I've just read the sad news of the death of Michael Piller -
co-creator of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and The Dead Zone, at the
unfairly young age of 57. It's not been a good year for Trek, with
James Doohan's loss still fresh in our minds, and now Piller who, in
my opinion, was responsible for saving Star Trek. As a hardcore
Trekker, I, along with millions of other fans worldwide, owe him a
tremendous debt for everything he did for the franchise.
He began his career in New York working for CBS news but eventually,
after working at various news agencies, he left to become a full-time
script-writer, inspired by his time at CBS' docudrama department.
Amongst other shows he worked on Cagney and Lacey, Miami Vice and
Simon & Simon but it was on Star Trek that he made his greatest
contributions to television.
When he first climbed aboard the starship Enterprise, at the beginning
of The Next Generation's third season, TNG was, frankly, a mess.
Behind-the-scenes the writing staff was in constant flux, with people
coming and going almost weekly as difficulties with the producers made
life extremely difficult - scripts would be re-written or dropped, and
there was no guidance as to what the show should be. No one really had
a clue and it was showing on screen. While the second season hadn't
been as bad as the first, the very fact it ended up with a limp clips
show called Shades of Grey says everything about the lack of
inspiration and the malaise of the staff.
Piller changed all that. He came in and was instantly a stabilising
force. Much more so than Berman - and even Gene Roddenberry - he
understood exactly what the show should be and how the characters
should be handled, and he organised his writing staff into a coherent
team, with a single goal. Watch Season Two and then Season Three of
TNG and it's almost a different series: more confident, more sure of
itself, and with far better stories. It escaped from the shadow of TOS
and became its own entity, and that was Piller's doing.
He was also responsible for opening the door to fresh new talent. He
began an open-door policy on scripts - no longer did you need
professional credentials and an agent to work on the show, anyone
could just send in a script and, if it was liked, you were asked in to
pitch further. Thanks to him we now have some of the best writers
working on US television today - Ron D Moore of Battlestar Galactica
and Jane Espenson of Buffy being the two examples that immediately
spring to mind (as well as one Brannon Braga, but as he's a
contentious individual probably best not to mention him). It was a
farsighted policy, unique both in its time and since, and even though
only perhaps one in every five hundred pitches received paid off, it
was still a worthy exercise that, ultimately paid dividends (TNG would
certainly have been a far poorer series without Moore).
Although he didn't actually write that many episodes himself, those he
did are some of the most memorable of the entire run: Unification Part
2 which saw the generations meet when Spock joined forces with Picard,
Ensign Ro which set up the premise for DS9, Yesterday's Enterprise
and, most notably The Best of Both Worlds. For this alone we should be
thankful, as it's an episode that still appears on, ironically, "Best
of..." lists, both for cliffhangers (Riker's order of "Fire!" still
sends shivers down my spine), and Best Episode of a show, period.
Personally speaking, I had a great time with the episode, as I had a
(normally quite tranquil) friend at school who was only just getting
into TNG after watching some of the later episodes on BBC2. I lent him
the video of the first part of BoBW telling him nothing about the
story at all, and sent him home with it telling him "he might quite
enjoy it." The next day he came in goggling, bouncing up and down and
demanding "What happens, what happens?" I'd never seen him so fired up
about anything before in his life. The whole imagery of that episode
was magnificent: Picard's rape by the Borg, the complete,
seemingly-indestructible nature of the threat they posed, the
smallness of the Enterprise against the mighty Cube - hell, even the
annoying Borg expert Commander Shelby - are enough to have been
ingrained deeply on anyone who has seen it. For many people, that was
TNG's finest moment.
Piller also co-created what many feel is the superior Trek series,
Deep Space Nine, a show that dared to show conflict between its
leading characters. One of Roddenberry's golden rules had always been
that the crew of a starship would have long since put aside their
petty differences and would all get along, which is a nice premise but
terrible to generate drama from. For DS9 Piller decided the only way
to get around this, while remaining true to the ideals on which
Roddenberry had created The Original Series, was to set the new show
in a world where Starfleet is stuck dealing with non-Federation
members, people who didn't share their utopian ideals. This resulted
in a very different show, one which actually had a background that
didn't change episode by episode. He gave us some of the most
memorable characters of any Trek: Odo, Quark, Kira, Dax. Unlike TNG,
which beyond the obvious examples of Picard, Data and (once Ron Moore
got hold of him) Worf had a pretty dull cast of characters, each of
DS9's protagonists were alive, vital, each with their own agendas and
beliefs and preconceptions, all different to each others but all
forced to interact in the cramped station they lived in. There was no
such thing as the Harry Kim Syndrome here: everyone was interesting
and worth watching. Even the Starfleet personnel weren't flawless: one
of my own favourite arcs of the entire show is that of Dr Bashir, who
in the first season comes across a bit of an arrogant,
wet-behind-the-ears, naive pain in the ass, but who matures before our
eyes to become the battle-hardened, world-weary character of the last
year. It was Piller that gave us these: Berman has shown that, on his
own, he can't come up with interesting characters and situations even
if his life depended on it (see Enterprise and Nemesis in particular).
