Long before co-creating of the critical success Battlestar Galactica Ronald D. Moore cut his chops as writer on Star Trek. Starting with a spec script for Next Generation in 1989, Moore racked up 61 Trek writing credits (2nd only to Brannon Braga), spanning three series and two feature films. In this first part of an extensive exclusive interview with TrekMovie.com, Moore talks about pushing the Trek envelope 90s and suggests how Trek can push it again today.
[AUDIO + Transcript below]
LISTEN: Ron Moore TrekMovie.com Interview – Part 1
TrekMovie.com: Let’s start by talking about the third season of Star Trek The Next Generation, when you joined the show. Many consider that period to be a pivotal point, when Michael Piller took over as show runner, were the marching to change the show? There was a big change and a lot of big episodes that year and the tone of the show changed. Was that a conscious effort to change the show?
Ron Moore: Yah. I think Michael took that on as his mandate. I don’t know if that was a mandate from Gene [Roddenberry], who was still very much involved in the production at that point. And Rick Berman was on the production side at that time. So it was Gene, Michael and Rick who were running the show at that season. I don’t think there was an order from Gene to change things, I think it was Michael as a writer who wasn’t satisfied with how the show was in the first two seasons and wanted to make it much more about the Enterprise characters and wanted them to have individual stories that mattered. He sort of forced the issue. He made the stories that we were breaking in the room much more about our characters than about the planet-of-the-week type of episode.
The classic "Yesterday’s Enterprise" (co-written by Moore) was part of the change in TNG’s 3rd Season
TrekMovie.com: Piller used to refer to the ‘Roddenberry box’ as in the Gene rules that there is no greed, people are perfect, etc. Did you find the ‘Roddenberry box’ limiting as a writer?
Ron Moore: I think we all did. I think there was a general consensus in the writers room in every season that we always chaffed at the notion that there were no petty jealousies and greed and all that. We railed against that on a daily basis, found ways to get around that, found ways to get through it with varying degrees of success. It was a constant problem that we just sort of gnashed our teeth about. It never made any logical sense or any dramatic sense. It just didn’t feel like it was a logical sense of where the Star Trek universe was going. I was always saying ‘the Original Series was never like this, the Original Series has plenty of problems with humanity, plenty of with jealousies and bickering and even racial prejudices are alive in the 23rd century.’ In "Balance of Terror" Stiles is overtly prejudiced against Spock just because he is Vulcan. And that isn’t the only instance of that. It made for drama and it made for conflict. It made the world work.
So when you tried to take all that out it just made it very difficult to tell stories that had much meaning to them, or any teeth to them, because you had to keep going back and make people much nicer and people couldn’t have true conflict and it made it hard to write the show in any kind of dramatic sense. And we were always bitching and moaning about it. And my personal theory was that Gene sort of started to believe in himself as more of a visionary than a writer at a certain point. He started to believe the stuff that he was creating a utopian future and wanted The Next Generation universe to be reflective of the utopian universe that so many people had told him he had been creating for all these years. So it started to become less about the drama, less about making a television show, and more about servicing this idea of what utopianism was going to be and how perfect humanity was going to be in the future as an example of how to live our lives by, as opposed to making a great television series.
TrekMovie.com: In the DS9 episode "In the Cards" you kind of made a play on this. There is an exchange between Nog and Jake, where Nog says to Jake "it’s not my fault you don’t have any money" and Jake says "we are here to better ourselves" and Nog says "what the hell does that mean." Jake was saying the line from a movie you wrote, First Contact, "we strive to better ourselves" So were you making fun of yourself?
Ron Moore: Oh yah [laughs] None of us knew what that meant. I think Nog’s next line is "what does that mean exactly" and Jake kind of fumbles and says "it means something good" or whatever. It is a strange platitude that we used on the show, the need for money was gone and everything was about bettering yourself. It was no longer about any kind of material gain or personal gain, everyone was just trying to be a better person So none of us could understand what that mean or how that society functioned. It all seemed very vague. None of the writers took it seriously. We all kind of laughed about it and joked about it. We all had to pay homage to it because that was something that was built into the structure of the show. At every opportunity we tried to sneak in ways. How do you play poker if you don’t have currency? Again The Original Series had credits and currency and we never understood why they could do all these great things and we couldn’t. It was very odd.
TrekMovie.com: Did you feel that with [Deep Space Nine show runner] Ira [Steven Behr] the box was thrown out the door?
