Inside Look At TNG 365 With The Authors
By Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann - September 04, 2012
A few years ago, while we were working feverishly on our book Star Trek: The Original Series 365, our editor casually commented, “If this book does well, maybe we’ll do another one on The Next Generation.” “Hey, that would be cool,” we replied. Then we quickly pushed the suggestion aside. We were facing a pressing deadline; we couldn’t pause to ponder such a whimsical possibility.
Then ST:TOS 365 reached the reading public, all four-plus pounds of paper pulchritude. To our delight, it racked up some really good reviews. The Los Angeles Times published three separate pieces about the book in their online blogosphere. The prestigious Smithsonian Institution included the book in its 2010 Christmas catalogue. And our publisher, Abrams Books, had to strike up the presses multiple times to print enough copies to meet demand.
Which is why, one day, Eric the Editor came knocking at our door. “About that TNG book…”
The timing was good. With the 25th anniversary of The Next Generation’s debut coming up, a new coffee table book about the show would make a nice tribute. We were honored by the invitation. But…
We were worried. After all, TNG has a hundred more episodes than The Original Series. Given the publisher’s established format of 365 spreads, we’d have very little room to delve into the average episode. For the TOS 365 book, we’d allotted three to four spreads to each one, which still left us room to cover the development of the show and iconic fan moments. But we’d have no such opportunity here. Even allocating just one spread per episode would eat up nearly half of the page count. And obviously many TNG episodes deserved more than one measly spread. We realized we’d have to be… creative. Yes, we’d make sure to give the really popular episodes their moment in the sun with multiple pages. But the others… Well… Perhaps you remember when Kodos the Executioner had to make a decision about which 4,000 colonists would be sacrificed for the benefit of the other 4,000 (in TOS’s “The Conscience of the King”). We wouldn’t be quite as brutal as that, but we must admit, we suddenly had a tad more appreciation for Kodos’s dilemma!
Another concern: During its original run, The Next Generation had been phenomenally popular, much more so than its Sixties predecessor, which never had garnered impressive ratings. During TNG’s run, Paula worked in Paramount’s licensing department, personally overseeing product development on a myriad of TNG books, magazines, comics, trading card games and so on. She knew better than anyone just how difficult it would be to find in-depth, behind-the-scenes information or photography that hadn’t already been plundered for use and reuse in those products. Which meant that, once again, we’d have to be… creative. Delve yet deeper. Knock on doors. Beg for scraps. Make studio personnel and retired production people blow cobwebs off boxes they’d stowed away in their garages or storage units two decades past. In other words, make royal pains of ourselves.
It sounded like fun.
Then there was the matter of what to say. As we contemplated the show’s upcoming anniversary, we reflected on all of the talented people who’d worked on the production. The wonderful actors, of course. And the hardworking producers, including Gene Roddenberry, the Great Bird himself. These are figures well known to the public, interviewed countless times.
But what of the lesser-known tradespeople? The “groundlings,” if you will. The dozens of men and women who’d labored behind the scenes: the scribes; the artists; the designers and tinkerers; the technicians and toilers; the directors; the assistants. Those people had as much to do with the success of the show as the names “above the line” (as they say in Hollywood). Collectively the show couldn’t have existed without this group. Call them the hive mind of Star Trek: The Next Generation, jointly contributing to the blend of disparate ingredients that formed an amazing whole. We wanted to pay homage to these behind-the-scenes people, as many as we could, within our limited span of page spreads. That became our “handle” on the subject matter. We’d tell the story of the show, but also look for the less obvious anecdotes, the tales told off-camera by the folks who’d been there, the little things never mentioned onstage at conventions. The actors would receive their due, while those who’d moved beyond acting into directing and shaping episodes might receive a little more of the limelight. We’d give the producers their much-deserved coverage, but offer up some extra word count to the producer who’d established Star Trek’s “open submissions policy” for scripts, thus opening doors for a generation of then-neophytes who today rank among Hollywood’s best known writer-producers. And we’d throw a spotlight on the people who truly deserved it, like the prop maker who created that wonderful railing on the Enterprise bridge—and died a week later.
And so on.
So we set forth, chained to our desks for close to a year: hunting, phoning, interviewing, transcribing, discovering. And, yes, begging. Some stories were familiar—we’d heard them before, you’ve heard them before. But they’re good stories so we couldn’t leave them out. Yet we found some surprises, too. Who knew that one recurring guest actor had given up treading the boards to represent disabled children in court? Or that a group of the show’s staff writers had conspired behind the scenes to make sure that one freelancer’s promising concept for “The Inner Light”—easily one of the staff’s favorite episodes—was so “pitch perfect” that the freelancer sailed through the often difficult pitch process with the executive producer? Or that TNG scenic artist Michael Okuda almost got the opportunity to play Noonien Soong?
There were visual surprises too. While many of the show’s color publicity images have appeared in books and magazines over the years, very little of the black and white photography had been utilized. On any given day, the assigned still photographer would shoot both color and black and white film, generally using one or the other to cover different angles, or even different scenes. Which is how we found many rare behind-the-scenes shots, like early versions of costumes and hairstyles, cast and crew indulging in unscripted and rather unorthodox behavior, and actors attending script readings and rehearsals in non-regulation attire.
Curiously, it was also in those dusty stacks of contact sheets that we unearthed long-missing color images as well, like the series of shots chronicling Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood being swathed in greasepaint and latex for his appearance as an Antedean in “Manhunt.” We found a forgotten, full color, “class photo” of the cast and crew, shot on the Planet Hell soundstage at the end of Season Three. To the best of our knowledge it has never been printed—and it was easy to understand why. With dim lighting and murky colors that made it difficult to tell who was who in the picture, the photo just wasn’t print worthy. But thanks to today’s technical advancements in photo editing software, the picture now looks as though it were taken yesterday with a great digital camera. And one of our personal favorite shots came from former TNG science consultant/writer Naren Shankar (later executive producer of shows like Farscape, CSI and Grimm), who said to us, “I have a photo taken in Ron Moore’s kitchen that’s never been seen. Would you like to use it?” You can guess our response.
And when we asked the owner of that kitchen, Ronald D. Moore, if he’d like to write an Introduction for the book, he didn’t hesitate for a second before saying, “Yes.” He delivered a wonderful four-page essay about his recollections of working on Star Trek: The Next Generation. These days, Ron is one of the big dogs in sci-fi circles, best known as the guy who relaunched Battlestar Galactica (with David Eick) and showrunner on many other memorable series. But he still wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Star Trek.
And so do we. Hope you enjoy the book.
Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 will be availabe on October 1. Click HERE to pre-order from Amazon.
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