For fans who like to learn about the inner workings of Star Trek, one of the more interesting panels at Star Trek Las Vegas was with veteran writer/producers Brannon Braga (TNG/VOY/ENT/TNG Movies) and André Bormanis (VOY & ENT). The pair spoke in detail about their writing process for Star Trek and also ended up talking a little bit about their current project, The Orville.
Young TNG writers breaking Roddenberry’s rules but not going Mirror
Braga began his career in Hollywood as a WGA intern for Star Trek: Next Generation, starting at the beginning of the fourth season or as he noted, right after when the show got “good.” Braga joked that it was an internship that lasted 15 years.
The writers’ room was young guys all terrified that they were going to be fired at any given moment. Ron [Moore], and myself and René [Echevarria] kind of stuck it out….To be placed on a show as incredible as the Next Generation, was the best learning experience anyone could hope for, it’s still my favorite Star Trek.
Braga noted that by the time he joined it was showrunner Michael Piller running the writing room and being a mentor as well. Braga’s exposure to TNG creator Gene Roddenberry was limited due to his failing health, but he described Roddenberry as being very encouraging to the young writers.
That being said, Brannon wasn’t too keen on many of the “Roddenberry rules” for TNG, stating:
There were some rules that you weren’t allowed to do certain things on the show, no dream sequences, no time travel, and several others… I broke all the rules.
However, there was a specific line they never crossed. In response to a question on why they never did a Next Generation mirror universe episode, Braga responded:
We were a little frightened at doing it, and doing it badly, and maybe never really figured out what the Next Generation take would have been on it.
Originally Kirk was to die on a different bridge
As Star Trek: The Next Generation came to a close it was Ron Moore and Braga who were tapped to write both the series finale (“All Good Things…”) and the first TNG movie (Star Trek Generations). Braga talked about getting that double duty:
It’s kind of a blur, it just worked. We wrote “All Good Things,” it was a pure piece of writing, it was beautifully made. Whereas Generations was a little more laborious and serving a lot of things and I think that shows.
Braga also spoke briefly about the original vision he and Moore had for Generations:
I think Ron and I envisioned the two Enterprises kinda locked in battle and somehow they would meet, but they would get together and fight the bad guy, and Kirk would go down on his bridge, instead of a bridge falling on him.
Being summoned by Patrick Stewart for First Contact change
Braga feels that things worked better with the second TNG feature film, which he and Moore also wrote, noting:
[Star Trek: First Contact] is a great initiation for what Star Trek’s all about… It had to be the Borg, there was no question what we were doing for first contact. It was fun to do from beginning to end, fun to make, fun to watch, and i think it shows up on screen.”
Of course like with all scripts, things go through changes. Braga explained that a switch was made between the characters of Picard and Riker where originally it was Riker battling the Borg on the ship and Picard dealing with Zefram Cochrane down in post-World War III Montana. But a certain someone wasn’t happy with that, as explained by Braga:
We were summoned to Patrick Stewart’s apartment in New York, where he said ‘I should be battling the Borg’… so we changed it.
Braga noted that somehow when MAD Magazine did their “Star Blecch: Worst Contact” parody they used that early draft and so their version didn’t really resemble the final movie.
Beginning Enterprise differently, ending with a ‘slap in the face’
André Bormanis came in during seventh season of TNG as the science advisor, which he also did for Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Onstage in Las Vegas he revealed that initially he interacted with writers from a distance. He worked from home faxing [look it up, kids!] his technical notes back to the writers room as they couriered new pages to him. He would only go in periodically to pitch show ideas, but that is where he and Braga clicked and so eventually Brannon brought him to write a few episodes for Voyager and into into the writers’ room as a proper staff writer and story editor for Enterprise.
The pair talked about how the original concept for Enterprise changed. The writers, along with Braga’s co-creator Rick Berman, wanted the first season of the show to be mostly set on Earth with the launch of the NX-01 at end of the season. Bormanis explained the reasoning:
One of the things that guided us was we wanted those characters to be like more people today, than the kind of larger than life heroes of Next Generation or The Original Series.
