December 4 is fast approaching and, as promised, that means we’re ramping up our coverage of Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Two, the comprehensive Blu-ray collection that will be released on that day. Right now, StarTrek.com picks the brain of Roger Lay, Jr. producer/director of special features for CBS Home Entertainment's upcoming releases of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray. Below is part one of our detailed conversation, and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two.
Before we get into the Season Two Blu-ray set, let's talk about Season One. What did you make of the response to the first-season Blu-ray set -- from the actors, the behind-the-scenes people and from the fans?
Lay: The response to the season one set was immensely satisfying. It was everything we all hoped it would be. We spent so many months and way too many sleepless nights working to put together a set that could really be considered the definitive release of the show and when you finally get to share the work with an audience of fans that has anxiously been waiting to see it it's both frightening and exhilarating. When the first reviews started to come in we were all relieved, extremely pleased and flattered with what they had to say. Everyone on the project all the way up from our execs to the incredibly talented team of artists at CBS Digital and everyone on the special features production team gave it their all but you still wonder how the audience will react. Having the opportunity to walk into movie theaters and see our work up on the big screen during the season-one theatrical event we put together with the folks at NCM was one of the most satisfying experiences I've ever had on any project I've ever worked on. It was just amazing to see the fans’ reaction to the work first hand at those screenings. They loved it!
Also the fact that the cast and the production staff of the show were so pleased with the product made it an even more rewarding experience. We went to a couple of conventions to promote the release and every single person who came up to us, from fans to the cast and crew, had nothing but praise for the product. That makes all the hard work worthwhile, but it also puts you in a rather interesting position going into our second release since now there's a certain level of quality that's expected in terms of the depth and richness of the content which you have to meet and hopefully surpass.
As a Star Trek fan yourself -- speaking in terms of stories, character development, guest stars and visual effects -- how did season two of TNG rate?
Lay: Season 2 of TNG is a very unique chapter in the Star Trek saga because there was some experimenting in terms of storytelling and character development and, even though the writers really hadn't found the right voice for the show yet, you begin to see the first steps in the right direction with some amazing episodes like 'The Measure of a Man," "Pen Pals,” "Elementary Dear Data," "Loud as a Whisper" and the first appearance of the Borg in "Q Who?" These episodes really hold up and they're a perfect way to trace the evolution of TNG from its rocky beginnings to a bona fide weekly hour of solid dramatic storytelling.
Heading into the season-two Blu-ray effort, what did you and your team feel were the biggest challenges?
Lay: The big challenge for season 2 was the fact that we delivered such an amazing set for season one which was so well received by fans and praised across the board by reviewers and the industry. So we knew the bar was high and we had to deliver something that was not only on par with season one by offering fans as satisfying an experience, but we also needed to surprise the viewers as much as the content on the first one did. The first-ever extended cut of an episode with "The Measure of a Man" and the cast reunion special "Reunification" became high priority pieces for us in order to not only fulfill fans' expectations for this set, but also shatter them and give them something they probably never even thought they'd get to see. Along with the documentaries and the other special features, I also wanted to produce commentary tracks for a couple of episodes on this set, which was something we did not get a chance to do for the season one set, and over the last couple of months many fans came up to me after our panels at San Diego Comic Con and the Vegas Trek convention expressing great interest in commentary tracks.
Let's talk VAM. Which of the season-two extras are you most excited about, and why?
Lay: I'm really happy with "Making it So: Continuing Star Trek The Next Generation," which is the feature-length documentary on the making of season 2. On season one we had great success with this approach of creating a feature-length documentary to give audiences the definitive take on the origins of the show with "Stardate Revisited: The Origins of Star Trek The Next Generation," so we know we had to continue that for season 2 and beyond. "Making it So" is a very different piece from "Stardate Revisited," but in my book a great sequel is one that feels like the perfect evolution and continuation of what has come before and "Making it So" picks up immediately after "Stardate" ends with the season-one wrap party and chronicling all the challenges the staff of the show had to face immediately after wrapping up year one. They were thrilled with the success of season one, but rather than take a breather and celebrate they had to go on to deal with Gates leaving the show, creating a new character to replace her, a writers’ strike which prohibited the creative staff from doing any work on the scripts, and the continuing challenges of producing such a complex series on a tight budget for syndicated television. It's a really fascinating tale to see how Rick Berman and the rest of the team made season 2 possible with so many difficulties and challenges.
"The Measure of a Man," as you noted, will be an extended cut. What went into the decision to expand that episode? In what ways is it expanded? What do you feel the extra scenes add to it?
Lay: The decision to release an extended cut came about when Mike Okuda told us how back when the episode was in post production he'd gotten a VHS copy of the first editor's cut of the episode, which obviously had more content than the broadcast version. The first cut of an episode is usually an exact representation of the script and utilizes everything the director shot during production, but as you go through the post-production process scenes have to be trimmed, tightened and sometimes even removed in their entirety in order to make the run time for an hour of television with commercials. Melinda Snodgrass, who'd written the episode, had kept that VHS tape which Mike had given her back when the show was produced and she agreed to send it in to CBS so we could all take a look at it. Once the entire team saw it, it was evident that everyone was on the same page about utilizing it as part of the special features for the season 2 set since the episode is one of TNG's best. Originally the plan was to include the episode in that rough standard-def format from the VHS copy, but then we all started thinking that the negative to those deleted or trimmed scenes should technically be in storage with the rest of the cans from the episode. So our fearless leader, Ken Ross at CBS Home Entertainment, agreed to the idea of trying to find the original negs for those trims and edits in the hopes of restoring the extended cut in true HD. And thanks to the efforts of the entire team it became a reality -- for the first time ever audiences will see an extended cut of a TNG episode and it has some lovely character moments that fans will find quite special. "Measure of a Man" is just Star Trek at its best.
Read part two of our interview with Roger Lay, Jr. HERE.
Season Two is a 5-disc set that includes all 22 episodes, as well as more than 120 minutes of brand-new documentaries that include recently recorded cast and crew interviews. Fans can expect an extended version of the episode “The Measure of a Man,” audio commentaries, a gag reel, Archival Mission Logs and Featurettes (among them “Reunification: 25 Years After The Next Generation” and “Making It So: Continuing The Next Generation”). Season Two will be available for the suggested retail price of $129.99 in the U.S.
You can pre-order from Season 2 on Blu-ray by clicking your country below. Click HERE for details/tickets for the in-theater A Celebration of Season 2 event on November 2.