Producers Reveal Tidbits about Season 4
WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS! A 22nd-century Dr. Soong, a shadow of the Eugenics Wars, a Vulcan civil war and the possible reincarnation of Surak ... these are some of the epic ideas being developed right now for the unfolding fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise.
Tuesday night UPN held its annual summer party for the Television Critics Association (TCA) — like every network does — where reporters get to mingle with the producers and cast members of its various shows. This year the party took place at Shutters, a ritzy hotel on the beach in Santa Monica, on an upstairs outdoor deck overlooking the ocean.
Attending from Enterprise were producers Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and Manny Coto, and actors Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, John Billingsley, and Linda Park with her boyfriend Tom Hardy (yes, the Picard clone from "Star Trek Nemesis"). We managed to catch up with most of them throughout the evening, but today we will bring you our interviews with the producers, and save our conversations with the actors for a later article.
We were particularly excited about the chance to speak with Manny Coto, who came on last season with the title of co-executive producer and is now considered a "show runner." Coto has been widely praised by the actors, his fellow producers, and fans alike for bringing a creative shot in the arm to Star Trek: Enterprise, beginning with his script for "Similitude." He had just come from the Showtime series Odyssey 5, which ended after one season, but Berman and Braga saw the show and liked his work, and after interviewing him hired him as co-executive producer.
We asked Coto, what unique creative vision does he think he brings to the show? "Well, first and foremost, I bring a passionate love of all things Star Trek," he said. "I've loved Star Trek since I was a little kid. When Star Trek Communicator magazine was doing a little article on me, I went through my box of old photos, and I found a shot of me at age 11 watching Star Trek on TV, with a picture of Spock on the screen. In that same box I found a comic book that I had written — I must have written this when I was 10 — and it was a Star Trek comic book, with 'Beam me up Scotty' and all this. And I realized, 'Oh my God, I've been doing this my entire life!'"
He attended conventions in his hometown of Orlando, Florida, and has followed the subsequent series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, "all the way."
We asked Coto to elaborate on the "showrunner" role he's taken on with Enterprise. "What's been publicized, that Rick and Brannon have stepped back and I've moved in, is not exactly true. I've kinda moved in with them, so to speak, so we're all three running the show. I'm actually more in charge of writing, I guess, dealing with the writers and the 'writing room,' coming up with stories that Rick and Brannon approve or not approve, or give notes on."
"A lot of the stories that we're doing this season — so far, the first half of the season — are stories that I've come up with, or that Rick has come up with or that Brannon has pitched, and then we flesh them out in 'the room.'"
We asked if he could elaborate on some of these story ideas — especially pertaining to the recently reported guest role of Brent Spiner in three episodes. "Well, it's a very exciting arc. Brent is going to play an ancestor of Dr. Soong, the creator of Data. However, this character is more of a Dr. Frankenstein. He is not a benign individual. He has brought to life 20 embryos from the Eugenics era. So you have Soong who's leading a band of Khan Noonien Singh's, so to speak. He believes that genetic engineering was on the right track! He wants to improve humanity, and he believes that the Eugenics Wars were an aberration, that these individuals are the future of humanity. Of course he's wrong — they get away from him. They get out of control, and it becomes this three-episode saga that's kind of like 'Apocalypse Now' — Enterprise becomes kind of like a ship going up river, trying to find these individuals, with Soong on board."
Spiner's character will be named Arik (like "Eric") Soong. The backstory, Coto explains, begins 20 years prior to the time of Enterprise (presumably 2134), when Soong stole the 20 embryos which were secretly stored in a Starfleet facility, and brought them to term. Arik Soong is a notorious criminal, and Coto even compared him to Hannibal Lecter — "He's tried to escape many times, and he's feared, because Earth is still terrified of anything having to do with the Eugenics Wars." But his help is essential in tracking down the renegade "genetic supermen" who could ignite a war with the Klingons.
The adventure leads the ship to the "Borderland," which is an area of space between the Klingon Empire and the Orion Syndicate. This will be the first encounter with the Orions, and we will get to see the green "slave women" introduced in "The Cage."
"What I really wanted to do this season is make the episodes that I as a Star Trek fan would have to see. You know, as a fan of the original series, if I heard that they were doing the Orion slavers and the Eugenics Wars, I would have to be in front of that TV."
But we had to ask about the place of the Eugenics Wars in the Trek universe. In "Space Seed" it was clearly established that the Khan-led conflict occurred in the 1990s. However, in "Hatchery," Archer mentions that his great-grandfather fought in the Eugenics Wars (which would probably put them in the mid-21st century). How is Coto dealing with the chronology issue?
"I'm not dealing with it. There's no point. They were in the 1990s because the old series ran in 1966 and that was the future then. Clearly, we're in 2004, and there haven't been any Eugenics Wars that I know about! So, simply, the Eugenics Wars 'happened' — they happened in the past [relative to the current show]. I don't know how else to do it."
There is another three-episode story arc being planned for later in the season that Coto is tremendously enthused about, one that deals with a civil war on planet Vulcan. "If you've watched Enterprise and you watched the old series and Next Gen, you know that there's a difference between the Vulcans of our era and the Vulcans of later eras. Our Vulcans lie, our Vulcans are monolithic, our Vulcans are not pacifistic. What we've done is develop an idea: What if an individual appears on Vulcan who is saying to the populace that we have strayed from the teachings of Surak? This individual is like a Martin Luther. And he spawns a Vulcan civil war."
