TrekCore talks to Robert Meyer Burnett, one-half of the talented duo responsible for the creation of the new bonus features on Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s remastered Blu-Ray releases. Normally to be found beavering away in his edit bay, Rob generously took several hours out of his busy schedule to talk to me about all things Star Trek, answering questions about his work and dropping several juicy hints about the exciting things he and Roger Lay Jr. have planned for future Star Trek Blu-Ray releases.
Robert Meyer Burnett: Who Interviews the Interviewer? Part 5
Interviewed by Adam Walker for TrekCore.com
TrekCore: The inclusion of LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow special on the second season was a real nice slice of history. Are there any videos or features that you wish could have been included in the sets but you weren’t able to for some reason? I know a lot of fans were curious why the documentary “From One Generation to the Next”, the pre-Season Two special, wasn’t included.
Robert Meyer Burnett: Well, we looked at that – “From One Generation to the Next” was created because of the writers’ strike, and the season was delayed. A lot of The Original Series is in that piece, and there are problems when you include The Original Series with payments and clip license fees – you have to pay license fees, even though Star Trek is all owned by CBS – and the material from The Next Generation just wasn’t that compelling. Whenever we put something on the discs – Roger and I, really, it’s our call whether we put something on the discs or not – if it doesn’t have anything new, or any particular thing that hasn’t been seen before, we’re like “Why bother?” That special has nothing new, and really nothing to offer, so we decided not to use it, even the Next Generation parts.
The Reading Rainbow piece, however, was, we thought, essential – it has some of the best behind-the-scenes material ever for the show. Having Rob Legato – we haven’t been able to get him yet for an interview – he’s on there, and the editorial process… sure, it’s obviously aimed at children, but it’s still got some of the best behind-the-scenes material ever. Seeing the motion control rig and the Enterprise… we thought it was essential – and what was great is that LeVar Burton is bringing back Reading Rainbow as an application for iPhones and iPads. Synergistically, it worked out well, and he was tickled to death that we were able to include it along with that little ad for his app. He asked if we would do that, and we thought why not? That was cool of CBS to allow that. When we’re doing things like that, it’s really important to us to get what we can.
TrekCore: I don’t know if you’re aware, but a few people have been floating a list around the Internet of their ideal compilation of behind-the-scenes features that have appeared on television that they hope will make it onto the Blu-rays. Could you comment on each one of these – if you think it’s worthy of being included, whether you know about it or don’t know about it, and whether there may be plans to include it. First, in the 1990s, there was a documentary called “To Boldly Go”, from the ABC network’s Primetime Live featuring DeForest Kelley touring the TNG sets.
Robert Meyer Burnett: Oh, yes – we’re very aware of that! (Laughs)
TrekCore: Any plans?
Robert Meyer Burnett: You guys should know that we’re looking into all of these things, in terms of the rights, if we can show them… as a matter of fact, on the first season of Enterprise, there’s a show called On The Set, which was completed but never aired, which Brannon Braga mentioned to us, dealing with the production of season one. It was going to be shown, but never was; at Roger’s behest, CBS acquired it, and it will appear on the Season One blu. We absolutely look into all of those things. [note – we’ll have a lot more about ‘On the Set’ soon in a future special!]
TrekCore: Let’s just go through some more quickly – there was a VCR board game starring Robert O’Reilly as Gowron, where you see him on the TNG sets.
Robert Meyer Burnett: Again, that becomes an ownership issue – that’s not necessarily owned by CBS – but yeah, those things… I’ve got this bit that Q did with his son, John de Lancie did it for some game in the late late ‘90s. It doesn’t really belong, but we might stick it in… we absolutely would want to use that stuff. Even if we couldn’t use all of it; that footage of Robert O’Reilly on the TNG sets is absolutely something that we would want to use.
TrekCore: There was a famous parody done for Comic Relief USA in 1994 where we saw the TNG cast in character…
Robert Meyer Burnett: Oh yeah, we have that. Whoopi Goldberg was never a fan of that – she did not like being called “Whoo-pye” [when Data mispronounces her name]. But yes, we would love to include that. We think that’s so great – but again, can we find a decent master of it? But we’d love to have that in.
TrekCore: Of course, when the show ended, there was a special done called “Journey’s End”, hosted by Jonathan Frakes. Do you think that could make it?
