Brannon Braga: From TNG To Terra Nova, Part 1
Brannon Braga practically grew up on Star Trek. He was in his early 20's when an internship afforded him the opportunity to write for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Braga parlayed that into a TNG staff position and, over the next 15 years he quickly ascended the Trek ladder, writing and producing for Voyager, co-writing two of the TNG feature films, and co-creating, writing and producing Enterprise. Once that last show ended, Braga moved on to such series as Threshold, 24, FlashForward and his latest effort, Terra Nova, which will premiere on September 26. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Braga for a lengthy and informative interview in which he talked about all of the above and more. Below is part one and be sure to vist StarTrek.com again tomorrow for part two.
How long ago and far away does Star Trek seem to you now?
Braga: I started on Star Trek 21 years ago and I finished... I couldn't tell you for sure. Enterprise ended six or seven years ago. It was 2005, so that's six years ago. Strangely enough, Star Trek still feels very present because Terra Nova is so very much like Star Trek in spirit. It's the show, of everything I've worked on since Star Trek, that most closely resembles Star Trek in the sense that it's a humanistic show, an aspirational show, a science-fiction show. It's about human being trying to better themselves. The stories are more standalone kinds of stories. And I'm working with Rene Echevarria, who I worked with on Star Trek. Rene and I often say it feels like we're working on Star Trek again, because the kinds of stories we're doing feel like good, old-fashioned Star Trek. So, Star Trek is very much on my mind and it feels very present. However, having said that, I just did an interview for a TNG book that's coming out next year, and I spent about two hours on the phone being asked about every single episode I wrote. And I've got to tell, I could barely remember them. So I could barely answer any of the questions. I'd say, "Can you tell me what that episode was about?" I tend to remember the good ones, though.
A lot of fans are familiar with you and your work on Trek, and there are many new fans out there, people who got on board after seeing Star Trek (2009) and are now catching up on Treks past. So, for those readers who are not familiar with your background, please take them through how you landed an internship that ultimately resulted in you joining the TNG writing staff...
Braga: I was in my last year of college at U.C. Santa Cruz and there was an internship program in scriptwriting offered by the Academy of Televison Arts & Sciences, and it just happened to be with TNG that year. It was really Michael Piller, may he rest in peace, who picked me out of a group of finalists to be the intern on TNG. I really owe everything to Michael. I learned so much of what I know today about this craft from him and the other people on staff. I had an eight-week internship and basically it just never ended. I got a script to rewrite with my good friend Ron Moore. I got a script to write on my own. Then they hired me on staff. And then, however many years later, I was running Voyager and then I co-created Enterprise. So it was a pretty remarkable journey from intern to Star Trek being my life for 15 years.
Let's go through the shows and movies, starting with TNG. Which one or two episodes are you proudest to have your name on?
Braga: The episode I'm most proud of is "All Good Things...," which was the final episode, and I'm proud of that for a lot of reasons. Top of the list, it was just a really great two-hour episode of TNG that fully explored the characters and the sentimentality of where they started, where they are and where they're going. It had a great science-fiction premise. And it kind of achieved the impossible. I have no recollection of how Ron Moore and I did it, but it was a great ending to a great series. It didn't disappoint.
How different an experience was Voyager for you?
Braga: Voyager was a bit of a paradox in that it was more challenging because we didn't have the mass popularity that TNG had. We didn't have Captain Picard. Don't get me wrong. I loved Captain Janeway, but Captain Picard was tough to beat. Kirk and Picard are tough acts to follow and I think, at that point, there was already some Star Trek fatigue settling in. But when you go back, around seasons four, five and six of Voyager, I think we were doing some of our best Star Trek storytelling ever. I think Voyager came under some criticism from some fans, but I think if you look back on it, it was an excellent show. There were many episodes that were very sophisticated in their storytelling, even compared to TNG. So I am very proud of Voyager.
Take us to the arrival of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine. Some people loved the character and some people despised the character, but any way one feels about it, it was a game-changer...
Braga: The show needed a kick in the ass. Creatively, we needed something. A Star Trek series, in my opinion, is only as good as its captain, and Captain Janeway was a great captain, but she didn't have her Spock or Data, really. We just didn't have that special science-fiction character like Spock or Data, the striving-to-be-human character. The idea of putting a Borg on board gave us a chance to have a wild child there. That was the metaphor, a wild child, and Janeway would be her mother and try to tame her and help make her human again. That was a new take on that kind of character. That's not to diminish the Doctor, Bob Picardo's character. He was great, but he really wasn't a foil to Janeway. He wasn't someone Janeway could play off of. To me, Seven of Nine added a nice touch of magic that the show needed at the time. The fact that she was a beautiful woman was just, to me, a benefit. A lot of people thought it was in poor taste that we had a buxom babe, but I'm like, "Have you actually watched TOS?" That was babes on parade. Kirk would be considered a sex addict by today's standards. A certain sensuality has always been at the heart of Star Trek. So I'd dispute that criticism of Seven. I thought the character was a great addition to the show. And it kind of lit a fire under the cast, too. It was very controversial. We got rid of Kes and brought in Seven of Nine, and some people in the cast were upset about it and some thought it was cool, but at the end of the day I think it did all the right things creatively to the show, in my opinion.
