EXCLUSIVE: Brannon Braga Interview, Part I

During our coverage of the huge Destination London Star Trek convention last year, TrekCore organized an impromptu sit-down interview with well known Star Trek writer/producer Brannon Braga. Brannon has written more episodes of Star Trek than anyone else (over 100) and worked his way up from staff writer on The Next Generation to be executive producer of Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise, which he co-created with Rick Berman.

Brannon Braga

Brannon Braga: The London Interview, Part 1

Interviewed by Adam Walker and Chris Wales for TrekCore.com

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TrekCore: How did you get the gig on The Next Generation?

Brannon Braga: It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I had just finished school at UC Santa Cruz, and I got an internship through the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; that's the organization that puts on the Emmy Awards and is kind of the keeper of all things television in Los Angeles, kind of like the Academy is to the Academy Awards.

They have a superb internship program and I got one in there, screenwriting. And they sent me on to... there were two screenwriting internships that year. One went to some sitcom that lasted for about six episodes, and one was on a show called Star Trek: The Next Generation.

My counterpart intern went this way, I went this way, and I got the luck of the draw and ended up on Next Gen at a time of transition, where Michael Piller was running the show, and Ron Moore was the only writer he had on staff. It was a quiet place! Piller was writing "Best of Both Worlds, Part II", that's the time when I came in and I did my internship and never left. And I remained there for seventeen years.

TrekCore: Writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation is, obviously, something you have to get used with time and experience. Were you familiar with The Next Generation before you came on board?

Brannon Braga: My experience with Star Trek was limited. In school - in grade school, middle school, and high school - there were the fantasy...the Dungeons and Dragons guys; there were the Star Trek dudes; and there were the horror guys. I was part of the Stephen King set. Fantasy and sci-fi... I would end up getting into sci-fi big time once I hit college when I really started reading hard science fiction novels, and just went crazy for the genre. But I was more into Twilight Zone and horror, and the Star Trek guys were going to conventions - primordial conventions - and reading things like "Spock Lives!" in paperback.

I didn't get it. It wasn't my bag. I didn't get into Star Trek until I watched The Next Generation when it first came out. I was one of those people who said, "You know what? Maybe, because I can get in on the ground floor for something I'll try this Star Trek out." And it wasn't my bag again. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about The Next Generation. By the way, this is a story I think a lot of people will tell.

I didn't quite get it; I wasn't sure about Data, an android named Data, are you kidding me? It just seemed childish even to me, at age twenty-one. Then, a couple years went by. So I didn't really... I watched the first episode with those aliens with the sticks... it just was like, "This isn't good." It confirmed my reservations about Star Trek.

But a couple years later, I was in college at UC Santa Cruz, and someone said, "You need to watch The Next Generation. It's good." And I suspect that was not an uncommon experience. And they were right. I started watching the show, and it was a stark difference. The writing was so good.

I can't remember the first episode I actually watched... It was a Geordi episode, with Worf – he’s supposed to give part of his blood or something to a Romulan, and he refused. The guy dies, and Picard is pissed off... I'm like, "This is good stuff!" This was not like the Next Gen I first watched.

And then, when I got the internship on Next Generation, I was into it. I was into Next Gen. That was a long answer.

The Enemy from Star Trek The Next Generation
Brannon Braga describes how it was TNG's third season episode "The Enemy" which hooked him into the Star Trek universe.

TrekCore: So, you were obviously prepared to write for it at that stage?

Brannon Braga: I was not prepared to write for it.

TrekCore: But you were into it?

Brannon Braga: I was into it; I knew the characters.

TrekCore: You've confessed that a lot of people see you as somewhat of a 'hack' with certain topics, like time travel or the Borg. There are these rabid fans who somehow got this opinion about you. But in The Next Generation, certainly, these topics produced amazing episodes. There was "All Good Things...", "Cause and Effect" - these fantastic episodes. Why do you think that some fans seem to accept those episodes, but not other episodes which you're still equally proud of, from, say, Voyager or Enterprise?

Brannon Braga: I did some great... we broke new ground on Next Generation, from a storytelling perspective. I mean, the stuff that we did, structurally - like with "Cause and Effect" - was so new that viewers were calling the TV stations thinking something was wrong with the broadcast. That, nowadays, is completely different. People accept that kind of storytelling as part of our vernacular.

It was wild. It was like the Wild West back then. We were breaking a lot of rules, and I think... some unpleasant fans I've read, will go online and say, "If you really work at Braga's early work, that sucks too." I kid you not. So there's some revisionist people. Anyway, who knows - they may be right, I haven't seen those episodes in so long.

