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STAR TREK: Ronald D. Moore, Part V
The former writer-producer on the future of TREK television.
By Anna L. Kaplan
January 31, 2000
Ronald D. Moore asks pointedly, 'What is STAR TREK exploring? What are the things it's trying to make the audience think about? What relevance does it have to you and me? If it doesn't have a relevance to you and me, in our lives, what's the point? Why am I watching this, as opposed to ER? ER will touch me on a human level. There are episodes of NEXT GENERATION that are very relevant, that make me think, that give me pause, that touch me as a person. 'Inner Light' is a fantastic show about the span of one man's life, and the span of a whole civilization, and what they gave to Picard to hold special in his memory. It's a beautiful, moving episode. But VOYAGER is not doing that. It's not taking advantage of it. It's an enormous opportunity. It gives you a chance to really say something, to explore things with the audience, to challenge your audience's expectations, to make them think about life and who they are, because it's surrounded in this nice wrapper. It's only science fiction. It doesn't exist. These aliens aren't real, so they don't threaten you. You can put things into that context because they don't threaten the audience the way it does if you set it in contemporary Los Angeles. Wrap it in science fiction, wrap it in STAR TREK and you can do just about anything you want. You can have flat out racism on television. You can have real thoughtful discussions on racism and what are at its roots. But you have to choose to do it. You have to want to talk about those things. You have to have a point of view. You have to have something to say. Are you telling me STAR TREK can't afford to fall on its face periodically because it is trying too hard? I'd rather have the show try too hard, and fail, then just not try at all and just kind of settle for more of the same. I think that is where we are. We are settling for more of the same. It's just very safe story telling. There is a cynicism about it that truly troubles me. We loved DEEP SPACE NINE. We loved the show. We loved all the characters. There are actors that always give you trouble, and there are always times when the producers and actors are sometimes at each other, because, 'You don't understand my character.' 'No, you don't understand the character I am writing.' That's fair game. On VOYAGER, there are characters they have given up on. They will just say that to you, flat out. I started asking questions about B'Elanna, who she is. I was saying, 'I'm having a little trouble watching episodes and getting a handle on her, and what she is about.' The response was, 'We don't have an idea. The past doesn't matter. Just do whatever you want.' What are you talking about? How can you give up on your own show? How do you give up on your characters? There is such a cynicism about the show within the people that do the show. I'm not just talking about the writing staff. It permeates the production. The craft people and the artists down on the set, making the wardrobes and doing the sets, and the art department and visual effects take a tremendous amount of pride in their work, and delivering top quality product week after week. They are truly amazing. I can't emphasize that enough. But even they don't believe in what those sets, costumes and visual effects are being put to work, how they are being used. They are being wasted on this; it just isn't going anywhere. I didn't intend this to be a giant VOYAGER bashing session, but it is the only STAR TREK around. That is STAR TREK. If you are going to be the flagship, this is what it's about.'
Moore does have praise for some things about VOYAGER, however. 'STAR TREK looks fantastic. It is one of the best-produced shows on television, and it is certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to science fiction. Nothing looks like it; nothing comes close to sounding like it. The visual effects are just stellar, top-notch. The sets look fabulous. The costumes are always lush and big and beautiful. You can make arguments on creative decisions, but technically, the way the show is actually produced and put on the air is stellar. It's a big, beautiful show that isn't doing anything with all this beauty. It goes for the actors as well. I've maintained from day one that the VOYAGER cast overall was probably the best cast of all of them. You really had a strong group of players that could really take the show someplace. I loved the other two casts that I worked with, but I looked at the VOYAGER cast and thought, 'These group of players all really like each other, and they are all going to have fun together on the set. They are all willing to try anything that you give to them.' I found that in the brief time I was working with them, too; they will do anything for you. They work very hard; they take a lot of pride in their craft. Do something with them! It's just such a wasted opportunity. It angers me because of the waste of it all. Here is this golden franchise; here is this series that has stood the test of time, and you are given seven years by the grace of God. Unlike any other show, you are going to get seven years out of the series. You can say anything you want with it. You've got a core audience that's going to tune in every week. It's the flagship show of UPN. Do something! Go somewhere with it!
