In part one of our exclusive interview with writer and producer David A. Goodman we focused on his new Star Trek book, The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard. For part two we talked to the multiple Emmy-nominee about his work on The Orville, Futurama, and Star Trek: Enterprise; and how they are all linked together.
Creating mythology on The Orville
You wrote the latest episode (“Krill”), where you really got into the mythology of The Orville. The Krill are a big part of the show, so how much of that was worked out before?
Part of my contribution to the show and talking to [The Orville creator] Seth [MacFarlane] early on was this idea of the Krill being a race that had a religion that didn’t let in the idea of any other races. The idea was a powerful space empire that believed that if you are not in their bible, you don’t exist. That was something we all worked together in the writer’s room. We knew who the Krill were going to be before this episode. That was something we decided with Seth early on before even the pilot script, but there was no way to get it across before that episode.
Was there a allegory there about how people de-humanize each other?
I think the idea of fanatical religion is something we are commenting on. This idea that people will dismiss others that don’t believe in their religion. The Krill don’t represent one specific religion, but the idea of fanaticism, which you can find in pretty much any religion. We see it in America and obviously in other parts of the world.
The Orville is designed to be episodic with standalone episodes, but “Krill” picked up on things from previous episodes and ended on a warning. So, can we expect “Krill” to impact future episodes?
I don’t think you will see us come back to it in season one, but we will come back to it. That is the great thing about this show. There are lots of great stories to tell as we build our world. We had thirteen episodes this year and so we don’t want to get locked into one story. That is really really important to us. On the other hand, assuming we have a second season, we will absolutely come back to this.
The Orville as gateway to sci-fi
It feels like many critics of this show just didn’t get what you guys were trying to do. Perhaps it was how the show was initially promoted, but I think many critics thought this was going to be a half-hour “yuck, yuck, yuck” space comedy, and they were like “What’s this?” You have written “yuck, yuck, yuck” half-hour comedies, including one in space. Was there ever an impetus that this should be that kind of show? Wouldn’t that have been the easier thing to do?
Here is the problem with that. One, that is not the show that Seth wanted to make. He wanted to do his version of a hour-long drama with comedy. He is kind of creating something new. And you are right, the critics didn’t get. It is upsetting to me because they didn’t try to get it. And critics are often so unfair to Seth and I don’t know why as I think he is a f—king genius, having worked with him now for 18 years. He has a unique point of view and is trying to do something new and the idea that the critics couldn’t even find it in their stone-cold hearts and open up and say “You know what, the guy is trying something new. I will be interested to see what he does with it.”
The problem with doing a half-hour “yuck, yuck” is to keep people invested in the show becomes that much more difficult because the line between spoof and satire – and there is a difference – is a harder one to maintain. If it slips too much into spoof, eventually people are going to stop watching. If you are not invested in who these characters are and the reality of their world, I think people stop watching. It is hard to do a half-hour space comedy and create a world and real character. That is the thing about the comedy in The Orville, is that it is real in the sense Ed Mercer is a guy looking for his second chance. He is scared sometimes and he screws up sometimes. He is annoyed by his ex-wife, but also there is clearly some leftover affection there as well. And you got Scott Grimes playing Gordon who is a screw-up, but also a guy looking for redemption. And you have Adrianne [Palicki] playing Kelly who doesn’t want to one-up her ex and is there to help him, but also, she is annoyed he is hanging on to the past. There is a reality to these people, so when they are playing comedy it is coming out of the reality of their relationship and the situation. And that to me is so much more satisfying to the viewer, because you are invested in these people.
Would you be agree that with regards to the drama and comedy mix, the show is evolving and getting better at getting that balance right?
It is hard for me to see it as I love the first half of the season, but a number of people in the audience and critics have said that. I guess for me it is more that a show always takes time. For me, the second half of the season rocks. We have some great episodes coming up. I think a show does often takes time to find its footing. Next Generation took two years, in fact all the Star Trek shows took a while to figure out who they were. For me Deep Space Nine didn’t get good until season four and Voyager as well. All these kinds of shows take a little time to find themselves. If you are saying we are finding it on episode six, I’ll take it.