TrekCore: No, trust me - they're still good, Brannon.

Brannon Braga: I think some of the stuff we did on Voyager was even more sophisticated from a storytelling point of view. You know, "All Good Things..." was just the beginning for me, I was just getting going. I wasn't done! I really got into the stuff on Voyager. I honestly look at some of these Voyager episodes that I'm enormously proud of, like "Timeless", the hundredth episode of Voyager.

That's a time travel episode; it's relatively simple, but it's filled with striking imagery and character moments. The image of a frozen ship is just perfect...

TrekCore: The opening shot before the credits where it pans up...

Brannon Braga: Yeah. If that had been a Next Generation episode, it would be a classic. It would be 'one of the good ones.' I think a lot of it has to do with the crew. A lot of it has to do with it just being a different show, or maybe just being around too long. I stand by the body of work on Voyager as much as I do - if not moreso than The Next Generation.

Timeless from Star Trek Voyager
Brannon Braga cites Voyager's 100th episode "Timeless" as one of his crowning achievements from the show and suggests that had it been a TNG episode it would have been a "classic".

TrekCore: Well, "Timeless" was brilliant. The emotional impact of hearing Janeway's last log; just filled with, actually, the kind of same moments that the new film had, the emotional resonance of that first scene with Kirk. I mean, you're still writing time travel stories - you mention you're doing a comic. What do you think it is that time travel, emotionally or intellectually, brings to a story that makes it something you keep writing and going back to? You must feel very passionate about it.

Brannon Braga: I was never interested in time travel in terms of it's mechanics. It's mechanics can be a bit of a headache. It's emotion. You can get... you can put a character through an emotional trial and take them to places to you can't otherwise. I look at "All Good Things..." which was a very ambitious piece of time travel, but if you really look at it it's... if it was a novel, or even... if you took the time travel out, it could just be a story that happened to take place in the beginning, middle, and end of someone's life. And I'm sure novels like that have been written; stories like that have been written.

If you simply say, "This isn't literal; this is just the way we're telling the story", you think to yourself, "Well, what's the big deal?" It's not until you literalize it that you take it to the next level, and you say the person is experiencing this. Then it becomes emotional, times ten. Does that make any sense at all?

TrekCore: Yeah, I think so. I think once you moved on from The Next Generation to Voyager, there was some fans who went the Deep Space Nine way, some fans went the Voyager way. What are your feelings about Deep Space Nine? I don't think I've ever heard your thoughts on the series. Have you seen it all?

Brannon Braga: Of course I've seen Deep Space Nine. I was very aware of Deep Space Nine. The writers worked in the same building. We saw each other every day. There was some cross-pollination; I wrote a couple of Deep Space Nine scenes with Bashir, in an episode called "Birthright" in The Next Generation.

So I actually... the only character I've ever written for DS9 was Bashir. But Ron and I, you have to remember, Ron Moore and I were working very closely on the movies at that time, so he always knew what I was doing, and I always knew what he was doing. He was always writing a Deep Space Nine script, and I was always writing a Voyager script. We talked all the time; we cross-pollinated I thought Deep Space Nine was terrific. Again, I will say there are episodes of that show like "The Visitor" that are considered classics, but, for some reason, aren't necessarily spoken in the same breath as some of the Next Generation's. But that's because it was a newer thing.

TrekCore: Do you think that Deep Space Nine, in a way, enjoyed more liberty being in syndication, whereas Voyager was confined to this network so you had the network bosses dictating a large amount of what you can and cannot do?

Brannon Braga: I don't think Deep Space Nine benefited from being in syndication. I mean, I can't say for sure, I would say Deep Space Nine benefited more from being third. Being the third series, and there it was... but then Voyager came along, and it was almost like - it's hard to describe. They started to experiment with serialized storytelling. Stuff that for some reason, they just got away with; that they were able to do, because they were... maybe they almost HAD to do something. They had to set themselves apart, somehow. I don't know. I wasn't in the writers room.

Personally, with Deep Space Nine, I don't think Voyager should have come on the air so quickly. I think Deep Space Nine should have been on its own for a while.

TrekCore: Do think it was pushed out too fast?

Brannon Braga: I think it was, for want of better words, I think they were just kind of laying low and doing their thing, those Deep Space Nine guys. They quietly built an amazing television show. In some ways, I suspect, maybe Rick Berman was more focused on other things, and they just were able take bigger risks than we were.

