Rick Berman Talks 18 Years of Trek In Extensive Oral History

No one spent more time with the Star Trek franchise than Rick Berman, who was a producer from the pilot of Next Generation through to the finale of  Enterprise, overseeing the franchise for most of that time. In a (very) long 2006 interview now available online, Berman gives an oral history of his time on Trek and talks its rise, fall and rise again, as well as his legacy. You can watch it below and/or read some of the bullet-point highlights and key quotes.

 

Berman for posterity
This three hour long interview was conducted May 31st 2006, which was Berman’s last year under contract at Paramount [interview was put online in April, but just came to our attention]. It was done by the Archive of American Television which is part of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (who put on the Emmy Awards). The Archive has a large library of these kinds of "oral histories" which are quite comprehensive. The interview covers Berman’s early career and then goes into lengthy sections for the four Trek shows Berman produced (TNG, DS9, VOY, & ENT), then wraps up talking about the TNG feature films and some summary questions.

HIGHLIGHTS
The first 19 minutes focuses on his background, childhood and early years as a producer and executive in Hollywood, leading up to when he was a vice president at Paramount in the mid 80s and the first word came that Gene Roddenberry would be producing a new Star Trek series and he was assigned to work on it.  Starting at 19:30 Berman starts discussing his history with Star Trek and tells an interesting behind scenes point of view, starting off with the birth of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Berman on TNG [19:30 – 1:17:15]

  • Gene Roddenberry hired Berman partially because he liked that Berman had never seen any Star Trek before
  • TNG syndicated because it could "make more money"and  because "Paramount felt proprietary over the Star Trek franchise."
  • TNG casting tidbits
  • Final audition for Picard was between Patrick Stewart and Stephen Macht
  • At Roddenberry’s insistence Stewart auditioned with wig, Paramount exec John Pike said "go with the English guy, but lose the wig"
  • Berman wanted James Avery for Worf, Roddenberry wanted younger actor so Michael Dorn was chosen (only four years younger)
  • Billy Campbell cast as Riker, but Pike didn’t feel he had command presence, so went with 2nd choice
  • Gates McFadden fired at end of first season because head writer Maurice Hurley "he had a real bone to pick" with Gates and din’t like her acting, Berman brought Gates back for 3rd season after Hurley left
  • Whoopi Goldberg initially wanted to replace Gates McFadden as ships doctor for Season 2, but it was felt she wasn’t right for that role so they created new "Yoda-like" character of Guinan
  • Berman says both Denise Crosby and Wil Wheaton regretted leaving TNG "within less than a year"
  • Berman "proud" of the actor-turned-directors from Trek like Jonathan Frakes, Robert Duncan McNeill, and Roxann Dawson, but others "turned out to be stinkers" (wouldn’t name who)
  • Nick Meyer came to Berman with idea of tying Star Trek VI to TNG, resulting in "Unification"
  • Roddenberry’s 24th century vision with no conflict between core characters "hardest rule for writing staff"
  • Ending TNG after 7 years was "financial’ due to increasing costs and that Paramount motion picture headSherry Lansing wanted a Next Generation movie

Berman on DS9 [1:17:15 – 1:43:10]

  • Berman "never got a chance" to talk to Gene Roddenberry about DS9, but feels it "stayed true" with Roddenberry’s vision
  • Paramount chief Brandon Tartikoff first broached idea for another Trek series to coincide with TNG
  • Tartikoff suggested "The Rifleman in Space" with father and son righting wrongs, kept idea of father and son, but not much else
  • Because show to run along with TNG "we really couldn’t plop another seven people on a space ship…had to do something different"
  • Using Bajorans and Cardiassians to create conflict allowed them to stay within the Gene rules of no conflict between the Starfleet people
  • Co-creator Michael Piller suggested idea of black Captain, resulting casting of Avery Brooks
  • DS9 was meant to be "darker and edgier", partially in response to critique that TNG was "too soft and too white bread"
  • Berman notes that veterans feel Sisko is "the most believable" as a military commander of the Star Trek captains
  • Berman calls Colm Meaney his "favorite actor on Earth" and named character Miles O’Brien after his nephew
  • Alexander Siddig initially considered for Sisko, but too young
  • Dax hardest to cast because it is hard to find actresses who are beautiful and can act who will do television
  • Michael Dorn’s Worf brought over in the fourth season because "ratings were slipping", but he isn’t sure it made a difference in the ratings except maybe "a little"
  • Berman sometimes questioned if Roddenberry would have gone along with spiritual elements of the show, but felt it had enough of a sci-fi element
  • For "Trials and Tribble-ations" they could only do half of the "Forest Gump" type shots mixing DS9 and TOS characters
  • Paramount execs loved to show off the Promenade sets when visitors came to the lot
  • DS9 (and VOY) was created to run 7 seasons