'Now,' says Ron Moore about STAR TREK, 'you do another series or another movie, the attitude is, 'Oh God, another one?' That is wrong. Why feed into that public perception? I just don't know any reason to do it. It doesn't even serve Paramount's long-term financial goals, in my opinion. If the studio really wants this thing to last for another thirty or forty years, they should look down the line further than just next year's profits. They should take a longer term view and say, 'We should let this rest for awhile. Let it go away; let it percolate down through the popular culture, and let it find its way to a whole new crop of fans.' People are going to watch these shows in syndication forever. They are going watch the movies on video forever, and they are going to watch them on the Internet soon. Eventually they are going to be saying, 'Damn. When are they going to put out one of those STAR TREKs?' They'll start a letter writing campaigns, and they'll get nostalgic for DEEP SPACE NINE eventually; they'll get nostalgic for VOYAGER. You'll get this, 'Remember when there were two STAR TREK series on the air?' People will forget, and they will want to see it again. All they have to do is wait, and then start fresh, and then take advantage of the opportunities, and reinvent the series.'
Moore says candidly, 'Reinventing it now, I can't see where you go right this minute. I don't have an idea for the next series. I know that they [Braga and Berman] are struggling to have an idea for the new series. They are casting about to really spin it on its head and try to do something different, which I salute them for. Without a break, without a rest, without really recharging and stepping back, and letting the whole thing kind of sit for awhile, I don't know how you can. It's just too much.'
At one time, Moore considered the idea that he might be at Paramount to work on the next TREK television show, but things did not work out that way (see Part I). Now he is looking at TREK from the outside for the first time in many years. Moore says, 'I'm not there, so I don't know really what the situation is between Paramount and Rick and Brannon, or how far apart they are, or what the proposals are. What they shouldn't be afraid to do, is to step away from all the STAR TREK that there is. A new series should not take place in the same time period as THE NEXT GENERATION. It should not revisit any of the current plot lines. It shouldn't deal with the Klingons, and the Cardassians, or the Romulans and their current state. It should either go forward in the future, or back in the past.
'The STAR TREK pastit's challenging; it sounds like it's fun on one level, and I thought that was an interesting way to go for a long time. But it has a lot of pitfalls to it. You have a very complex future mapped out. If you are going to go into STAR TREK's past, say, pre-Kirk, you better have an iron-clad commitment to maintaining the continuity that's been established, or I think you are just going to lose everybody. Because if you go back before Kirk, and you start screwing around, and you just don't care what NEXT GEN or DS9 or VOYAGER established, or the movies, or even the original series, you just try to make it up as you go along, I think you just lost everyone. The whole franchise will just collapse, because it will have no validity whatsoever. If you are going to go there, you really better be prepared to truly put on the STAR TREK mantle and be the keeper of the flame. I think that is really hard for Rick and Brannon. It's hard for them to do that, because they don't like the original show. Let's not mince words. They don't like the original show. They have never liked the original show. They'll bob and weave a bit here and there in public. But they don't like it; they don't want to have anything to do with it. If you are going to go before the original series and do something, you better have a change of attitude. You better have an epiphany about how much you love the original series. It's all going to be about leading up to that.'
