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/producers Ronald D. Moore and Ira Steven Behr. Both writers joined Star Trek: The Next Generation during its rocky third season – Moore stayed with TNG through its entire run, while Behr left at the end of the third year. Both eventually joined the Deep Space Nine team, where Behr inherited the role of executive producer when Michael Piller left the show to create Voyager.
Ron Moore & Ira Steven Behr: The London Interview, Part I
Interviewed by Adam Walker and Chris Wales for TrekCore.com
TrekCore: Ron, tell us how you got involved with Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Ronald D. Moore: I was living in Los Angeles, trying to be a writer; I took a series of odd jobs. I was a messenger, I did personnel, and I worked at an animal hospital. Basically, I started dating this girl, who had a connection to Next Generation, because she had gone to work on the pilot. She found that I was a Star Trek fan because I had this big Captain Kirk poster in my apartment, and she said, “You know, I know people who work on Next Generation, and I can probably get you a tour of the sets.”
I was like, “Oh my god, please!” “Could you make a call?” She said, “Okay!” So she made a call, and they used to have a regular set tour in those days, and she set it up; it was going to be in about six weeks. I just sort of thought, “I’m going to take a shot and write an episode.”
I really wasn’t ‘that guy’, I wasn’t the guy who always had a script, knocking on doors I was always starting and stopping scripts without a lot of discipline to it at all. Somehow, this time, I saw it as an opportunity, and I just decided “I’m gonna do this!” And I wrote the script and brought it with me. Richard Arnold was giving the set tour, and I basically talking him into reading it – and he read it, he liked it, and he gave it to the woman that became my first agent. She submitted it to the show, and it sat in the slush pile for about seven months.
Michael Piller came aboard in the beginning of the third season, and started going through the slush pile, and found my script and bought it. I got a really lucky break and I had the right script at the right time; he was looking for something like that… that started my whole career, basically.
Moore’s first story was Season Three’s “The Bonding“, rescued from the ‘slush pile’.
TrekCore: You say you started and stopped things… how then do you then find transition into all of a sudden having to twenty-six episodes to do, and there being so much pressure to get finished?
Ronald D. Moore: Well, I didn’t really have any choice. Once I was on the staff, here’s the work, and you either did it or you didn’t. There was a certain pace that the show went at. I remember very clearly, my first full day on the show. Michael gave me a memo, or a story outline that they couldn’t make work, and he said, “Here, go try to make this work.”
I sat down and just wrote up a new version and sent it downstairs; an hour or so later he sent it back up with a bunch of notes on it. Then I wrote up another version and sent it downstairs; the same then happened like twice more. I started putting the time up in the corner; I was literally putting the time of this draft… Michael, at some point, just laughed. “You don’t have to do it THIS fast!”
I didn’t know what the pace was! I just assumed that when it was given to me, I had to write it as quickly as possible, and fortunately, that was a really important strength to have on a television series, to be able to do it quickly and get it out.
TrekCore: Ira, how did you get onto Star Trek: The Next Generation?
Ira Steven Behr: I had done an outline for a science fiction series for Showtime, that I believe may have been something that I had worked on for Terry Nation, because I’d met Terry, he had a job with 20th Century Fox and even though I hadn’t seen much Doctor Who, he was the guy who created the Daleks, I knew that. He used to let me hang out in his office while he drank red wine and smoked cigarette after cigarette, which shows you how long ago because you could smoke in your office back then. So, it was some outline; I had forgotten all about it.
Somehow, that outline got to someone at Paramount – don’t ask me how, I have no clue – and I got a call saying, “Would you like to go onto Season Two of The Next Generation?” which I had not really watched. It was still Star Trek, so I said that I’d go in and take a meeting. Little did I know that they were asking me because they were cutting off writers’ heads left and right, and it was a bloodbath every week. So I went to the Paramount commissary, and I met with Maurice Hurley, who was the showrunner at the time.
We had a very pleasant conversation, and I basically let him talk; I had nothing to say, really. He was telling me about the show, and by the time he was done, I said, “Thank you, but no thank you.” Because it sounded like a complete and utter horror show. They were firing writers left and right; the one that killed me was you’re not allowed to go down to the set as a writer/producer, because it’s not allowed. I said that I’d never heard that anywhere before! And there’s a lawyer who goes around looking through desks at night to find things that they wrote about Gene Roddenberry, because he was Gene’s lawyer, and it was like, “Is this serious?!”
He said, “Yeah, but it’s a really good job!” I said okay, and he seemed like a sweet guy, but there was just no way. I mean, you can’t go down to the set? Why am I in the business? I’ve got to have SOME fun! So, I said no, and I thought that was the end of it. The next year, minding my own business, I get a call Michael Piller, who I knew for almost at that point a decade, was doing the show; he was now on TNG. And Hans Beimler and Ricky Manning, who had worked for me on Fame, were now also there, and they asked me again to come on, and I knew that it was still kind of a bloodbath, and I knew that they were behind already and it was a mess, but I knew the players so I said yes.
The funny thing, not unlike what Ron was saying – the first day I got there, I thought, “Man, I’ve got to brush up on my Shakespeare here, gotta learn what this show is.” I’m barely there, Michael calls me into his office, gives me a script called “The Hunted“, and says, “Rewrite Act 3.”
Ira Steven Behr: “Can I read what it is?” He says, “Well, yeah, read it, but it’s basically a chase. The whole act is kind of a long chase. So, you know, put him in the Jefferies Tubes and stuff like that.” So I walk outside and I go to my buddies Beimler and Manning. I ask them to help, and it’s like, “Oh, we’re in our own hell, get out of here!”
So then I go to a guy I don’t even know, this guy Richard Danus, who is literally a dead man walking. The first thing he says to me is, “I’m on a ten week contract; they’re not picking up my contract; I’m gone in like two weeks. I’ve never met Rick Berman, I’ve never met Gene Roddenberry, don’t talk to me, I’m dead.” I said, “What’s a Jefferies Tube?”
So he explained what a Jefferies Tube was, and I went back and literally banged out by hand on a yellow pad, Act 3, scared out of my mind. There was some dialogue obviously in there, but I was just like throwing it up in the air and hoping there was a parachute attached. I gave it to Danus to read, and I said, “Is it English? Does it make sense? Does it have anything to do with the show?” And he said, “You’re a writer!” He goes, “There’s no doubt. I read it. You’re a writer.” I said, “Well, I think I knew that, but that’s good!”
I gave it to Mike, and I walked out of his office, and I just sat in my office alone, thinking, “Oh my god, am I off this show day one? Is he going to be SO disappointed?” And he just, after whatever it was, twenty minutes or a half hour, he just strolled in, and said, “Great, perfect. I made a couple of changes, terrific.” And that was it.
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