Berman on Voyager [1:43:10 – 2:08:20]

  • After end of TNG Paramount felt two shows running concurrently worked and wanted a replacement, but Beman an Piller felt they "were pushing it" with too much Trek (along with feature films currently in development)
  • Paramount "was adamant" especially about using Trek as anchor for new UPN
  • Without TNG the "could go back to a ship" but wanted woman captain and new setting (Delta quadrant) to "do something we hadn’t done yet"
  • Co-creators Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor "adored" Geneviève Bujold, originally cast as Capt. Janeway, but Berman felt ”there was something funny…that didn’t seem right" with her and her ability to deal with episodic TV
  • They told Bujold about "how horrible" it was to work on episode TV and "painted a very dark picture" but she still wanted to do it, then quit by 2nd day, which he feels "was a wonderful sense of vindication" that he was right about Bujold, as Mulgrew was his first choice as she was "perfect for the part"
  • Kate Mulgrew had "most number of hair issues" of all of Trek (due to others wanting to change her look, not the actress)
  • Berman on Robert Beltran "he grew a little bit frustrated that his part never got quite as big as he hoped it would, but he did a good job"
  • Tim Russ was second choice for Geordi and so Berman was anxious to hire him
  • Berman on character of Kes "it just didn’t work, her character became superfluous" so she was written out
  • Bringing on Jeri Ryan as 7 of 9 in response to studio concern about ratings slippage and requirement to "spice things up"
  • Success of Jeri Ryan "did cause problems" with Kate Mulgrew and there "was a little antagonism" between the actresses
  • High use of Holodeck on Voyager was somewhat due to writers being "anxious" to use again device after DS9, where Quark’s holosuites were "whorehouses" with "nasty purposes"
  • For final episode they "considered everything" including not returning to Earth, 7 of 9 dying, Janeway dying and more
  • Berman’s final assessment on if the "ship headed home" premise was right one to do: "It was difficult. I think it was a good idea to go in that direction, but there is something about venturing outward and trying to get back home that are dramatically different from one another. And I think Star Trek, by and large, is a show about exploration, and Star Trek is about going forth and not trying to find your way home, so it did hold us back in certain areas…but I think it was the best of both worlds"

Berman on Enterprise [2:08:20 – 2:39:15]

  • Impetus for Enterprise again came from studio as Voyager was ending, and Berman "begged them to let it have a few years rest"
  • Studio wanted Enterprise to start before Voyager ended, but Berman got them to wait until Voyager ended
  • Berman felt prequel best as going forward after TNG era "didn’t offer that much" because it was just slicker space suits and shinier space suits
  • Berman disagrees with fans who felt he and co-creator Brannon Braga ignored Star Trek canon and continuity, noting "we absolutely didn’t, we tried to pay great attention to it"
  • Dealing with some science and technology was "frustrating" because modern day tech is more advanced than shown in TNG or Voyager (like laptops being more advanced that Picard’s desk computer or cell phones seeming more advanced than TOS communicators)
  • Wanted Enterprise cast to be "young" and they wanted audiences to relate to them "more than they could with the other shows"
  • Scott Bakula brought in by studio, but they were "blown away" by him as he was "perfect fit" for Archer, and he was "just a mensch"
  • Jolene Blalock "was another case of another beautiful woman who can act"
  • Conner Trinneer was only actor in all four Trek series Berman "had to fight for", studio wanted a "typical Hollywood pretty-boy types"
  • Dominic Keating was found auditioning for Season 7 Voyager role
  • Berman and Braga went on board a submarine at the San Diego Naval Base to get that kind of feel for the NX-01, later had to fight studio who wanted "color, color, color" on the ship
  • Berman calls choice of the contemporary "Faith of the Heart" for the Enterprise theme song "another example of my being stubborn, right or wrong", but notes "the fans hated it"
  • Berman’s reasoning for initially having "Star Trek" in the title thought it would make it "more embrace-able", after show’s ratings flagged CBS suggested putting Star Trek back into the title
  • Season-long arc for Season 3 was response to studio/network concern over ratings, Berman felt it helped ratings and "allowed Archer to become a tougher character"
  • Paramount talked UPN fourth season to help get close to the magic 100 episodes by lowering license fee
  • Berman wonders if finale "These are the Voyages" finale was "a mistake", acknowledging that some found it "disrespectful"
  • Cites Manny Coto and ties to TOS for critical success of fourth season and felt  "isn’t any doubt we could have gone on for another three [seasons] if we had been given the chance"

Berman on TNG era movies [2:39:15 – 2:43:40]

