Monday, February 14, 2011

TREK's Ex

For the eighteen year stretch from 1987 to 2005, the onscreen destiny of the Star Trek franchise was guided almost entirely by one man, executive producer Rick Berman, who initially worked with Gene Roddenberry in bringing Star Trek: The Next Generation to television and eventually took over fully as the Trek creator's health declined. As Paramount's point man on their crown jewel franchise, Berman co-created the TV spin-offs Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, and also shepherded the four films featuring the Next Generation crew. During the nearly twenty years that Berman was captain of the Trek ship, he oversaw some of the franchise's highest highs and lowest lows.

While Berman has taken much grief over the years from the more vociferous quarters of Trek fandom, with many (perhaps rightly) blaming him for the franchise's precipitous qualitative decline, that's to be expected given that he was the most visible man on the totem pole for so long. Still, despite the fact that his Star Trek tenure ended inauspiciously with Nemesis bombing pretty spectacularly back in 2002 and Enterprise getting the axe shortly thereafter, the sheer longevity of his time in the center chair, overseeing all aspects of all a billion dollar franchise, means that he has no shortage of anecdotes and opinions to offer, some of which he's now begun to share, thanks to a lengthy three-part chat he conducted with StarTrek.com last week. Click past the jump for some of the highlights:

On taking over from Roddenberry:
Gene was comfortable with me taking care of the day-to-day supervision of this program that he’d been involved with for about two years at that point, and he stepped back. He’d come to the office every day. He did a lot of correspondence with people. He and I would talk a lot. He’d read some scripts. But his involvement got smaller and smaller as the months went on. Then he got ill and his involvement got quite a bit less. By the time he passed away, I was, I guess you could say, running TNG along with Michael Piller.
Killing Captain Kirk in Star Trek Generations (which I reviewed here):
That was something that was our way of paying respect and honor to the original series. But it was taken by a lot of people as going against canon of the show, and about our killing Kirk, when in fact Kirk had been dead for decades, most likely, as far as anybody knew.
On the very different Trek that Deep Space Nine became, and the idea that showrunner Ira Behr snuck the show past him:
...a vast majority of what he and his staff did I agreed with. But there were certain things I didn’t agree with and, having been one of the two creators of the show and being an executive producer of the show, I felt I had the right to air my feelings to Ira. Unfortunately, it’s come out over the years as Ira tricking me into this or getting me to believe he was going to do X and then doing Y. I was never quite that foolish.
On the franchise flaming out with Star Trek: Enterprise:
The show certainly had a great start. It got very good reviews and it had a huge audience for the first half a dozen episodes and then it started to slip. I could take the blame for it. I could put the blame into the scripts. I could put the blame into franchise fatigue. I don’t know why it didn’t work.
And his reflection on the much-maligned Enterprise series-ender "These Are The Voyages," which saw the NX-01 crew take a backseat to The Next Generation's Riker and Troi in a holodeck simulation (read my own thoughts here):
I would have never done it if I had known how people were going to react ... it was perceived as “You’re ending our series with a TNG episode.” I understand how people felt that way. Too many people felt that way for them to be wrong. Brannon and I felt terrible that we’d let a lot of people down. It backfired, but our hearts were definitely in the right place. It just was not accepted in the way we thought it would be.
The critical and box office failure of The Next Generation's last feature outing, 2002's Nemesis (which I discussed here):
...everyone from the studio to me thought we’d crafted a really good movie. And nobody came to see it. It wasn’t even a question of not getting good reviews. Any Star Trek movie opened and it’d have a huge opening weekend, but this one didn’t. Now, why? I understand and appreciate the criticisms of the production or script, but I, to this day, have some difficulty understanding why it met with such a poor reception ... It was sad and a little baffling to me.
And lastly, his opinion of JJ Abrams' 2009 Star Trek flick, credited with reviving the moribund brand:
I thought it was a wonderful movie. It was very, very big.
I certainly didn't agree with all of the creative decisions that occurred under Berman's imprimatur, but there's no denying the fact that his involvement kept the franchise's heart beating in way that allowed lots of very good television (and one good film) to happen during his tenure. If you have any interest at all in the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that goes on in Hollywood, Star Trek fan or no, then the entire interview is worth reading. Check out part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

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