Once again our friends at the TrekDocs account on Twitter have revealed an interesting document from their Trek archive. This time it comes in the form of a 1990 memo from Star Trek: The Next Generation showrunner Michael Piller to executive producer Rick Berman, who at the time had the final say on what got on the air for Star Trek. The memo covered possible episodes for the second half of the fourth season of TNG. It briefly discusses progress on a couple of ideas that eventually became “Qpid” and “Devil’s Due,” but the main thrust of the memo was an interesting new pitch from Piller.
A return to the ‘Action’
Dated October 17, 1990, Michael Piller’s memo to Rick Berman is titled “HIGH CONCEPT.” Here is Piller’s opening teaser pitch for his new episode idea:
We’re in space… an unidentified ship confronts us, it appears an old starship. The voice on the audio channel identifies himself as Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. End of tease.
Piller goes on to describe the episode as a “return to the planet” (Sigma Iotia II) from the classic original Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action,” which is the one where Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise find a society that had molded itself on a book about Chicago gangsters, left behind by a Starfleet vessel a century before.
That TOS episode ended with McCoy accidentally leaving leaving behind his communicator, which Piller envisioned would result in the imitative Iotions again reshaping their society, this time around the Federation. However, it would be one where they “perverted the ideals and purpose of Starfleet,” combining them with “the morality of the Chicago mob.” Piller’s pitch also called for a cameo of Leonard Nimoy to return as Spock to “straighten these people out.”
In general, Star Trek: The Next Generation avoided direct links to the original Star Trek. There was one early episode in the first season (“The Naked Now”) which was a sort of sequel to a TOS episode (“The Naked Time”) but nothing as closely linked as what Piller was proposing.
Piller, who joined TNG in the third season and is credited with improving the overall quality of the writing, was aware there was a wariness around tie-ins to classic Star Trek. He even prefaced his memo saying he expected Berman to reject the idea. However, he also noted that they didn’t have any big ideas set up for February sweeps, and he argued that “now that we’ve established ourselves on our own merits, I don’t feel we need to fear the ‘old startrek’ syndrome as much. If you buy in, it will provide the highest ratings of the season.”
He ended the memo by signing off “I dare you.” According to the TrekDocs people, there is no corresponding response from Berman available. It is likely the idea was quickly rejected and the team moved on to develop the rest of the fourth season.
Ideas that lived on
While TNG never did this episode, the notion of following up on the provocative ending of “A Piece of the Action” was certainly something bandied around. TNG and DS9 staff writer Ronald D. Moore also wanted to do a follow-up with the Iotians imitating Starfleet. Moore’s concept had the society holding conventions and allowed for what would have been a comment on fandom itself. When Deep Space Nine was developing ideas for a special episode celebrating the 30th anniversary of the franchise in 1996 Moore pitched the idea again, but it was rejected in favor of “Trials and Tribble-ations,” which had the DS9 crew travel back in time to the events of the TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
Follow-ups to “A Piece of the Action” were addressed in the non-canon extended universe of Star Trek books, comics and games, and some picked up on the idea that the society would be influenced by the visit of the USS Enterprise. In fact, the 1989 book The Worlds of the Federation, published a year before Piller’s memo, stated the next vessel to visit Iotia after Kirk’s Enterprise “found what at first appeared to be a Federation Starbase, complete with uniformed personnel and communications on Starfleet frequencies.” And in 1998, the tenth and final issue of Marvel’s Star Trek: Unlimited comic series – titled “A Piece of Reaction” – had the TNG crew on Enterprise-E return to Sigma Iotia II expecting to find the planet still styled after the 1920s Chicago, but instead find the society had reshaped itself around a version of Kirk’s Starfleet, albeit without the same moral code.
In November 1991, a little over a year after Piller wrote his “HIGH CONCEPT” memo, Leonard Nimoy did return as Spock for the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode “Unification.” The fifth season episode celebrated the 25th anniversary of the franchise and found Spock on the planet Romulus trying to bring about unification of the Romulans and the Vulcans in a sort of follow-up to the classic TOS episode “Balance of Terror,” which introduced the Romulans and their link back to Vulcans. “Unification” was based on a story by Piller and Berman, so the pair were in agreement about bringing Nimoy back for a big ratings event.
Here is the tweet from TrekDocs if you want to read the full memo.
Michael Piller proposes a season four TNG sequel to "A Piece of the Action" that I would have WATCHED THE SHIT OUT OF. "I dare you." October 17, 1990. pic.twitter.com/LaqhWWjq15
— trekdocs (@trekdocs) February 24, 2018