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STAR TREK'S GREATEST MOMENTS: Celebrating the Best of TREK
Jason Alexander hosts UPN's special event
By Anna L. Kaplan
December 02, 1999
Jason Alexander described the thrill of participating in UPN's special television event entitled 'Ultimate Trek: STAR TREK's Greatest Moments,' which airs Wednesday, December 1. Alexander laughed, 'We had a fabulous time doing this. We hope it looked like it was fun, because we had a blast. It was a personal fantasy come true. Even my poor beleaguered agent does know that when somebody calls and they put the two words STAR TREK together, he might as well bring the information to me.'
When approached to participate in the television special, Alexander discovered that the clips of the greatest TREK moments had already been selected under the supervision of director and executive producer Michael Stevens. The format, however, had not been set. Says Alexander, who became one of the show's executive producers, 'When I first came to it, Mike Stevens knew he wanted to do something different than the standard, let's have a host in front of a limbo set connecting the material. The initial idea that he proposed was to do almost a POLITICALLY INCORRECT format, where I would host three or four celebrity comics who were STAR TREK fans, and we would do a free-for-all that way. I thought that that was not a bad idea, and it certainly opened up a whole new way of thinking. But I also thought that it left a lot to chance, because it would have been un-scripted. As we sat around brainstorming, I tried to get into a discussion about what it is TREK fans get into. I said, 'I think part of the fantasy is that we project ourselves into these roles and onto these ships. Maybe we could do that for them by having three fans actually be the guys.' Out of that was born this whole idea, the concept for how to connect it using the Kirk, Spock, McCoy prototypes, going back in time on a mission. It gave me a larger participation, and therefore the producing credit.'
In the show, Alexander, as Captain Kirk, along with Dr. McCoy (Dana Gould), and Mr. Spock (Jay Johnston), go back to contemporary Earth on a mission to prevent an early trigger of the 'Y2K bug,' which is supposed to happen during the Internet voting for STAR TREK's greatest moments. When this occurs, the signal sending STAR TREK out through the cosmos will stop, and Spock, Kirk and McCoy will cease to exist. During the course of this mission, the three have an opportunity to view computer records of, among other things, TREK's 'Ultimate Villains,' 'Ultimate Beauties,' 'Best One-Liners,' 'The Deeper Meaning,' and 'Ultimate Heroics.' The actors taking part in the spoof, which runs through the whole program, included Simon Billig (VOYAGER's Ensign Hogan) as an NBC executive. The connective pieces introduce the audience to the selected clips, while they are also encouraged to vote for their favorite episode of TREK up until the last minute.
Alexander, who is best known as SEINFELD's George Costanza, recalls his love of the original TREK series, particularly Captain Kirk, as portrayed by William Shatner. 'I didn't even want to be an actor. I just wanted to captain the Enterprise. I thought that was a wonderful career goal. I was very influenced by Shatner's style. If you ever see me do stage work or some of my more dramatic work, you will actually notice that I have inherited that sort of halting, searching, staccato rhythm of Shatner's from time to time, his emphasis on unusual parts of any given line of dialogue. Not the larger-than-life movements that he does, but some of his smaller tics, I have actually picked up, and I have to concentrate to not do them. It was so easy to do the special, and do the minutiae of what he performs, because I was free, finally, to do it.'
The connective frame, along with the clips, slants the production in favor of the original series, which is Alexander's favorite, although he likes all TREK. He recalls, 'We used to play a game in college, a group of us that were particularly fans of the original series. We used to try and guess the name of the episode based on either the planet that the ship was flying over on the opening shot, or the stardate. I hate to tell you how many of us were able to do it. It would frighten you how much I know about it, because it certainly frightens me.'