He continues, 'The trouble with saying, 'I think the new series should be this...' is that there is no clear answer to that. There's not an obvious next step to take the franchise as a whole. It's unique. The other big franchises are nothing like this. The closest one, I think, is the Bond franchise, because Bond goes way back, longer than STAR TREK. It's lived in the popular imagination for quite some time. It continues to make money. The trick with the Bond franchise is they made a decision that you could recast Bond. When Sean Connery left that series, they could go to George Lazenby. They bring Connery back; they go to Roger Moore; they go to Timothy Dalton, and they go to Pierce Brosnan. That puts it in its own weird little space. There is no real continuity they need to maintain between the movies. Bond is a larger-than-life character, and he is not really pinned down to any of this. As a consequence, you never have to deal with things like aging, death. Bond is ageless. He never dies; he is never going to. That's not going to happen, and that works for that franchise. STAR TREK made a decision when they made the first movie. You could have either just gone back on the Enterprise, to try to pretend that no time has passed, and just go do another mission. Or you can go the way they went. Kirk is an admiral; time has passed, and the characters are getting oldertime to grapple with these issues. In the second film, even more so. That propels everything else. That means, you are not going back. You are not going to recast Kirk and Spock. We can't even think about it. So that option is off the table, and it's not off the table for any of these other sort of fantasy, hero-type things. Superman has been played by how many actors? Batman has been played by how many actors? Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, all the mythic characters of the culture that you are used to dealing with have been played by many actors. The roles were larger than the actors. But here, the actors are so identified with the roles. I think it would be virtually impossible to get people to accept anyone but Leonard Nimoy as Spock. Because you can't just keep regenerating the same stories over and over again, you have no choice but to go forward.
'Going forward means making creative decisions that are continually interesting and surprising to the audience. When they made DEEP SPACE NINE, you were forced to do something completely different. You couldn't do it on the Enterprise, had to do another kind of show, had to keep it interesting. When they went to VOYAGER they took another step backwards. They did another ship-based show, in the TNG format, with a different premise. But then they backed off on the premise, rapidly. There is a sense of standing still in the franchise, and it's going to take a creative leap to take it somewhere else. You have to be unafraid of where that direction is going to take you. You have to just shake up the formula, because it is becoming a formula. You can't have them sitting in those chairs, on that ship, falling out of their seats and looking up at big viewscreens, and say, 'You've got to have all those elements, because that's STAR TREK.' Well, that's hardening of the arteries. You just can't keep feeding the audience the same thing over and over again, while at the same time, talking out of the other side of your mouth, saying, 'But it's all completely different; it's a STAR TREK you've never seen before. It's so different; we are doing things with STAR TREK that no one has ever done.' It's still guys in pajamas looking at viewscreens and sitting in chairs. It can be more than that. DEEP SPACE NINE proved that. You can be bigger than the box; you can do things that have more ambition, and are bolder, and that truly do advance the medium. You need some new ideas. I won't even say that Rick and Brannon are not the people to come up with those ideas. But, I find it hard to believe that they can come up with those ideas in the thick of it, when you are in the trenches, when you are doing VOYAGER. VOYAGER is running its creative course so quickly. Then to think that you are, somehow, from that experience, going to come up with something greatI can't even imagine how you could do it. What they are doing now, and where they are doesn't seem like it's fertile ground for something spectacular to grow from. Maybe I am wrong. I hope I am wrong. I hope they come up with something that is amazing, that blows everybody away. But I just don't know how you get there from here.
'How do you get there from where VOYAGER is? VOYAGER is given carte blanche by Paramount. That's one of the great things about Paramount. Paramount left us alone. They always left us alone. They let NEXT GEN do whatever it wanted. God knows it let DEEP SPACE NINE do whatever we wanted. It lets VOYAGER do whatever it wants. The studio is not the problem here. The studio is going to let you go wherever you want to go, as long as they believe that this is quality, as long as they believe it's good work. You've just got to come up with something good. But if VOYAGER is the example of what you think is good, and you are telling yourself, 'This is a good product, and we are going to do something even better than this,' you are just already speaking a different language than me. I don't accept this as good product. This could be so much better than it is. This could go so much further. This could be such a better series and such a better representation of TREK and what it means. It could be just as beloved as the other series. There is nothing to keep VOYAGER from being as beloved in the hearts of its fans as all the other series, but it just is not going there. It does not give me a lot of hope that the next one is going to be beloved and it's going to be fresh, and interesting, must-see TV. You want to tune in, tell your friends, 'Hey, you'll never guess, you will never guess what the new STAR TREK series is about! Good God! It doesn't even look like STAR TREK. You should turn it on.' That's what you want people saying.'