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  • Rocko Dorit

    He’s an average writer, at best, and seems FAR too full of himself, considering the complete and utter crap he wrote for Voyager.

    • archer9234

      Except this comes down to personal opinion. He has made crap. But what I consider crap, you may not think it’s crap. I love Timeless for example.

      • http://oncamazotz.com/ Automocar

        I think when it comes down to it, Braga is an excellent staff writer and a poor showrunner. The problems with Voyager weren’t on an episode-by-episode basis (although there are far, far too many whiffs and repeats of plots of motifs) but on a conceptual level.

        • http://www.facebook.com/arne.doug Arne Doug

          What’s the problem about episode-by-episode writing? TOS and TNG was for the most part of it the same???!!!

          • http://oncamazotz.com/ Automocar

            There’s no “problem” with it, but you need a conceptual framework on which to build it in terms of world, characters, etc. Voyager was rife with problems in those areas and while many individual episodes are fine TV, they’re not great TV in the way that TOS, TNG, and DS9 often were.

          • archer9234

            Yes. Things like Harry, Hoshi, and Travis all staying the same rank. Even when paris was promoted multiple times… Shows that the writers/producers where starting to ignore the fine details.

          • kadajawi

            I think it is more acceptable when the show is about a mission exploring, flying here and there depending on their assignment. When the goal is to get from the Delta Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant, some continuity would be nice. There was just too much use of that magic reset button, and too much forgetting of things that should have altered the lives of the crew… but didn’t. Even TNG had remembered past events, like the flute from The Inner Light being used once in a while by Picard? That would never have happened on Voyager, the only thing they followed up on was how annoying and useless Neelix was.

    • Jamie

      My God leave the guy alone, the writers and producers were under constant time and creative pressures working under studio executives who were clueless about good quality science fiction story telling and sticking their noses in.

      If you doubt me, read the transcript of Rick and Brannon’s conversation from the Enterprise Seaosn 1 BluRay in which they discuss how UPN wanted a “Band of the Week” on Enterprise and show the album cover over the end credits. That would have devalued Star Trek so much and done far more damage to it’s credibility than anything else.

      I’ve always been thankful that Rick and eventually Brannon managed to keep Star Trek on the rails so to speak.

      If you don’t like it go and watch some reality tv crap and certainly stop moaning about it, it’s nothing we haven’t heard people moan about a million times on every message board already,

      • hypnotoad72

        True.

        The ultimate case of suits sticking their noses in and wrecking something would be “Sliders”…

        TNG’s spinoffs are not always my proverbial cup of tea, and the 24th century ultimately did get driven into the pure yellow snow, but I’d rather rewatch those than any ‘reality’ drek…

      • TerranGuy93

        I’m not going to defend the stupidity of network execs, but um all your facts defending the writer as just a victim of the execs came from the writer himself.

        I’d hardly call that conclusive proof. Interviews are not facts but opinions.

        Take George Lucas, depending on the interview, how Star Wars came to be has changed like ten times.

        Braga has wrote good stuff but he has also written a lot of crap. I wouldn’t just blame it all on the execs based on the words of the guy accused of being a hack.

    • http://www.facebook.com/arne.doug Arne Doug

      Luckily, there was a huge amount of fans who like the stuff he done it one Voyager. I love the show, sorry I disagree in your ‘opinion’.

  • Sypher

    See, I always thought he did fun episodes. I loved with work, almost without faul, on the Next Generation. I think that his ideas are always right where they needed to be, even on Voyager. The problem is that Voyager just had so many problems as a whole that I can’t blame him or anyone, except the executives. So, he’s got some talent, he’s written absolutely classic episodes. And I can’t help but think that his, and many other people’s points, that Voyager was sort of…. at the wrong time, is a good one. Perception means a lot of fans never really took to it. And that means a lot of brilliant ideas get lost of screw up with politics.

    One last thought: he has a legitimate point about being groundbreaking. My girlfriend just watched Cause and Effect and called the entire episode. Why? Because by the time she’d gotten to see it, it’s influences were so prevelant in culture that she couldn’t see how amazing it was the first time around.

    • hypnotoad72

      “Cause and Effect” was a novel extension of “Time Squared” (which was influenced by Doctor Who’s “The Space Museum” in terms of, as *modern* WHO fans would say, ‘timey-wimey stuff’…) Granted, ‘Meglos’ comes to mind involving its use of a time loop as well…

      On initial airing, I gave “Cause and Effect” kudos for doing a new take, an innovation on the trope, and to the level it had. It was getting very boring toward the end, and it’s hard to make a full-length episode (much less a 5 minute scene), but the story easily gets 8/10 for me. It does wear thin, but that is NOT to say it was a ‘fail’ or anything else. And with creative and other pressures on writing staff, it is – in its own right – a solid story.

