In a new multi-part interview, TrekCore talks to Roger Lay, Jr. who is producing the bonus features on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Enterprise's new Blu-Ray releases. Roger was keen to discuss the new found appreciation he has for Enterprise after being involved so closely in the new Season 1 Blu-Ray release and spending time with both the staff and actors who worked on the show.
Roger Lay, Jr.: Enterprise Season 1 Blu-Ray Interview, Part 1
Interviewed by Adam Walker for TrekCore.com
TrekCore: Roger, I thought you could kick off with telling us a little bit about your background - I know you're not just the 'VAM Man'!
Roger Lay, Jr.: I do the VAM [Value Added Material, also known as ‘Bonus Features’] purely out of love for Star Trek, you know, because initially, I think the feeling was that they were just going to port over the stuff from the DVDs, and that killed me when I heard that. I’ve been producing films and shows for years now; that’s kind of how I got connected with them because I had a bit of a sci-fi background. I produced two films with Ray Bradbury, back to back, and I’d worked with Ana Barredo on a documentary called The Table about this group of filmmakers, most of whom are sci-fi people – Guillermo del Toro is in it; George Takei; Marc Zicree; Armin Shimerman from DS9; Michael Reeves, who wrote on Next Generation, Sliders, and a bunch of other shows – I produced that with Ana who happened to be working at CBS on DVD production at the time. That’s kind of how it all came together.
Now, I’m rebooting this show from the Eighties called Captain Power which I loved as a kid. Joe Straczynski, who created Babylon 5 – Captain Power was his first writing gig on a live-action show. He was the story editor and head writer. Gary Goddard, who created the show, he’s now my producing partner on a couple of film and TV projects. I run his film and TV division at Goddard Group; we do theme park attractions – he’s done Terminator 2 3D, Jurassic Park, Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton and the upcoming Broadway 4D attraction in Times Square – he’s got a film and TV division that I run for him. I’m his production executive on it; we’re doing this remake of Captain Power called Phoenix Rising, and we hired Judy and Gar [Reeves-Stevens] to be our head writers / showrunners. I grew up reading their Star Trek novels and have been a fan of their work since.
TrekCore: They do great books. They really do. Some of the best ones.
Roger Lay, Jr.: Well, they’re great at world building, but they also come up with great character-driven stories with really strong hard science fiction elements; they know the genre better than anyone. They are immensely talented at writing fiction but they also know the technical side of science, because they’ve written technical books, and done work with NASA, so they’re perfect for something like Phoenix Rising – which relies heavily on the moment of ‘singularity’. All these groups are saying that man relies so much on machines right now that by 2045, we will be able to link up to the machine directly, and more human beings are going to have some sort of bond to a machine than the amount of human beings that are still going to function as individuals and that’s what our story for Phoenix Rising finds it’s roots in. So Judy and Gar are just perfect for this kind of material; I love their work and I’m thrilled that these very talented people I grew up loving… now they’re working for us, writing our show. We’re in the middle of budgeting and scheduling, trying to get this pilot going in the summer.
It’s a crazy time. I don’t know if Rob has told you, but there’s so much stuff going on in this building right now: all the [Star Trek] VAM, Phoenix Rising, the theme park projects...
TrekCore: I know that you’re just inundated constantly, twenty-four hours a day.
Roger Lay, Jr.: We live here!
TrekCore: I keep seeing these photos of you guys in the edit suites at 4AM with bleary eyes… how do you do it?!
Roger Lay, Jr.: Yeah, we pretty much live here. It’s good – we’re going through this really great, good run, being able to work on all of these projects that we love, and it’s not like we’re slacking on any of them. We’re giving them all 100% of our attention, you know, that’s why we’re in the edit bay at 4AM… and Enterprise is one that I’m freaking thrilled about. I am a fan of Enterprise – I know a lot of Star Trek fans didn’t really get it – I kind of got what they were going for. Most people think It didn’t really work until year four, but re-watching Seasons One and Two now – if you look at the first two years of Next Generation, for example – you can argue that Enterprise had many more brilliant episodes in its first two years than TNG ever did during its first two years.