He continues, 'The follow-up series, I have enjoyed them all. I think each one had a wonderful chemistry within their own casts. I am particularly fond of VOYAGER as a spin-off series. To me, it has a little bit more of whatever that elusive feeling was, of the original series. The whole shooting-from-the-hip attitude that the big trio was known for, seems to be more prevalent in that series than the other two. There have been compelling characters, compelling writing, absolutely stunning productions. I think they have been carrying the torch very nicely.'
Alexander guest starred on VOYAGER in the fifth season episode 'Think Tank.' He recalls, 'As an actor, you have partial illusion all around you. On SEINFELD it looked like we were in an apartment, but it had no fourth wall. The amazing thing about doing VOYAGER is, first you get into this makeup job that is so good that as you look at the mirror from two feet away, you can't tell that it is makeup. It was mind-blowing to be inside of that thing. Then, you walk onto the set. Once you've closed the outer doors, you are on a ship. The corridors all lead to rooms. The rooms have four walls and ceilings and floors. If you look out a window, there is a star field. It is a complete and perfect illusion. For an actor, we are just big kids with big toys. This was the greatest playground that you could imagine. Because you were surrounded by illusion, it was really, really easy to get into and stay in character. That part of it was just a great, great experience. They have a wonderful cast, a terrific crew, and they made me feel very much at home and very welcome.'
Alexander added, 'I can tell you, as much as I would love to be a regular on one of the TREK series, it is a tough job. They work long, brutal days. God forbid, you are in prosthetic makeup, you are adding hours to that. It's not easy material to learn. It's filled with lots of technobabble. A lot of it is special effects work, which is very detail-oriented and slow moving. A lot of it is uncomfortable. The costumes, more often than not, are not the most comfortable things in the world. It is a grueling job. The fantasy of watching it is great. The doing of it is very hard, and I tip my hat to everybody that has done it.'
When asked what makes STAR TREK work so well, Alexander answers, 'It's really good science fiction. A lot of science fiction fans are very bright people, and I think TREK really does its homework as far as its science goes, and its commitment to pulling off effects and pulling off the creation of the physical world of the future. It always has had sense of humor about itself. It also has always had a sense of a mission in a way, of trying to tackle issues that are relevant to all of us, and to do it in a way that encompasses entertainment. Because they are able to abstract it into this future world, it seems to have very little threat to a viewer. I think it's a combination of good science, good entertainment, and really writing about things we care about and think about. The rest of it, I'm sure, is just the chemistry of the individual companies and writers. At this point it has also become an icon, and a legacy.'
Alexander's two favorite original series episodes were not on the list of choices in the poll at TREK's website, www.startrek.com. He notes, 'The comedic episode that I love is called 'A Piece of the Action' where they all pretend to be Chicago mobsters from the '20s. That was a lot of fun. The dramatic one that I really just love, is 'Who Mourns for Adonais,' where the Enterprise crew meets Apollo. I just loved the whole notion of that episode. I loved the writing. It really struck me.'
Since his favorite episode was not among the choices, Alexander made a surprising pick for best episode. He said, 'I love the original series, but 'Tribbles' was never my favorite episode. So I went for the sequel to it, 'Trials and Tribble-ations.' But I don't want to influence the voting.'
During the one serious part of the television program, the actors segue into a group of clips in memory of DeForest Kelley. Noted Alexander, 'We wanted to make sure that we led into it in a way that was not silly. I liked what we did. I wouldn't have minded seeing a little bit more of it, and spending a little more time with him as McCoy. If I have any criticism, I think that's the one area where I would have loved to have seen either more or different clips. But I think having it there is absolutely right. My biggest hope is that it is something that the family will appreciate and enjoy.'
Alexander will next be seen as Boris Badenov in ROCKY & BULLWINKLE. He and his company AngelArc Productions have many projects in the works. It also sounds as if he might like a return to another TREK special. He said, 'In every clip package, I could think of things that weren't there. But hopefully there is enough there that no matter which series you are the biggest fan of, you don't feel under-represented and you have some nice reliving of certain moments. No one will ever be satisfied, which if anything is reason just to do more and more of them.'