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STAR TREK: Ronald D. Moore, Part II
The writer-producer discusses his beginnings at TREK and the switch to VOYAGER.
By Anna L. Kaplan
January 19, 2000
Let's go back to the beginning for Moore, to get a history lesson as well as an idea about what about VOYAGER upset him so much. He remembers, 'When I came aboard in the third season, NEXT GEN was very much the new kid on the block. There was a lot of static from the fans about the old series. 'You can never replace Kirk [William Shatner] and Spock [Leonard Nimoy]; it's not the real Enterprise, and this isn't STAR TREK.' People forget that. Now NEXT GEN, everybody holds it up as the greatest thing. But nobody was giving us those plaudits at the beginning. We felt a bit under siege when I was there. There wasn't a lot of support out in the fan community. At conventions people were still selling bumper stickers that said 'Kirk and Spock forever, Picard [Patrick Stewart] and the bunch, to hell with them,' and that kind of stuff. But what we really had was an esprit. We really cared about the show, and we were very proud about what we were doing. We were determined to try to make something good happen. That third season was very difficult for everybody, as I have recounted many times. Michael Piller came aboard; there was warring with the writing staff; [TREK creator] Gene Roddenberry was still around. The politics of the show were still churning a little bit. What Michael brought to the process was this determination to make the show about the characters, about these people that were on the Enterprise, and not just about the alien of the week or the situation of the week. It was that determination on his part that really informed the rest of that series, and consequently DEEP SPACE NINE, and to a large extent, the movies. I think Michael has become the forgotten player in all of this. People now argue about Rick's contribution to the show, and where Rick has taken the show since Gene died, and what is Rick's legacy, and the Gene-versus-Rick thing--whether he has been the good guardian of the franchise ever since Gene passed away. In truth, it was Michael. Michael is the guy who came in and said, 'This is the show we are going to do,' and forced the series in that direction. In doing so, what he really did was validate the central premise of STAR TREK, which was always about the characters. It was always about Kirk and Spock and McCoy [DeForest Kelley] in the original series, and how those adventures affected those men, and the relationship between those people. People tend to get caught up in the plot and stories, and what kind of story telling STAR TREK is doing. But at its heart it's a human show about human beings in the future, and using that as a canvas to tell stories about the human experience. I think people mistake the campy-ness of the original series for its appealthat it has a sort of kitchy value. I have heard Rick say things like, 'Kirk is the prototypical sixties hero. He had a babe in one arm and a phaser in the other.' That's kind of his popularized image of Captain Kirk and what that whole series was about. But really it was about Kirk as a man, as a character, as a human being, and what he experienced out in the galaxy, and the way he led that ship. What people remember about that show are not those plot lines. I think the true hard-core fans will recite chapter and verse of the episodes that mean a lot to them, why 'Mirror, Mirror,' was a great show, what 'City on the Edge of Forever,' really meant. But in truth, it's really because they fell in love with those people. People ran around dressing up like Kirk and putting on Spock ears. They didn't run around waving signs about the politics the show espoused, or what the sociopolitical commentary of the show was. That was all interesting, good stuff, but it was the people that they were seeing on the screen each week that they cared about. When Michael really forced NEXT GEN to go in that direction, he was really being truer I think to the spirit of what the original series was about. It was about those three men, and less so the supporting characters, because that show really wasn't an ensemble show. It was about those three principles every week, week in and week out, and mostly Kirk, almost entirely Kirk. As NEXT GEN started to really go in those directions, and the writing staff kept changing over the years, we had a sense that we were getting traction, and the show was starting to work for us. The characters were starting to come together. We started enjoying it more. It started being a fun place to work.'
Moore continues, 'TNG was just a happy place to be. It was the kind of place where there were no bad ideas in the room. Michael created an atmosphere where you really felt free to voice your opinions. You could argue with the boss. I argued with Mike a lot, right to the point I thought I should be fired, but he never even came close to that. That's a tribute to him. What he really fostered was this sense of, 'We're all in this together, and it's just about the work. It's just about making the best show that you possibly can.' That was always everybody's top priority. The last season of TNG was not as much fun as the others had been. Everybody was getting really tired. I think the quality of the show suffered in that last year. I bear some of the responsibility for that, because I think I underestimated the impact that GENERATIONS was going to have on the series. So TNG didn't leave with the best taste in the mouth, as I look back on it. I regret the way the series went off the air, even though, miracle of miracles, the final episode turned out really well. Somehow, someway, it was just one of those nice little pieces of magic that happens. You happen to write a good script, and it happened to be really memorable, and it happened to all click together in 'All Good Things...''
Then Moore moved over to DS9. He recalls, 'DEEP SPACE NINE took that to another level. We were so tight as a writing staff, we loved the show so much, that we could sit in that room and literally scream at each other. Hans Beimler and I could just go at it, hammer and tongs, yelling and really getting upset. We would just sit there and yell about story points, and then, 'Where are we going to lunch today?' We would all go out, and really enjoy each other's company and have a good time. What I found on VOYAGER was suddenly it wasn't about the work anymore. It wasn't about making the best show that we possibly could; it was about all these other extraneous issues. It was about the politics of the show, and the strange sort of competition of egos within the writing staff and the producing staff and the management of the show. 'Competition' is probably a misleading term. The politics of the show were such that the egos of the people in charge of the series were threatened by the people who worked for them. To be blunt, [writers] Bryan Fuller and Mike Taylor were treated very shabbily, and it pissed me off. They took a lot of crap, and the only reason it was done was to keep the guys on the top of the pyramid feeling good about themselves. It also had the effect of keeping the writing staff from working in concert as a group. The DS9 staff by contrast was very tight.