TrekCore: You said it’s a chance for the fans to reexamine the series, and I agree with that. I think a lot of people, coming on the heels of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, had higher expectations for the first couple of seasons – and forgot that first seasons of Star Trek are often uneven and not very balanced.
Roger Lay, Jr.: Yeah, but when it worked, it worked beautifully. You look at an episode like "Dear Doctor", and they never had anything like that on Season One of Next Generation. Even the pilot ("Broken Bow") – I still think the pilot is solid; I like that pilot a lot… with the exception of getting to the Klingon homeworld in thirty minutes! Something you’ll see in the Season One documentary is that [Rick Berman and Brannon Braga] had a very different vision of what the show was going to be initially. I mean, it wasn’t that different, but there was a very different structure to it, year one was going to be very different from what you ended up seeing, because originally, year one would have taken place on Earth. It was the dynamic of, how do you launch a ship? How do you go into a deep space exploration project such as the Enterprise? What are the repercussions -- politically, geographically, socially? There was going to be this whole movement on Earth of people who didn’t want humans to go out that far into space and announce to every other species, "Hey, here we are, we’re brand-new at this… come over and take advantage of us or destroy us if you want!"
So, that’s really interesting – all this stuff that didn’t really happen, and the story of why it didn’t happen is interesting in itself, and you’ll see in the documentary that it’s this double-edged sword -- the success of the Star Trek brand, the franchise; what was expected of it by the studio and the network.
TrekCore: I’m kind of curious, Roger – when the series first premiered, were you a fan from the get-go?
Roger Lay, Jr.: Oh, yeah, I watched all of it. With Star Trek, I’ve watched all of it, religiously. I watched every single show. I argue with Rob and some of my other friends who are all, "Oh, we stopped watching because it sucked." I kept watching it because it’s Star Trek and I still care about it, and I was always hoping that there would be another "Dear Doctor"-type episode coming up. So I watched the entire run of Enterprise – which is interesting, because this is the generation thing, of how each generation has their Star Trek show.
My brother got into Star Trek with Enterprise – I have a brother who’s ten years younger than me – so when Enterprise aired, he was like ten years old. That was his Star Trek; that was the first one he watched as it aired, from beginning to end, so he was watching it and loving it – and I had the ability to talk about Star Trek with my brother – after that, he started watching Next Generation, he obsessed over Next Gen and DS9… but Enterprise was the one that introduced him to Star Trek, and he loved it. He was watching it, I was watching it; I watched the entire run and I was a fan. I knew there were issues; as a filmmaker myself, I could see that there were story and concept execution issues there, but I didn’t give up on it because, like I said, when it worked, I thought it worked beautifully.
The Phlox-centric episode "Dear Doctor" was one of the stand-out episodes from Enterprise's first season. Roger Lay, Jr. credits this episode - along with the show's pilot, "Broken Bow" - as hooking him on Enterprise
TrekCore: We spoke to Brannon Braga last year, and he was very insistent that he thinks the show has been unfairly treated; but more fans are coming around over time to appreciate the subtle nuances of the show. Do you think that time has a healing effect on something like Enterprise?
Roger Lay, Jr.: I think so, and like you were saying, you were coming off a stage where you had a new Star Trek show on the air – sometimes you had two on the air at once. You had Next Gen; Next Gen really crossed over and became a hit, it wasn’t just a cult sci-fi show or a show for Star Trek fans only, you had a show that, at its peak, defeated the World Series of baseball, that one year. That doesn’t happen with a cult show, that was a crossover success. TNG was watercooler television back in the Nineties. Everyone was watching it. Then you had DS9, then you had Voyager, you had this run of shows; then Enterprise comes along. Fans were maybe getting a little tired, they maybe were thinking, "You should do something drastic here, something very different." Then you had the whole thing with fans hating the idea that you were going to have a prequel; I know a lot of friends of mine who were fans just completely disconnected when they heard that, they didn’t even want to watch it. I would argue with them – "You have to watch this before you can judge it!" and they’d say "I’m not interested in seeing a prequel."