By the time the second season was over the show was running into ratings problems, and so once again Braga was summoned, this time by the head of Paramount:
We got called into the boss’ office, Johnathon Dolgen, he said, “Do something different, we need to shake things up.”
It was that directive that lead to the decision to make the third season of Enterprise into a single arc with the Xindi war. Braga described the creation process:
[Season 3 was] one of those rare cases where we got together with the staff, and talked about it, we worked out a lot, we had the framework, we knew how it was going to end.
The show went through another change for the fourth and final season with Manny Coto being brought in as showrunner and moving to more mini-arcs as well as more call-backs to the original Star Trek series. Braga admitted that this approach worked, noting:
I think Manny had finally found voice of the show, and season 4 should’ve been season 1, and I think that the show should have continued.
Of course no discussion of Star Trek: Enterprise is complete without talking about the often panned series finale “These Are the Voyages…” After being asked about it by a fan it was clearly still a bit of a sore subject for the the writer/producer:
I thought it was the coolest thing ever when we were writing it, the idea of doing a ‘lost episode’ of The Next Generation, but they’re going to the holodeck to look back at Enterprise, Rick and I thought was a great sendoff to Star Trek [the franchise as it existed in 2005], and it didn’t work out so well…It was a kind of a slap in the face to the Enterprise actors. I heard it from everybody, it was the only time Scott Bakula was ever mean to me. I regret it.
Enterprise season 5 would have explored Vulcan changes and Romulan War
Enterprise was cancelled after the fourth season and Braga says he thought maybe that was for the best for the franchise:
I thought it was time, it needed a break, it needed some time for people to want another show.
As for Bormanis, he was ready for more:
I’d hoped it’d go seven seasons, it was my first full time staff writing job, it was a great opportunity, and I had a great time doing it, and wanted it to continue. I quickly found out that the life of a TV writer is generally feast or famine. Star Trek was an amazing 12 year run for me.
Of course the topic of where season 5 would have gone came up, with Bormanis saying they would have explored more of the human/Vulcan relationship that had changed in season 4 and how it was becoming more like what was seen in TOS. Braga chimed in that he remembered there being an idea to explore the Romulan War mentioned in TOS.
A return to episodic sci-fi on The Orville
Both Braga and Bormanis are now writing on The Orville, so fans were excited to ask them about Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi dramedy (and clear homage to Star Trek). Braga had quite a bit to say about the show and how it related to Star Trek: The Next Generation specifically. He explained how The Orville is more like classic Trek storytelling:
I missed the kind of storytelling that Star Trek did which are standalone parables, with beginning middle and end, I worked on 24 and I did serialized storytelling for the most part, and I really really missed it. We’re actually writing a show with that kind of storytelling called The Orville. I think I speak for André when I say we missed that kind of storytelling.
However he noted it isn’t a copy The Next Generation:
It’s kind of its own thing, it’s funny, at times very funny, but the stakes are real, its science-fiction ideas I think are really cool, it’s a good mix of comedy but also drama …it’s like M*A*S*H, you’ll be laughing one second and the next something very serious is going on. You have to be involved, you can’t do an hour long satire of the genre. It’s a loving tribute to this kind of [standalone] storytelling.
That hated Voyager episode and why Braga comes to STLV
Even though both Bormanis and Braga worked on Star Trek: Voyager for seven years, it really didn’t come up during their time on stage, except when Braga discussed what is considered by many to be the worst episode of the series:
There’s an episode of Voyager called “Threshold” which is considered to be [trails off], now when I was writing it I thought, “This is the coolest thing ever!” It was just awful at the end of the day, and everyone hates it.
One audience member asked Braga why, even in the face of such criticism, he keeps coming to Star Trek Las Vegas and engages with the fans online. Braga explained:
It’s the reason I’m here right now, the Star Trek fanbase, you’re great people, you’re intelligent, you’re thoughtful, some of you are mean, but I know it comes from a place of passion. It’s just fun to interact, Star Trek was a huge part of my life and I miss it, and it’s nice to reminisce about it with fans.
More Star Trek Las Vegas Coverage
…and believe it or not we still have some stuff from STLV to cover.