The Star Trek writer from the “golden era” of Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and showrunner of his own successful TV shows returned to Star Trek Las Vegas this year. He spoke on a number of topics including being a showrunner, what makes a good story, the role of social media in today’s TV writing, and of course his time on TNG and DS9.
Star Trek was ready for change after Enterprise
One of the best moments in Moore’s panel came at the end when a fan asked a question about the dreaded concept of Star Trek franchise fatigue.
When you say something like franchise fatigue it means that, to me, it means that particular flavor had run dry, essentially, to mix my metaphors, essentially that way of doing Star Trek, that way of telling story, and those kinds of stories had run its course. You could just see in the shows, it had fatigue, it was tired. It wasn’t really engaging any more or felt like it was just standing in place. Then it gets reinvented, and then you bring in new people, and you bring in new ideas, and you change up the parameters, and then it all gets reinvigorated again. So, it’s not so much about volume, it’s not really about how many shows there are, it’s really about are you able to still engage the audience and make it seem fresh and exciting. Once you’re in the same place and doing the same show time after time after time, which is what the Star Trek franchise started to feel like by the time that Enterprise ended, it just felt all the same and it didn’t feel new. Then it’s time for a big change, then it’s time to go fallow for a while and plant the ground all over again.
The Trek franchise today
Moore continued to address the fan’s concern that perhaps the news that CBS is interested in some form of Trek content on All Access year-round would lead to a new franchise fatigue:
Where you are now it’s like, Okay it’s all been reinvented, it looks completely different, the style is very different, the stories are different, so it doesn’t feel like you’re in danger of franchise fatigue just because there’s a lot of them coming out. If they’re all the same or if they just start becoming the same meal over and over again, then you’ll run into fatigue and they’ll have the same problems.
Piller fostered the writer’s room
Michael Piller was brought in during the third season of Next Generation to lead the writers’ room. His new blood and his willingness to take risks on young writers fostered an environment like no TV show before it. Piller went on to co-create Deep Space Nine and Voyager as well as write Insurrection.
Michael was an extraordinary guy, I’ve never met anyone quite like him. Michael was truly guileless, he really honestly had no agendas, had no secret things he was trying work you, he pretty much told what we told you is how he felt – sometimes you didn’t want hear how he felt. He was a mentor and really cared about bringing up inexperienced people like me, Brannon Braga, René Echevarria and Naren Shankar. Michael mentored all of us and he was always looking for ways to give people an opportunity to succeed. He was a sweet lovely man. He was a character, he always wore his LA Dodgers baseball cap consistently around the office.
Proud Deep Space Nine pushed Trek’s boundaries
After writing the Trek film First Contact with partner Brannon Braga, the two went on to different Trek shows. Moore made his mark on Deep Space Nine, where he stayed until the end of the series.
It’s hard to believe it’s 25 [years old]. That was a tremendous experience. I always think that for me, The Next Generation was like going to college for television writing, and then graduate school was Deep Space Nine.
Our determination on that staff to push the boundaries of Star Trek, to sort of challenge your assumptions of what Trek was and what it was not. To go serial as much as we could, to make the characters more complicated, to have more ambiguous storytelling, to do challenging things. We just really loved it, we kind of felt like “We’re the forgotten step-child of Star Trek and screw everybody else! Someday they’ll love us.”
Moore loves a good surprise
The panel started with a discussion about how Moore writes:
I write from a frankly very selfish place, I write stories I want to see or that engage me. I use my own internal barometer in terms of what I think a good story is. There’s a part of me that’s always imagining sitting at home watching it. If it surprises me, if there’s a twist in a character arc, or I thought the story was going to be about this and it turns out to be about that, that always makes me sit up. I think that the element of surprise is a very underrated quality of storytelling.
Social media a distraction from the creative process
Another hot topic that came up is how modern TV writers and producers can now get instant feedback from fans thanks to social media. The role of social media and fan interaction and its influence in the creative process is a contentious one, and Moore was asked to weigh in.
I don’t find it [social media] a particularly useful tool, I think it’s good for publicity of the show. I like that there’s an access point where you can engage fandom and you can talk to people about the show. But in terms of their impact on what we’re doing or their impact on the writers’ room, that I try to put a firewall up and just go “you know what, it ain’t a democracy, we’re not taking a vote on this.” …I just don’t think that’s how you do good creative work, is to sort of open it up to the democratic process, for lack of a better word. I think it is a very internal thing, artists have to decide what they want to do and you work very hard, and then you present it to the audience and you hope that they like it. But it doesn’t feel like a positive thing to try to engage them in the creative process beforehand.
It’s hard because realistically, you’re looking at a couple of a million viewers at least, how many people can you actually listen to online? You’re talking about a handful compared to the real audience.
Moore’s most satisfying writing experience
After his time with Star Trek, Moore was asked to reboot the ’70s sci-fi show Battlestar Galactica. He started work not long after the September 11 terror attack in America, and saw a chance to do things he couldn’t do on Trek, such as serialized storytelling in a grittier, less perfect world. He would ask tough questions about human nature and what constitutes being human with his critically acclaimed and reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series.
A young fan asked an excellent question: “Out of all your writing experiences, which one of them left you most satisfied?”
Probably the work on Battlestar left me the most satisfied, and probably the first episode of the first season which was called “33.” It was a very satisfying creative moment, because to this day that was the only script that I sat down and just kind of wrote blind. Where I didn’t have an outline, I had a one-line idea, that was just the fleet jumps every 33 minutes and the Cylons keep chasing them. I just started with “Fade in” and wrote it in one straight shot. I’m very proud of that one.
More STLV 2018
We still have a bit more content coming from Star Trek Las Vegas, so stay tuned for more. Click here to see all of our STLV coverage to date.