I think all of those things hurt the show, and now we’re at a point where enough time has passed; those of us who are really hardcore fans of the Star Trek universe – you have the J.J. Abrams movies, to us, that’s not really ‘our’ Star Trek, that’s something very different – so I think that re-launching Enterprise now may satiate that need that hardcore fans have now to watch TV Trek, because I think Trek works best on television; your one-hour morality plays, what Gene really envisioned from the get-go. Now that there’s none of that in production, you have these movies that are big popcorn blockbusters that are not the Star Trek we fell in love with initially, I think fans will – hopefully – pick Enterprise up and see that there’s great value there, great stories there, a great intent… whether they were able to fulfill that or not, with the early cancellation and the issues they had; when it works, it works beautifully. You have episodes like "Dear Doctor", "Shuttlepod One", "Cogenitor", "Similitude" -- episodes that are just brilliant and do what star trek does best. In Season Four, I think – Season Four of Enterprise, for me, ranks up there with Seasons Five and Six of TNG, and Seasons Six and Seven of DS9 as one of the best seasons ever of any of the Trek shows. And Seasons One and Two of TOS. I really feel that Enterprise Season Four should be up there.
TrekCore: Looking at the Enterprise DVDs, it’s arguable that they got the best VAM package back in the day, with all of the deleted scenes and blooper reels. Does that make it difficult for you, as a producer, to top that for the Blu-rays?
Roger Lay, Jr.: It could be, if it was just the case that I was a VAM producer who didn’t know the franchise and didn’t have what I have now – this relationship with all the creative people from the show. I’ve been doing all these other creative pieces for TNG and we’ve found a good rhythm and we’ve found something that works. I think, for us, it became pretty obvious where we needed to go with these Blu-ray sets. On TNG, we had a very heavy focus on the VAM, because you had the Okudas and the guys at CBS Digital dealing with the episodes – on this one, I’ve been, with Angelo Dante, an overall Blu-ray producer on everything. We’ve been finding really cool vintage stuff, to present as stand alone pieces and also material to incorporate into the new documentaries. I’ve been even more involved with the day to day production of these blu-ray sets for Enterprise than with the TNG sets.
What was lacking, from those DVD special features that were there before, was a chronological exploration of how the show came together, why it came together the way it did, why they made the creative decisions they ended up making… you needed that, kind of like a "Stardate Revisited" documentary, like we did on TNG Season One. That’s kind of what we did – again, the centerpiece is a ninety-minute, feature-length documentary which answers all of those questions. It really presents a clear idea of where the franchise was at the time; where the creators were at the time; why they made the decisions they did. Some of the things, you never would have heard about in terms of why the show came together the way it did; even some casting choices that didn’t come together. You get that sense of, "Oh, this is how it all happened. This is why it is the way it is." – rather than those individual featurettes you had before, that just kind of highlighted specific elements about the show, or just certain episodes – now you ge a look at the first season as a whole and the journey that led to it.
The deleted scenes have been ported over; everything has been ported over. We found the original presentations for the network; we found the syndication presentation and we also found the cast introduction – I don’t know if you’ve seen that – it’s one of the first days of filming, Rick Berman is on set; he addresses the fans and he welcomes them to the set; he introduces Scott Bakula as the new captain, and Scott introduces the entire cast. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that. We found a really good master of that, so that’s in there as well.
I also wanted to focus on this dynamic that we discovered – when we were doing the TNG Blu-rays – of getting people together again. Like the TNG cast reunion, the writing staff reunion, the art department reunion that you’re going to be seeing on Season Four of Next Generation – we found that there’s this great reaction when enough time has passed, and you put people together in a room. It just helps trigger wonderful emotions and recollections from one another and they are now more willing to say things or express feelings they’d never expressed before. So we thought, why not get the two men responsible for the show together for a candid conversation? – and I’m really excited about this piece, I really want to hype this one; I think even Trek fans who don’t care about Enterprise will dig this piece… I’m not just shamelessly plugging this Blu-ray set, but you should really pick up this season one set, because of this piece called "In Conversation" with Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. I don’t know if Rob told you, but… our brains exploded when we were filming this thing. We couldn’t believe what we were getting. These are the 'bad boys’ of Star Trek, the two guys who made every decision that every fan either loves or hates, and they finally sat down for ninety minutes… very candid, answering every question and every topic we threw at them --from why they made the creative decisions they made, to how they see each other and their role or place in the Star Trek legacy, even Rick on what it feels like to be considered ‘the guy who killed the franchise’.