'The fun factor dropped precipitously, and I think that shows on the screen,' Moore continues. 'I think that the product that you are getting now is also a reflection of the way the show is produced. Certainly the spirit of DEEP SPACE NINE, and what we were trying to do, and what we believed in, informed what we put out. You could say that DEEP SPACE NINE was too inside, and it was too complex. It got too much inside of its own head to be accessible to people who just approached the show for the first time, but that is a reflection of deep passion and commitment to the show. Whereas VOYAGER is so scattered internally, the way it's put together, that in a large measure, the product is very scattered, and doesn't have cohesiveness. In terms of the arc of the relationships and the working environments, it was just like a parabola. It started tense, difficult, but, 'We are all in this. Let's just keep the show going somehow, and it does matter. It doesn't matter if Gene likes us or not, it doesn't matter if Michael is mad at us today; we are going to get the show on the air, so come on.' TNG was about learning the craft. We were all trying to do the best thing, and sensing that it was getting better, and watching the ratings go up, and watching more public acclaim, and watching it become its own piece of Americana, and eventually eclipsing the original series to a large extent in the popular imagination. DEEP SPACE NINE was this real sense of, 'We're here. Let's do the best show we possibly can, and let's push the concept as far as we possibly can.' I was hearing stuff about VOYAGER all along. Then to go to VOYAGER and just to find out that on a personal level that the environment was not conducive to doing good work. The environment was chaotic and fraught with other issues that just didn't have anything to do with the work. It just became another job. That's never what I had experienced, and it was very disappointing. We're talking just about the work environment. That's aside from all the reasons that I left.'
Moore went over to VOYAGER expecting to do his job as a writer and co-executive producer. He studied the episodes of VOYAGER, asked questions, and tried to familiarize himself with the show's characters. This did little to allay his underlying doubts about the show. He says, 'I can only criticize VOYAGER so much. I only worked on it for a given amount of time, but I do have a lot of experience at STAR TREK. I did work on it for a couple of months, and I did study it intensely for a few months leading up to that, trying to get my head inside of it. Writing an episode forces you to kind of get your hands dirty and see where the flaws in the show are.'
In fact, Moore is very qualified to comment on VOYAGER, knowing TREK inside out and having worked on all of the last three incarnations of TREK. Moore knows TREK as well as anyone can. He recalls early impressions. 'I would see things from the outside, and I would just pick up things from talking with Brannon, and his frustration. He wasn't happy a good chunk of the time either. I think VOYAGER has always had a certain rocky, internal structure. That's not to say you can't produce a quality product out of that. If you can put it on the screen and make it work, the internal politics don't matter. But when what's on the screen isn't working, then the whole equation gets thrown into question.'
Who judges if VOYAGER is working? Moore answers, 'The audience is still watching VOYAGER. The ratings are down, but the ratings are down across television, in every category, on every network, and every program. As long as the studio believes that the franchise can make money, and that there is an audience there, they will continue to produce it. If they believe that it is seriously in great difficulty, Paramount will make changes. But each of us has to make our own judgement on what is good and bad. I know what I like in the series, and what I don't like in the series. I don't really care for where the franchise is now, where it's going. It's not about anything. It feels to me that it is a very content-free show. It's not really speaking to the audience on any real level anymore. What's happening is that it's very superficial. It talks a good game. It talks about how it's about deep social problems, and how it's about sociological issues, and that it's very relevant. It's about exploration, and it's about the unknown, and all these cute catch phrases, but scratch the surface of that and there is really not much underneath it all. VOYAGER doesn't really believe in anything. The show doesn't have a point of view that I can discern. It doesn't have anything really to say. I truly believe it simply is just wandering around the galaxy. It doesn't even really believe in its own central premise, which is to me its greatest flaw.'
Moore notes, 'I've said this to Brannon for years, because he and I would talk about the show when it was first invented. I just don't understand why it doesn't even believe in itself. Examine the fundamental premise of VOYAGER. A starship chases a bunch of renegades. Both ships are flung to the opposite side of the galaxy. The renegades are forced to come aboard Voyager. They all have to live together on their way home, which is going to take a century or whatever they set up in the beginning. I thought, This is a good premise. That's interesting. Get them away from all the familiar STAR TREK aliens, throw them out into a whole new section of space where anything can happen. Lots of situations for conflict among the crew. The premise has a lot of possibilities. Before it aired, I was at a convention in Pasadena, and [scenic illustrator, technical consultant Rick] Sternbach and [scenic art supervisor, technical consultant Michael] Okuda were on stage, and they were answering questions from the audience about the new ship. It was all very technical, and they were talking about the fact that in the premise this ship was going to have problems. It wasn't going to have unlimited sources of energy. It wasn't going to have all the doodads of the Enterprise. It was going to be rougher, fending for themselves more, having to trade to get supplies that they want. That didn't happen. It doesn't happen at all, and it's a lie to the audience. I think the audience intuitively knows when something is true and something is not true. VOYAGER is not true. If it were true, the ship would not look spick-and-span every week, after all these battles it goes through. How many times has the bridge been destroyed? How many shuttlecrafts have vanished, and another one just comes out of the oven? That kind of bullshitting the audience I think takes its toll. At some point the audience stops taking it seriously, because they know that this is not really the way this would happen. These people wouldn't act like this.'