Robert Meyer Burnett: We’d love to use that as well. Again, I think that would be something essential.
TrekCore: Another curiosity – there was a lot of publicity in 1991 when former President Ronald Reagan visited the set. Photos exist, we’ve seen those on the DVDs; do you know if there was any video coverage done?
Robert Meyer Burnett: No… we have those photos; another great, unsung hero of this is John Wentworth, who was actually in our Season One documentary. John Wentworth is one of the higher-up executives; he’s been with Paramount and then CBS publicity for the better part of thirty years. Not only is he a tremendously nice guy, but he also has gone above and beyond, out of his way, to make sure that Roger and I have been given full access. He had his assistant pull all of the boxes of photographs, anything that existed, of Star Trek. He basically said, “You guys can look through this and take anything you want. It’s yours.” To have that kind of cooperation at that level has just been astonishing.
He was also instrumental – he called up Rick Berman for us and said, “Look, these guys are legit; they’re not some yo-yos that are going to ask you dumb questions.” – it was Wentworth that got us to go to Rick Berman’s house do to an interview.
We got photographs of the visits to the sets – all of them – every single photo that exists. It’s amazing – there are a lot of photos in the Season One documentary from when they screened the pilot for the cast, and the party afterwards… a lot of those photos had never been seen before,ever. That was all because of John Wentworth.
President Reagan’s visit to the sets of Star Trek THE NEXT GENERATION was well documented in a large number of never-before-seen photographs that Robert and Roger hope to use in upcoming documentaries on the Blu-Rays.
TrekCore: That brings up an interesting question. If material is discovered in the course of this process, which relates to earlier seasons – like the Season One wrap party – what’s your position on building them into your VAM? Can it be put onto later seasons?
Robert Meyer Burnett: Oh, yeah. It can, when we find it. I’m a real stickler for keeping things season-centric, but you’ll notice that there are stories in the Season Two documentary that happened in Season One – but I thought they were worth telling. But I only use music from whatever season… like Season Two will only have Season Two music. I’ll never go and use the Borg theme from “The Best of Both Worlds” for like, “Descent, Part II” – I’m not going to do that. If it’s relevant, then I will go back and use it. If there are stories to tell, I’ll use it, but I’ll try and identify it as such.
You know, Roger and I are trying to make a historical document – we’re purists in that sense, trying to keep everything season-centric, so to speak.
TrekCore: We talked about the music of Star Trek briefly, and it’s undergoing a huge renaissance at the moment with all these releases from La-La-Land and Film Score Monthly. Would you consider profiling the music in future documentaries, with composers Ron Jones, Dennis McCarthy, and Jay Chattaway?
Robert Meyer Burnett: Oh, yeah! Ron Jones is a huge part of the Season Three documentary; we haven’t interviewed Dennis McCarthy or Jay Chattaway yet, but we fully plan on doing so. The Ron Jones interview is great – we actually went and interviewed him on the Fox stage. It wasn’t where they first started recording Next Generation music, but it was where they recorded subsequent seasons; we interviewed him on that stage. He gave us great stuff – we got footage of him conducting the orchestra back then, and photographs of all that, so we’ve got great Ron Jones material.
One of the roundtables I would love to do is a composer roundtable, with all the people who worked on Star Trek.
TrekCore: To approach their different styles and approaches to scoring?
Robert Meyer Burnett: Absolutely. But as with everyone else, wrangling these extremely busy people is never easy.
TrekCore: Who are your must-have actors and creative talents – for interviews in the future seasons – who we may not have heard from so far?
Robert Meyer Burnett: I would have loved to get Maurice Hurley and Ricky Manning and Hans Beimler – but they don’t really like to talk about Star Trek anymore, so I don’t think that I’ll be able to get them. Obviously, I would really like to talk to Leonard Nimoy about coming back and doing “Unification” if he would agree and be amenable to that; I don’t know if he would be. There’s [the late] Richard Lynch from “Gambit”… (Laughs) …but all the great character actors – obviously Robert O’Reilly (‘Gowron’) and Lursa and B’Etor (actresses Barbara March and Gwynyth Walsh), I love those two ladies; I still want to talk to Suzie Plakson (‘K’Ehlyr’, ‘Selar’, ‘Female Q’) – basically, every major Star Trek guest star that ever existed. A friend of mine just gave me Elizabeth Dennehy’s (‘Commander Shelby’) home phone number; I’ve got to talk to Dwight Schultz (‘Reg Barclay’); we have to talk to Colm Meaney (‘Miles O’Brien’)…
TrekCore: Michelle Forbes (‘Ro Laren’)?