Of course, Piller also gave us Voyager, for which there isn't much
excuse. But at least he gave us (in my opinion) the best pilot of any
of the five Treks, even if subsequently it was all a bit of a mess. In
his defence he wasn't nearly as much hands-on for Voyager as he was
during the TNG years - the same year Voyager started he also created
the short-lived Western series Legend (starring John "Q" de Lancie), a
project which, reading between the lines, he had a lot more passion
for. He left Voyager officially at the end of year two, his swansong
two parter The Basics his mission statement for the flagging series to
which, sadly, not much attention was paid.
Despite leaving, he remained an executive producer on the show, and in
general maintained his links with Star Trek, always happy to talk
about it and contribute the odd story (his son too, who pitched the
story for Q's appearances in Voyager. He returned to the fold to write
the feature Star Trek: Insurrection, which wasn't great but benefited
from a lighter touch - the first few scenes on board the Enterprise
are great fun, something First Contact had been lacking. He has also
continued contributing to the DVD releases on the various shows, even
when he was obviously not well, and was also welcoming to the fans and
so enthusiastic about the series, which was always nice to see.
More recently he co-created The Dead Zone, starring DS9's very own
Nicole de Boer, which has proven very successful. But it his work on
Star Trek for which I will always be thankful. It is no exaggeration
to say that without him, modern Star Trek would not have achieved
anywhere like the level of success it did, crossing over to the
mainstream and lasting so long. He was in charge during the glory
years, and he was largely responsible for them. And it's not just us
Trekkers who should be thankful either: when TNG started, the industry
scoffed as science-fiction as a television genre was all but dead in
the water: no one would touch it with a barge pole. TNG's success
showed it could be done, and it could draw the punters and, as the
Nineties dawned, shows with a more fantastical bent began being
commissioned in numbers again. Without TNG it is arguable The X Files
wouldn't have got off the ground. Without The X Files, would Buffy
have seen the light of day? Difficult to see it. Piller's contribution
ranged far larger than the walls of the Enterprise. In Star Trek terms
he was one of the best things to ever happen to the series and one of
the show's finest ambassadors (unlike some other nameless individuals
he was a genuinely nice guy). On a personal note, he's given me many,
many happy hours of entertainment, both in TNG and DS9 and for that I
am thankful, and I am very sad we've lost him.
- Robert G. Seeberger wrote:
>Of course, Piller also gave us Voyager, for which there isn't muchQuoted for truth. The Voyager pilot was so good, I quivered with
>excuse. But at least he gave us (in my opinion) the best pilot of
>any of the five Treks, even if subsequently it was all a bit of a
anticipation of the series. Which, as it turned out, completely
turned me off Star Trek for many years.
Still, if the guy gave us DS:9 and the best years of STNG, he done
good and will be missed.
Join Excite! - http://www.excite.com
The most personalized portal on the Web!
- On 11/3/05, Jim Sharkey <templar569@...> wrote:
>You liked the Voyager pilot? Its ending really put me off when they
> Robert G. Seeberger wrote:
> >Of course, Piller also gave us Voyager, for which there isn't much
> >excuse. But at least he gave us (in my opinion) the best pilot of
> >any of the five Treks, even if subsequently it was all a bit of a
> Quoted for truth. The Voyager pilot was so good, I quivered with
> anticipation of the series. Which, as it turned out, completely
> turned me off Star Trek for many years.
could have used the array to return home but instead Janeway
destroyed it. Not even a consideration of other possibilities, such
as rigging a bomb to destroy the array immediately *after* they use
it to return home. A simple timer would do. But no. The obvious
contrivance just bugged me.
- Bryon Daly wrote:
>On 11/3/05, Jim Sharkey <templar569@...> wrote:That's a fair point, Bryon, and one I recall bugging me a little at
>>The Voyager pilot was so good, I quivered with anticipation of the
>You liked the Voyager pilot? Its ending really put me off when
>they could have used the array to return home but instead
>Janeway destroyed it. Not even a consideration of other
>possibilities, such as rigging a bomb to destroy the array
>immediately *after* they use it to return home. A simple timer would
>do. But no. The obvious contrivance just bugged me.
the time. There's always been a little too much "nobler than thou"
in Star Trek, though, so I imagine it was, to some extent, just
honoring that tradition.
But in any case I had really enjoyed the entire pilot up to that
point, and was willing to give them a some rope. Of course, they
promptly hanged themselves with it, but that's the way the dilithium
Join Excite! - http://www.excite.com
The most personalized portal on the Web!