INFINITE DIVERSITY IN INFINITE COMBINATIONS
On December 4, 2012, the much anticipated Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years, a book where no book has gone before, was released.
Written by historian David A. Goodman as part of a special exhibit on Memory Alpha to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the United Federation of Planets, Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years is a historical account that chronicles the eras beginning with the birth of Zefram Cochrane and ending with the death of Captain James T. Kirk.
In preparation for its release, and as part of the exclusive coverage I did for GeekMom, David A. Goodman answered some questions about the Star Trek franchise as a whole, working as a writer and consulting producer on Star Trek: Enterprise, and working on Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years.
Aside from his work within the Star Trek franchise, you may also be familiar with David A. Goodman’s writing and producing work on The Golden Girls (Co-Producer/Writer), Team Knight Rider (Executive Producer/Writer), Futurama (Co-Executive Producer/Writer), Family Guy (Co-Executive Producer/Executive Producer/Writer), and more.
Jules Sherred: How old were you when you were introduced to Star Trek, and what was that introduction?
David A. Goodman: I was around 11, and I had two cousins, both named Michael, who I looked up to, who were big Star Trek fans. Back then (the mid-1970’s) the original series was in reruns on every night at 6 pm. I started watching it. Then I made friends with a guy named Marty Wagner who seemed to know a lot about the fandom and conventions, and I was through the looking glass.
JS: Aside from being a lifelong fan of Star Trek, did you have any other motivations for writing the Futurama episode Where No Fan Has Gone Before?
DAG: I don’t know, do I need one? Seriously, I had just arrived at Futurama and they were talking about doing an episode with Shatner and Nimoy, but it wasn’t going to be a Star Trek homage per se (they were going to be giants and have a fight over New New York). We started working out the story as a group, and David X. Cohen made the decision that it should be a Star Trek homage, and that, because I was the biggest Star Trek fan among the writers (all of whom were also Star Trek fans) I should get to write it.
JS: You’ve said that this episode of Futurama was partly responsible for getting the job writing episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. What other factors do you think contributed to being offered this job?
DAG: I had a long resume in television, mostly in comedy. Brannon and Rick had wanted to make Enterprise lighter, more fun, and they were open to the idea of bringing a comedy writer onto the staff. Also, in my job interview with Brannon, he liked what I had to say about Star Trek, which was no accident — I had been reading interviews with Brannon for probably 10 years so I was just parroting back to him all his own thoughts.
JS: Aside from writing four episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, you were the Consulting Producer for 43 episodes. For those who may not be aware, what is the role of a Consulting Producer?
DAG: Consulting Producers along with other “Producer” titles in television credits are often, though not always, a title for a writer who has some seniority. My job was to work with the writers on coming up stories for the show and “breaking” them, which means laying it out in outline form before the writer goes off to write it. Writer/Producers in television also help cast the show’s guest roles, and work with the directors, set designers, special effects people, etc., discussing all the details of the script to help it get realized in the way the writers intended.
JS: What was it like to work on a series based on a franchise of which you were a fan your entire life?
DAG: Heady. I was always a fan of Klingon episodes as a kid, and I got to write a Klingon episode. I was also always a fan of parallel Earth episodes, and I got to write a cowboy planet episode. There was a thought I would have that my career was now over because this was all I ever wanted to do. Turned out it wasn’t over, a big relief to my wife.
JS: Was it ever difficult to deal with some of the differences between Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek and Berman’s vision of Star Trek?
DAG: Well, I never got to actually work for Roddenberry, so no. At this point in time, Rick had been running Star Trek for like 14 years, so his body of work laid out very clear parameters. He takes it on the chin from some of the fans, but this guy gave us Next Generation, DS9, Voyager – even if he didn’t write the episodes, he RAN those shows, and hired and guided the writers who did (including me). I’m a big fan of Rick’s. We have him to thank for all those years of not just Star Trek, but good Star Trek.
JS: What is your favorite episode from Star Trek: Enterprise?
DAG: I think probably the pilot, Broken Bow. It’s the best pilot of any of the sequel series, and it just had a great scope to it.
JS: What is your favorite thing about Star Trek: Enterprise as a whole?
DAG: That it put me in the family of Star Trek writers, which I’ve always esteemed. Also, I had an office that had its own bathroom.
JS: How did the job of writing Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years come about?
DAG: Dave Rossi, who I worked with on Enterprise, had heard that CBS Consumer Products wanted to do this faux history of the Federation, and that they wanted a television writer, and he thought of me, so he called me and set up a meeting with me and John Van Citters of CBS. We met, and I kept thinking, “I’ve never written a book, they’re going to see that this is a mistake.” But they didn’t.
JS: Do you know why CBS chose you instead of someone else who worked extensively within the Star Trek franchise?
DAG: I don’t. They did want a television writer, because the book required someone to write in different voices — aside from the non-fiction narrative, in the book are documents like treaties and correspondence and those had to sound distinct. I have worked on over 15 television shows, so I do have the ability to write in different “voices,” but there are other people who wrote for Star Trek who could probably do it too, so I consider myself very lucky that they asked me.
JS: What directive were you given when you were approached for the job? Did CBS have a big role in the process, were you given complete freedom, or was it a combination of things?
DAG: I worked very closely with CBS, but they recognized that I took it as a priority not to contradict any filmed Star Trek canon. They were then very supportive when I extrapolated things that hadn’t been established, because I worked hard to be expansive and creative in my narrative but also make it fit. It was a bit of a puzzle, and CBS quickly saw that we were on the same page.
JS: How much research did you have to do in order to write Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years?