Ron Moore: We were all in league together. Ira was a big proponent of throwing the box out the door, but he knew we couldn’t really throw the box out the door. We could only go so far and find creative ways around it. We couldn’t save the Star Trek universe by destroying it. We had to keep things in place because they were the fundamentals that Gene had built in. And so we just found ways around them whenever possible. Like there is no religion in the future at that point, even though the original Star Trek series had a chapel on the ship, by the time he was doing Next Gen he had decided that all major Earth religions by the 24th century and none of us believed that for a heart beat. That just seem preposterous that they would just vanish.
Lt. Cmdr. Michael Eddington betrays Starfleet (and certainly breaks the ‘lets all get along’ mold) in Moore’s DS9′ episode "For the Cause"
TrekMovie.com: You got big into continuity, which was sort of a new thing in the early 90s for most TV shows–certainly for Star Trek. Was that something that was welcomed or did you sneak it in and no one noticed?
Ron Moore: I remember when we discussed the ending of "Sins of the Father" where the Klingon arc really began–where Worf lost his honor and had to leave the Klingon home world with his honor shredded. I was sitting in Rick’s office with Michael and Rick and it kind of coming up and I said I wanted to leave it on this kind of ambiguous ending so that we can come back again some time and Rick said "OK" and that was really the extent of the discussion. But it really opened the door for doing these larger arcs, but I don’t think it was seen as this major thing or shift in the change in the show. But as we got further in and with Michael’s emphasis on doing more character work inevitably started to push the show in directions that would keep the continuity tighter and almost started mini story arcs going. As you started to develop the relationships among the characters and started to develop them as characters you wanted to continue that into the next story. And you wanted to pick up those thread, writers would start to want to pick up a thread that was established three episodes ago.
And then you started to get into a bit of a battle. You would get into places where you would get notes back about ‘this is too serialized — we don’t do serialized.’ ‘The studio wants to be able to syndicate these in any order they want and you are tying the hands of the local stations if they want to run episodes wildly out of sequence, we can’t put them a position where they have to run them in a particular sequence, so stop doing it.’ But we never really stopped doing it. We just kept sneakily putting in more and more and more and trying to make it more of an arc because it made it more interesting to write. Once you decide it is about the characters it is hard to not to make it more serialized and more about continuity. Because the relationship between Riker and Troi this week, if you change it in the episode and then next week doesn’t seem to reflect what you saw last week it doesn’t make any sense. Whereas plot is much easier to be standalone. The Enterprise pulls up they have a plot with some aliens, they have some crisis, the Enterprise pulls away and you never deal with those aliens again. But the characters change from week to week. So any change you make to them as characters, the audience expects, and the writers want, to play it the following week. So there was this tension between on the one hand we were creating this more character-oriented show and the pressure on the other hand to make it no so much a serialized show. We just sort of straddled that line to varying degrees to success.
TrekMovie.com: That line, did it get relaxed with Deep Space Nine? Why was Deep Space Nine allowed to really run with serialization to the point where they did almost season-long arcs?
Ron More: Well I think it was built into the fabric of the show in a way it wasn’t with the other series. The nature of the show itself was that it is a space station that doesn’t go anywhere so the storylines tended to stick around. The Enterprise, like I said earlier, could pull up to a planet and have an episode and keep going. With Deep Space Nine, anything that took place on the station, well guess what? Next week you are still on the station. And Bajor is not going anywhere. So really you had to keep playing those stories. You couldn’t make a big change in Bajor’s political structure in one week and then ignore it then next. You had to keep it going. Kira’s story with his relationship with Bajorans had to keep evolving and so did Sisko’s and they had a long-term mission. They had a mission about Bajor into the Federation. That alone meant that it was going to be serialized at least on that front. And the Runabouts were intended at the beginning to give them the chance to get off the station and do stand-alone episodes and they did. They were to do that throughout the seasons, but the fundamentals on the show were always on the station and the station kept all the plot lines around and we kept developing them and developing them and eventually– essentially Rick and the studio just kind of threw up their hands and gave up at a certain point and started concentrating on Voyager. [laughs] The mad men running Deep Space Nine and the writers room weren’t listening and the show didn’t seem to work any other way…and so whatever. So we just did what we wanted to at a certain point.
Moore carried Worf’s arc all the way to getting married in "You Are Cordially Invited" in the 6th season of DS9
TrekMovie.com: Regarding continuity you were recently quoted saying something to the effect of "Star Trek has too much continuity."… Do you find it ironic that you were the guy back in the 90s saying "let’s put more continuity in this thing" and are now the one saying there is too much?
