This was a hefty brick of a book. It follows the creation of Star Trek: The Next Generation through the 2016 release of Star Trek: Beyond, but because there was so much more Star Trek content created in the second twenty-five years of the franchise, this sucker clocks in at a whopping 843 pages. I read the first volume in a day and a half. This one took me six.
Of course, this was also partially because this book not only had more content, but the content it did have was so frickin’ dramatic. So much behind the scenes drama, mostly involving disorganized and chaotic writers rooms. And so, so much of Rick Berman being a donkey’s ass. Except that’s an insult to donkeys and their asses. Donkeys are sweet, gentle, intelligent creatures. Rick Berman, who doesn’t even really like Star Trek, is also kind of misogynistic pig. So that’s fun! I mean, setting aside the sexual harassment of Terry Farrell and other women, all of his comments about women were consistently about if they were beautiful. He wouldn’t shut up about the whole point of Seven of Nine was that she was a “Borg Babe,” when everyone else, including Jeri Ryan, are trying to focus on her emotional arc to rejoin humanity, and how smart and capable and emotionally vulnerable she was. But no, she’s a babe! And doncha know it’s so hard to find pretty actresses who can act! Gross.
It’s kind of funny how clear it becomes that having a competent creative vision in charge of the writers is so, so important to the health of a TV show. And so is not being hamstrung by limitations placed on the show from the outside. TNG became great when Roddenberry stepped back, and his weird lawyer stopped interfering and playing the writers against each other. DS9 was good from the start, but became great when Ira Stephen Behr took over and did what he thought was best for the show, including running a writer’s room with a competent, creative, respectful environment. And poor Enterprise, which started with such promise, became samesy and wasn’t allowed to exceed network and Berman mandated limitations until it was clear it was on death’s door, at which point everyone said fuck it, let them do what they want. Then the show started getting good. Miraculous!
I also very much enjoyed everyone shitting on the Enterprise theme song. It is a very terrible song. I cringed and had to literally hide my face the first time I heard it. But I also have complicated feelings, because it did grow on me! It was terrible, and yet I came to like it because I liked the show and the characters. But when they tried to jazz it up in season three, it became an abomination. They made a terrible song even more terrible trying to boost ratings, which is stupid. Fix the actual problems not the surface ones, guys. (Everyone in the book hates the song except Rick Berman.)
I do wish there was a little bit less of the writers room drama, and more behind the scenes production stories. What little we got was also steeped in drama, i.e. Terry Farrell leaving because she was sick of Rick Berman, her boss, sexually harassing her; and Kate Mulgrew causing extreme tension on the set of Voyager when Seven of Nine was brought in (which she notes that she now regrets). Actually, let’s quote that whole thing:
“Let’s be very straight about something . . . This is on me, not Jeri. She came in and did what she was asked to do. No question about that, and she did it very well. It’s on me, because I’d hoped against hope that Janeway would be sufficient. That we didn’t have to bring a beautiful, sexy girl in. That somehow the power of my command, the vicissitudes of my talent would be sufficient unto the day, because this would really change television, right? That’s what dug me the hardest, that to pick up the numbers they did that . . . That was my interpretation of it. And that hurt me. I found it sort of insulting. And, of course, she embodied the part, this beautiful girl. But we certainly were utterly professional. I had been nothing short of completely professional, and she did her job. Very well! It was a very good idea that she was half Borg, but it’s on me. I’m sorry it has to be part of this legacy, and I probably should have comported myself better. I should have been more philosophical about it, but in the moment it was difficult.” [source]
So that was pretty bad. All the cast members talk about it in the book, and Jeri Ryan’s was the hardest to read from me, because at one point she talks about it being so bad (the tension) that she would feel nauseous before coming to work, and I’ve been in working situations like that before, and it is TERRIBLE. I would have been very upset if Mulgrew, whom I like very much, had not owned up to her shittiness. I hope she’s made some sort of gesture to Jeri Ryan as an apology. Yeesh.
Overall, I liked this book, but it was just so long and full of drama. I wish it had been a little less drama-filled, and had more stuff about production and reactions to the material. Fun set stories, stuff like that. My same complaints from the first volume still apply, in that I wish the interviews were contextualized. Very difficult to tell which ones were new material and which were archival, sometimes, and that matters because thoughts long-after-the-fact and thoughts in-the-middle-of are very different.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was seeing the starts of so many TV careers originate from these writer’s rooms, particularly Ronald D. Moore, who would go on to create the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and to do a lot of stuff with it that he wanted to do with Star Trek for years and years. These same editors have also compiled an oral history of BSG, and I’ve got it on order at the library. I love oral histories, even if I’m not a superfan of the material. I like Star Trek a lot, but BSG is my jam, so I’m very excited about it.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]