Some have critiqued the show for using well-known tropes, but correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t that a feature and not a bug? There is an element of this show where you guys are explicitly playing to nostalgia.
It only matters if us using that trope is getting in the way of you enjoying that episode. I agree, we are using tropes because this is show for everybody. What Seth has set out to do is that for those of us steeped in science fiction and Star Trek and Twilight Zone and we know it backwards and forward, there is almost nothing you can do on television that is going to appeal to us and appeal to a broad audience. Sure, you can do The Expanse – which I think is a terrific show – but I don’t think it is for a wide audience. It is for fans of hard science fiction.
The Orville is for people who watch television and I am hoping The Orville is the gateway drug to science fiction that Star Trek was for me. I hadn’t read science fiction until after I started watching Star Trek. And Star Trek used a lot of the tropes that were used in science fiction for years and it uses them in its own world and I didn’t recognize them as tropes because I hadn’t been exposed to them. That is what I am hoping The Orville is. It is an enjoyable show for casual TV watchers, but for young people who aren’t going to watch The Original Series or even The Next Generation because it is from a different decade, but they are going to watch this show which has references that they can connect to and maybe develop an interest in this genre, which is a terrific genre.
Season 2 chances and no rivalry with Discovery
Putting on your executive producer hat, what do you know about season two and how and when Fox will make a decision?
I don’t know about that. I think we are doing well. When we moved to Thursday, definitely our rating is lower, but we have maintained 100% of our viewers on Thursday in the Live+3 viewers. That tells the network there is a show here that is in a tough timeslot, but people are showing up for it and it is a demographic we like. Because of that, I think they are bullish on the show. Every signal we have is that they are really happy creatively with the show and they happy with it ratings-wise. They understand moving us to Thursday put us in a really tough timeslot and even with that competition, people are DVRing us and watching us.
If you were picked up, it would be for a second season next fall, not additional episodes for season one this spring, right?
It is too late to pick us up for a back nine in terms construction of sets and writing because we finished production in August. A lot of shows start production in July and are in production as the shows are airing so if they were to pick up the show the infrastructure is already in place. In the case of this show Seth was heavily involved in the writing and we wrote all the shows last year and that allowed him to star in the show and we were done in August for shooting. We are still in post-production of course.
What do you think of the notion that there is a rivalry between The Orville and Discovery. As a Star Trek fan what do you think of Discovery?
It has a great cast and looks awesome. It is a little darker than I like my Star Trek, but I like it. It is very well written. I liked the format of a continuing story, because it says Star Trek can survive in different forms and formats. I am interested to see where they go. It is a great show. I don’t see the rivalry. For me, I got two shows I like to watch. It’s funny to me that people feel like they have to create some kind of feud or rivalry. There are fifteen cop shows, why can’t we have two of these? Oh my god, there are two shows set on spaceships, they have to compete with one another. I wish there were fifty of them. I read Asimov. I read Heinlein. I read Clarke. I don’t have to just read one, same thing goes for television. I am really happy that Star Trek continues. I am a big Star Trek fan.
Futurama lead to Enterprise, which lead to The Orville
Let’s talk about Futurama. You had just 22 minutes to work with in “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” and you crammed so many Star Trek gags in there, was there anything left you wish made it in?
There really weren’t. When you enter the process, you know you are limited. Actually, there was one joke that I had that I really liked which was after Kirk does his log at the opening for Shatner’s log I had Chekov start to do his log. “Dear Log, what a crazy week” and he gets cut off. And that thing I played with Sulu later in the episode with “How come I don’t get to decide?” – playing on the idea that the supporting cast is upset that Shatner is always hogging the limelight.
That was really a great moment in my life to get to write that episode and to have the support of that writing staff, who helped me figure out the story and they were so supportive of all the Star Trek jokes that I wrote and then they wrote as well. It was just such a love letter to Star Trek.
So, did that episode really get you the job on Enterprise?