Ron Moore: Yah I do think that is ironic. I can appreciate that. When I started, you have to remember there were exactly three seasons of the Original Series and six movies and two seasons of Next Gen. It wasn’t that hard to keep it all straight. You could sit in the writers room and keep it all in your head. By the end of Next Generation we able to do that. As we got deeper into Deep Space Nine it started to become more and more difficult to do that. And as Voyager started to get up and going and it was running concurrently with Deep Space Nine, we all started to get a little stir crazy with it. Because as a writer you want to be able to create things in the moment. You want to be able have something happen on the page. You want a character to talk about an experience that they had and be able to introduce a starship captain and introduce them into a scene and have them start talking about a mission they went on twenty years ago and they remember encountering the Romulan ambassador on a certain outpost and having this strange adventure with them. And you want to be able to invent that. It gets to a point now when you try and invent some scene and everyone goes "I’m sorry but twenty years ago the Romulan ambassador would not be at place" and you go "it doesn’t matter how about the Tholian ambassador," "up no sorry, in episode so and so and this episode on Voyager determines the Tholians would be over here…" You start getting caged in. You start getting more and more aware of the strictures of what you can and can’t do. And back stories and anecdotes and personal histories have to all fit within this vast map of all these intersecting points of continuity and it becomes incredibly straight jacketed.
The lack of creativity is profound and you start worrying more and more about just coloring between the lines than you are making new and engaging stories. Plus the simple fact that you can’t keep it straight. We started having tech advisors on the set — in the art department, like the Okudas, keeping all the continuity for us. And they were becoming more and more useful. But it is frustrating to be in the writers room and tossing out stories then having to stop yourself and go ‘does this work?’ ‘does this violate continuity?’ And having to call people and check encyclopedias and look up information. You want to have it all in your head and just play. The Trek universe has got to the point where you can’t play anymore. It just becomes forbidding. I think it is even more forbidding for a new audience to try to come in and get involved in this new universe. Where do you pick up and how do you understand all these references. It is impenetrable at a certain point. So I was a big advocate of just wiping the slate and starting over. OK this was version one of Trek. Love it. Celebrate it. Watch it forever if that is your cup of tea, go ahead. Let’s have version two…let’s have another Starship Enterprise with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and let’s tell a different version of the event’s. Look at Shakespeare. How many versions of "Cleopatra" can the world stand? As many as you can think of. Let’s just do a different take on it and get energy out of it and not worry about all the back stories and not get caught up in what is the first time we supposed to have seen the Romulans. Really we have to now say that we can never do any other back-story with the Romulans except that the first time a human being saw them they looked like Spock’s father. We are wedding to that for now on even though it is kind of creaky and there is probably a better way to tell the Romulan story than to rely on that notion. It just seems like you want freedom. You want Trek to be fun. So make it fun.
More Moore coming up!
Over the next week look more of TrekMovie’s exclusive interview with Ron Moore, where he talks more about DS9, Voyager, Battlestar, First Contact, Generations, his new shows and JJ Abrams Star Trek.
Ron Mooore and Ira Steven Bher by doing what they did in DS9 probably saved the trek Franchise creeping calcification and irrelevancy.
I expect Moore’s comments about continuity will start a firestorm of comments. But I salute his bravery for doing it. I, for one, still believe that a good Trek writer can be creative AND preserve, at the very least, the essence of continuity … but admittedly it’s a challenge, and the idea of a Trek 2.0 isn’t necessarily a bad one.
I’m not surprised he emphasized the crew over the planet of the week. Maybe it’ll come up in part two, but Moore also deserves credit for making all of the DS9 ensemble into well realized characters. It got so you could drop them into any scene and watch them play out.
None of the other Trek series managed that. Too many cast members were stuck playing bland ciphers. Even Chakotay, a Maquis leader with the advantage of Robert Beltran playing him, spent most of Voyager as a generic slate. How do you waste that for seven seasons?
DS9 was my favorite Trek after TOS — complex, interesting characters. I never agreed with the Roddenberry “perfect” box in TNG.
Anthony: you are amazing.
Moore: also amazing. Comments on continuity are right on target; I skipped to that and have a lot else to read.
Too bad Berman took control of Voyager….that premise was so freakin good and they squandered it.
I have almost always enjoyed Moore’s work.
Gene’s ideas were nice but sometimes unrealistic. I’m glad Mr. Moore was able to use some of Gene’s vision but temper it to reality.
You’re right, writer can be craetive and still preserve the essence of established continuity were it not for two very large obstacles:
1. Time. Series writers work under incredibly tough deadlines and sometimes you have to let a good idea go because it would take too long to fully develop it enough to fit established continuity. A leads to B, B leads to C, C leads to D and the next thing you know, your story is gone.
2. Nitpicky Fans. Trek fans love to dissect things to the Nth degree, and they’ll pounce like tigers on any perceived inconsistency. Don’t yell at me, we all do it.
