Ira Steven Behr Remembers DS9, Part 2
Yesterday, in part one of our exclusive interview, Ira Steven Behr discussed his experiences working as a writer-producer on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Today, in the second half of the conversation, Behr speaks in more detail about DS9, looks back at his post-Trek efforts and gives us a glimpse at his latest project, the Syfy series Alphas, which will premiere on July 11.
Let’s get into DS9’s Dominion War arc. To some people, that was the best, boldest decision you could have made and, to others, it was the worst choice possible. What made you pull the trigger on the Dominion War and how surprised were you that you were even able to push that through?
Behr: Well, we had talked about it for years, the thought of, “If only we could be more serialized.” Look, we were drunk on wine and women. No. I felt the end coming. Obviously, we all did. We knew it’d be seven years and out. It was just, “Look, what do we want to do? Whatever it is, we should do it now.” Someone asked me on the last day of shooting why I was hanging around so long and I think the line I said was, “I have the rest of my life not to be here. So while I’m here, I’m going to stay until the end.” So it was the same thing. “What do we want to do?” One of the things we wanted to do was experiment with serialization and with the kind of space-opera war that spoke to a lot of the mythologies the show had built up. I thought we could do it. I knew we could do it. And then it became horse trading. I don’t even remember how many episodes we did, but I know we wanted more. Rick (Berman) and I went back and forth. Nothing terrible. No fights or anything like that. But we horse traded a bit and we came up with whatever it was.
If we forced you to sit down and watch three episodes of DS9, which three would you pick and why?
Behr: I only have 170-something to choose from, right? One of them would probably be “Duet,” I think. But I can’t pick three. It just doesn’t pay. On another day I might pick different episodes. Would it be ones I wrote or ones I didn’t write? There are so many episodes I’m proud of.
Who was DS9’s best guest star? Who were you the most thrilled to land?
Behr: I was very psyched when Frank Langella came on (as Minister Jaro). He didn’t want to put his name on the show. He said he wasn’t doing it because he liked Star Trek, but for his nieces or his nephews; you know, that excuse. But at the time I was psyched that we got Frank Langella to do three episodes. We had Jeff Combs and Andy Robinson and Marc Alaimo, that whole band of brothers. We had Wally Shawn, though in seven years I only saw him once. I had many conversations with Wally, but only once did I talk to him when he didn’t have a Ferengi head on.
DS9 had some very funky episode titles. Which one struck you as the funkiest?
Behr: Well, the one I make fun of most and, in fact, here at Alphas I’ve already referenced it five different times, was ‘Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night.” Hans (Beimler) came up with the title and he was so proud of it. We were coming up with all these pretentious, heavy-sounding titles. Robert (Hewitt Wolfe) and I were talking about this a couple of weeks ago and we were laughing our heads off because he was so proud of Hans, because… “Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night.” What wrongs could be darker than death? Or night? So that was probably my favorite title because it proved a point. A useless point; but it proved a point.
Once and for all, describe your relationship with Rick Berman.
Behr: Why does anyone care?
People care, in part because there were so many rumors…
Behr: If I saw Rick Berman on the street today I would hug him. We ran into each other during the writers’ strike and we hugged. Did we agree all the time? No. Could we talk about that? Sure, we could, but what’s the point? Given the fact that we were part of this monolithic franchise, DS9 pushed the envelope as far as we could at that time in that situation. Could we have gone farther? Sure. Would the fans have gone with us? Not all of them, clearly. On a day-to-day basis I would say over the course of seven years we had a pretty good working relationship. We disagreed on lots of small and large things, but he went in there with me to fight for Avery Brooks, to shave his head and keep the goat. We walked across the lot together to the executive offices. We were jazzed and we had this disk of how he looked, and we were a team to do that. We got there and they immediately gave up, which was funny after three years. We were all set to go in with guns blazing and they said, “OK.” So it was a little anticlimactic, but we were a team at that moment. It’s one of the things that profoundly confuses me about the whole Star Trek (experience), is my relationship with Rick Berman, why people care or what that even means, what my relationship was.
Some people love DS9 and consider it the best Trek show and other people refuse to even acknowledge it as Trek. Do those extreme reactions tell you that you did your job properly?
Behr: Not particularly. I’ll tell you this: no one, I don’t care what the hell the show is, whether it’s Alphas, DS9, Fame, whatever it is, no one judges my work or the work I’m involved with harder than I do or with a sterner rating system than I do. So, what other people think… all I cared about at the end of the day was, “Did I think we were doing the best job we could do?” Then the fans could be fans, like I’m a fan with other things. They make their decisions and that’s fine, too. But how do I feel about the show? Do I feel good or not?
Last question about Trek. Would you ever want to do more DS9 or is it better to leave everything where it ended with the finale?
Behr: If that ever became a reality – which I have a hard time imagining – there is a big part of me that would love to go back to that world and those characters. I miss a lot of those characters. I miss the people, too, but I miss those characters. So, would I say no? I don’t think I’d say no.
