Interview With Federation Author David A. Goodman
Federation: The First 150 Years will be out next month via becker&mayer!, and StarTrekcom’s coverage of its imminent release continues today with an interview with its author, David A. Goodman. That name will probably sound very familiar to Trek fans. He’d penned the wildly popular Trek-centric episode of Futurama, “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” and later joined the writing staff of Enterprise. Goodman talked about all of that and more – The Golden Girls, anyone? – in our exclusive, in-depth conversation.
How did the opportunity to write Federation come about?
Goodman: I got a call out of the blue from Dave Rossi, who I had worked with on Star Trek: Enterprise. Dave had heard that CBS Consumer Products was looking for a television writer to write this history of the Federation. I was very excited to take the meeting. Dave took me out to lunch with John Van Citters of CBS Consumer Products. The whole time I was very worried because I had never written a book before, and kept waiting to hear something where John would say "Oh, no, you're all wrong for this." But since I was willing to do it and since Dave was vouching for me with John, that seemed to be enough for them to ignore the fact that I'd never written anything professionally that didn't begin with "Fade In:"
We know you loved Star Trek, but just how much of a Star Trek fan were you before doing this book?
Goodman: Are you kidding? A giant Star Trek fan. I started watching when I was around 10. I went to my first Star Trek convention a couple of years later, in 1975 at the New York Hilton, with my friend Marty Wagner. My fan passion won't stop. During my stint on Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane would try to stump me; he would give me a line of dialogue from the original series and I would have to name the episode. He never could. He bought me the captain's chair replica for the Family Guy writers’ room. I'm now almost 50 years old and my kids roll their eyes at me when I try to make them watch "The Doomsday Machine" with me on Netflix.
What was the mission statement from the publisher? What did they tell you they wanted?
Goodman: When I went to lunch with my CBS contact, he showed me a book that the publisher, becker&mayer, had published that he saw as an inspiration. It was a coffee-table companion book to David McCoullough's 1776, which had an abridged version of the text but included replicas of famous documents from American history: the Constitution, letters from George Washington, etc. That was why he wanted a television writer for Federation, because I wouldn't just be writing the text, I would also have to write in different voices for these different documents. I've written for over 15 different television shows, and I've learned to adapt my writing to the styles of different voices -- writing for Enterprise is very different than writing for Wings, which is very different from writing for Family Guy. So although I was really nervous in general, this was the one piece of the project that I was pretty confident I could execute.
How much room did you have to play in terms of extrapolating on existing canon?
Goodman: The point of the book for me was to never take a liberty that would bug me as a fan. So it never came up that I was taking too much liberty with the canon, because I was so focused on what was already established, and then both filling in the blanks and linking those pieces of history that were mentioned or dramatized in the shows. The bigger challenge for me was making obvious contradictions between the shows and movies not seem like they were contradictions. So for instance, in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard says that the Prime Directive was the result of a disastrous first meeting with the Klingons. But then in the pilot of Star Trek: Enterprise we see humanity's first encounter with the Klingons. It doesn't seem to support Picard's comment, but I looked at it and figured out a way that it could, and I think it makes a lot of sense, and tells an interesting story. Some things could not be completely resolved, like the fact that Kirk has never seen a cloaking device before "Balance of Terror," but those idiots on Star Trek: Enterprise used them all the time. I was one of those idiots, which is why I can say that. Though, again, I did my best to resolve this in a way that I think makes sense.
What elements were you personally most excited to delve into, expand upon or even flat-out invent?
Goodman: At that first lunch with my CBS contact, when he mentioned his idea for the book, the first thing I thought of was, "I get to write the Romulan War!" Almost nothing in canon was written about this. I had only to figure out a war where the two sides never met face to face, that no one knew where Romulus was, and decide if the Cheron mentioned in The Battle of Cheron in TNG’s "The Defector" is the same Cheron from "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." Otherwise, I had free reign. I've read a lot of military history, especially World War II, and it inspired how I laid out the war, and how it helped lead to the formation of the Federation. Also, I figured a link between Cheron from "Battlefield" and the Romulans that is canon, so I decided it was the same Cheron.
What's the link?
Goodman: You'll have to read the book to see. But again, it is canon.
Were you ever told "No, we can't do that" or "You can't go there?" If so, what had you written that got shot down? And why was it shot down?
Goodman: My CBS contact and I disagreed about Khan and the 1990's. I felt like referencing events that didn't happen in our 1990's would be a problem, but he insisted that I bring it in. I relented, and resolved the issue with a footnote that I think covers all the bases very subtly about why none of us who lived through the 1990's were never under the rule of the genetically engineered supermen.
What do the other elements of the book -- the illustrations, the pop-up/pull-out elements, add to the experience of reading Federation?