What episode of Voyager are you happiest with to this day and which one would you just as soon forget?
Braga: Of course, the one I'd just as soon forget is called "Threshold." That's the one in which Janeway and Paris turn into lizards. That's a real low point. I was trying something. I don't want to get into what I was trying to do, but it didn't quite work. It was my homage, I guess, to David Cronenberg's The Fly, but it really backfired on me. It was poorly executed by me. I think very fondly of episodes like "Timeless" or "Deadlock." I thought "Deadlock" was classic Star Trek and whatever crew would have been in that episode, it would have been a good episode of Star Trek. "Timeless" was specific to Voyager. It couldn't really have been done on any of the other shows. I thought it was really good. We tried to make Voyager more epic and so we did a series of two-parters, like "Dark Frontier," which I thought were really cool. And a special favorite to me was "Someone to Watch Over Me." That was really a very simple character piece, with no space battles and not much science fiction at all. It showed Star Trek could be funny and touching.
We don't want to leave out the films that you co-wrote, Generations and First Contact. How badly had you wanted to try your hand at features, and how satisfying is it to you that most fans still consider First Contact the best of the TNG big-screen adventures?
Braga: Writing the movies, those were amazing experiences. It was a different kind of storytelling. It was an opportunity to write feature films, which I'd always wanted to do. It led to some other feature work. Ron and I were new writers and we'd never written a movie before when we did Generation. We were trying to serve a lot of masters and we were passing the baton from one generation to another. I didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. I don't want to speak for Ron or for Rick Berman, but I think that Kirk and Picard should have been locked in battle on spaceships, on their respective bridges, and not cooking eggs. I can say that now that enough time has passed. I just don't think it was the right second half of the movie, personally. If a fan wants to sit down and watch Generations with the commentary Ron and I did for the DVD, we're pretty honest about what we liked and don't like about that film. Our commentary for First Contact is really boring because the film turned out so well. So there was nothing really to say. We just had a cool idea and it was a fun movie. I think some people liked the Borg Queen and some didn't, but to us the Borg Queen was the thing that made it all work. We realized very quickly that the Borg aren't that interesting for a feature film for two hours because they don't say anything. They're robot zombies. So, to me, the Borg Queen was the coolest new thing about that movie.
Let's move on to Enterprise. How different an experience was it for you to be there from the get-go, from the very start of the show's development? And what, exactly, were you and Rick Berman aiming for with Enterprise?
Braga: Well, first of all, I was greatly honored by Rick to help create that show and I was very daunted by it given all the Star Trek that had come before it. Rick had a good idea of doing this prequel. The idea seemed pretty novel at that time. I think we had something a little different in mind initially. Quite frankly, our original idea was to set it on Earth and take it a little further back, to the building of the first starship, and really make it a prequel. In some regards, I guess, it might have had a bit more of a feel like the way the J.J. Abrams movie opened, which I loved. His image of the starship was something I just loved and wished we'd done on Enterprise. But the prequel idea seemed like it would give us the ability to kind of go back before the days of Kirk and Picard and the other characters and do some slightly more contemporary storytelling, because the characters were a little more closely related to our day.
To this day, people debate the human-Vulcan conflict depicted in Enterprise. What went into the decision to develop that story thread?
Braga: I really stand by the creative decision to make the humans in conflict with Vulcans. A lot of people... I don't know about a lot, actually. I know there were some Star Trek fans who really hated the fact that humans and Vulcans didn't get along, because that's not the way it was depicted in TOS and the other shows. But relationships change over a century. Look at our relationship with Germany compared to a few decades. So, the idea of us being in conflict with Vulcans and almost resenting their grandfather-ship and their lording of us ever since the ending of First Contact... I thought that was a really fresh, interesting idea that was, to me, fun to write and rather lively. Enterprise... it was just one of those shows I hope fans go take a look at if they've never seen it or a second look at if they saw it and didn't like it, because it's a really good show. I'm not going to say every episode was great, but you could say that about any of the shows. I really loved Enterprise. I loved the characters and the cast. If you watch no other season, watch season three or four.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Brannon Braga.