The writers of TNG era Trek were also trying to preserve the stories that they had created before, just as any series writers would. Continuity is a double-edged sword. It makes for very effective character development and helps audiences commit themselves to those characters on an emotional level. But it can also keep writers from making bold or sweeping changes for fear of alienating the audience they worked so hard to build. A very fine line to walk, indeed.
Anthony: I’ve been really looking forward to this interview, and it sure didn’t disappoint. Thoroughly fascinating and very illuminating.
And big thanks to Ron for sharing his insights and experiences. Great stuff. (I’m on pins and needles awaiting tomorrow’s mid-season Galactica finale!)
If you care enough about what you are doing, then it is possible to preserve continuity AND tell a good story.
But you have to care.
The sound of Ron Moore hitting the nail on the head!
Every complaint I ever had about modern Trek is addressed in that article and all those poor writers have my sympathies for being trapped by The Roddenberry Box!
Ron says practically word for word what I’ve been saying to people about modern Trek for almost 20 years. And my suspicions about Gene Roddenberry’s messiah complex have been confirmed!
Judging from his version of Galactica, if Ron Moore had had complete freedom to create and run a ‘Star Trek version 2’ TV show, it could have truly been something to behold! Ironically, like a lot of us, he understands Star Trek better than its creator!
Magnificent work, Anthony!
I would like to get some feedback on the audio version. Did you listen to it? do you prefer audio. Is the quality OK? would you prefer video? if phone interview would you prefer video with images added?
I want to make TrekMovie more of a multimedia experience with more audio and video and need some feedback
The audio was solid. It crackled in places though, but it didn’t detach itself.
But great interview Anthony!
detract from the presentation*
Great article, but part of the transcript is driving me crazy:
Was that a conscience effort to change the show?
conscience = The “voice in your head” that tells you if something is wrong or right.
conscious = To be aware of something; to do something knowingly.
Well there is a bit of hum on the audio which is slightly distracting. Mybe a high pass filter would get rid of some of it?
However, I read it first then listened after your post and discovered the audio is far more informative as vocal inflections change the nuance of some of the meaning I gleaned form the text.
Great interview btw.
I am sure a few will be disappointed to know that the writing staff didn’t believe in a utopian vision of the future. It was the thing that attracted me and kept me in the loop 700 episodes and ten movies later.
I for one could never just forget about Balance of Terror and its specific contribution to ST canon insofar as Spock’s character is concerned. The episode was about much more than the Romulans looking like Spock’s father, as Moore put it. That episode laid the entire groundwork for the ancient Vulcan civilization, its changover from a barbarous warrior system to the ideals of Surak, and specific attitudes and ideals that the present-day Vulcans and Romulans might still have in common.
It is one thing to write alternative-universe stories in fanfic or even novels. It is a whole different genre when applied to the screen, as only the screen is supposedly canon. There is a reason for that difference. Watching a moving picture on a theatre screen or on the television in your home makes the story come alive and pulls the viewer into the lives of the characters as a written story does not. How does one reconcile that to Moore’s seemingly blase’ attitude toward continuity in those same character’s lives? Alternate-universe stories, while having a very specific place in science fiction, could never work as a rule in the writers’ room. I am sorry Mr. Moore found that to be a hinderence to his creativity, however, we all have things about our jobs that we do not like.
When Voyager first came on and presented a Vulcan as Chief Security officer, they lost me as a viewer. When Enterprise decided to have Vulcan “warships” start roaming the sector, they lost me as a viewer. This does not mean I myself am locked into a canon straightjacket. The point is this: when very important details such as the Vulcans being a pacifist race are ignored in what I deem to be lazy writing, what else will be ignored, and how soon will this universe cease to be Star Trek at all? If I want to watch Outer Limits, BSG or Buck Rogers, for that matter, I look for those titles. When I look for Star Trek, I want my Vulcans to be pointy-eared pacifists who can mindmeld, I want phasers, transporters, replicators – I want the Star Trek I know. Is that too much to ask – I sincerely do not think so.
I just read the transcript, but for what its worth, nice interview. Its always nice to hear from Ron.
About a month shy of eleven years old, I went to my first convention October 3rd, 1992 and I saw him tease some upcoming episodes like Relics and Rascals (which I think he did a pass on), and was fascinated by Ronald D. Moore.
He’s always seemed like this cool, smart, down-to-earth writer that’s been able to marry the creative with the sensible. And I think he’s exactly right here.
If they want to they should wipe the slate completely clean. I guess I’m a little bit ambivalent because it seems like a partial reboot. But, either way it looks like it’ll be a really cool writer.
Also, outside of comic books and religions have there ever been universes this massive with this many characters? And the difference with comic books is that most of them deal in floating timelines whereas Trek is set to very specific dates in its own history. I think that’s a pretty major point that gets overlooked when talking about all this rebooting business.
