A couple years ago, I had the distinct honor of hosting the great Brent Spiner from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” on Airlock Alpha’s online radio show.
Ever since I was a kid, I — like millions of other fans (and Brian J. Smith from “Stargate: Universe” — was completely drawn into the character of Data, an android who endeavored to be human, but many times acted in ways that were more human than, well, humans.
Spiner brought that character to life, and showed fandom how amazing and talented an actor he is.
But enough back-patting. It was something that Spiner told me during that interview in 2008 that really has been stuck in my mind ever since. He said that he couldn’t understand why there was so much hatred directed at Rick Berman, the man Gene Roddenberry personally selected to continue Star Trek once he passed away.
Berman was blamed by many for the demise of Star Trek at the beginning of the 21st century, and when he officially left the franchise in 2006, there couldn’t be happier fans all over the world. Even I celebrated that. When “Star Trek: Enterprise” was leaving the air in 2005, I wrote a scathing column against his idea of making the series finale tied in with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with the headline, “Rick Berman Gives Star Trek Fans the Finger.”
That column generated the most e-mail I’ve ever received for anything — something like 3,000. Some were in support of what I said, most of it were people angry at me because I dropped the F-bomb like three times. That column got so much play, it was even quoted in the Washington Post (complete with my headline).
So I was no fan of Rick Berman. And I’m sure Rick Berman was no fan of me.
But thanks to that conversation with Spiner, I started thinking about what Berman really did for Star Trek. And I have to say, maybe I was a bit harsh.
Yes, Berman seemed to not be able to adapt to changes in viewing habits, and even changes among Star Trek fans. He couldn’t seem to figure out what exactly fandom was looking for, and what was needed to keep Star Trek relevant for an evolving fandom. He might not be responsible for why “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of all the Star Trek series (with TNG being a close second), but it was resistance to him that really helped make this series work thanks to Ronald D. Moore, Ira Steven Behr, and others.
But Berman did have enough foresight to make sure that Star Trek remained fun, at least most of the time. His changes to TNG — creating even small story arcs and eliminating reset buttons on a small scale — really helped set that series apart from the original “Star Trek,” which nothing could ever recreate that magic. He made TNG its own show, where it could be related to the original, but didn’t have to be the original.
DS9 was just an amazing concept, even in the beginning. Yes, many of us DS9 lovers like to pretend that much of the first three seasons didn’t exist. But the concept, the setup of DS9, as established in the pilot, is just amazing. And Rick Berman did that. He recreated the issues happening in Iraq and Kuwait during the time, and created a vehicle where needed stories could be told based on that.
“Star Trek: Voyager” also was a great concept, if simply poorly executed. Throw a small Federation ship to the other side of the galaxy, away from any help, the Federation and everything. What would they do? Would they continue to explore? Would they whine about not being able to go home? Would they follow Starfleet protocol?
And then let’s make things more interesting. Let’s put an enemy on the ship with them, forcing them all to have to work together. The conflict there would create amazing stories by itself, and watching a young captain get tested over and over again would really bring in the viewers.
Seriously, if you think about it, it’s not a bad concept. I just wish they were able to follow through.
And then there’s “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Let’s get away from the whole luxury cruiseliners that Starfleet ships had become. Let’s explore the days when space traveling wasn’t so luxurious, wasn’t so safe feeling. Let’s explore some of the backstory that Star Trek fans were dying for. And let’s answer many of the questioned posited over the years.
Another good idea, and one that was horribly executed until Manny Coto took over in the fourth season.
And let’s not get started on the movies. Despite some of its flaws, “Star Trek Generations” was really not that bad of a movie. Sure, the Kirk death was a little questionable, but it really wasn’t that bad. “Star Trek: First Contact” was simply amazing, however. And yes, you can’t discount Berman’s involvement in that story.
Now, “Star Trek: Insurrection” and “Star Trek: Nemesis” might not have been what we were looking for, but 50 percent isn’t bad, considering that was the number of successes of the past Star Trek movies anyway.
I think I may have been harsh on Rick Berman all these years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a return for him or anything like that. Even he says it’s time for fresh blood to take over the franchise, which has already happened in the form of J.J. Abrams.
But I think it’s time Star Trek fandom at least gave him some credit for getting us to this point. Sure, in hindsight, there are a lot of things we can do differently. But at least we did have Berman to create the road for Star Trek to travel. And for that, he deserves our gratitude and our respect.