Yesterday we posted the first part of our Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th anniversary interview with Brannon Braga talking about when he joined the show, how he delt with the Roddenberry rules and what it was like writing the finale. Today we present the second part where Braga talks about trying to inject a little Twilight Zone into the show, the missed opportunity to have George R.R. Martin join the writers room, and his experience with writing two (and apparently almost three) Star Trek feature films.
Making TNG scary
Your first solo writing job on TNG was “Identity Crisis,” which seems to be the beginning of an ongoing theme for you, scary episodes. I know you are a fan of the horror genre. With that and subsequent scripts in that vein, was that an effort of yours to inject more horror and maybe some Twilight Zone into TNG?
It wasn’t a conscience thing to infuse Star Trek with such things, but I did recognize there is breadth of storytelling that would allow for such things. They were just the kind of stories I felt comfortable telling. I could never have written a Klingon two-parter. There are episodes that just aren’t in my DNA. And yeah, I am a horror fan. I saw room for terror on the show. There are scary things out there in deep space. And yes, my favorite show of all time is The Twilight Zone, and some of those shows had definitely been called Twilight Zone-esque and that is a fair comparison. Not that I am saying they are as good, but it was what I was aspiring to.
I also had a keen interest in time travel, which I am pretty sure was not allowed on the show. Gene didn’t like time travel, because it strained credulity. I kind of skirted that issue by doing the time loop episode [“Cause and Effect”] so it isn’t really time travel, but it is a time travel episode…I think it is less important that it was time travel and more important that it was highly experimental. Next Generation, for its day, did some crazy things pretty effectively. With things like Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, the time loop thing has been done, but at the time of “Cause and Effect” it was new. People were calling their televisions stations to say something was wrong with the broadcast, and that is when you have done something interesting.
Returning to the idea of horror and looking at some of the episodes you did like “Phantasms” and “Frame of Mind” and sort of culminating in the film First Contact, you continued push the envelope with each getting a bit scarier. Was it a struggle with Michael [Piller] or Rick [Berman] to make things too scary?
No, never once. From my recollection. Remember, I may have come up with an initial idea or wrote the story, but when it came down to breaking the stories scene by scene, we did it together. Everyone was part of the process. I really value in retrospect doing that show because, to quote Captain Picard, “The sky was the limit.” As long as you can executive it deftly.
One specific question about one of your scary episodes, “Genesis.” Did Worf eat any of the crew?
That is a really great question. I never considered it. Damn, I wish I thought of that. Jurassic Worf, as I called him. That is a really great example of “How in the f—k did that show work?” It is so absurd! But, the technobabble in that episode was actually based in some real science and it was just done well and I give a lot credit to Gates McFadden who directed it. It was the kind of show that should just be silly – and maybe in some fans opinions it is – but on Next Gen it worked.
Room for drama and sci-fi on TNG (sadly, not room for George R.R. Martin)
We recently did an article about how George R.R. Martin got rejected for a job on TNG, before the first season, being told that Star Trek was “not science fiction.” Can you imagine him with you and Michael and Ron and all the other writers?
I wish I met him. I was a Martin fan already during that time. His novella “Sandkings” and he wrote a great vampire novel set on a steam boat. I was a huge George R. R. Martin fan when I was on that show and I wish I had know that he was interested. This is the first I am hearing about it. But, there is some truth. That show – TNG in particular – was a general ship of exploration. It wasn’t like Voyager where they were lost or Deep Space Nine with a fixed point on a station. The sky was the limit on Next Gen, so I do understand whoever said that to him. There were people on staff who said “It’s a drama that just happens to be set on a ship.” Not all episodes were driven by a high concept science fiction ideas. I was more interested in the science fiction ideas, but there was room for both.
Without question, it is a minor tragedy that he got rejected like that. What a drag.
Do you think his style could have worked with the show?
He is a genius. Of course it would have worked. Absolutely, 100%.
Well, he might have tried to kill off the cast.
The TNG movies and missed chance to say goodbye
As you note, you went on to write the first TNG movie and the second, but what about the third, which became Insurrection? Were you ever going to be involved with that?
For a moment in time I was going to write that movie with Rick. But, I had just been given the reigns of Voyager and I never had a showrunning job before, and I was terrified to do both. It is one of my career regrets that I didn’t do it when asked. I was so nervous about running a show at the time, I just didn’t think I had the bandwidth for it. And Rick was already toying with this idea of a Picard double. And that made me nervous.
Wait, isn’t that Nemesis?
You know what is really funny? He talked about that idea for the one after First Contact, but didn’t get around to it until the next one. I think Rick wanted to do a lighter movie after First Contact, akin to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. And I just didn’t feel I had the time. And with the writing of Insurrection, you can see a film wanting to embrace its light side and [Insurrection screenwriter Michael] Piller wanted to do a much darker film. You can see the opposing forces at work in that movie.
And Nemesis came along while you were working on Enterprise. The TNG crew never did get their own sort of Star Trek VI goodbye movie. Did you ever have a notion of how we should say goodbye to these characters and how they should have been sent off?
That is a really great question and I haven’t thought about it that way. It was pretty well known that Nemesis would be their last. I don’t know. I was so far removed and didn’t give it much thought about it being the last movie. It is was a really good point that Star Trek VI knew it was the last and there were certain flourishes involved that were very heartfelt like the signatures at the end for a fond farewell. There is probably a better story to be told than the one that was told.
With Nemesis it felt like the characters had regressed to the season one versions of themselves and they were talking about things they talked about a long time ago. Ron and I – for better or worse – tried to move the characters forward in the movies because we felt in the movies you can take bigger swings than you could on a TV show. Those two last movies felt like stories from an earlier [time], but I don’t want to be pooping on other people’s work.
An idea for one more TNG era movie
Let’s say Paramount go the Disney route and decide to do movies all over the timelines, so even if they keep making JJ-verse movies they can also do other maybe smaller movies, like maybe another final TNG movie.
Marvel-izing the Star Trek universe sounds pretty brilliant to me.
So, the new head of Paramount calls you and says “We’re Marvel-izing Star Trek.” Where would you grab from? TNG, Voyager, DS9? Star Trek Super Friends?
I know what I would do. I would take the specialty characters, like Seven of Nine, Data, the holographic Doctor, and others and create a brain trust of characters who are up against some kind of really bad situation where they need to the most brilliant that Starfleet has to offer. Maybe create another character or two and put them on a f—king ship so you get a little from each and put some cameos in there while you are at it. I always thought that would make a cool movie.
So not a captain led movie? So if Patrick Stewart is in it, he isn’t leading?
Well he might be leading the team. I don’t know. But, I would take a little from each. And if you really wanted to Marvel-ize, you would do it on TV. That might have been what Bryan Fuller was trying to do, according to what I have read on your website. He wanted to do every season with a different ship or something? That sounded really cool. That is a great idea. That is a fresh idea for a Star Trek show.
But I am sure the executive producer inside you says “That sounds like an expensive idea.”
Yeah, it does. [laughs] It would be expensive. But, we built other bridges on Star Trek. It can be done.
More from Brannon
For more from Brannon Braga, see the first part of this TNG interview and his recent interview about The Orville.