If it’s a total reboot then they can have it take place next year for all we know, but if not, then it’s harder to reconcile everything.
I guess I’m saying, who really knows? It’s uncharted territory, and no doubt a little scary for some of us fans that know this universe, but I suppose as Henry Archer said, “We can’t be afraid of the wind.”
Also, regarding the media used above: having audio is great, video great, I think whatever media needed to get the point across is best. If the interview was recorded on audio, and the audio is good, then audio plus the transcript as in this article is great. If it’s on video and the video is good, then video with a transcript. Though in either case, if there are more abstract points that would be better served with archival photos, footage, charts, etc. then that integrated with the source media and a transcript. I think it’s never the medium, but how its used. And this site excels in information and presentation via very in-depth and thorough journalism
Ron Moore is my hero
As long as you have the big-ass wiki to consult.
I like Ron Moore a lot, but I think he’s dead-on-balls wrong when it comes to the idea of continuity being limiting.
A fictional world without continuity also lacks believability. And Trek has such a huge world that there’re vast amounts of room for both continuity and creativity. To abandon either is a betrayal, IMHO.
Ron Moore had some good ideas. But he also had many bad ideas.
I never quite bought into the ‘Ronald D Moore – Savior of Trek’ mindset.
There seems to be this cult built around him and I think it’s over hyped, just like BSG is over hyped. I would prefer to keep him as far away from J.J.Abrams Trek as possible… but thats just my two credits.
I’m a fan of Ron Moore which started with Trek (he wrote most of the best TNG and DS9 episodes and co-wrote the only two sufficient TNG movies along with great thoughts about writing and Trek in general) and went on with “Carnivale” and “Battlestar Galactica”.
His character and political centered aproach really is my cup of tea.
There are many problems with the canon thing.
Aside from the points Moore made in this interview like caged writing possibilities and making it hard for new audiences to get a grip on Trek, here are some aditional thoughts from myself:
– there are many flaws in canon already so it’s kind of silly to beat a dead horse
– the rough canon which is established (for my tastes WAS prior to Enterprise; don’t get me wrong I saw all of Trek aside TAS and some VOY episodes and like ENT. In fact it is my second favorite Trek show after DS9 but how the start of the human adventure and the first encounters with many species was portrayed in this show was really REALLY disappointing) in Trek is interesting.
In comparision to say “Babylon 5” or “The Lord of the Rings” it fails miserably.
Granted these universes were established a lot more by one person and in a tighter timeframe (production wise).
But If I look a the Trek timeframe I see many good stuff like the eugenic wars, the founding of the federation, first contact with the Vulcans, the revelation of the link between Romulans and Vulcans, the Mirror universe, the peace treaty with the Klingons, the Cardassian/Bajoran history and the Dominion War BUT it is all watered down by bad execution and a lot of bad or uninteresting episodes.
Sure in TOS and TNG times TV wasn’t that serialized and drama and character writing wasn’t that sophisticated in this medium.
And Later Trek could and should have done thigns differently but mostly they just didn’t (cough Voyager cough) – so we end up with so much great potential all unrealized.
A Trek 2.0 could be the greatest thing in Sci-Fi EVER.
But as it is now I prefer “Firefly”, “Farscape”, new “Battlestar Galactica” and “Babylon 5”.
I luv all you guyz…..such varied viewpoints! IDIC obviously lives. Its obvious that no matter what JJ Abrams and crew do or don’t do, some will love it some will hate it…As far as the website….I prefer the text and great Pics that you choose with your awesome articles. I do most of my reading in my bedroom in bed with my Nintendo DS Web Browser—many web sites don’t work with it but yours works great! I have enjoyed every star trek series, and movies to varying degrees, as none are perfect but all do strive to show mankind as being capable of exploring, growing and are hopeful and positive for our human future in times that don’t seem so wonderful for our real future. I need star trek now more than I ever did, as sometimes it seems we are all teetering on the brink of oblivion from our own pettiness, selfishness and fears. I also have to agree with those who mentioned that Gene’s utopian views are what make TREK special and different from say, Star Wars, BSG or any other series. Sure TOS was very human but still striving to be better, and I like that by TNG they were striving to be a bit better. It does make it harder to write for, but I think its worth it. I care less about absolute or perfect continuity and more that any new work stays true to Genes original ideals. Its a bit Ironic that Gene tried hard to have his future universe not be religious and yet his positive hopes for humanities future are what gives Star Trek its Soul…..and why it has inspired many on many levels….
Very intersting interview. Looking forward to part II.
It is nice to have the choice of Audio or transcript. My personal preference is to read through the transcript.
