The annual Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas came to a close today but not before some fun and insightful panels. Today’s highlights include the stars of Voyager and Deep Space Nine and an ‘Inside the Writers’ Room’ panel with Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, and Naren Shankar. The TrekMovie.com podcast Shuttle Pod was represented by Kayla Iacovino on the Roddenberry stage. We also recap yesterday’s ‘Top 10’ Star Trek episodes panel.
Voyager Comes Home on the Final Day
The crew of the U.S.S. Voyager wrapped up their appearance at the 50th anniversary convention with appearances by Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine), Robert Duncan McNeil (Tom Paris), Robert Beltran (Chakotay), and Robert Picardo (The Doctor) in a panel moderated by Garret Wang (Harry Kim). Ryan immediately took out her phone and began a Facebook livestream. As she fiddled with her phone, McNeil asked to take it as he is an actual director.
Picardo talked about his work with Theatre Arts at Caltech (TACIT) to assist scientists by become better communicators through the stage. Ryan was heartened to hear that her portrayal of Seven of Nine, and stories detailing her exploration of humanity, had a profound influence on individuals with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
Turning to the show, Ryan said that the most difficult part of working on the show was keeping a straight face because the men on the show are so hilarious. When asked about Chakotay’s facial tattoo, Beltran revealed that the first concept had one that completely covered half his face. As makeup artist Michael Westmore toned down the tattoo, Beltran revealed that the tattoo’s design was influenced by the Maori people, rather than Native American tribes.
The Men of Deep Space Nine
Following Saturday’s Women of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine panel, the men got their turn today as showrunner Ira Steven Behr, Rene Auberjonois (Odo), Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun, Brunt), Andrew Robinson (Garak), Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko), and Armin Shimmerman (Quark) took the stage. As it was Lofton’s birthday, the entire auditorium sang happy birthday to him. Behr began by lamenting that DS9 has always been viewed as the odd duck of the franchise, even during production. Behr was particularly proud that DS9 episodes can not be confused with episodes of The Next Generation, Voyager, or Enterprise. Behr felt so lucky that the show continues to resonate with people.
Combs joked that Weyoun actually showed quite a bit of goodwill toward the show’s heroes, immaculately managing Terok Nor during the Dominion occupation. Combs likened Weyoun to a middle manager at a large corporation who visits local branches, evaluates the staff, gives them stunning reviews, and then recommends that they all be fired. Regarding Weyoun’s reappearances after dying, Behr said that the writing staff immediately regretted killing off Weyoun in season four’s “Into the Death.” Behr joked that he hated wasting good prosthetics, so he decided to bring Weyoun back through clones. Behr pointed to Combs as just one example of the stellar cast of recurring characters on the show. Shimmerman pointed out that the series regulars became better because of the recurring characters.
The entire cast praised the show’s writing staff, with Auberjonois confessing that the writing forced him to deal with things differently as an actor. He was grateful that the writers developed his character so well over the course of seven seasons. Lofton commented on Avery Brooks (Benjamin Sisko) and pointed out that DS9 was an opportunity for him to learn from more experienced actors. Brooks, in particular, took Lofton under his wing and became a pivotal mentor, and eventually a father figure.
Behr noted that he still gets asked if there will be a DS9 film, but the showrunner felt that DS9 concluded on the perfect note. He said that “What You Leave Behind” was not the end of DS9, but the conclusion of the audience’s involvement with the story. The station and its characters live on, we simply left them.
Robinson had originally auditioned for the role of Odo, but was turned down for the part. When he was asked to return to audition for another role, his initial reaction was negative. He was so happy that he eventually agreed to the audition because the show had changed his life, as he had previously acted on so much bad television. Robinson loved how “plain, simple” Garak toyed with the imaginations of not only the audience, but even the writers. Garak was so complex that the writers loved including him.
Shimerman, who had played one of the original Ferengi on TNG, felt it was his mission to redeem the species and elevate them to the status of the Klingons and Romulans as a race central to the Star Trek universe. Their initial introduction on TNG left a bad taste in Shimmerman’s mouth and he wanted to show that Ferengi were filled with three-dimensional characters, but he credited the supporting cast as truly helping him fully flesh out the species.
Behr recalled that the character of Commander Sisko had been envisioned as a single father in his early 30s, thus the rank of Commander was appropriate. However, once Brooks was cast, the writers fought with the studio to have Sisko’s rank changed to captain. Behr was frustrated with the many fights they had with the studio, such as over Sisko’s rank and even his goatee. However, those battles waned as the studio took its eye off of DS9.
Inside the Writer’s Room
Several of Star Trek’s most prominent writers, including Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Brannon Braga (TNG, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise), and Naren Shankar (TNG) took the stage to discuss writing for Star Trek.
Shankar started out as a Writer’s Guild intern who became a staff writer on TNG. As he had an engineering background, he was also made the show’s science advisor. One of Shankar’s friends was responsible for creating the famous “technobabble madlibs.” Moore commented that, on some TNG scripts, he would write something along the lines of “Mr. Data….tech the tech with the tech…” It was Shankar’s job to fill in those details with the technobabble we have all come to love.
Inside the TNG writer’s room around season five, Shankar explained that a typical day involved assembling in executive producer Jeri Taylor’s office and breaking stories. All six acts of an episode were mapped out on a white board, and the writer had to defend their storytelling decisions. Shankar enjoyed Taylor’s managerial style. Instead of dictating how the story would be told, Taylor’s policy was that “the best idea wins.”
