Today, in part two of our fan Q&A with Rick Berman, the former Star Trek producer answers more of your questions about his 18 years running the franchise. Among the topics: the lack of gay characters on Trek, surprising big-name actors who almost appeared in Trek features, and what Berman might have done differently if he had it all to do again.
Why were there no gay characters on TNG, DS9, Voyager or Enterprise? Was that your decision or the studio’s?
Berman: It was not the studio’s decision. I know that when Gene (Roddenberry) was alive he was very ambiguous about the idea of a gay character or gay characters on the show. He felt it was the right thing to do, but never quite had any idea of how he was going to do it. As Michael Piller had said many times, the idea of seeing two men or two women in Ten-Forward holding hands was not really going to be an effective way of dealing with it. So Gene basically didn’t do anything about it, and then when Michael and I were involved with the concepts of the stories on the show, we just felt it would be better to deal with concepts of prejudice against homosexuality and topics like AIDS metaphorically, in ways other than human gays on board the ship. So we developed a number of different stories that dealt with same-sex relationships, that dealt with metaphorical diseases that were similar to AIDS. But they were all done in alien fashion to try to get people to think about these things as opposed to just hitting it right on the head, which would be having a gay character on the ship. It’s something that Michael and I discussed. It’s something that Brannon Braga and I discussed, that Jeri Taylor and I discussed, and we never really got around to coming up with a way of just adding a gay character. So we tried to deal with it in a more abstract science-fiction way.
You said in our initial interview with you that you didn’t know that much about the original Star Trek series when you got involved with TNG. Looking back, do you think that might have adversely affected your work on Enterprise?
Berman: Well, I did not know the Original Series when Gene hired me. I would say that by the time we got to Enterprise, I probably had seen two-thirds to three-quarters of the Original Series. I also, obviously, was familiar with everything that was involved with TNG and DS9 and Voyager. Since we were going back a century before the Original Series characters I felt that I was familiar enough. Also, I felt that Brannon, who was in charge of the writing staff, and Manny Coto, and David Rossi and the other writers and consultants we had, people like the Okudas (Michael and Denise), certainly would point us in the right direction when we screwed up. So it was not a big concern of mine. If we screwed up, if things fell between the cracks, it was unfortunate, but we did our best.
What supporting or one-off characters on any of the shows would you have liked to have used more often?
Berman: The character of Ro Laren. We created that character so that we could spin her off into DS9. We loved Michelle Forbes. I still love her. I think she’s a remarkable actress. She was great as Ro Laren and she was going to be the character that ended up being Kira. Michelle, at that point, had gotten some feature roles and decided she did not want to commit to a television series. So we re-cast the part and it became a new character. In terms of other actors and roles, we had so many wonderful guest stars. Fionnula Flanagan. Frank Langella. We had dozens of remarkable actors on the shows that we would have wanted to come back. I think that my favorite actor in a small role on TNG was Colm Meaney. I just adored his acting. He was in the pilot. I don’t know if he had any lines, but he didn’t have a name. He was Helmsman. Colm was somebody I just wanted to get more and more involved, and we did that on TNG and then we brought him aboard full-time on DS9. I would have loved to have Ashley Judd do more. The fellow who played Moriarty, Daniel Davis, was wonderful. David Warner, what a wonderful actor. The actor who played Picard’s brother (Jeremy Kemp)… These were all extraordinary actors that we got to use over the years, and there were many we thought of ways to bring back, some of which we did and some of which, unfortunately, we didn’t.
Who were some actors or actresses – who were either well known at the time or are well known now -- that almost appeared in Star Trek, but didn’t for whatever reason?
Berman: When we were looking for the Borg Queen on First Contact we had meetings with Isabella Rossellini. We had meetings with Nastassja Kinski. Both of them were interested in doing the part and both of them, for one reason or another, ended up not doing the part. At one point we had hopes for a small cameo role for Tom Hanks in either First Contact or Insurrection, I can’t remember which, that didn’t work out. We had hopes, and I’ve discussed this over the years, of doing a two-part Enterprise episode with Bill Shatner. He’d worked out a whole idea that was wonderful. Manny and Brannon and I had two meetings with him, and the monetary end of things did not work out as far as the studio was concerned. When were casting the role of Soran, which Malcolm McDowell played in Generations, I got a call from Marlon Brando’s agent saying that he was interested in doing it. It was the biggest thrill of my life. But the studio was not willing to pay the money that Mr. Brando was looking for. At the other extreme, we got a call from Whoopi Goldberg, who was at the height of her career. Gene and I went and had lunch with her. She said, basically, that she wanted to replace Tasha Yar, which wouldn’t have worked, but we said, “If you want to come be on the show as a recurring character, we’d love to have you.” That was at a point when we’d already decided to create the Ten-Forward bar and she became the bartender. Her character was born out of that. It was pretty amazing, having an Academy Award-winning actress say, “Put me on your show.” It doesn’t happen very often in television.
Knowing what you know now, if you had the chance to do Star Trek all over again, what would have done differently to keep the franchise alive during your tenure?
Berman: If I had to do it all over again, I think I probably would have paid more attention to the fans than I did. Not that I ignored the fans, but I was very, very busy and I was not really one of the people who kept abreast of how the fans were feeling about things. I think if I had to look back at one thing I wish I had done differently, it probably would have been that.
You are no longer associated with Paramount, CBS or Star Trek, but do you think there will ever be features or telemovies to wrap up or catch up with the TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise stories and characters?
Berman: My guess is probably there will not be. I certainly think that J.J. Abrams will continue making films with the characters that he has reconceived, in a sense, from the Original Series. And I would not be surprised if he and his writers end up being involved in a new series at some point. I can’t imagine that there won’t be a new series on television. But I don’t believe that new series will be a continuation or tying up of loose ends of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager or Enterprise.
If there is another Trek series one day, what direction do you think it should go?
Berman: I don’t know. I wish them luck. But I don’t have a clue. We dealt with three series in the 24th century and one series in the 22nd century. It’s anybody’s guess where someone might go. Will the go further into the future? Will they do another type of prequel? Will they continue in an alternate reality that can take anything that has existed before and give it a bit of a twist? I have no idea where they’re going to go or when they’re going to do it, but I wish them well.
If in the unlikely event you were approached to produce a new series or put the cap on an older series, would you be interested?
Berman: I don’t believe I would. I think my 18 years of Star Trek had some great highs and some definite lows, but I think it’s time for new people to come in and breathe some fresh air into whatever gets done in the future.
Of the Trek work you’ve done, what are you proudest to have your name on?
Berman: I always have a warm feeling toward “Brothers,” which was the first episode that I wrote on TNG. I think “Broken Bow,” was a terrific episode that I conceived and wrote with Brannon. I think that the final episode of TNG was something that was cooked up and written in an incredibly short time. I was only involved peripherally with that, in terms of the concept of it. It was Ron and Brannon’s idea, and I think it turned out – considering that it was two hours and conceived and written in such a short time – to be the best season-ender we ever did.
And the last fan question is… Who is Keyser Soze?
Rick Berman ultimately spent two hours answering questions from StarTrek.com and also from fans. Some people may not like or agree with his replies, but give him credit for taking the time and having the guts to face the music. To read all of our previous interviews with Berman, click (Part I), (Part II), (Part III) and (Fan Q&A, Part I).