I find it is easier to go through the written words as you can take as long as you like to peruse and understand what has been ‘said’.
Also you can to and from back to the article as many times as you like picking up where you left off.
As for continuity, I guess the writers need some form of Memory Alpha Wikipedia with all the episodes… ;-)
Ron Moore rules
Strange I tried to post an elaborate opinion and analysis several times.
Anyway: I like videos and audio files more most of the time than written text but the written part should always additional be there.
And as another user already said – it isn’t necessary the medium itself but the use of it.
This particular audio interview was good but in future the sound quality should get a little better.
Very, very interesting. Thanks for sharing!
P.S. I agree that there’s a very low, humming sound in the sound file which is slightly annoying :)
#27: Wasn’t it mentioned that for the new movie, writers really used Memory Alpha?
The bottem line is that there can be so much stuff that can happen during a character’s lifetime. They don’t live forever. They have a childhood, they grow up, have experiences that shape them and give them conflict and they always fight with those demons. Continuity helps you understand and identify with them and if you mess too much with continuity you can feel cheated, because you don’t believe in them anymore. The only way around this is to resolve the characters and move on to a different set of characters.
Sometimes you can get away with a reboot like bsg, but once you do that, you still have to create new continuity within the new framework, and it really is a new piece of work at that point.
Good to hear from Ron.
Call me boring (most people do!) but reading the interviews sat having a sarnie in works lunch break makes my day! :)
Fantastic interview, it’s always a real pleasure to hear Ron Moore talk about Trek, especially in light of his experiences post-BSG. I’m on the fence on whether or not I agree that Star Trek needs a 2.0, but I certainly get where he’s coming from with it, and if I had spent a decade being nibbled to death by obsessive fact checking fans, I’d probably be ready to start over as well.
Anyways, the audio is definetely preferable, even with the small buzz, as it allows me to listen to it at work, but keep doing the transcripts as well, since that’s usually my preference when at home.
If they would reboot Star Trek then it wouldn’t be Star Trek anymore, just another sci-fi show. It’s the continuity that has made so many people love it, I’m certain of that. It has its own univerise and you can’t destroy it and preserve it at the same time.
Ron Moore killed Captain Kirk.
I kind of nastily knocked Moore (probably unfairly) a while back as the creative mind behind Battlestar Galactica—a show I find highly overrated. But in this interview he seems largely on target about certain things regarding Star Trek, and in particular Gene Roddenberry. The more we hear about Roddenberry as years go by (stories from Nimoy and Shatner, for instance) the more he sounds like an ego out of control in some ways… not just in some typically conceited way, but in an almost whacked-out way… as evinced by all this stuff about the fundamental changes in humanity in only three or four hundred years’ time (no greed, no jealousies, no religion, etc.) which always struck me as… almost cultish. Which is where utopian visions tend to go, I suppose. Now, Moore was responsible for some of the best of TNG, so there’s no equivocation on my part there–I distinctly remember how godawful the first two seasons of TNG were (I still feel the show never really recovered from all the errors Roddenberry and others had made in not just those first two seasons, but also in the fundamental bases of the series) but his statements about story arcs and continuity leave me feeling a bit…. skeptical. On the one hand, Moore is right—a series should be free to develop story arcs if they want to—to some extent—because as we know, real life problems aren’t resolved in 48 minutes with 12 minutes of commercials (or whatever the hell it is these days). But then again, that IS what TV is about. It’s a story shrunk down into a particular format. So not all fiction, be it the written word or the audio/visual, has to strive to be “real life” in its scope. In fact, this is silly anyway, as real life goes on for years, and often never resolves anything. Storytelling has always been something *other* than real life. So on the one hand, I sympathize with Moore’s feelings about story arcs–it offers freedom and fun to the writer, and can be more challenging and allow an opportunity for more in-depth storywriting. And some fans love that stuff—they get into the whole thing about having to come back to the TV same time next week to catch the latest installment in the serial. Hence the passion some people have for Battlestar. But that can be slavish, too. And not just for the audience, but for the writers. And it can also descend into mere soap opera—very, very easily. I’ve said this about Battlestar, but it’s even more true of DS9, which while often exciting and cool (I’ve criticized the show, but I thought it had the most interesting cast of any of the neo-Treks) was also far too often mired in the kind of storytelling that we see in daytime TV, though of course done in an entirely different way…. but nevertheless still recognizably a soap opera. And maybe some people don’t have a problem with that, but when I would watch DS9, I would end up finding it interminably dull. I found myself phasing out whenever they’d spend X number of minutes with this uninteresting exchange between this and that side character regarding, oh… the machinations going on on Bajor, or someone’s love life or whatever the hell it was… and just waiting for something interesting to happen. And there were episodes where nothing ever did. 50 minutes were spent establishing all the little bits and pieces for the various story arcs going on…. so that the *next* episode could have some action in it. Now, there’s times, in various forms of storytelling, where that kind of thing is necessary, as long as it’s under control. But on TV it just plods. There’s a fine line on TV between the serialized story and the soap opera–and it’s far too easy to cross. And in fact I’m not so sure they’re even all that different. As for continuity—while reading Moore’s interview, I kept wanting to say to him, why did you all make it so difficult for yourselves then? I don’t see this as the fault of the fans (though yes, they can be an absurdly nerdy lot with all their tiny factoids about this imaginary universe) so much as the writers and producers. They had three seasons of the original Trek to work from. And not all of those episodes had major points that really would have related to continuity all that much, in a setting one hundred plus years later. The only show that I think that should have really had any real problem with this was Enterprise, as it had to make sure it didn’t contradict what was already established on TOS, lest it just make the whole thing look silly. But why should it have mattered… Read more »
Moore’s right about Trek continuity, of course.
