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Fontana Talks Trek 50 and New Blu-Ray Collection

Fontana Talks Trek 50 and New Blu-Ray Collection

The Star Trek 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection, available today from CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Media Distribution, pretty much squeezes 50 years of Star Trek: The Original Series filmed entertainment onto 30 Blu-ray discs. We’re talking the highest-quality version available of every TOS episode and The Animated Series, as well as the six TOS big-screen adventures. Add to that more than 20 hours of bonus content – including the brand-new, multi-part documentary Star Trek: The Journey to the Silver Screen – as well as a collectible 50th Anniversary Starfleet insignia pin and set of collectible mini-posters for films I-VI, and you’ve got this massive, thorough set.

Among those interviewed by Blu-ray producer Roger Lay, Jr. is Dorothy Fontana. Perhaps more recognized as D.C. Fontana, the talented writer, story editor and producer is deeply respected by Trek fans for her many contributions to the Trek franchise. Fontana was there in the early days of TOS and made a mark as well on The Animated Series (serving as story editor and associate producer), The Next Generation (she co-wrote the series’ premiere “Encounter at Farpoint”) and Deep Space Nine (“Dax”). Still in the Trek universe, she gave us the novel Vulcan’s Glory and the comic book Star Trek: Year Four– The Enterprise Experiment, as well as a few video games, including Bridge Commander and Tactical Assault. caught up with Fontana last week for an interview about her Trek experiences and participating in Star Trek 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection. Here’s what she had to say:

You sat down to be interviewed for this mega Blu-ray set. How impressed are you by what the Blu-ray team put together with this?

Well, I haven't seen everything, I've seen only bits and pieces, so I can't give you an overall impression. I've liked what I've seen. David Gerrold and I, and I think Walter Koenig and others have come in to talk about our experiences on the show, and I think it will make an excellent collection.

What were some of the experiences they brought up with you that you were eager to talk about, or were surprised that were even brought up?

There was always one story I wanted to do, which I started to try and tell in the third season. It was about Dr. McCoy's daughter, Joanna, who is a nurse. She's just gotten out of nursing school, she's going into space and hasn't seen her father for a long time. They had kind of a very long-distance relationship. It's a personal story for McCoy, and of course his daughter, and I was told by Fred Freiberger that, no, McCoy can't have a daughter who's 21 or 22. She's Kirk's contemporary. I realized then that they didn't really get the show, because we always played... Dr. McCoy is about 10 years older than Spock and Kirk, especially Kirk, because that's exactly what the actor's ages were. They played it that way. We wrote it that way. If you're sitting there telling me Dr. McCoy can't have a 21- or 22-year-old daughter, you don't get the show. When the questions were asked (by the Blu-ray team), I kind of told that story about Joanna. I said, ‘Well, I got the feeling it was a novel.” Denise and Mike Okuda, who were listening to it, said "Oh, I hope you can do that. I hope you can do that.” So, I'd like to find time to do another Star Trek novel.

People would love that. You know that, right?

Yeah, I think so.

Many people enjoy Blu-ray extras and find them, pardon the pun, fascinating. A) Are you a Blu-ray watcher? And B) If you are, are you fascinated by extras on them?

Well, DVDs and Blu-rays have had extras for a long time and I always do find them interesting. It depends on how well they've been presented and all this. Some are better than others. In general, the producers of the DVDs and or Blu-rays do find interesting things to reveal about the show that you didn't know or you couldn't have guessed. Sometimes it's outtakes that didn't make it into the show. Sometimes it's a conversation with the actors. “Well, I wanted to do it this way," or "I had this in mind when I did that.” That was always interesting to me because it is definitely things that don't make it on the screen that are kind of, "Why didn't they?" Always interesting to me. I do watch the extra sections whether they're broadcast or whether they're on DVD or Blu-ray. I find it interesting.

People have been talking about the 50th anniversary coming for the past several years, obviously, and here we finally are. To you, how remarkable an achievement is it that Star Trek is 50 with a rich history and hopefully a bright future?

We always had faith in the show. We certainly deserved more than the three seasons it got originally, but what really began to come across was when they put it into syndication and people really, really responded. They would have the episodes running like mad. For instance, if you were in California you could catch a Star Trek episode on a San Diego station, a Los Angeles station, a San Francisco station. They might be running the same one, but they might be edited a little differently, locally, which would be interesting because I've seen episodes I wrote in say, San Francisco, and I would sit there and say, "Wait a minute, that's missing this piece." Then come down to Los Angeles where I live, see the same episode, and think, “Wait a minute, they cut out a different piece.”

