Michael Piller

Michael Piller Q&A – May 12, 2001 – From the Trek Fan Site Archives

2021 Update – So many of the old Star Trek fan sites from the late 90’s and early 00’s during the last heyday of televised Star Trek are extinct now, and unfortunately, so is much of their content is lost. You can still find vestiges and remains, of course. Thanks to services like the Wayback Machine, past insider content like the Ron D. Moore interviews on the AOL Message Boards are still accessible at this link. The interview below from Treknews.com is still accessible this way as well at this link, but I saved it in text form back in the day, and so I’ve decided to present it in a more convenient format here.

treknews.com | feature | Michael Piller Q&A

Michael Piller

Now here’s your questions for Michael, has your one been picked, read on below.

1) Brian: How do you feel about Ken Biller’s creative decisions as evident in the episodes of Voyager’s season 7 that have aired? Has the show improved, gotten worse, or continued steadily along as always?

MP: What impresses me most about season seven is the return to the emphasis on character development. Anybody who knows me knows how important I feel that is in storytelling. A Humanitas Award nomination could be in the offing this year for ‘Lineage.’

2) Justin Pfeil: Most of the subject matter in Star Trek (Federation, Vucans, etc.) are ultimately derivative of Roddenberry’s production teams. With the polar opposites of the ‘Trekkie(er)’ fan base and the desire to entice new viewers to the franchise. What are the difficulties, that you see, in trying to retain an original character for the new shows, but still be ‘Star Trek’ enough for fans?

MP: I’m a strong believer in staying true to the basic principals that Roddenberry set forth from the very beginning. I believe they are the reason why Star Trek has lasted as long as it has when other science fiction shows seem dated and shallow. Gene always felt that this was a show about exploring the human condition. As long as you tell stories about life, exploring characters’ moral and ethical dilemmas, find allegories and metaphors to contemporary social issues, I think you will create programming that stands the test of time.But Star Trek is at a cross-roads, caught in a paradox, because the demographics of the franchise are growing older. There is continued pressure to build elements into the series and movies to appeal to a younger audience. The paradox of that, of course, is that Roddenberry’s initial concept was that this was going to be adult storytelling. So, in a sense, trying to attract young viewers to the franchise, which is imperative to keep it alive, is at odds with Roddenberry’s creative vision.

3) Garret Hiller: Mr. Piller, what do you feel has been your most significant contribution to the phenomenon that is “Star Trek” and why?

MP: I’m proud that my work as head writer, starting with the third season of The Next Generation, helped guide the franchise back to creative distinction. When I first met Gene Roddenberry, I told him I could help his characters grow and I believe I delivered on that promise. I took particular pride in guiding young, new writers like Ron Moore, RenÈ Echevarria and later Brannon Braga, Robert Wolfe and Ken Biller toward stories that tested and challenged our characters. I am, of course, very proud of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, but no matter which series we’re talking about, the thing that pleases me most is having developed and executed television episodes that I believe will stand the test of time.

4) Cliff Bechard: “What was your greatest creative challenge you had to make for Patrick Stewart on “Next Generation”?

MP: Perhaps the greatest creative challenge was to continue to give him material that was up to his remarkable abilities.

5) amin: Will you return to oversee a possible ds9 movie?

MP: I do not believe there will be a Deep Space Nine movie, although it’s always possible that characters from Deep Space Nine will appear in Star Trek movies. I have no plans to oversee any other Star Trek creative endeavors.

6) Salvador Nogueira: Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are now developing a new Star Trek series. You’ve done this twice, working with Rick Berman and Jeri Taylor. What do you expect from the next series? Did Berman or Braga asked your opinion about their ideas?

MP: No. I really haven’t heard any of the details about the next series. I would not expect Rick or Brannon to ask my opinion about their ideas in these circumstances.

7) Ron: Where and how would you continue the Star Trek legacy?

MP: As I said earlier — listen to Roddenberry’s voice with every creative decision you make.

8) Brad McNeely: When comparing the last three Trek series (TNG, DS9, and Voyager), DS9 had a much different look and feel to some of the later stories. From about season 4 or 5 on, major story arcs began to form and develop and intricate sub-plots were introduced and neatly packaged together. This is a major divergence from it’s earlier seasons as well as TNG, Voyager or TOS. The only other show I’ve seen this done on is Babylon 5. Did the writing style and story telling process used in Babylon 5 in any way, shape, or form influence the later seasons of DS9 or was there a major story outline completed when the series began its run?