Robert Meyer Burnett: Oh, yeah, we have to. You know, I used to live across the street from her, so I know where she lives – I’ll knock on her door if I have to! With the principal actors, I get to sit down with them twice; two sessions, usually two hours apiece. I’ve done both my sessions with Jonathan Frakes and Michael Dorn, and I’m going to sit down with the other actors… once I have those four hours, I use that as a pool to draw from for all the docs in the seven seasons. In addition, to augment those things, we can always add the behind the scenes players; the various guest stars from each season, so we’ll have new faces showing up every year, which I think is important.
TrekCore: Talk to us about “The Best of Both Worlds”. Is this going to dominate the Season Three features? Do you have any special tributes or retrospectives planned for it?
Robert Meyer Burnett: Um… uh…. (Laughs) Yeeesssss, we do!
There’s something very interesting going on with “The Best of Both Worlds” that I can’t talk about yet. But yes, the answer is yes!
TrekCore: Moving swiftly on! (Laughs) What differences have you discovered working on the different Star Trek shows – does the direction you take dealing with Enterprise and those special features differ from the approach you’re taking with The Next Generation?
Robert Meyer Burnett: Yeah. For The Next Generation, you have twenty-five years of history, but you also have the sense that The Next Generation is, arguably – with the public at large – the most beloved Star Trek show. There’s such a great camaraderie and good will towards that show; it was groundbreaking television at the time – not just from a historical perspective – it allowed and proved the viability of an hour-long, syndicated drama. There’s a lot of great will going into Star Trek: The Next Generation. There’s a certain reverence about it.
With Enterprise, it’s considered, for the lack of a better word, a failure – in that it didn’t run for seven seasons the way the other shows did; it changed its premise; it never had the ratings it wanted to have; even its creators are critical of it. Knowing that – Roger has really taken the reigns and spearheaded that documentary – his Enterprise documentary is unbelievable. You talk about candor; you talk about people talking about what went wrong – and what went right – with the show… the Enterprise documentary is really, really insightful in terms of what went right and what went wrong. I mean, I watched it and was like, “Whoa, dude – that was awesome.”
TrekCore: Is it more difficult with a show like Enterprise to present a more positive view, to celebrate the show, when it’s maligned – perhaps unfairly – by so many?
Robert Meyer Burnett: No, I don’t think so, because look – it is still a Star Trek show. There’s some really interesting stuff… but for me, the way approach these things is not just as slaving Trek fanboys. Here was a TV show – a copy of a copy of a copy, in a way – one of the reasons I’m not the biggest fan of Voyager is because Star Trek suddenly became only about Star Trek. It became so insular and incestuous in terms of a TV and outside of the fanbase… what happened with the Borg for instance, wouldn’t be understood by the casual viewer. And it wasn’t so much allegory any more, it was really just about the Star Trek universe. I think that was a real problem, and I think Enterprise was never even the show the creators intended for it to be – Brannon [Braga] talks about how he wanted the first season of the show set on Earth, and they would never leave Earth; the end of the first season would be launching the Enterprise for the first time. That would have been incredible! That would have been an amazing show – but the network was like, “You can’t do that. That’s not Star Trek, you have to have a spaceship in space!”
What’s interesting about Enterprise is that they had to put up with a network [the now-defunct UPN], which, up until then, they never had to do. They had to deal with executives whose concerns were not exactly jiving with the creative entities behind the show, which is unfortunate. I think the Enterprise show that they wanted to make might have been a much more successful show, but because they were hampered by what people think Star Trek is… One of the great things about the Enterprise documentary is that it also delves into the problems with making a television show in the 2000’s, which I think is very, very cool – again, everybody has been very candid and open; they talk about what did work and what didn’t work.
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ROBERT MEYER BURNETT wrote and directed FREE ENTERPRISE and produced Warner Premiere and Dark Castle’s THE HILLS RUN RED.
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