TrekCore: It’s a really interesting point, because Rick Berman is one of the people who is most tied in to this sort of thing, he likes to be a little bit political and give very politically correct answers to questions… but suddenly, according to Rob, when he was put together with Brannon, they both just opened up and gave you stuff that we’d never even dreamed of them saying before.
Roger Lay, Jr.: Yeah! It helped that now they trust us, and they have a relationship with us; it’s not just a documentary crew that they’ve never met showing up. We’ve been working with them now for a year and a half on the TNG stuff; we’ve spent a lot of time with them. They’ve seen our work at this point, they’ve seen two Blu-ray sets of Next Gen, and they’ve loved everything they’ve seen. Brannon and I have been working very closely on Enterprise; from the beginning, we sat down, spent hours conceptualizing these things; Brannon simply said "What do you need from me?" and I’d say, "Show me your early [show] bible, show me this, show me that." He also put me in touch with a lot of people… so there’s a relationship now where they trust that we’re doing good work, and that we’re there for the right reasons; they’re open and honest about their answers, which is immensely helpful. Some of the stuff that’s there - we got away with murder! We were asking all these things, and they would just answer; one after another, they were just batting them back.
I think that if you just care about the making of television programs or anything along the lines of how this industry works – or even how the Star Trek franchise ran for so many years under the guidance of one man, how this franchise has functioned, even if you’re not a fan of Enterprise – this piece is really important to see. Here are the two people that, for the most part, kept it running for the majority of all those key years. By the way, Rick did twenty-five seasons of television on Star Trek – and four films – not a lot of people have that to their credit. Whether you like the decisions that he made or you don’t, not a lot of people have accomplished that. Just like people saying he ‘killed the franchise’, well, there wasn’t really much of a franchise until he came along. The show was dead, Gene was trying to bring it back; but Rick was key in helping turn a very risky proposition to catch lightning in a bottle for the second time into four shows, four major motion pictures, a theme park attraction, and a multi-million dollar merchandising machine. He kept that machine going for 18 years and that’s pretty amazing and fascinating.
What Rick did brilliantly – and you’ll see in the documentaries and also in the "In Conversation" piece – he kept the machine going. Rick wasn’t the guy there coming up with brilliant story ideas, or thinking about what’s the best story to tell; he was the guy making that machine function so that all the other individuals who were in place – like Michael Piller, like Ira Behr – could do what they did best. I really, honestly think that if Rick hadn’t been there for those 18 years, it would have been a very different story. And it’s quite remarkable. It’s interesting to see him talk about it… he’s a very nuts-and-bolts kind of a guy. He’ll give it to you straight. He saw it as a pipeline that needed to be fed, needed to be on time, needed to function on schedule and with a specific budget; he did it. He pulled it off, so I’m really happy that he sat down with us and answered all these questions, and just really put all these things into perspective. I’m hoping that fans will check out that piece; I really feel that if you don’t care about Enterprise, and you’re not even thinking you’re going to give it a second chance now, with these Blu-rays, at least check out "In Conversation", because it’s really fascinating.
It’s one of those things… Rob and I, as Trek fans, were sitting in the edit bay watching it, just going, "We can’t believe this happened." If we remove ourselves from the equation as the guys who did it, who made it happen, we’re still just there, mesmerized. We’ve always wanted to see this. As fans, we always wanted to see these two – especially Rick – talk about these issues and address all these topics, and here it is! We have it! I’m hoping that fans will respond positively to that. It kind of continues the tradition we’ve had with all the Next Gen pieces; really giving the fans candid, insightful, interesting pieces of material. Not just fluff pieces that you sit down, and go "Oh, I learned nothing from this. What a waste of time! What a missed opportunity!"
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Star Trek: Enterprise Season 1 is released on Blu-Ray on March 26 in North America and soon after in other territories worldwide by CBS/Paramount. Be sure to lock in your Pre-Order for the set today!