I wasn’t in the Star Trek building when this happened, so I got this second hand from Chris Black, but it was Chris who was on Enterprise and had seen the Futurama episode and he told Brannon [Braga] about it and somehow around that same time my agent, on my urging, called Brannon to try to get me an interview. So, Brannon was aware of the Futurama episode because of Chris Black and so he knew who I was. Without that knowledge, I don’t think Brannon would have been interested. But, because I had written for Futurama and because he and Rick [Berman] had aspirations to make Enterprise funnier, he thought this could be a good guy for the show. So, he brought me in. So, yeah it got me in the door and that was cool.
And it was you who got Seth onto the show.
That’s right. I introduced Seth to Brannon, and that eventually led to Cosmos and then to Orville. Here is what happened. I started working on Enterprise and around that time Rick Berman’s son introduced Rick to Family Guy. Firstly, Rick couldn’t believe I was on his staff and then he would ask me “How did you do that joke?” That is the thing about Family Guy is people are blown away by how we can push the envelope on what gets put on television. So, we talked a lot about Family Guy and Seth wasn’t working at that time. This was before Seth became the show business legend he is now. Family Guy at that time had been cancelled and Seth was just trying to get other projects going and I said to Rick “You want to meet Seth?” And he was like “Sure!” And I brought Seth in to meet Rick and his son and was a fun meeting and later I said to Rick and Brannon that Seth was a huge Star Trek fan so can we give him a part. And so, Chris Black and I figured out a part in “The Forgotten” with this assistant engineer [Ensign Rivers]. And then he and Brannon became friends and Brannon brought him back in season four.
Enterprise canon and preemptive nitpicking on The Orville
You went back for the return of Family Guy, so you weren’t there for season four of Enterprise, but do you agree with Brannon that the way Manny Coto handled season four should have been the way the show should have been since the beginning?
What did he mean, you mean the min-arcs?
I think the mini-arcs and more references to The Original Series and links to canon.
I liked Enterprise all the way through, with early episodes I really enjoyed. It is a problem because when you get too tied to canon, you immediately limit the possibilities of new audiences coming to Star Trek. That was my issue with them doing a prequel. As a Star Trek fan, I want that canon stuff. But, as a TV producer I have to wonder does the audience care about how the Romulan War started? You have to make them care and invested in your characters. So, I understand that point of view. I don’t fully agree or disagree. I think it is a choice. One of the brilliant things that Gene Roddenberry did when he brought back Star Trek was to he said let’s go 80 years forward and get as far away from The Original Series as we can. Although it had some fits and starts, by season three it was its own show. You can turn on The Next Generation and not have to have seen an episode of anything. That to me is what you want to do as a TV producer.
People like you and me are of a kind. We are so steeped in Star Trek that we love when the show we are watching acknowledges our knowledge of Star Trek. But, we forget the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation were popular with millions of people who were not Star Trek fans watching. I can’t tell you the number of people that I meet that say they watched Star Trek every week when they were a kid, but they weren’t Trekkies. They weren’t people who are like you and me. That says something about that creation. It allows for people like us, but it also allows for people to just watch television. I like that aspiration.
Going back to The Orville, you guys are essentially creating a whole new canon as you go along. Eventually that means you are going to run into your own Orville nitpicking.
[Laughs] Yeah, we talk about it. Here is a perfect example on how we are on that. In “Krill” we were breaking the story and came up with the idea that they were brought up in darkness and the way to kill them was to bring up the lights. At that moment that was not part of the pilot and when you see the Krill get off the shuttle you see them and Seth realized he had to change that to put helmets on them. That’s because of the nitpicking. So, we then reference that scene from the pilot in the “Krill” episode. We are in there trying to make sure there is an internal consistency to this world. We may slip up at times, but I think we will be pretty far ahead of that.
So, you preemptively nitpicked yourselves?
Exactly! [laughs] You know as a fan of these kinds of these shows – and we are all in that room – you want that kind of respect for the audience who are going to know these things.
The Orville returns this week
After taking a break last week, The Orville is back this Thursday with an episode titled “Majority Rules.” Here is a promo.