You wrote and produced several shows after DS9 and before Alphas, including Dark Angel, The Twilight Zone, The 4400 and Crash. We’re sure each one stands out in its own way to you. Take us through your experiences on those shows.
Behr: I stuck around for four seasons on The 4400, which is the show I was really happy with in a lot of ways, and I think we did a lot of really interesting things on that show and had some really interesting actors to do them with. It was the show that halfway its run the network changed a bit and became the “blue skies” network. I was told over and over again we were the dark, apocalyptic show on the blue skies network. So that was a little unfortunate, I think, in terms of the longevity of the show. But I really enjoyed that and have a lot of good memories of it and think we did some really good episodes. I did a season on Crash. If I ever wrote a book, that would have to be two chapters. I couldn’t fit it all into one chapter. Some crazy, crazy things went down doing that show, but I got to work with Dennis Hopper on really, the last thing he ever did as an actor, I believe. That was pretty fascinating, not always fun, but fascinating. We had Eric Roberts and Dennis Hopper, so you know that’s an interesting story.
The show that should still be running, but unfortunately was totally on the wrong network, was The Twilight Zone reboot. It should never have been on UPN. It was another one of those clusterf—ks of a network trying to deal with a show they didn’t really want and were trying to turn into something else. Just the fact that we did 42 episodes in one season, every four days a new episode, every four days a production meeting, a pre-production meeting, casting… it was insane. Some of them came out really nicely and some of them did not come out so nicely, and for some of the strangest and most bizarre reasons, and casting choices that we were forced to make. But, as an experience, as a working experience, which is really, “Are you having fun in the writers’ room?” – beyond the writers’ room there be dragons – if you can get that kind of camaraderie and that sense of “We’re in the foxholes and we’re going to do this job even if they try to kill us while we do it,” then it doesn’t matter whether the show lasts or it doesn’t last. The experience is a good one. And that show, everyone was just pitching in and just trying to survive the season. At the end, almost everyone would have come back. At one point, they were even talking about trying to do it for another season. What interested me was that, in spite of it all, people were willing to do it again. To me, that’s success.
Your latest project is Alphas. You’ve got an interesting mix of acting veterans (David Strathairn and Malik Yoba) and relative newcomers (Warren Christie, Azita Ghanizada, Laura Mennell and Ryan Cartwright). What are you shooting for with the show?
Behr: It’s about ordinary people with extraordinary abilities. I think what we have that gives us our little niche in that well hoed field is the fact that we have an interesting array of main characters. We have some real characters, humor and people who really have no business doing the jobs that they have. That kind of gives this a very naturalistic feel, and there’s a sense that even though we’re dealing with science fiction and people with abilities, it’s pretty accessible. It’s the world that we know, with this overlay. So you still have to put a quarter in the meter when you park your car. People at the office are still picking at your food when you don’t want them to. I’d say it’s an accessible version of the superhero show.
You came onto Alphas after the pilot was shot. How did that ultimately affect your job and the post-pilot episodes?
Behr: Well, the pilot was a long time in development. (Creator and co-producer) Zak Penn can talk to that. I mean, it was years in development, in fact. When I watched the pilot, I thought, “OK, it’s really well made. The acting, I like.” But I could tell that, compared to the script, there were places in the pilot where you could see there could be more character development. There were more things bubbling under the surface that were just not there. The plot was good and interesting and exciting, but I just thought, “OK, they want this to be a character-driven show, and there’s plenty of room to do that.” If the show was perfect and I felt, “Oh yeah, yeah, I really dug it and I’m going to watch it and it’s all good,” there’d be no reason for me to feel the urge to go on it. But I said, “OK, I see what they’re aiming at and I think I can give them that.”
What kinds of stories will we see moving forward?
Behr: You’re going to see, hopefully, a variety of episodes because, you know me, I don’t like doing the same thing week in and week out. So you’re going to have some mythology shows. We’re doing one kind of semi-hardcore – accent on semi – procedural. We’re doing one non-Alphas-driven show, where the case has nothing to do with finding or interacting with another Alpha, but is a chance for Bill (Yoba) and Gary (Cartwright) to kind of partner up. So I’d call that a lighter episode. Of course, this is a series that talks about brain chemistry and how the brain affects how we exist in the world, but we’ll have an episode that deals with faith. What is faith and religious belief? What does it mean to be touched by God? Is that a religious experience or just your pineal gland firing like wild? So it’s a mixture of episodes, which is what keeps me interested in working on a show.
If the show clicks, how ready are you to stick around for a couple of years?
Behr: There’s always that possibility. I certainly don’t intend for this to be a one and out, but we’re well in the thick of it right now. We are dead-smack in the middle of it. So just get me through one season at a time.
To read part one of our interview with Ira Steven Behr, click HERE.