The Center Seat – 55 Years of Star Trek: 55 Years of Trek: The Complete, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek
Written by Peter Holmstrom
Hardcover | $24.24
E-book | $12.99
Published by Nacelle Books | 374 Pages
This oral history of Star Trek has its origin in the History Channel documentary series narrated by Gates McFadden that came out in 2021. The book promises to deliver info that didn’t make it into the 10-part series, and there it definitely delivers, painting a vivid picture of specific areas of Star Trek history—some more vivid than others.
One quick caveat is that the scope of the book covers the franchise through to Star Trek: Enterprise, making it technically about 40-41 years of Star Trek. However, there’s still rich material here, accomplishing the same juggling act as the documentary as it aims to hook casual fans, newcomers to the franchise, and savvy fans who think they’ve already heard it all before, all at the same time.
There’s a very deep dive into the origins of The Original Series and The Next Generation, with smaller (but still meaty) sections about Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. When it comes to the movies, the pattern repeats: There’s a great deal of detail on Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, but the other movies don’t get as much attention: Once Leonard Nimoy is secured as the director of The Search for Spock, that story ends, and the rest of the films are whipped through fairly quickly as well.
Tidbits about what was and what could’ve been
There are great gems in here, stories that will be new to many, and great first-hand tales that conflict, but such is the nature of recollection. Obviously, many of these recollections have made it into DVD extras and other making-of books, but it’s still fun to hear them from the people who were there.
Here are a few of my favorite stories from the book:
- When they were casting for the captain on Voyager, they considered Lindsay Wagner, famous for The Bionic Woman, but her agent didn’t even send her the offer.
- Before Voyager, Robert Beltran auditioned to play a Klingon, most likely for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. He went to Leonard Nimoy’s house, where there were 20 people (including Leonard) sitting around the table, and someone asked if he had any questions. He did: “What is a Klingon?” He said Leonard sighed and suggested he just read. Nobody was amused.
- The first time director/producer David Livingston met Patrick Stewart, Sir Patrick was looking for directions to the hair department and carrying a “little box of fur balls”—the wigs he’d been told to bring from England.
- Nana Visitor had an accident early on in the show; she fell down the stairs leaving the makeup trailer and couldn’t move, so she was rushed to urgent care, where the doctor took one look and went “OH MY GOD YOUR NOSE!!!,” assuming that’s why she was there.
- Roxann Dawson used to live behind William Shatner and she and his daughter Leslie were childhood friends. Leslie always wanted to watch Star Trek after school to see her dad on TV, but Roxann always wanted to play basketball instead.
- An executive wanted Jeri Ryan’s Seven costume to have “falling-out cleavage,” but Robert Blackman said it had nothing to do with the character, and that he could still make the costume sexy. (For the record, Jeri Ryan said she had “no problem with the costume. Honestly.”)
- Manny Coto describes the idea they had to bring William Shatner as Kirk to Enterprise, and talks about having lunch with Shatner and pitching him the idea, which he loved, and says the studio wouldn’t pay even though he wasn’t asking for anything exorbitant; he thinks Paramount just wanted the show to die at that point.
The book is a great read for Star Trek fans (whether or not they’ve seen the doc) who love behind-the-scenes details as well as the big-picture perspective; it delivers both. Leonard Nimoy’s final interview is in there in its entirety (broken up across appropriate sections of the book), along with illuminating information from insiders who offer up unique perspectives, all of whom were also in the documentary. Writers, actors, directors, producers, costume designers, makeup artists, VFX producers, production designers and more help weave the tale of the Star Trek franchise from TOS through Enterprise.
Star Trek insiders abound
The book’s strength lies in its first-person anecdotes from the people who worked directly on the shows and movies. To give you a sense of the range of Trek alumni you’ll hear from, here are just a few:
- Joe D’Agosta
- Dorothy Fontana
- Walter Koenig
- Bob Kline (designer, Star Trek: The Animated Series)
- David Gautreaux (the actor who would’ve played Xon in Star Trek: Phase II)
- Nicholas Meyer
- Robert Sallin
- Rick Berman
- Lucie Salhany (president of Paramount Domestic Television from 1985-1991)
- Ron D. Moore
- Jeri Taylor
- Michael Westmore
- Jeri Taylor
- Brannon Braga
- Ira Steven Behr
- David Livingston
- Lisa Klink
- Manny Coto
- Brent Spiner
- Nana Visitor
- Penny Johnson Jerald
- Andrew Robinson
- John Billingsley
It’s a worthy addition to the documentary and to your Star Trek reference shelf, even if it ends before the J.J. Abrams films or the new era of Star Trek TV on Paramount+ that started with Discovery. There are times you’ll be relishing in the detail and others you’ll be hankering for more, but either way, it’s a fun ride.
On sale now
The Center Seat is available at Amazon in hardcover for $24.24 or as an ebook for $14.03.