MP: I’ve never watched Babylon 5, so I can’t give you any comments on that show. The credit for the story arcs on Deep Space Nine really needs to go to Ira Behr who became the executive producer and head writer on the series after I left the day-to-day operation. I think he did a remarkable job of keeping the series fresh and ambitious. But I did have occasional problems about the inaccessibility of the show to potential new viewers. I felt the arcs made it harder to attract new audiences. While I can understand that the hardcore Trek fan would appreciate this kind of storytelling, I continue to believe that stories that have a beginning, middle and end are a critical part of keeping a science fiction series appealing to a wide audience.

9) brian: There are a lot rumors circulating on the net that you might publish the first draft of the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Are these rumors true and, if so, does it reflect any dissatisfaction you might have had with the final product?

MP: Let me clarify this and make it very clear. With the approval of Viacom Consumer Licensing and Pocket Books, I wrote a book during the writing of Star Trek: Insurrection which was meant to be a text book for screenwriters. My pitch to the publisher was to take the reader through the entire process of the development of the film, starting with the idea and showing how changes, problems, opinions, studio requests, financial considerations, would effect the final product. And, in essence, to see if the reader would make the same decisions that Rick and I made as the script evolved. The book was by no means critical, nor did it burn any bridges, it just showed an insight into the behind-the-scenes of making a Star Trek movie that had never been told before. For reasons I won’t go into here, decisions were made at a very high level not to publish the book, which was greatly disappointing to me. However, it does not reflect any dissatisfaction that I had with the final product. I think Star Trek: Insurrection holds its own when compared to other Star Trek movies. The goals of this particular film were quite different from the ones that preceded it. And for the most part, we met those goals. But do I ever second guess any of the choices I made on the movie? Sure. I started out with a vision of Jean-Luc Picard standing alone on a mountainside holding a phaser rifle, defending a weak and helpless people against two of the most powerful forces in galaxy. A true mythic hero against impossible odds. That’s not quite how it turned out. I’m not satisfied that, when all was said and done, we adequately established the odds against Picard. Yes, maybe a little more of the ground action that was cut along the way might have helped — the attack comes from only three Son’a shuttlecraft and the drones — but that’s not really at the heart of the issue as I look back at it now. The true villain in the picture is the Federation leadership, but as written, their crimes are mostly philosophical. That leaves the Son’a, whom I described in dialogue as ‘petty thugs’, to provide the entire threat. I think the film might have had more scope if I’d pitted Starfleet forces as well as Son’a against Picard and crew. The second second-guess: during the editing process we lost most of Picard’s personal journey. I wish I had started with a more substantial arc for Picard — one that could have withstood the loss of a scene or two. I have to emphasize that, based on the assembled film, I fully endorsed the cuts that Jonathan, Rick and the studio decided to make. But a trip to the fountain of youth deserves a profound re-birth of some kind for the hero and we didn’t quite get there. That’s a missed opportunity, one that bothers me a lot. I keep thinking back to how the script might have changed if we had faded in to find Picard weary from two years of war, first with the Borg and now with the Dominion, having lost many crew members fighting to protect the ideals of the Federation. Now, he discovers his own command is about to sacrifice those very ideals to steal the Ba’ku planet. In that scenario, the peaceful world would have provided an immediate contrast to Picard’s dark days of war. My colleague, Alan Spencer, tells the story of the artist who is caught trying to steal his own work from the Louvre. ‘I just want to finish a few things in my painting that aren’t quite right yet,’ he says. ‘It’s not yours anymore,’ says the Louvre guard as they take him away. ‘It’s ours now.’ As I consider the work that will forever be ëunfinished’ in my mind, there is still much that I find pleasing in Star Trek: Insurrection. I wanted to write a film that was uplifting and optimistic in the Roddenberry tradition. I wanted to explore the intellectual, moral leadership that I felt set Picard apart from other heroes. I wanted to show how this crew is a family that love and support one another. And I wanted to get the Enterprise back to exploring strange new worlds. Star Trek: Insurrection achieves those goals. Is it a good movie? That’s up to you. Whether your thumb is up or down, I know I brought every skill I have to this screenplay. A writer can’t ask any more of himself. In sixth grade, Artie Paulson and I always stayed up late on Friday nights to watch The Twilight Zone. Never missed it. I started writing Twilight Zone short stories. I just wanted to make other people feel the way Rod Serling made me feel. I still do. They were low budget shows, filmed in black and white and had minimal special effects but it remains a benchmark of good writing for me because every show told us a little bit about who we are and who we might be. I’ve tried to do that with each Star Trek script I’ve worked on and I think that’s what Gene Roddenberry was asking me to do. I tried to do it with Star Trek: Insurrection. One of the first reactions to this film was from an anonymous fan who wrote a long and thoughtful letter to a website that included many pros and cons before concluding with the line: ‘…this movie left me with a nice warm feeling inside.’ I wonder if she realizes how much that matters to the guy sitting in my chair. A comment like that… well, that’s what makes all the sleepless nights worthwhile. That’s why I became a writer.

