Star Trek The Next Generation’s Writer’s Room:

One of the really great things about the remastered Star Trek The Next Generation blu-ray releases have been the wealth of behind-the-scenes materials.  Seasons 1 and 2 included several lengthy interviews with the cast, and season 3 includes probably two and a half hours worth of documentaries about the writing staff, namely: Ron Moore; Brannon Braga; Naren Shankar; Melinda Snodgrass; the late Michael Piller; Rene Echevvaria; Ira Steven Behr; and of course, the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself.

Here’s a clip:

These were some of my takeaways:

-Ron Moore had sold “The Bonding” and was out to lunch with the TNG writing staff.  He’d been pitching ideas but none others had been sold, when someone, I think Michael Pillar, said he wanted to do a show about a Romulan defector; Moore then claimed he was working on a script with that concept and came up with the outline on the spot, which was bought.

-Rene Echevarria’s friends were concerned with how many Star Trek TNG scripts he was writing and sending to Paramount; he agreed to stop, after he put down one last idea: it became “The Offspring.”

-Rene’s script for “The Offspring” was completely rewritten after “he screwed the pooch” on his own rewrite; he was sure he was done with professional writing (but grateful that Snodgrass & Pillar had left his name on the script), but Pillar called him a while later and said he felt bad about how things had gone, that he was sure Echevarria was a good writer, who’d just been under pressure from his first sale, and, hey, they had a story idea they couldn’t quite crack, would Rene want to take a shot? The crew rescues someone from a crashed ship, and it’s supposed to be a Beverly episode – what happens next?; Rene pitched his idea the next week, sold it, and wrote “Transfigurations.”

-Ira Steven Behr’s first day on the TNG writing staff, never having seen the show or even knowing who the characters were, was asked to do a rewrite of an act of “The Hunted”; he asked some friends on the staff for a quick into to Trek, but they were too busy to help, so he had to write really on the fly; when he turned it in, Pillar said it was excellent.  I think this explains the weird “dude breaks out of the transporter beam” bit…

-Behr’s original concept for “Captain’s Holiday” was that Picard would visit a holosuite on Risa that promised its users they would experience their worst fear – for Picard, that fear is that he would be promoted to Admiral and have to turn command of the Enterprise over to Riker. Everyone loved it … except for Gene Roddenberry, who killed the idea. Even then, Patrick Stewart (who was apparently worried Gene wanted to kill off the Picard character, as Gene really didn’t like Patrick) met with Behr and told him he would never do that script, then asked if he could please just fuck someone and maybe fight a little.  Please?

-Gene wanted Data to screw Ard’rian in “Ensigns of Command,” but Melinda Snodgrass couldn’t quite figure out how a computer would decide to have sex; whereas “Measure of a Man” was a study of Data as a sentient being, this episode was intended to show Data learning how to command people.

-Everyone had their own type of episodes they liked to write. Echevarria liked romance stories; Moore liked Klingon stuff (and Michael Dorn knew when Moore was writing a Klingon script because Moore would grow a “Worf beard”); Braga loved time travel.

-Both Braga and Moore expressed surprise that they worked so long and so hard on “Generations,” and put “All Good Things” together in just a few days, yet both prefer “AGT.”

-Every Thursday, each member of the writer’s staff had to listen to a story pitch from an outside writer. They hated it.

-Behr wanted Picard to say “Spock!” in “Sarek.” Michael Pillar said “Absolutely not.” A few weeks later, as that episode was being filmed, Behr, in a meeting with Pillar on something else, revisited the question; Pillar threw his arms up in defeat and agreed that Picard could say “Spock!”, but only once.

-Brent Spiner complained about having to work with Spot so much, that someone (I forget who) wrote a (fake) teaser for an episode that opened with Geordi walking into Data’s quarters to find Data installing a collar on Spot. “I am working on a translator for Spot. It will translate Spot’s meows,” Data said. Spot then looks at Geordi and says, “Hi Geordi.” About two minutes after the script was delivered to Spiner, he stormed out of his trailer in a fury.

-One of Naren Shankar’s buddies came up with a “technobabble” internet-gidgit, which the staff began to use.

-Ron Moore arrived late to a staff meeting with Jeri Taylor; the staff had been trying to break down a script. Taylor asked him what he thought, and Moore came up with a completely different idea that they went with – he’d never read the script they were supposed to discuss.  Naren Shankar mouthed “I hate you” from across the room at Moore, who shrugged it off.

-When working on DS9, Behr had to meet with Pillar over the script in which Vedek Bariel dies. Pillar said, no, no, but over the course of the conversation then admitted he was spending all his time on Voyager, and that Behr & the DS9 staff should do what they felt best for the character and that he (Pillar) would no longer have any notes for them.

-”Sins of the Father” were originally two different story ideas, possibly outside pitches the staff bought. In one, Worf’s brother came aboard the Enterprise; in the other, Worf’s dead father was accused of crimes. Moore had the idea to combine them into one story.

-”Yesterday’s Enterprise” was also originally two different stories: one about a past Enterprise coming into the future and the Ent-D’s crew morale debate about sending them back to an uncertain death; and the other about Sarek. (Seriously). Co-writer Eric Stillwell ran into Denise Crosby at a ST convention, and she mentioned she wanted to return to the show, and the concept for the episode went in a different direction.

-While re-writing “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the writing staff had to be called in over a holiday (possibly Thanksgiving), and were PISSED, until Behr told them his idea: they would kill everyone on the cast off at the end of the episode. Everyone really liked this. Picard manning tactical at the end, obscured by smoke, was inspired by a movie called “Bataan.”

-Snodgrass wanted the crew to discover the holodeck was causing cancer so they could stop using it; to summarize her points – it would be interesting if everyone used it together, but they didn’t; if a piece of equipment routinely endangered the ship or the crew, anyone sane would rip it out.

-Behr once BEGGED Michael Pillar not to send out a memo titled “How to Write for TV: a basic primer.” Pillar did it anyway. The writing staff was exceptionally upset with Pillar; Melinda Snodgrass remembers calling her agent, and Hans Beimler & his writing partner, Richard Manning, were ripping out their hair.

-Michael Pillar never told anyone what he liked about their scripts.

-Almost all of the writers found later jobs in network television to be considerably less constricting than writing for Star Trek.

-The writers tried to avoid being on set because they would be accosted by the actors asking for more stuff to do; Patrick Stewart would always ask to “fuck more” and “fight more.”

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