Ron Moore knows what he’s talking about.
See, to my mind it was the conflict between the two mindsets (Roddenberry et al’s utopianism and Moore’s more pessimistic outlook) that made TNG into good drama. Creative conflict is always good, because you end up with something better than either camp could have come up with on its own.
DS9 went too far the other way, because the creative team was all too much in sync with each other. BSG, although it’s good, suffers from the same pitfalls. I think it shows a lack of creativity on moore’s part that he insists on every detail of these far-flung alien societies be so scrupulously the same as the society he live is. It’s the differences that make it interesting – for my money scifi is all about the “what if,” and not just “what if we had spaceships and robots.”
Im sorry I like the next generation but I just found Picard and company to not be believable, There is one thing Roddenberry just did to seem to understand or want to understand, good dramas have character conflict, egos disagreements,people acting both nobly and Cowardly, being flawed and ego driven is part of the whole human drama of life and that should reflect in our fiction. you take that out of the equation, At best you have drama that is tepid and uninteresting , at worst you have no dram at all. In the future we might be better people , but we area always going to be flawed creatures and our flaws are aways going scew up any attempt at utopia. It’s like Jack Webb and his phoney police drama, Dragnet, he portayed cops in ideal mode rather then a real one, Roddenberry seems to project the future in much the same way.
TNG was boring compared to DS9. DS9 took the bland TNG universe and made it interesting.
Ron Moore is a brave man to speak these truths to the Mind Numbed Robots of Fandom. But it is truth, no less.
The principle men that created Star Trek back in the 1960s were almost all combat veterans of WWII or Korea. Most of the actors were former servicemen, too, and if they didn’t see combat, their officers certainly did.
I have not been in military combat, but I have been in several life-and-death predicaments. It certainly clarifies life for you! I also understand why soldiers despise battle – it is how anyone whose been in a fight thinks – but human nature has never changed in all recorded history.
This is where Roddenberry left the reservation. He was avant gard in the Sixties’ New Morality and, I think, tried to justify his personal immorality through the forced “utopianism” of his Star Trek idea. It’s like Lennon’s “Imagine” – an anthem to pure selfishness that acts as a salve for the conscience even as it is pure bunk because people don’t work that way.
So Roddenberry, an obviously talented and creative writer but a deeply flawed man with demons of sex, drugs, a crisis of the soul, and perhaps more, immersed himself in a make-believe world of fantasy where there is no right or wrong, expect for the idea of tolerance. This is mirrored on university today and, here in the real world, we see that it works only under one specific set of conditions:
Pure tolerance requires the palpable threat of force to compel compliance of those still prejudiced, still greedy, still ambitious, still sometimes heroic and even noble human souls.
To quote a famous English writer, the future is a boot crushing the human face forever. Even it is has “tolerance and do-good” embroidered on the sole.
Food for thought. Gene Roddenberry should be remembered and lauded for what he did — which is considerable — but not lionized for what he believed. Ron Moore is the proof.
One other point, if Roddenberry had been alive during Ds9 run, he would have hobbled it with the utopian baggage. We would not have gotten a character like Commander Eddington, Roddenberry would not have allowed it.. Nor would he have allowed en episode like the Valiant, to be and end the way it did. Oh no no these messy human realities had no place in the trek universe or it they did is was the aliens who had them not the utopian humans of the future, does any one else see problem with this? because I have a problem with this A lot hardcore science fiction fans seem look down their noses at trek, good science fiction is not necessarily utopian, more often then not is messy and the character are not often the most liable or sympathetic of characters. Thats what Ron Moore tried to do with Trek, give it a much needed does of reality When you go into a bookstore, in the science fiction, trek has its own section, its part of the science section, its apart from it, like the Star Wars section.
