One of the highlights of The 55-Year Mission Star Trek convention in Las Vegas this year was the rare appearance of Star Trek: Voyager co-creator Jeri Taylor. She’s retired now and doesn’t do conventions anymore, so it was a treat for fans to be able to ask her questions about her days with Star Trek.
Taylor started out on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a supervising producer in season 4, was co-executive producer in season 6, then became the showrunner on its final year. After that, she co-created Star Trek: Voyager with Rick Berman and Michael Piller, staying with the show through four seasons before handing over the reins to Brannon Braga, but was still around as a consultant. (Somewhere in the middle, she also co-wrote a few episodes of Deep Space Nine and wrote a couple of Voyager novels as well as the novelization of the TNG episode “Unification.”)
In addition to her own panel on the main stage, Taylor also made an unannounced appearance at the panel for the upcoming Voyager documentary To The Journey. We’ve pulled together her comments from the Q&As at both.
Creating Voyager with Rick Berman and Michael Piller
Taylor didn’t remember enough about specific episodes to answer some fan questions, although she did express a particular fondness for the Voyager pilot, “Caretaker.” She did, however, remember hashing out the idea for the series itself while she was still working on TNG.
Rick and Michael did not need me to create Voyager. They knew what they were doing, they could have handled it by themselves. And I suspect that part of the thinking was that it would just be a good thing to have a woman on the team, that you’re going to have a female captain, and I am eternally grateful that they thought that and so we started getting together at lunch hours, the only time any of us would have a free hour, ordered in our lunches in Rick’s office and began hashing it out. And after many, many, often uncomfortable brutal lunches, Voyager was born.
Fans at both panels wanted to know if she’d met any resistance to launching a show with a female captain, but Taylor said it was a non-issue for her:
I honestly never gave it those kinds of thoughts. And it seemed to be very natural. I was somewhat accustomed to being in a position of leadership myself. So it became an obvious next step for us. And I was frankly and thankfully unaware of that, rumblings of anger among fans or whatever they were, I suppose it was to be expected, but I didn’t hear anything about it, so I just cruised along.
It was right, and just, and what it should be.
She also made it clear that having a female captain was the plan even before she joined the team.
I have said before and I will say it again, I think Rick Berman and Michael Piller didn’t need me to create Voyager. They knew what they were doing. I suspect they perceived it would look better at least if there were a woman on the team. But these were very enlightened men, and the decision to have a female captain was made somewhere in a pay grade way above me.
Taylor may feel that the show could have been created without her, but her unique connection to Captain Janeway was spelled out when she was asked how many of her own characteristics and flaws were written into the character:
I always thought of Janeway is just me, I wrote her. I can’t say that I wrote her as me, but as I would like to be. I felt full of her. And I think she is full of me, although, in many ways, far more skilled and able than I am. But it was my fantasy that Janeway was me and I tried to approach it like that. Flaws—we all have flaws. I could name my own; I don’t know that I could name Janeway’s.
Pushback on Voyager
While she didn’t feel any pushback on having a female captain, Taylor did mention one harsh critique of the show that confused her.
Voyager had a holodeck as had previous starships. And Janeway formed a relationship with da Vinci. And I got extreme negative feedback from many, many women who felt that this was completely inappropriate that she had a relationship—it should be with a person, not with a holodeck creation. And I didn’t exactly understand this, because as a Starfleet captain, it would be not good for her to have relationship with any member of her crew. And that in wanting to have a discussion with someone or develop a friend, needs we all have, that this provided the ideal situation, so I honestly did not understand the rancor that I felt from this group of people, but they were extremely set in their ways.
Geneviève Bujold, a good actress in the wrong role
Before Kate Mulgrew stepped into the role of Kathryn Janeway, Voyager had already been filming for a few days with Geneviève Bujold as Captain Nicole Janeway. Taylor got into detail about exactly what wasn’t working and how things played out. We’ve combined her comments from the two different panels.
When Geneviève Bujold, who was an Academy Award-winning movie actress and an actress of undeniable talent, expressed interest in this role, we were thrilled, and we cast her.
I think that she made an actor’s choice, which is what actors do, about how to approach the character. And I think in her mind, she felt that she was surrounded by a crew of extremely competent people, that she did not need to be a slave driver or a whip wielder or to rise to a certain energy level in order to motivate your crew. They were motivated, they knew their jobs, and they would do it. So she preferred to be the quieter central person in on the crew and simply to let them prove do what they did best. It was a perfectly reasonable choice, and in a real-life situation would probably work extremely well.