10) SC: How come, during the times that both TNG and DS9 were on the air or DS9 and Voyager were on, TPTB never tried to make a full crossover episode between the two shows? Sure, actors sometimes had cameos on the other show, but a real crossover two-parter that started on one show and ended on another could have been really cool, and would have reaffirmed the fact that these shows were part of the same universe and not just calling themselves “Trek” because it was convenient. Syndicated shows like Hercules and Xena have done a number of crossovers that always pique interest simply due to their crossover nature, network shows like Law and Order and Homicide have crossed over, and even cross-network shows like The Practice and Ally McBeal have crossed over. These shows weren’t related per se, but Star Trek shows have had a preexisting tie-in.Now that there’s only one Trek show on the air, and that’s likely to remain the case for years to come, this is no longer a real possibility. It seems a real shame that no one took advantage of the opportunity while it was there. What was the reason, if any, why a true crossover two-parter was never attempted? Thank you.

MP: To be honest, we never really talked about a two-part crossover and I’m quite sure that the reason was we could never be sure in syndication whether the various series would be running on the same channels, so it would be impossible to coordinate reruns.

11) Ellen: Hi Michael! In an ideal universe, what would you consider to be the best number and mix of writers for a series like “DS9” or “Voyager”?

MP: I believe in having a staff of four or five writers of various experience on a series, but I’m a strong believer in bringing in freelance writers to contribute on a regular basis to any series that I do. I think it keeps the storytelling fresh.

12) Mary Jensen: Any chances of resurrecting your humorous Western, Legend with Richard Dean Anderson and the master of disguise, John de Lancie?

MP: I wish I could be more optimistic about it, but with the disappointment at the box office of Wild, Wild West, I don’t think that’s likely. The series never had a chance to find its audience (or its footing) due to the quick hook by the previous administration at UPN. Mike Greenberg, Richard Dean Anderson, Bill Dial and I have talked from time to time of doing a follow-up movie that takes place years later and taking Legend to New York to find Bartok broke and forgotten (as Nikola Tesla was in the later years of his life), and going on an adventure with Teddy Roosevelt down to San Juan Hill, but I think it’ll take a miracle to get Legend ever started again.

13) Caillan: Mr. Piller – there is a large amount of negativity towards Voyager on the Internet. Sometimes it feels alienating to be a Voyager fan. Do you think a lot of this criticism, which centres around the show apparently having “no continuity,” is justified?

MP: The way I’d like to answer this is to take you back to my youth. While my peers were fans of rock-n-roll, the Beach Boys and the Beatles, I was a devotee of Frank Sinatra. The work he did in the 1950s on Capital Records was just remarkable. But I distinctly remember being disappointed when he changed record companies in the early 1960s. The arrangements sounded different, it just wasn’t the same. Now, forty years later, I treasure those albums he did in the early 1960s. I believe by doing the same things over and over again you cannot grow as an artist. So while I still love those albums from the 1950s, I’ve learned to appreciate what he did in the early 1960s in a way I never could when I was so close to it. Sometimes instant analysis just doesn’t do justice to a creative endeavor.