      Oh, who didn’t get the in-joke bit regarding Geordi’s spinning and almost over, with Ensign Fletcher saving him? Remember, this was ~1992 and that badly-acted “Lifecall” commercial, featuring a certain Mrs. Fletcher, was being lambasted for the ridiculously bad acting… Geordi’s line to Dr Crusher was “At first I thought the catwalk was spinning. As it turns out, it was me. Luckily Ensign Fletcher was there to grab me. It’s a long way down to the bottom of the warp core.”

  • Gilbetron

    Count me as one of those people who thought Voyager had a great starting premise, but disappointed in long-term execution as the series went on. Individually, however, yes, most of Brannon’s episodes are really good. Also, for anyone who loved Deep Space Nine (I adored it), Voyager was always that other show that had no (or little) continuity, and that made it kind of a bummer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/arne.doug Arne Doug

      Sure, in Voyager the writers/producers did some mistakes, but there are also mistakes in the other series. All Star Trek series has it’s own issues. TNG failed at the first two seasons (with some exceptions), TOS failed in technology ways and at the Season 3 wasn’t so good as Season 1 and 2, DS9 has only the greatest moments in S5-S7 and so on. Personally, I prefer TNG and VOY…this was the series I grow up with. I also love TOS because of the Kirk-Spock-Bones relationship and many outstanding storytelling. DS9 and ENT was always for me the misfit.

  • Esmeralda

    I love Voyager they way it is. It is my favorite star trek series.

    • http://www.facebook.com/arne.doug Arne Doug

      Same for me. Brannon make some very great stuff!

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.varnsverry Matthew Varnsverry

    I may be in a minority, but I love all the Star Trek series; The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nice, Voyager and Enterprise. They all had fantastic episodes and all had some that were not so good. But I could never pick a favourite series, I have favourite episodes in every one. Each series had a its own seasoning but they are all Star Trek at their heart, and if any of them were erased from time it would be a great loss to Star Trek.

  • M. Wright

    Score another one for TrekCore and their exclusive interviews :) Thanks guys!

    • trekcore

      Glad you enjoyed it! I know I’m in the minority, but I much prefer focusing on the Roddenberry/Berman era Star Trek than the new material from Abrams. This is where my love and appreciation lies, so that’s where TrekCore’s focus is. :)

  • saavik001

    I met him once at a convention and he was cool and personable. Although Voyager and the borg are my least favorite, he’s done some good work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arne.doug Arne Doug

    Thanks for the great interview. He is one of my favorite writers in Star Trek. Can’t wait for Part 2!

  • TerranGuy93

    I’d love to see a documentary with interviews from the network executives, so we can see the other side of the story and get a more complete picture of what really happened. I know it won’t happen but it would be nice to know the truth,

  • Jeffrey

    I hope you will also discuss the short stint of Ron Moore on Voyager (after all, he left making some noise about the kind of writing on VOY). I know, water under the bridge… but it’s the first time Brannon Braga talks about the whole thing and it would be nice to get his view

  • retrowarbird

    Voyager was a good show. DS9 was giving me what I always wanted (ironically, Federation and neighbor politics and a bit less clean ethics) but when I finally got down to watching VOY (just last year) I was surprised how good it was. Like all three 7-year runs it has loads of missed opportunities, retread far too many standard Trek tropes, not enough connections, it was the least stylish of all Trek shows (with 60s Trek at an apex yet to be topped), but on an episode-by-episode basis each season was loaded with some good, hard sci-fi. Finale was a huge letdown, though, particularly held up against All Good Things and What You Leave Behind. So while I’d call it my least favorite Trek, it was still worthy of watching, even if I don’t endlessly rerun it like I do TOS or DS9.

  • http://www.facebook.com/darrinbell Darrin Bell

    I couldn’t stand Voyager at the time, but a couple years ago I came to the end of my Netflix queue, and decided to give it a second try, and I liked it. A lot. Then I tried the same with Enterprise, a show I detested when it first ran… and I enjoyed that too. Maybe both series go down better quickly. Or maybe as Braga mentioned, I was just subconsiously tired of Trek when those shows first aired so I judged them too harshly.