Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Opens for Business: The Starlog Project, Starlog #187, February 1993

After the unprecedented success of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Paramount decided to keep the series going with another new series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Awkwardly launching around the same time as Babylon 5, DS9 was thus the second syndicated science-fiction series set in a space station to be on the air in the early 1990s.

I gathered with some friends at the home of a coworker (and Trek fan, the same person with whom I saw Patrick Stewart’s live stage show, if you’re keeping track) for dinner and to watch the DS9 premiere episode. I remember basically liking the show, but my friend said that the story threw us into too much of Commander Sisko’s personal angst and expected us to be invested in him, even though we’ve just met the man. I remember little else about any comments made by my fellow viewers at the time, but those remarks have stuck with me. I think they are a fair criticism of a program that’s trying too hard in its first episode to attach the audience to its characters. We don’t know them yet, so we can’t begin to understand Sisko’s grief and anger on a level commensurate with the amount of airtime devoted to recounting how he got there. It probably would have been better to hint at that past, and then explore it in later episodes, after we’ve gotten to see that he’s a great leader and a humane man and father.

An understandable mistake. After all, it must have been very difficult to come up with a follow-up to TNG, a series that set records for syndicated popularity and brought in an entire new audience to the franchise. TNG certainly had some episodes that were stinkers; that’s true. But more important is the remarkable general level of quality maintained (and, in my view, increased) as the series aged.

As TNG neared its seven-year termination date, the producers didn’t want to just do another series set on the Enterprise or another starship, so they chose a space station. That allowed them to get partly out from under the suffocating blanket proclamation that there couldn’t be conflict between Starfleet members. With half of the space station crew being Bajorans, and with an ever-changing cast of aliens visiting the station, the writers could easily come up with an interesting conflict or challenge each week, right?

Apparently not. The show eventually had to deal with the suffocating effect of being stuck on a space station, so the crew was made more mobile with the addition of their own sleek ship for long-distance travel. The crew itself was also changed up a bit, including the addition of the character of the Klingon Worf. If the show’s producers and writers didn’t change and freshen up the Star Trek story restrictions enough, they at least made an effort in that direction. By the time DS9 neared its own termination date (successful Trek series all have Logan's Run-ish set lifetimes of seven years), it had acquitted itself pretty well.

Starlog #187
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

An interesting classified ad this month: “STAR WARS: DID IT AFFECT YOUR LIFE? Writers/S.W. devotee seeks personal stories of its impact on people who were between ages 8-18 in 1977. Deadline 5/25/93. SASE for guidelines: S.W. Project Dept. S., …”

The rundown: The cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine poses together for its first cover of Starlog this month; but First Officer Kira Nerys is all alone on the contents page. In his Medialog column, David McDonnell reports that Kenneth Branagh has been slated to direct Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the followup to Francis Ford Coppola’s smash hit Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Michael McAvennie’s Gamelog column reviews RoboCop 3, Dragon Quest, Bart’s Nightmare (a Simpson’s game), and other new releases. And the letters go long in the Communications section, in which three letters sprawl over three pages, covering Star Trek: The Next Generation commentary, and Mike Fisher’s Creature Profile features She-Creature.

Booklog reviews Geodesic Dreams, Fire and Ice, Mutagenesis, Wulfsyarn (which deserves a slap just for the spelling of its title), A Dark and Hungry God Arises, and Why Do Birds. David Hutchison’s Videolog column announces the releases of widescreen home video versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, plus a slew of Blake’s 7 episodes (and the page also includes the first ad for the Starlog retail store in New Jersey, announced a couple issues ago). The Fan Network has the usual listing of fan clubs and publications by Maureen McTigue, plus the conventions calendar. Classic-movies journalist Tom Weaver steps out of his routine this month to feature an article on a new comic mini-series based on the 1950s’ science-fiction program Space Patrol. And in his From the Bridge column, Kerry O’Quinn reports on a virulently anti-gay law proposed for Oregon (Measure Nine, which was eventually soundly defeated).

Bill Warren interviews actor Gordon Scott, a former lifeguard who became a 1950s screen Tarzan. Craig Chrissinger talks with producer Grant Rosenberg about his new science-fiction police show Time Trax, starring Dale Midkiff. Bil Warren profiles character actor Vincent Schiavelli, who discusses his roles in Batman Returns, Ghost, Buckaroo Banzai, and others, and he admits that he’s a big genre fan: “My fiancee and I watch Star Trek every night. Both series are pretty terrific, in their own ways. The older one created this magic with nothing; it was really kind of wonderful the way they relied on the imagination. The modern one lacks the original’s innocence, but I watch it every night.”

Ian Spelling will become Starlog’s go-to correspondent for all things Trek over the next decade, and at one point he will even pen a Trek-and-other-SF-themed newspaper column called "High Trek" syndicated by The New York Times. Here he gets to go behind the scenes of the new Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with a conversation with Rick Berman, the producer. Berman confirms my friend’s comments (see top of this post) about the focus on Sisko in the premiere episode: “The two-hour pilot, more than any Star Trek episode Berman can remember, is a journey for one man’s redemption. ‘Sisko is a man whose wife was killed a few years earlier, when the Borg attacked the fleet,’ [Berman] explains of a dramatic situation to be recalled in a series of flashbacks that enable Captain Picard to serve as the link between action past and present.” He also tells us that other candidates for the role of Commander Sisko, eventually won by Avery Brooks, included Tony Todd, James Earl Jones and Carl Weathers.

Bradley H. Sinor interviews fantasy novelist Glen Cook (Sweet Silver Blues, Shadow Games, Bitter Gold Hearts, and others). Joe Nazzaro continues his exploration of the British SF comedy series Red Dwarf, talking with the show’s star, Craig Charles. And Pat Jankiewicz chats with writer/producer Robert McCullough, who explains what it was like working on Star Trek: The Next Generation and shares his happiness to have known Gene Roddenberry.

Tom Weaver’s back in his home territory with an entertaining interview with cinematographer Jacques Marquette, who worked on a number of classic (or infamous) films, such as The Brain from Planet Arous, Teenage Monster, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Mike Clark has a long article focusing on Paul Zastupnevich, costume designer for producer Irwin Allen, who must have been at least as interesting to work for as Roger Corman. And editor David McDonnell wraps it all up in his Liner Notes column with a roundup of new Star Trek publications from Starlog.
“It was so cheap to make pictures in Puerto Rico that Roger [Corman] did decide to make a third picture there [after completing two others]. By this time, I was ready to go home; I told him, ‘If this third one takes over eight days, I’m gone. I can’t stay. I have commitments.’ He said, ‘OK, we’ll do it in eight days.’ Meanwhile, his secretary never paid the bill at the Caribe [Hilton, where Marquette was staying]. I told Roger, ‘Your girl hasn’t paid the bill. They won’t let me out until the bill’s paid.’ He said he would talk to her. Another couple of days go by, and still the bill is unpaid. I said, ‘Roger, if this bill isn’t paid, you’re not going to be able to release any of these pictures, because part of them is going to be missing.’ I had the negatives [laughs]! That's when Roger finally paid the bill and I went home!”
–Jacques Marquette, cinematographer, interviewed by Tom Weaver: “Killer Brains & Giant Women”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.
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