14) Gloria: Mr. Piller, occasionally but not often (smiling) there seems to be lapses on the show with regard to continuity. What is the method or methods utilized to track storylines and character development from episode to episode and throughout the seasons? Is there a mammoth database of information that is constantly being updated and maintained or is it handled in some other manner?

MP: The writers of Star Trek have a lot of resource material at their fingertips when they write the stories. With Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and Ken Biller who have been around for years, maintaining control of the shows, I don’t see a lot of significant problems to continuity, to be honest. We also have people like Mike and Denise Okuda and Rick Sternbach who have written the Star Trek reference books who are always just a phone call away whenever there are questions about continuity. Writers often get notes from them saying that something is inconsistent with other episodes.

17) Adam Mallinger: Which of the two “Trek” series that you helped create would you rather be remembered for?

MP: I’m not going to get involved in a Sophie’s Choice, thank you very much. I would rather be remembered for the talented writers that I brought to the franchise. And no matter what series they were on, the episodes that touched people, enlightened people and made people think.

18) 6of9: As excited as most of us are to check out the new shows you are developing, I think many of us are wondering what the chances are of a Micheal Piller story or two turning up on Series V. What are the chances of this happening?

MP: I am just not available at the moment to take time out to write an episode for the new series.

19) MarnieI: loved “The Best of Both Worlds, Part One.” Best hour of television ever. And I’ve always wanted to ask this: In all honesty, do you wish that you could’ve had Riker kill Picard, just to be able to completely reorient the focus of the series and the attitude of TNG? To be able to apply Kant’s dictum that one should act in accordance with one’s duty, not according to one’s feelings?

MP: The most interesting answer may be that at the end of the third season the studio was facing a difficult renegotiation with Patrick and came to us and asked us to create Star Trek’s first cliffhanger, which would allow them, if necessary, to kill off the character of Picard. That was the genesis of “Best of Both Worlds.” By the time that show aired, there was no question about whether Patrick would be back. Losing him would have been the most serious mistake ever made in the history of Star Trek. He brought more authority, credibility and eloquence to the series than any other actor I’ve ever worked with.

20) Alexander Doolan: If you could re-write any one character and explore them in more detail, who would it be and why?

MP: I don’t we ever did justice to Neelix on Voyager. Originally we were going to use Kes and Neelix as an alien couple who brought a new perspective to humanity. Plus, we were hoping an odd couple relationship would develop between Tuvok and Neelix, but we never made that work either. I regret we have not fully utilized a great actor’s ability in that role.We also had a lot of trouble with Dax on Deep Space Nine. I think Ira Behr deserves all the credit in finding her voice.

21) Neil Bradley: Has there ever been any creative things that have been done in the Star Trek Universe that you yourself have thought shouldn’t have been done? If so what would you have done instead?

MP: I criticized two creative choices and they were both pretty much the same. I was unhappy they chose to give Data emotions in Star Trek Generations even though it works well in the context of that film. I felt, and continue to feel, that a character’s limitations are often what define him. Yes, the audience was yearning for that moment when he would feel emotions, but I would keep them yearning. That’s what makes them root for the character. I feared the Rhoda effect when I heard about Data’s emotions. For those of you old enough to remember, Rhoda was a very popular television show that spun off from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. It was rated in the top 10. Rhoda’s big problem was men, and her boyfriend on the series was a guy named Joe. The audience really wanted them to get together. And finally they did. The episode in which Rhoda and Joe got married was the highest rated episode of the decade. And then the show’s rating plummeted – the tension had been purged. Everything she ever wanted had been granted by the writers. She didn’t need us anymore. I feared the same thing would happen with Data when his dream of emotions came true.I felt the same way when they decided to give the Doctor on Voyager the mobile emitter. The unique quality of a holographic character is his limitations. By giving him the mobile emitter, he is just about the same as everybody else. I think as the holodeck has evolved over the last five years that the holograms have become far too human.

22) Sean Stephenson: If you had complete control over the new Series V, what would you present as the premise?

MP: I don’t, and I won’t.

24) Andy: Hi! After seven series of Deep Space Nine, how do you feel that the series turned out – was it better or worse than what you envisioned when you created the series, and is there anything that you would change?

MP: I think in time Deep Space Nine will be recognized as a unique achievement in science fiction and in the Star Trek universe. I think Ira Behr and the remarkable staff of writers on the show, as well as all the production people, deserve a great deal of credit and will always remember working on it with pride.

