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Michael Piller

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  • Robert G. Seeberger
    http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=59082 I ve just read the sad news of the death of Michael Piller - co-creator of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and
    Message 1 of 4 , Nov 2, 2005
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      http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=59082





      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.




      xponent

      Beamed Maru

      rob


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    • Jim Sharkey
      ... 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
      Message 2 of 4 , Nov 3, 2005
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        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
        >mess.

        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.

        Still, if the guy gave us DS:9 and the best years of STNG, he done
        good and will be missed.

        Jim


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      • Bryon Daly
        ... 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
        Message 3 of 4 , Nov 4, 2005
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          On 11/3/05, Jim Sharkey <templar569@...> wrote:
          >
          >
          > 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
          > >mess.
          >
          > 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.

          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.
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        • Jim Sharkey
          ... That s a fair point, Bryon, and one I recall bugging me a little at the time. There s always been a little too much nobler than thou in Star Trek,
          Message 4 of 4 , Nov 4, 2005
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            Bryon Daly wrote:
            >On 11/3/05, Jim Sharkey <templar569@...> wrote:
            >>The Voyager pilot was so good, I quivered with anticipation of the
            >>series.
            >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.

            That's a fair point, Bryon, and one I recall bugging me a little at
            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
            crumbles. :)

            Jim

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