Reflecting on his beginnings on TNG, Moore recalled that executive producer Michael Piller had asked Moore for a memo explaining the Klingons and Romulans, two races that Piller did not fully understand. Piller was impressed with Moore’s knowledge, and he asked him to take a look at two scripts that were in production. Moore merged the scripts together and wrote “Sins of the Father,” the first episode in Star Trek history that took the audience to the Klingon homeworld.
Moore and Braga, who collaborated on “All Good Things…” and Star Trek: Generations both said that the process of working on both stories at the same time was confusing and daunting. Generations was particularly difficult because the studio had issued a list of the following requirements for the film: 1) TOS characters could only appear in the first fifteen minutes of the film, except for Kirk; 2) It had to be a Picard story; 3) Data also had to be heavily involved; 4) The villain had to be as good as Khan; 5) Klingons needed to be involved. Both writers felt significantly hampered by these requirements, with Braga commenting that “All Good Things…” should have been the first TNG film. Moore, for his part, did not feel the film was a success, partly because he and Braga were too young and inexperienced to be writing a feature film.
When it came to writing the first standalone TNG film, Moore and Braga said that work began while Generations was still in theatres. Instead of the rigid guidelines passed down from the studio, the duo had much more creative freedom. Berman wanted the story to include the Borg, and the initial idea was that the Borg would go back in time and attempt to assimilate Earth in the Medieval era. Both Moore and Braga found this idea to be ridiculous. Braga compared the Borg to zombies and, during the writing process, the need arose for a single villain, thus the Borg Queen was created.
When asked about his role in the creation of Voyager, Braga noted that most of the writing staff assigned to the new show were not in the loop regarding the show’s pilot and direction. Voyager was created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor, but they did not let the writers even see the pilot script. As the writers became more frustrated about being in the dark, Rene Echevarria snuck into Taylor’s office whilst she was out to lunch and stole the “Caretaker” script. The writers quickly read it, and returned it to Taylor’s office before she returned. Braga did not take over showrunner duties until season four on Voyager, and he felt that his most significant contribution to the show was creating the character of Seven of Nine. Braga recalled that he and writer Joe Menosky (who is now working on Star Trek Discovery) wanted to include a number of “mini-movies,” which eventually became Voyager’s two-part episodes. Braga was particularly proud of “Year of Hell,” but revealed that the original concept was to do a whole season within that story.
TrekMovie’s Shuttle Pod Joins Roddenberry’s Podcast Summit Panel
Mission Log Podcast hosts John Champion and Ken Ray welcomed representatives from seven different Star Trek podcasts onto the Roddenberry stage this afternoon. The panelists, as John pointed out, represent many different kinds of Star Trek podcasts on the air today but are certainly an incomplete sampling. In attendance were Mission Log, Shuttle Pod, Trek Geeks, Women at Warp, Trek Radio, Priority One, The G&T Show, and Saturday Morning Trek.
Each podcaster talked about how their show stands out from the rest – some are geared toward one series or era such as Trek.fm’s The Animated Series podcast Saturday Morning Trek, others focus on the friendship and opinions of its hosts as with the TrekGeeks podcast, and others still focus more on news and the occasional deep dive into Trek episodes or movies a la the Shuttle Pod.
The group shared stories of triumph, many citing examples of their most cherished interactions with fans, as well as stories of grief that included everything from annoying trolls to sexism to death threats. All-in-all, the panelists agreed that the vast majority of interactions with listeners are positive, and ultimately those interactions are what keep them coming back to the mic.
Tribbles, Mirror Mirror Don’t Make the Cut In Top 10 Shocker
Friday impassioned fans had the chance to vote on the top 10 episodes they love to hate (or, frankly, just hate) but on Saturday it was time to find the best episodes ever.
Engage podcast host Jordan Hoffman led the discussion again – navigating a course through the ion storm of ebullient fandom to get the 10 best of the best. The winners were:
- The Magnificent Ferengi (DS9)
- In a Mirror, Darkly (ENT)
- Balance of Terror (TOS)
- Chain of Command (TNG)
- The Visitor (DS9)
- Yesterday’s Enterprise (TNG)
- Amok Time (TOS)
- The Inner Light (TNG)
- In the Pale Moonlight (DS9)
- City on the Edge of Forever (TOS)
Curiously, no Voyager episodes made the list – nor did some others that host Hoffman expected to see.
“Much to my disappointment, ‘Corbomite Manuver’ did not make the list. Nor did ‘Darmok’,” Hoffman told TrekMovie afterward. “What was funny was how ‘All Good Things’ was almost on the list and got bumped, and we were yelling about how we would upset John DeLancie, and he was, in fact, backstage and could hear the whole thing.”
Also given its perhaps less celebrated status in the franchise than other series, Enterprise gave a surprisingly strong showing with its single entry on the top 10. Hoffman summed it up a little differently.
“God only knows how the Enterprise mirror episode won out over ‘Mirror Mirror’ but that’s that,” he said.
More of a perennial classic – and perhaps the best-known episode in broader culture – “The Trouble With Tribbles” was cut from the No. 10 spot on the list in favor of “The Magnificent Ferengi”.