Rick Berman and the late Michael Piller didn’t have to look far to find inspiration for another Star Trek series.
Saddam Hussein had set oil wells in Kuwait on fire as he withdrew as part of Operation Desert Storm, and both the allied American forces along with the Kuwaiti people were left to pick up the pieces. That’s what Berman and Piller would do — create a space station as part of a brutal occupation, and join it just as the occupying forces abandon ship.
“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” premiered 20 years ago Thursday, part of an original syndicated lineup that first took flight on Jan. 3, 1993. It was the final days of the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The first steps toward a unified financial market in Europe — including the development of the Euro — were just being made. America experienced its first government-sanctioned execution by hanging since 1965.
“Deep Space Nine” was almost doomed from the start. Premiering while its popular sister show, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” was still on the air, “Deep Space Nine’ had to not only compete with network and other original syndicated programming, but also with franchise fatigue itself.
In fact, DS9 would never air by itself. Once “The Next Generation” ended in 1994, it was quickly followed by “Star Trek: Voyager,” which premiered in 1995 on the new United Paramount Network, or UPN.
And the show had problems. Despite having a whole new quadrant to explore thanks to a stable wormhole, the show was bogged down by a concept where aliens and adventures would come to it, rather than it traveling to them. Because it was so soon after Gene Roddenberry’s death, early efforts were to create a rather utopian society from the ashes, except with a tad more conflict. And it really wouldn’t be until the third season, when some of the producers and writers from the now-ended TNG would make their way over, seeing the show as a blank canvas to create a Star Trek universe that had never been done before.
With the excitement of having Star Trek’s first full-time African-American commander worn off, it seemed clear in the first two seasons that the writers and producers didn’t know what to do with what they had. There were some seeds planted early on, like the warrior race Jem’Hadar, and even some hints about The Dominion.
But just as many TNG fans look for episodes with Jonathan Frakes sporting a beard, so do DS9 fans have their cue for a good episode of DS9 since the major changes around the show occurred around the same time Avery Brooks shaved his head and grew a goatee as the newly promoted Capt. Benjamin Sisko.
“Deep Space Nine” was a celebration of not only powerful human stories, but alien ones as well. Although there were many names listed in the opening credits of the camera flying around the space station, it was actually the supporting characters that really made the show shine. So many supporting characters that it took pretty much 10 episodes in the final season to wrap up all their stories.
Sure, there were Sisko and his son Jake, O’Brien and Dr. Bashir, Major Kira, Odo, Daz and, of course, Quark. But there was also Quark’s brother Rom. Dabo girl Leeta. Nog. Garak. Martok. Kai Winn. Kassidy Yates. Weyoun. Vic Fontaine. Zek. Dukat. Even Morn. The world of DS9 became so rich that sometimes it was hard to tell who should be listed in those opening credits, and who would have to wait until Act 2 to get their name listed.
And every character brought forward beauty, wonder and amazement that tackled the very thing that Q was angry about in TNG’s “All Good Things.” This was an exploration of the inner-being, not just outer space. That’s where the true voyage was, and that’s exactly the voyage DS9 carried us on.
The characters were wonderful, but it also takes amazing actors to make a show truly special. Brooks, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Alexander Siddig, Nana Visitor, Rene Auberjonois, Terry Farrell, Armin Shimerman, Max Grodenchik, Aron Eisenberg, Chase Masterson, Andrew J. Robinson, J.G. Hertzler, Louise Fletcher, Penny Johnson Jerald, Jeffrey Combs, James Darren, Wallace Shawn, Marc Alaimo. Even more than a decade since the show went off the air, many of these names are still forefront in our minds.
And let’s not forget the people behind the scenes. People like Berman and Piller as well as Ronald D. Moore, Ira Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Rene Echevarria, Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, Joe Menosky, Michael Taylor, even Bryan Fuller.
It’s amazing that Star Trek is back to its roots, with J.J. Abrams creating movies about Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock all aboard the USS Enterprise. But if there were to ever be another remake, especially in the world of television or film, it would be nice to see the magic from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” captured once again. But then again, lightning can only be caught once … at least as long as the Prophets aren’t involved.