That must've been the most frustrating experience…

Right? The producers had that right, but in spite of all that, the show has prospered in syndication and it's still on. You can still find it and people are still loving those old episodes and buying the DVDs or Blu-rays, still watching it, still loving it, even though the original Star Trek technically has not changed in 50 years. It's still the same stories, still the same actors who still do the job the first time around, but they're loved. What is really fun is for someone to walk up to you, someone younger, and say, "I used to watch this show when I was a kid with my mom and dad, and I'm still watching it.”

You have been there since the beginning. What do you see as your own personal contribution to the franchise?

Spock. Spock's whole story. I got in there with “This Side of Paradise,” revealing who Spock was underneath the armor of Vulcan. I got into it with “Journey to Babel,” when he was losing his parents. I got into it in Star Trek animated with “Yesteryear,” and why Spock as a child became Vulcan, more Vulcan, why he chose to… I love Spock. I liked him from the very beginning. Gene asked me to read the first 10-12 pages he had put together about this new series, and the first question I had was, "Who plays Spock?" It was Leonard Nimoy, always Leonard Nimoy. There was never a question. There were never any other tests, other actors tested. It was Leonard Nimoy from the start.

What's your sense of how much the writing influenced Nimoy's performance, and then how much his performance influenced the writing?

I can't talk percentages. I think it goes both ways. When you see an actor pull of something really good, you say, "Oh, that works," and you want to use it again and continue the character. Then you see the chemistry between the characters, between the actors. Spock and McCoy, they're going back and forth and you knew they liked each other. Ultimately, you knew they liked each other and they were just doing these little jabs. It made that relationship so much more interesting. Kirk and Spock had a different relationship.

How much discussion were you able to have with Leonard Nimoy about Spock and Vulcans?

We'd sit down and talk every once and a while. At the end of the first season, I went down on the set when we were filming our last couple of episodes and asked for time aside with the actors. Each of them individually. I’d say, "You've been living in this skin for a year now. Tell me what you've learned about this character.” And I took notes on everything they said. Then we put it in the bible. I passed it by Gene Roddenberry, I said, “This is what Nichelle thinks about Uhura. This is what George thinks about Sulu," etc. The actors all gave me something that they felt they had discovered about the characters. We put it in the bible so that incoming writers - and we also had a lot of freelance writers - would know how the actors felt about themselves and the character they were playing. It was really helpful to sit down and just discuss with them, "What did you learn about this character in the year you've been living in his or her skin?"

If you were starting now, you would be able to work as Dorothy Fontana? Would you change anything if you could?

I think that I would probably use my full first name and it wouldn't bother anybody because writers out there, there's Leigh Brackett, there's Jane Espenson. There are other female writers writing action, adventure and playing on our shows. Being a woman is now not as hindering as it was when I was cracking in, when there were very few women writers writing action adventure. Leigh Brackett wasn't around. Margaret Armen was the only other woman on the first Star Trek that I met, and I knew Maggie had written Rifleman and all kinds of other shows. A lot of westerns. I knew Maggie could do this action adventure, but she is Margaret Armen. When I came in, in 1960, I went with the first couple as Dorothy Fontana, and then I couldn't get scripts read because "I don't think a woman can write my show." I started going with D.C. Fontana and my agent pushed it that way. A few episodes I wrote are Dorothy, and then I switched to D.C. because I wanted to get scripts read without prejudice. If they didn't know I was a woman, I could get that read without prejudice, so I just went that way and I kept it because I got lucky.

You said that you haven’t seen any of the Trek movies beyond The Undiscovered Country. Will you check out Discovery?

I don’t know, it depends on if I have time. Right now, I'm jammed to the gills. I've got a lot of interviews for 50th anniversary ball. I teach at the American Film Institute, so I have to get ready for classes. I have other things I'm working on for novels and also couple of projects that might develop into pilots, things I cannot talk about right now but ... I've got a lot of work going on. So sometimes I just don't have time (to see a movie or show).

Last question. Any last thoughts on Star Trek or fandom as we celebrate the 50th anniversary?

I think we all have great respect and love from the fans and I respect and love that about them. So many of them are really smart, really talented people. Some of them were very young people when we first started out and they’ve become accomplished people in the professions that they chose, whether they were artistic or scientific or whatever. And it is so nice to know that Star Trek inspired them to reach for – and make -- high goals.

The Star Trek 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection is available now in stores and online, including via Amazon. Go to to purchase it.