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I wonder what it really in here that isn’t already extensively covered by the last half dozen exhaustive tell-all books about the making of the first 40 years of Star Trek?
By the way, you want to read a tell-all about Star Trek… read Susan Sakett’s autobiography. Mamma mia.
Hopefully the stuff missing from this is the made-up and erroneous stuff Cushman used to pad his ‘research’ tomes that people have swallowed hook line & sinker.
The really strong point of Cushman’s books is that he would present opposing oral histories on a topic and then use written evidence (usually memos or production schedules, etc.) to determine the truth of the matter. BTW, readers here should know that Kevin Martin used his wife’s Amazon account to publish erroneous criticisms of the Cushman books on that site. I called him out on that here, wayyyy back in the day!
My criticisms were and are accurate, and if you go back through ancient threads here, you’ll see how they were supported by trek historians — real ones — like Michael Kmet and I believe Kevin K, and my own bona fides were attested to by other regular posters here. EDIT ADDON: here is one example: https://trekmovie.com/2014/07/11/preview-of-non-fiction-star-trek-books-for-20142015-from-fun-to-artwork-to-scholarly-texts/
I’m still not sure why the fact I didn’t have an amazon account in my name — still don’t — factors into any of these discussions, but if you’re going to try to trot out some bona fides to justify your participation on this, try some that address how he deals and then re-deals with the issue/nonissue of an ARENA tie-in book, or how he utterly misreads ratings numbers in a way that would give Republican pollsters a case of green envy. Anthony Thompson, what is your continuing stake in this, in the fomenting of a notion that hack work is above reproach?
Anybody interested in actual trek history should check out Facttrek.com, which has utterly trounced a lot of the more ridiculous Cushman claims. I believe they often work with the people who restored tons of faded TOS images, pics that Cushman’s books appropriated w/o credit to them. Facttrek just put out a new piece (part 1 of 2) on THE NAKED TIME this week, one that focuses on THE NAKED TIME.
Silence. I guess that is what I should expect given this attack — like all the previous ones — was baseless, and in support of a ‘journalist’ who disregards memos when they don’t fit his narrative/spin. Cushman should have teamed with Alec Peters, what a great pair of con-men!
The problem with the documentary was the pointless inclusion of episode clips–consuming huge amounts of time showing us what we’ve already seen–while obviously cutting off the interviewees as they speak. Maybe the book addresses this.
No clips here!
Shatner in Enterprise as older Mirror Kirk facing off against the NX01 crew would’ve been fun ..
It’s crazy they never did it. Maybe with the new SNW Kirk?
The producers had said they were planning The Center Seat as an ongoing series, but I guess that’s not happening. A shame, I liked it.
funny hear that Beltran auditioned for STIII. I always thought there was a scientist on Regula space station in STII that looked like him.
I bought the DVDs (which ought to have been Blu-rays, but I’ll take what I can get). There’s a fourth disc with uncut interviews on it: Nimoy, Nichols, and Alley, which are about an hour and twenty minutes each (except the Nichols one, which is about half an hour longer than that). Well worth seeing, especially the Kirstie Alley one. The Nichelle Nichols one is kind of a bummer, because her memory is clearly in rough shape; but even so, she’s lovely and charming.
That’s crazy they aren’t on BD in this day and age.
If I recall correctly, the Shatner idea for Enterprise is that they finally reveal the chef and he’s played by Shatner, and Crewman Daniels recruits him to replace Kirk in some sort of future adventure where the real Kirk isn’t available, so he’s playing a random Chef who has to pretend to be Kirk because he looks like him.
Which I admit is a pretty solid idea.
From having read other books/articles over the years (most recently the Altman/Gross Fifty Year Mission) I believe the original idea was for him to be the Mirror Kirk who had been imprisoned by that device he had in ‘Mirror Mirror’ (it would establish the device transferred people to the alternate universe) and the NX01 happens upon him, he breaks out and either tries to get back to the mirrorverse or takes over NX01. Apparently Shatner loved the idea of playing Mirror Kirk again but his fee couldn’t be met. Paramount had done some number crunching on how much viewer increase Shatner would bring and decided it wasn’t with the extra cost to try and boost the struggling show. (when Mirror Kirk didn’t go ahead the idea got adapted into ‘In A Mirror Darkly’) Think the ‘Chef’ idea came later from a story by Rick Berman but Shatner wasn’t too impressed (obviously it must’ve got adapted into Chef Riker for the final ep)
I concur. Older MU Kirk is the version I have consistently heard was the Enterprise pitch.
The story about how Coto claimed Shatner’s ask wasn’t exorbitant is interesting. And his assessment of the Paramount situation seems very plausible.
‘(For the record, Jeri Ryan said she had “no problem with the costume. Honestly.”)’.
i did, totally at odds with 7’s character and hindered ms ryan’s performances.