Goodman: The designers and artists who worked on the book did an amazing job of creating this variety of documents and pieces of art. In the book, the Romulan War begins with an attack on Starbase One, and the painting in the book is magnificent. I also am particularly fond of the only image of an Xindi Avian, as well as all the documents that I wrote that have a sense of authenticity to them in how they were executed. As a fan, I just love looking at the book. It comes on this cool stand and you press a touch pad and Admiral Sulu greets you.
Prior to doing the book, you'd written the "Where No Fan Has Gone Before" episode of Futurama, which is a little piece of perfection for fans. Real fast, how much fun did you have doing that? Were you at all surprised by just how much Trek fans and the Trek actors appreciated it?
Goodman: It was crazy. When I got hired on Futurama, they were already talking about doing an episode of Shatner and Nimoy; the original idea had them as giants fighting over New New York. Though that staff was made up of Star Trek fans, after being there about a week, David X. Cohen decided I needed to write the Star Trek episode since I was a bigger fan than all of them. We dropped the giant story and came up with the new story together, and I had two weeks to write the script. I got jury duty and was serving on a jury for the first week and then broke my ankle on the first day of the second week, and it was STILL the most fun I had writing a script. I wasn't that surprised that the fans liked it, since it was written for them, or maybe just me. I did, however, appreciate the fact that we got everybody but Scotty, who we were told said "No way." But Shatner and Nimoy recorded together, which is unusual since you often have to record actors separately. I have those original sessions on CD and they are my most prized possession, as it has me, with David Cohen, giving direction to Shatner and Nimoy. My career highpoint was getting a Nebula Award nomination for that script. I lost to Lord of the Rings. Or I guess you could say Lord of the Rings lost by being in the same category with an episode of a cartoon.
You went on to work on Enterprise. How did that rate as an experience?
Goodman: I decided I wanted to become a television writer after reading "The Making of Star Trek" in high school. Before then, I didn't even know the career existed. So, after 15 years of being a television writer, to actually get to write for Star Trek was incredible. I was working with people I'd been reading about for years. In my job interview with Brannon Braga, he liked what I had to say about Star Trek because all I was doing was secretly parroting back to him his own quotes that I'd read in interviews over the years. The two years there were really cool. I got to write a Klingon episode, a cowboy planet episode, and I spent my day working on the greatest television franchise in history.
From your vantage point, what worked on that show and what went wrong?
Goodman: I thought the cast was great, I thought it was the best pilot of all the series, and some of those episodes stand up as great Star Trek. I guess a problem, and this is with the gift of hindsight, is I think sticking to a similar format to the other sequel series that came before it and boxing it in between First Contact and TOS limited where it could go. Fans would want to see old TOS aliens and learn about the formation of the Federation, but a new audience really wouldn't care about that, so it was difficult to operate within those strictures and please everybody.
Enterprise was, in essence, about the formation of the Federation. How helpful was all of your work on Enterprise to you in doing Federation?
Goodman: Enterprise was probably the most detailed look at its own period of history, so that chapter of the book didn't require much of my imagination, but that doesn't mean it was easy. The fact is Enterprise stopped short of saying how the Federation was formed, so I had to explain where Archer was speaking in that last episode. Also, the Temporal Cold War and the war with the Xindi were things that the writers had fun using, but we never fully figured out, so I had to do that in the book, and I was cursing the writing staff of Enterprise the whole time I was writing that section.
Just wondering, how helpful was your work on The Golden Girls to you in doing Federation?
Goodman: All right, you think that's a joke, but the fact is, the thing I learned from those ladies and those writers was never make your jokes sound like jokes. So there are jokes in the book that don't look like jokes. Of course, they might not make anyone laugh either...
What else are you working on at the moment? Any new shows?
Goodman: Waiting to hear whether Fox is going to pick up my pilot to series, called Murder Police. It's an animated cop comedy I co-created with a very talented writer, animator and performer named Jason Ruiz. If they pick it up, it'll be on the fall of 2013. If they don't, I'm currently the showrunner of American Dad, which is a great place to be.
Federation: The First 150 Years is loaded with intelligence reports, treaty excerpts and letters documenting the historic moments that led to the formation of the United Federation of Planets. Author David A. Goodman will examine everything from First Contact to the Organian Peace Treaty, with the text complemented by color and black and white illustrations of epic battles, alien species and heretofore unseen ship designs, among them the Romulan attack on Starbase 1 and original blueprints for the U.S.S. Enterprise and the Xindi Avian. George Takei, of course, provides the voice of Sulu for the audio narration, and fans can expect to find such detachable documents as a hand-penned letter from a young Jim Kirk and Zefram Cochrane’s first sketch of the warp drive engine.
Click HERE to pre-order Federation: The First 150 Years exclusively at Amazon.com.