I think #33 pretty much said what I’ve been thinking– if Abrams does things in STXI that contradict the facts of canon in some ways, he’s not destroying continuity but /preserving/ it by creating a new one that won’t interfere with previously established canon. The Star Trek universe /is/ huge and complicated, and while to fans and to fanfic writers that might read as more to jump off from, to those actually writing the shows and movies it means boundaries to stay inside as long as all the facts of that universe need to be preserved accurately.
It’s a question of audience, I think. Take for example: I see a handful of people on here saying they want a movie or show about Riker on the Titan, and I see another handful of people who think that TOS and the first six movies are the only real canon. How many of the latter group– let alone casual fans or nonfans– would actually be willing to watch a movie or show about the Titan? Not many. Almost certainly not enough to make that kind of production venture financially worthwhile.
It doesn’t cost much to publish a Trek novel, or to write and post a piece of fanfiction, so people writing those can afford to appeal to narrower audiences. There’s such a huge variety of both that there can be, and are, stories written about (to keep my example) Riker captaining the Titan; those stories won’t have universal appeal, but they won’t /need/ to. A movie or television series, on the other hand, costs a lot of money to make and usually needs to appeal to the widest audience possible in order to be successful. If TPTB decided to put something onscreen about Riker captaining the Titan, it would represent a far, far bigger investment into something that would attract the same relatively small audience.
My point being! (Wow, this got long.) Yeah, the hugeness of established ST canon could hypothetically represent a lot of potentially unexplored material, but it makes a lot more financial and practical sense for Abrams to stick relatively close to areas that have already been covered. And he’s apparently (hopefully!) doing that by maintaining the spirit of canon– the characters, their relationships, the overarching themes of the show– without getting tangled in too many facts.
I read the transcript which did have some of those word choice issues as noted in an earlier post (my wife transcribed book titles from tape for the used bookstore I worked in and we had fun with one title that was supposed to be “Balm in Gilead” but she typed “Bombs in Gilead”–must have been some Middle East conflict going on at the time which is a great example of something that has lasted hundreds and even thousands of years and still hasn’t gone away or turned into utopia or done away with religion! but I digress…). With my current hearing deficiency (and even with hearing aids) I sometimes have problems with audio so I prefer the transcripts ALTHOUGH it misses the subtleties of the speaker’s emphases/emotions. Video also adds all the body language as well.
What Ron had to say about Roddenberry missing the point of dramatic TV (entertainment) was very well stated. It is interesting that TOS had plenty of drama and imperfect humans but in the end aspired to the utopia that Roddenberry desired and thus inspired us to become a “better person” for the future. TOS (and by extension TNG, etc.) didn’t have to take place in utopia in order to give us the dream–compared to the 60s backdrop of TOS it was utopia because although not perfect it still envisioned a more optimistic future than the present world. When TNG came on the scene in the apathetic 80s the idea of a more perfect utopia might have been an attempt to contrast (and reflect to some extent) with modern culture–but it was a contrast that led to the “box” that forced Trek to be something less realistic. While we want our characters to be noble and full of integrity, we don’t mind if they falter a bit and act human–in drama it is the journey to that something better that makes conflict acceptable and in the end inspires as Trek has done.
On the issue of continuity, I think Moore described the reality of doing a weekly TV show where you are working hard to do good drama each week but don’t have the time to be careful in both how something you want to do now is/is not in continuity with something that happened earlier and how it might “restrict” future story lines later on. It is amazing what some the Trek novel authors (and their tireless editors) have been able to do with continuity issues (with varying degrees of success) when they have the time to really research and develop a way out of the “box” so it might be a bit much to expect that some level of creativity in the pressure cooker of weekly TV. Of course, the differences between the medium allows one more “space” to develop creative continuity than the other–and thus accounts for the difficulty of bringing Kirk back in a movie versus Shatner bringing Kirk back in his novels (aside from the storyline in the movie being more about Spock and the novels more about Kirk). I think Moore and all of the other writers of TV/movie Trek have done a fabulous job of trying to maintain continuity–and when they don’t either because they didn’t catch it or purposely ignored it, then we Nit-Pickers have something to do with those quiet Friday evenings….:)
Thanks again, Anthony, for the insightful interview and allowing Ron to speak truthfully about the challenges of creating something wonderful and still appease the Monday morning quarterbacks. And thanks for this superb site to satiate those of us who still need our Trek fix even after 40+ years!!
Strict adherence to this cumbersome canon is hobbling the trek verse, not really helping it.