He nicknamed it "Vulcan of Arabia" because it's an epic story taking place almost entirely on the hot, desert planet. "It involves a Vulcan Reformation," he continued. "I'm equating the Vulcan High Command with the Catholic Church, which in medieval times strayed from the teachings of Christianity; similarly, the Vulcan High Command has strayed from the teachings of Surak. This individual wants to bring us back to those teachings, but it causes instability on Vulcan because he's preaching pacifism, he's preaching pure logic, he's preaching a return to the old ways. But, he not only believes in the teachings of Surak, he believes he is Surak. He claims that he possesses Surak's katra. Is that true or isn't it? We'll find out. But what happens is, with the instability on Vulcan, you have the Andorians trying to take advantage, and it threatens to destabilize the entire region. And of course, Enterprise will be stuck in the midst of this turmoil, and by the end of this three-episode arc, we will begin to see Vulcans approaching what they were in the later eras. We'll see the beginnings of a new Vulcan."
"It's gonna be a blast. I'm picturing the scene where two Vulcan armies are poised on the desert — what's gonna happen, will they or will they not fight?"
In this epic story arc, he also promised a subplot which will unravel into a very intriguing plot twist.
Of course, these ambitious plans beg the question of whether there will be enough budget to realize such imaginative visions, given reports that UPN is paying Paramount a lower license fee for the show. "The budget has gone down slightly, but it's not gone down as much as has been reported. We're not slaving under a horrible miniscule budget at all. You're not going to notice," he promised.
"It should be a fun season."
We also caught up with one of Coto's partners in crime, Brannon Braga, and got him to talk about the first story arc of the season, the followup to the cliffhanger of "Zero Hour" starting with "Storm Front" (which is in production right now). It's been rumored that this "Nazi story" will wrap up the Temporal Cold War throughline. Is that true?
"Our intention is to resolve the Temporal Cold War once and for all," Braga replied. "It lingered for three seasons, and we would like to finish it off in grandiose fashion, and move on to new territory. So, with these episodes, it will be the last of Daniels, and the last of all of those elements." We will see Silik and the Suliban once again during the Nazi story, but Braga added that "most likely" it'll be the last time. "It's hard to say for sure, because we're so early in the season, but our intention is to be done with it."
Will the identity of "Future Guy," Silik's shadowy boss, ever be revealed? "Well, we've been debating that for quite some time, and I'll leave that question open. We haven't decided yet. We have some ideas about him — or her — or it. But we haven't settled on any one identity yet. It's still a question mark. The Temporal Cold War may resolve without Future Guy's identity being revealed."
It's been widely publicized that William Shatner could make a guest appearance on the show. What can he tell us about that? "There have been some preliminary discussions with William Shatner, but it's so far from being resolved that I hesitate to comment because I don't want to jinx it. We so badly want it to happen, but it's so early that I don't really have much to say about it. There's interest on both ends, but Bill is on a different series [Boston Legal], and we're just starting our season, and so much has to be done before it actually happens. We all have our fingers crossed."
Any notion yet what kind of story Shatner might be involved in if he does come on to the show? "There are some ideas floating about, but we're hesitant to commit to anything or start actively developing anything, until we know whether it's a reality," Braga said.
Earlier in the day, UPN held a press conference for the TCA with Les Moonves, co-president and co-COO of Viacom, and Dawn Ostroff, president of entertainment for UPN. The emphasis of the press conference was UPN's new shows and its revamped schedule in general, but Moonves — whose recent promotion puts him in charge of Paramount Television as well as UPN — and Ostroff took some time to speak about how Enterprise fits into the network's lineup.
Enterprise is moving to Friday at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT starting August 6, and the new episodes of Season 4 will begin October 8.
Ostroff commented that the Star Trek spinoff is one of the shows "that have the most loyal viewers on television," and expects the audience to follow it to Fridays. She said the season-long arc of last season "really worked well for us," but the fourth season mini-arcs "will allow people to come in and out a little more freely." She added, "We're very aggressive in 'stunt casting' this year, which I think will also bring in some viewers." She mentioned Spiner, but also noted that Golden Brooks of Girlfriends will guest star in the first few episodes. "And we're working on several other people."
Moonves spoke about the licensing fee cut (related story) that reportedly helped keep the show on the air. "Paramount came to us — that was before Paramount was reporting to me, so now I'm negotiating with myself," he joked, "and they made a very attractive offer to UPN to bring the show back... Obviously Paramount has a large syndication deal with Star Trek. They gave us a very attractive offer and therefore, it fit into our scheduling needs." Moonves confirmed that, as Paramount chief, he would like to see Enterprise go a full seven years because of the syndication value. But as UPN chief, he has to make other considerations in the case of a show that's been seen as an underperformer for the network. "If Star Trek had cost the license fee that it cost a year ago, a different decision may have been made," he said. "I can tell you right now the key, the priority goal, is building UPN." However, he believes the move to Friday for Enterprise, coupled with America's Next Top Model, is "a much better strategy. I think we'll do a much better number there with that show, and perhaps it can live for a number of years. We hope so."