25) Anon: We know from interviews with Star Trek actors that they pull pranks and other silliness on each other, does the production staff also pull have a good sense of humor?

MP: There were certainly pranks played. I remember in one circumstance that the staff arranged for a young woman to come in posing as a writer and then found excuses to leave Joe Menosky alone with her in the room and she started taking her clothes off to try to convince him to buy her pitch for a dreadful story. To his credit, Joe didn’t take advantage of her offer.

26) Pauline MacDonald: I know that the creative process often takes it’s cue from reality & current affairs. When you are going for something futuristic, do you prefer to start with how something is today and our perceived vision of the future and extrapolate from there, or do you start in the future with how you wish it to appear, then backtrack to today to find the roots?

MP: Both ways. Sometimes you hear a good idea that strikes home with you that relates somehow to something in current life and you begin the creative process from there. Often times, there are stories that come from an image of a certain kind of a planet, a certain kind of environment, and then finding a story that exploits that environment.

27) Holly Simon: In the course of the past seven years of Voyager, what do you believe has lacked the most and what do you believe the writers should have touched more on?

MP: Well, as I’ve mentioned, I am a far greater fan of stories that explore moral and ethical dilemmas than I am of action-packed thrillers. That’s a subjective opinion and it’s the way I went about my job, but I would have liked to have seen more of those kind of shows.

28) Benjamin Winn: What’s your favorite memory from Star Trek: Voyager?

MP: I think my favorite memories from all of the shows is getting in a room with the writers and wrestling a story to the ground or taking a script apart that isn’t quite working and giving our best effort to making it special and then seeing it turn out on film as something we could all be proud of.

29) Doreen: I think I am a VOYAGER fan with a “Michael Piller View of the universe” (as opposed to a Brannon Braga View or a Kenneth Biller View). How would he describe such a fan?

MP: I think the first thing a fan with a “Michael Piller view of the universe” would appreciate is that there is room in the universe for all kinds of views. I would hate to ever put myself at odds with Brannon’s or Ken’s views since I think I have influenced their approach to the material and am quite proud of their efforts on the series.What makes the universe that we write about exciting to me is The Unknown. As a writer, and I’m sure as a viewer, we share the excitement of being on the bridge with a Picard or a Janeway. Feeling the excitement, a little bit of anxiety, and enjoying the process of discovery. Challenging ourselves as human beings to find the right thing to do in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Failing sometimes, but learning from the failure. Taking risks, facing moral and ethical dilemmas, learning to be the best humans we can be.

30) From the Editor: What are your forthcoming projects and hopes for the future and do you miss Trek at all?

MP: Since leaving Paramount a year ago, my son Shawn and I have formed Piller≤ (Piller Squared, Inc.), a company that is dedicated to producing quality television in all genres, but we certainly have a strong interest in science fiction.Last season we did a sci-fi pilot called Day One for The WB Network, based on the British mini-series The Last Train, which was received with great enthusiasm by audiences, including every test audience that saw it. It’s one of my greatest disappointments that The WB has chosen not to do the show and that, at this moment, we don’t see a future for it. I thought it had the potential of being a Star Trek on Earth. We have many projects in development. They include a comedy about ghosts in the tradition of Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit that a writer named Scott Fifer has developed for us at The WB. Shawn and I are writing pilot for UPN based on Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. As a company, Piller2 is dedicated to discovering new talent and opening the doors of the business to them. Do I miss Trek at all? Well, I certainly have bittersweet feelings about seeing the next Star Trek ship take off without my name on the dedication plaque that has been on the bridge of every ship since the USS Enterprise-D. However, I really felt the need to enter the tournament again and try my wings at different kinds of stories. The Star Trek years were certainly the most exciting years of my life (so far). So, sure, I miss that part of it. And I miss the daily relationships with Rick Berman and the other wonderfully talented people that I had the pleasure to work with. Who wouldn’t?

treknews.com would like to thank all the fans who entered their questions, and would like to pass on special thanks to Mr Piller who took time from his busy schedule for us.

This page of posts was saved as text from the original Trekweb forums. You can read the original saved text file here and a second one can be found here.


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