But on television in drama, the effect was to make her seem like someone lacking in energy and authority, and you could not imagine that she would have been assigned to be the captain of a starship. The director worked with her to try to get her to infuse more energy into the part. And she was committed to her choice; this was the Janeway that she saw.
Fortunately, Bujold spared them having to fire her.
She did us a great favor. She came to us—to Rick, Michael, and me—and said that she didn’t think television was right for her that she would dearly like to be relieved of her job and her responsibility. We did not tell her how relieved we were. But we were. It would have been a much more difficult thing had we had to go to her and ask her to leave, which I suspect was in the cards.
So there we were some days, weeks into shooting with no captain, and Kate Mulgrew had read for us, not in person, but on tape. And it just had not come across in a way that that appealed to us, but we thought about her again. And we asked her to come in in person and she became the Janeway that you all know, which is the perfect Janeway.
Taylor’s influence on women on Star Trek
In another part of the panel, when someone asked if she had been responsible for the women’s characters becoming more interesting on TNG after her arrival, Taylor said she didn’t feel she could take credit for it, but then added, “I will say I was responsible for Troi getting a uniform.” After some thought, she admitted, “I don’t know that I necessarily significantly changed anything else. But I don’t know, maybe it happened without my being aware of it.”
Moderator Lolita Fatjo (a vet of TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Star Trek: First Contact, and one of the producers on the upcoming Voyager documentary To The Journey) agreed. “I think probably you did,” she told Taylor.
Rewriting TNG’s “Chain of Command”
A fan at the main panel asked about her rewrite of the Next Generation episode “Chain of Command” and if she remembered specifically what she had changed.
Frank Abatemarco was a very experienced writer who was on staff with us for a while, and he had done an enormous amount of research for “Chain of Command” and wrote a very authentic script—two scripts. And yes, Patrick had liked them. And when he heard that I was going to do a rewrite, he called me and he was… I had never heard Patrick argue or complain or make a demand or anything, he was such a gentlemanly person. And he said, “Please don’t rewrite this.” I think he thought because I was a woman, I was going to eviscerate it and take out some of the power of of the story, which was not my intention at all. How did I change it? I felt that characters needed to be developed more thoroughly, that the Cardassian who was the main torturer needed a backstory as well, so that he just didn’t come across as a stick figure bad guy. And so I gave him that backstory. I fleshed out what I thought were the deeper elements rather than just concentrating on torture and pain—which I didn’t lose, I don’t think, but I just tried to expand the characters so that as a story, it had a more complete feeling…
…after he read my rewrite, he called me and said he genuinely felt it was much, much better. And I thought that was just a remarkable thing for a person of his stature to do.
Taylor also mentioned that Picard was her favorite character to write for, praising Stewart as a “consummate actor” and adding, “There’s nothing that you asked of him that he couldn’t do.”
Working in TV… not fun and games!
In both panels, Taylor spoke about the challenges of working in television, especially on Star Trek shows that produced 26 episodes in a single season.
I suspect that many, many people think, ‘Wouldn’t it just be heaven to work on a series like Star Trek?’ I assure you working in television is anything but heaven. It is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY difficult. Your life is not your own, you have only work. As I said, you don’t get vacations, you don’t get weekends, you don’t get holidays. It is just always right on top of you.
I have told the story before analogizing television production, a season of television, as imagine yourself standing at the top of the hill. And you start walking down the hill, and the weather begins to change slightly, and it gets colder, and a few drops of snow begin to fall, and you’re getting cold so you want to walk a little faster, so you do. And then you look behind you, and at the top of the hill, you see a teeny tiny snowball beginning to roll down the hill after you. And you start walking a little faster. And you look back, and now the snowball is getting bigger and bigger and it’s coming faster and faster. By the time you get to the bottom of the hill, which is the end of the season, you’re running as fast as you can trying to outrun the hugest snowball you’ve ever seen.
That is television production. You feel like it’s just going to swamp you and overwhelm you and crush you under it… I seem to thrive under that kind of pressure, so I was lucky in that respect. But do not fool yourself to think that it’s lots of fun and games because it is not.
More from Vegas
We still have some more from the con, so stay tuned to TrekMovie for updates. And don’t forget to check out the coverage we’ve already posted.