DAG: I watched a few episodes that I hadn’t seen in a while, and I paid close attention to timelines established in the Okuda’s Star Trek Chronology as well as various internet sites. But for better or worse Star Trek is always in my head, I’m always watching episodes anyway, so there really wasn’t any extensive research that I had to do.
JS: How long did it take to write the book?
DAG: They gave me three months. I don’t like telling people that because they’ll read it and say “I can tell it only took three months! It sucks!”
JS: There are many images, historical documents, ship’s logs, etc., in Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years. Did you write the book first and were these things created as a result, or did these things come first and you had to write the book in a way that they would fit the history associated with them?
DAG: When we first discussed the book, I had to write a brief outline saying what each chapter would cover, and included in this were my ideas for the types of documents that I would create for that chapter. So then when I wrote the book, I would write the chapter, and then write the documents for that chapter. When I finished the bulk of the book, my editor said I had promised more documents than I’d written, and that a couple of chapters had less than others, so I had to come up with more ideas and write some more.
JS: Long-time fans of Star Trek had issues with Star Trek: Enterprise because of inconsistencies in canon. You managed to figure out a way to correct a good number of these violations, without pretending events, in any series or movie, never took place. Was this important to you? Did these violations also bother you as a fan? What inconsistency did you find most difficult to rectify?
DAG: This was really important to me. If I hadn’t written this book, I would buy it, and I didn’t want anything in the book that would bug me. As a fan, I guess I wasn’t thrilled that Enterprise violated continuity, but as a writer I understood it was a creative necessity. The two hardest inconsistencies to rectify were cloaking devices and Khan. With cloaking devices, in Kirk’s era, it’s clear when they’re introduced no one had seen them before, but a hundred years before Archer and his pals can’t go anywhere without fighting an invisible ship. I like my explanation in the book, but it doesn’t quite resolve it completely, because no explanation barring amnesia makes any complete sense. With Khan, I lived through the 1990’s and I’m pretty sure he didn’t rule a quarter of the world. In that instance, I LOVE my explanation, which is covered in a footnote.
JS: One of my favorite things about Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years is that if someone has only watched one of the five live-action series, there is at least one aspect of that series incorporated into the book. You also managed to incorporate a good amount of information from the movies. How difficult was it to find a way to weave events and characters from across the franchise into a seamless and correct history?
DAG: The movies and TV shows set up a timeline that I had to obey, and that determined a lot of it, but the heavy lifting of the book is just what you described, figuring out a narrative that would flow from point A to point B, without looking like I was just connecting dots, but rather telling a story. And there was the added problem that I’d look at something like one of the movies and realize that there’s something I have to figure out that the writer of the movie didn’t — for instance, there’s a conspiracy in Star Trek VI to kill the Klingon Chancellor, but the movie doesn’t cover the mechanics of the conspiracy, so I had to figure that out for a history book. Some things fell into place in a fun way — I found connections between things from the different series and movies as I was writing that I never thought of before.
JS: You named a character after David Rossi. Without giving too many spoilers, are there any other Easter eggs readers should keep an eye out for?
DAG: Yes. When you’re writing a book like this, it’s overwhelming how many names you have to make up, so I was constantly pulling them from my life. Two Federation presidents are named for Enterprise writers, and I think I probably have every writer who worked on Enterprise with me somewhere in the book — I named a ship after Manny Coto. I was good friend in high school with a guy who became a noted science fiction author, Adam-Troy Castro, and I played with his name for a sequence. I pay homage to a couple of Futurama writers, friends at Robot Chicken;, and of course Seth MacFarlane, who I imagine will be reading this. And then I am constantly quoting fictional sources in the book, so there’s a “selected bibliography” which is filled with authors from canon but also maybe other characters from other television series…
JS: What gave you the most difficulty when writing Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years? What gave you the most joy and satisfaction?
DAG: Figuring out World War III was a pain, since there’s no consistency in the way it was described in the TV shows and movies. But the chapter covering the period portrayed in Enterprise was the hardest, because so much of it was dramatized that I didn’t want it to read like a Wikipedia entry (which is what my editor said after she read the rough draft of that chapter). The thing I enjoyed most was the chapter on the Romulan War — it’s this big thing that none of the shows or movies has ever really covered. I had parameters that I had to obey, but I have read a lot of military history and drew on that to create something that I’m really proud of. I’m also very proud of my “teachings of Surak” document, as I drew on one philosophy class I took in college to try to come up with a philosophical basis for logic over emotion.
JS: Anything else you would like to add?
DAG: Um… please buy the book?
JS: Let’s end things up with a little bit of fun. Favorite Star Trek episode — entire franchise — and why? Favorite Star Trek movie, and why? Favorite Star Trek series, and why? Kirk or Picard, and why?
DAG: Favorite episode – Mirror Mirror – it blew my 11-year-old mind.
Favorite Star Trek movie — Khan. Still fun to watch, and I introduced it with my son a couple of years ago, and when Kirk opens his communicator and says, “Kirk to Enterprise, it’s two hours are you ready?” my son, about 14, and not easily impressed, sat up in surprised delight and said, “What?!” Reminded me I had the same response first time I saw it.
Favorite Series — Remastered Original Series with new effects. My 49-year-old mind thinks it’s 11 again.
Kirk or Picard — Kirk, specifically because he’s more of a jerk.
Don’t forget to take a look at the peek inside Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years, where you can view the “teachings of Surak,” mentioned above by David A. Goodman.
Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years is published by 47NORTH and produced by becker&mayer. It is officially licensed by CBS Consumer Products.
A copy of this book was provided for the purposes of this post.
Image: CBS Studios