's just going to blow everyone away.'

Branagh's phrasing seems suggestive in light of some Internet chatter from fans ('STAR TREK: RESURRECTION didn't do well, so it's time to blow up the ship again!'). When questioned about this, he seemed taken aback. 'Blow up the Enterprise again? We never blew up the Enterprise; we crashed the Enterprise in STAR TREK: MY GENERATIONS. So if we blow up the Enterprise in the next film, we're not repeating ourselves. Not that I'm saying we have any plans to,' he quickly added. Reminded of the demise of the Enterprise in STAR TREK 3: SPOCK'S KATRA, Branagh admitted, 'Yeah, well, in that sense you could say the Enterprise would be blowing up again, but the original cast and the Next Generation cast really represent different franchises, so it's like a different series, which shouldn't be hamstrung by what the old cast did. Not that I'm saying we're using the Next Generation cast in the next movie,' he quickly added.

For now, B'urhman and Branagh are content to start a new TREK series, even if it is tinged with elements of Jules Verne. 'I promise, no giant squids--at least, not in the first season!' B'urhman laughed, and Mero, Duffy, Gomez and Stevens looked quite relieved.

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