  • First Contact is "undoubtedly" Berman’s favorite TNG film, feels "it really worked" and "was the most fun to do"
  • On demise of Kirk in Generations: "this was a character was long dead when Next Generation took place, but we were perceived as killing Capt. Kirk"
  • Generations "did better than the studio expected, but we learned a lot of lessons from it"
  • Insurrection was meant to be a "softer story" — Piller wanted a change after FC which was a "go get em action movie"
  • Berman feels INS "had some amazing stuff in it, but didn’t do quite as well as First Contact"
  • Berman considers Nemesis a "classic Star Trek movie" in the vein of the Nick Meyer movies, but acknowledged "it was not well received at all"
  • Does not believe release date (close to LOTR) was factor, but admits "I don’t know what went wrong" except possibly "franchise fatigue" (more below)

Final wrap-up, favorites, etc [2:43:30 – end]

  • Favorite show was TNG, because it was the show he "cut his teeth on"
  • Still friends with most of the TNG cast and crew
  • 2nd choice is Enterprise, because he was so involved with creation and writing
  • Favorite guest star was Stephen Hawking
  • Time travel episodes are faves, notably "Yesterday’s Enterprise", but "Best of Both Worlds" his total favorite
  • Berman believes that greatest legacy of Trek is Roddenberry’s "uplifting vision" of the future "depicting a culture of man ,more evolved in the best of all ways" unlike other dark sci-fi
  • Career highlight working as PA on film Fly being able to hang out with John Lennon

Berman on ‘franchise fatigue’ and the future of Star Trek

While talking about the end Enterprise, Berman expanded on the notion of "franchise fatigue":

Jon Dulgen, who was the chairman of all of Paramount at the time, used the phrase to me "franchise fatigue" which I think was one of the best explanations of what was going wrong. Because at the same time we made a movie with one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood [John Logan] called Star Trek: Nemesis and it just died, and simultaneously there were problems going on with Enterprise. Nemesis was a good movie. It was not a problematic movie at all. I think it really had to do with a sense of franchise fatigue and the fact that there had been so much Star Trek. As I said before we ended up after the fourth season of Enterprise, producing 624 hours of these four television series, which is unprecedented.

Berman was asked what he thought the future held for Star Trek.
[NOTE: interview conducted in May 2006 – shortly after it announced that was JJ Abrams was to produce a new Star Trek movie, but before deal was final or any details were revealed].

Well, there is word that JJ Abrams, who is one of the hot directors in both television and film, is going to star work on developing a kind of re-invention Star Trek film. That could be very exciting. I think that if there is, not if, when there is another television series, it will probably come out of that. I think that TV-wise it needs a rest. It has only been off the air for a year at this point. I think it needs a little bit more of a rest. I think Star Trek will go on for a long time. There is hardly a person on this planet who does not know what warp speed means of what "beam me up, Scotty" means, or what a photon torpedo is. I think Star Trek, in one for or another, will go on for a long time. As far as the TV end goes, I think it is good for a rest for a number of years.

Berman on Internet criticism and how he would like to be remembered

Berman was asked if he had any regrets, and he used that to talk about some of the famed Berman bashing he has recived on the Internet.

I have taken a lot of the criticism to heart. I don’t believe that any of the people who are involved in the websites think that we read them, but in fact we do. And I think that a lot of the criticism that has been directed at us by hardcore Internet people is that we ignore their wishes and we ignore the chronology of Star Trek and the canon of Star Trek. It makes us said because it’s not true. I wish there had been some way to communicate with these people over the years in a little bit more of a believable fashion. I once got on the Internet and told people who I was and they didn’t believe me, so I got off.

The final question was how he would like to be remembered, Berman responded:

At the risk of sounding hokey, I would love to be remembered as somebody who took Gene Roddenberry’s vision of what Star Trek was all about — people felt he didn’t have it in him to do another show and it was so heartwarming to see how pleased he was with the reaction that Next Generation got after so many years of not producing TV shows. I would like to be remembered as somebody  who took his vision of the future and idea of what Star Trek was supposed to be and tried to keep these four series and four movies that we have done, to keep it true to his ideals. I wonder whether that will be the case in the future. I would like to think that was something that I managed to achieve.

 

More Trek in TV Archives
There are many more great (and lengthy) oral histories from Star Trek luminaries, all available on YouTube:

SHATNER, WILLIAM (as “Captain James T. Kirk”)
TAKEI, GEORGE (as “Mr. Sulu”)
NIMOY, LEONARD (as “Mr. Spock”)
JUSTMAN, ROBERT (associate producer/ co-producer)
FONTANA, DOROTHY (“D.C.”) (writer, 10 eps/ story editor)
COURAGE, ALEXANDER (theme composer/ episode composer)
FRIED, GERALD (composer)
JENNINGS, JOSEPH (art director)
JOHNSON, GEORGE CLAYTON (writer, premiere episode)
Montalban, Ricardo (guest actor, “Space Seed,” as Khan)
Donahue, Elinor (guest actress, “Metamorphosis”)
Wyatt, Jane (guest actress, as Spock’s mother)

 

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