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STAR TREK Update, with Rick Berman and Brannon Braga
Hints about the new series, the next film, and VOYAGER's final season.
By Anna L. Kaplan
March 23, 2000
Rick Berman, executive producer of STAR TREK: VOYAGER and head of the TREK franchise, wishes he could say what the next television show will be about, really. On Tuesday March 21st, in answer to the question, 'Can you tell me what the next series will be about?' he says, regretfully, 'No, I'm sorry; I can't. What I can tell you is that it's something that we have been working on nearly a year. Contrary to rumors, it's the only concept that we've developed. It's not one of three concepts we've developed. It's a concept that the studio is behind, and that we are discussing and finessing. As far as when it's going to go into production, as far as when it's going to go on the air, I don't know. The only thing I can say about the series is that it's definitely STAR TREK, but it is dramatically different. It is going to be far more different than really all three of the last series have been from the original.'
One reason developing the series has taken so long involves the legal wrangling between Viacom and Chris-Craft over the ownership of UPN, the network that airs VOYAGER, and also the planned merger between CBS and Viacom. On March 20th, Viacom bought the rest of UPN and is now the sole owner of the network, something everyone at Paramount, which is also owned by Viacom, was awaiting. Says Berman, 'We've had an odd situation with the uncertainty of what's happening to UPN, and things have been moving at a different pace than they normally would have. I think that it has probably put it in lower priority to certain people, which in effect did delay it to some degree. The fact that there seems to be a resolution in the whole thing is terrific. I think that the fact that this show is most likely not going to go on the air until after VOYAGER ends, as opposed to an overlap, is probably a blessing in disguise.'
The FCC still has to issue a ruling about whether or not Viacom/CBS can own two television networks, but the feeling within the industry seems to be that the merged company can keep UPN. Garrett Wang (Harry Kim) talks about UPN's work on this problem, saying, 'UPN flew me and Tim Russ (Tuvok) and a couple of other actors from other shows on UPN out to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of UPN and Viacom. There is that FCC regulation not allowing one entity to own more than one network. They got us to out there to lobby on their behalf, from the standpoint of, if Viacom is not allowed to retain ownership of UPN, UPN will probably end up going the way of the dodo, because it's already not a lucrative purchase. Nobody else is in line to purchase UPN right now. If UPN was dissolved, there would be a loss of many, many jobs, in front and behind the camera, for minorities.' The FCC could grant a waiver and/or rewrite its rules.
Notes Berman about the next TREK series, 'As far as where it's going to go, I would say that UPN is looking very good right now, based on the recent news. We have never worked or developed these shows with the thought of whether they were going to be on a network, or syndication, or cable. It doesn't affect us budgetarily, nor does it affect us conceptually. So that was not a factor in the concept.'
As to when the idea for the new show might become public, Berman says, 'I think that is going to be up to Paramount; I would like to think that certainly within the next three or four months. But we are probably a month away from beginning the scripting process on this. I think that we've got to get through a bit of that before we are going to be starting to tell people what it's about or when it's about.'
Berman has more to say about VOYAGER and some of the episodes yet to air during this season, VOYAGER's sixth. He enthuses, 'We came up with a show that I am really pleased about, called 'Live Fast and Prosper,' which is a riot, basically about three con men who pose as three of our officers, and go around among other things selling membership into the Federation at a price. LeVar [Burton] did a great job [directing], and it's going to be a terrific episode. It's followed by a show called 'Muse,' which is a classic Joe Menosky script. It's a little bit STAR TREK meets SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, and it just turned out beautifully. I'm very pleased with it.'
Berman praises 'Life Line,' an episode due for May sweeps, which involves the Doctor (Robert Picardo) traveling back holographically to the Alpha Quadrant to meet his creator, Dr. Zimmerman, also played by Picardo. Marina Sirtis and Dwight Schultz will reprise their roles as Troi and Barclay, respectively, in the episode. Berman also mentions the upcoming return of Kes (Jennifer Lien) in 'Fury.'
At the time of the interview, VOYAGER's sixth season finale was entering production. Executive producer Brannon Braga explains that it will focus on some surprising resistance from inside the Borg Collective. He says, 'I think of it, personally, as our third part of the Borg trilogy. It was 'Scorpion,' 'Dark Frontier,' and now there is 'Unimatrix Zero' which is the name of the two-parter. It's a high-concept, sci-fi, resistance movement show with a romance against the backdrop of it all, a lot of stuff going on, and the return of the Borg Queen, Susanna Thompson.'
What about next year's opener, the second part of 'Unimatrix Zero?' Says Braga, 'I have some ideas. Let's just say that 'Part II' is going to be pretty big. It's a lot of fun. We may very well see the beginning of the end of the Borg. I don't know that they will be gone forever. I don't know that we will destroy them, but I think it's time to shake things up a bit, get a revolution going on. A Borg civil war might be kind of fun.'
Berman has nothing but praise for the writing staff of VOYAGER, which is headed by Braga. This year, Ken Biller returned as co-executive producer. Notes Berman, 'Ken has done a great job, and he's taken a lot of the burden off of Brannon, because Brannon and I have been spending time developing the new series. The rest of the fellows have all done yeoman service. I am very pleased with the lot of them. Obviously Brannon has done a great job. Joe Menosky, who has been with us for so long, brings a lot to the table.'
What about next year? Says co-executive producer Menosky, 'I'm leaving VOYAGER, but will most likely return to the franchise at a later date.' Adds Berman, 'Joe needs to disappear, always for a few months, and live his mysterious non-STAR TREK life, usually in Europe. Then we always lure him back.'
Berman says that Ken Biller will very likely take charge of the VOYAGER writing staff some time during next season. He explains, 'Ken is going to be an executive producer, along with Brannon and myself. Depending on what the status of the new series is going to be, he'll be working with Brannon and very possibly moving in and taking over the writing staff when things get moving at a fast enough clip on the new series.'
Adds Braga, 'The staff on the whole was really solid this year. Everyone pulled together during some tough times, and put together a really solid season. I think Joe did his best work ever on the show. Ken was great. Ken, at some point, is going be taking my role over on VOYAGER as the head writer, as I move on to the new series. When precisely that will happen I'm not sure yet. When precisely and what precisely the next show will be I'm not sure. Rick, me and Paramount are in the very early conceptual stages, and everything is more-or-less on hold right now. I wish I had something to say. I really don't. I can tell you with almost near-certainty, there will be a new show. I don't think there will be any time soon. It's difficult to proceed with a huge franchise like STAR TREK when you're not sure if you are going to have UPN. So that's a factor, most definitely. There are a lot of issues to be resolved in that regard, and I have a feeling that until they are resolved one way or another, that the new series will pretty much be on hold. But there will be one, a new one, and it will be good.'
Berman offers a little morsel of something about the next TREK feature film. He says, 'I will be a tease a little bit to you and tell you that although I can't talk about it, or even talk about who is involved, I can say that we are about to begin the writing stages on what hopefully will be the next STAR TREK feature film. It's in a very, very, early stage, a stage so early that I can't even discuss who is involved. But we're diving into it this very week. There is definitely a story, and people involved with writing it, and hopefully it will work out to be the next STAR TREK feature film, and also the next STAR TREK feature film featuring the cast from THE NEXT GENERATION. There's a little tidbit for you.'
At this point, fans will have to be happy with the tidbits, until more information comes out. Berman is very aware that the Internet is awash with rumors, and will be happy to answer questions when he feels it is the appropriate time. Check back with Fandom, where you will definitely find articles about the VOYAGER episodes 'Life Line' and 'Live Fast and Prosper,' and its director, LeVar Burton.