Rick Berman, the keeper if the keys to the Star Trek kingdom, heaves a sigh of resignation and reflects on the labor pains of Star Trek: Voyager--a series rife with gossip and innuendo before the first take was even in the can.
"The whole situation has gotten out of hand," he says wearily. "All we really want to do is make good television." Only trouble is, people won't let him. As executive producer of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and now, Voyager--the third spinoff of Gene Roddenberry's 1960s classic--Berman is long accustomed to intense media and fan scrutiny, particularly since Roddenberry's death in 1991. But nothing prepared him for the firestorm that is Voyager.
The series--created and executive-produced by Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor--is especially critical on two counts: It is the flagship offering on the new United/Paramount Network and the first Trek series to put a female in the captain's seat. The casting of this role--first with movie star Genevieve Bujold (who took a powder two days into production; see p. 20) and finally with Kate Mulgrew of Mrs. Columbo fame--rivaled David O. Selznick's search for Scarlett O'Hara. And the resulting production delays--and there were many--had rumormongers smacking their lips with glee.
"People have purposely been looking for things to bitch about--they're grabbing onto ridiculous, completely false information. It's annoying. It's insulting. It's hurtful," says Berman.
And he's not just talking about the supermarket tabloids. With Voyager, everybody wants to get into the act--from the usually reputable Hollywood trade papers to that new bane of Paramount's existance, the Trekker bulletin boards on the Internet (where, recently, the script for the upcoming movie "Star Trek: Generations" was illegally published). Many of the Voyager rumors hitting print have indeed been doozies, ranging from the major (that Paramount wanted a male captain and put pressure on Berman to complu; that Voyager's delays have been severly jeopardized its January premiere date; that Berman is spread so thin Paramount is going to force him off the project) to the minor (that Bujold tossed a temper tantrum when customers tried to pad her bra). Blow-by-blow casting leaks (some supplied by agents trying to get their clients in the door) have also seen ink, with seemingly every actress short of the Olsen twins said to be in the hot contention for Captain: among them. Lindsay Wagner, Kate jackson, Joanna Cassidy, Tracy Scoggins, Lindsay Crouse, Chelsea Field, patsy Kensit, Patty Duke, and "Terminator" star Linda Hamilton.
Bujold's walkout triggered even more adverse hype, as well as buzz that her footage (in which the dainty, birdlike beauty is reportedly seen issuing battle commands in a downright ethereal manner) will soon turn up in the Trek black marker. It's a testament to how sharp the double-edged sword of success can be, but Berman and company would like to separate fact from (science) fiction.
"The studio never insisted that the captain be a man, It just insisted that we keep our minds open," explains Berman, who says he tested several guys as well as "hundreds of women in their late 30s to early 50s." According to Michael Piller, Paramount did veto certain actresses: "Early on [in the talent hunt], we had two female candidates that we felt quite good about but the studio didn't." Adds Jeri Taylor: "It's been hard casting the captain regardless of gender--because whoever we picked would be in the bright, blinding light of Patrick Stewart."
They insist the show will be delivered on time. "People don't realize we had a big buffer zone in our production schedule, which allowed us to take our sweet time to find the right captain," says Berman. "We were--and remain--completely within our time and budgetary parameters." But is he overextended? "I'm spread no thinner than I have been for the last three years," responds Berman, somewhat testily. "Next Generation wrapped six months ago. For the last three months, my involvement with the movie has been minimal. [The insinuations] are just not valid."
What's going right with Voyager? Plenty, at least on paper. Set in the same time frame as the first two spinoffs and combining the best aspects of each--namely, the smart, space-cowboy gusto of Next Generation and the textured psychodrama of DS9--the new series will also borrow from another intergalactic classic, Lost in Space. The premise: The crew of the U.S.S. Voyager (led by Mulgrew as Capt. Kathryn Janeway) and a ship of resistance fighters known as the Maquis are accidently hurled into the distant reaches of the galaxy and must join forces to find a way home. With the exception of DS9's feisty Ferengi, Quark (Armin Shimerman)--who will be seen briefly in Voyager's two-hour premiere--crossovers simply aren't practical. So Berman and his dream team have stacked the decks with several characters reminiscent of past Trek favorites. They include:
Tuvok: The first Vulcan to be seen in a weekly basis since Leonard Nimoy's Spock, this Tactical/Security Officer was originally scripted as 60 years old and fair of skin. When no "logical" character actor could be found, the role went to Tim Russ, a 38-year-old African-American.
Doc Zimmerman: The ship's doctor is killed in episode 1, so Voyager's crew will turn to this holographic equivalent for all its medical needs. Zimmerman (Robert Picardo of China Beach) is programmed with up-to-the-minute knowledge, but he's a zero in the personality department. Think Data. As for his hairdo, think Picard.
Neelix: Played by Ethan Phillips of Benson, this alien from a species Trekkers have never seen before will serve as comentator on the human condition, just like DS9's Odo. Just like Quark, he's a meddling scavenger predicted to be Voyager's breakout character.
The rest of the crew is equally bizarre--and about as PC as they come: Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres (played by Roxann Biggs-Dawson) is a half-human, half-Klingon who's embarrassed by her hairier side. Neelix's girlfriend, Kes (Another World's Jennifer Lien), is a delicate Ocampa with a life span of nine years. Harry Kim (played by Chinese-American Garrett Wang) is Voyager's green-around-the-gills Ops/Communication Officer, while First Officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran of Models Inc.) is a tattooed Native American who embarks on vision quests with a timber wolf as spirit guide. Satisfying the lady-killer quotient is Tom Paris (All My Children's Robert Duncan McNeill), a Han Solo-ish pilot with a disgraceful secret in his closet.
The captain crisis aside, the atmosphere on Paramount's Stage 8 has not been one of caution or concern, but rather raucousness and relief.
"This is the career move--emotionally, I'm in a state of disbelief," says Vulcan Russ, a sci-fi fan who turned down three months of acting offers on a hunch Voyager execs would see him.
And while these future millionaires haven't yet seen much cash, they're already wallowing in cachet. "I'm getting fan mail, and we haven't even finished shooting the first episode," laughs Phillips, who considers Voyager a gift from heaven. "If it all goes right and they keep me, it's a security you don't often get as an actor. But just in case, I'm keeping my 1980 Honda with the 150,000 miles." Picardo--who's already been invited to speak at sci-fi conventions--is preparing for those brainiac Trekker questions. "I'm sure it's only a matter of time," says the chrome-domed actor, "before I'm asked to comtemplate the cosmic connection between Picard and Picardo."
By Michael Logan
Last modified on January 2, 1995