Godspeed, Leonard Nimoy

Mark Clark, author of two Star Trek books for the Applause FAQ series, pays tribute to both Leonard Nimoy and his most famous role.

00314873I knew it was coming. Leonard Nimoy was 83 years old and had been in declining health, suffering from chronic pulmonary disease. He had officially retired from the screen years ago, although he continued to make occasional cameo appearances, including in the two J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek movies. Nevertheless, when word of the actor’s death arrived this afternoon, I was stunned. It seemed unreal, impossible. How could immortal face of one of the greatest entertainment franchises in history, a source of comfort and inspiration for millions of fans, really be gone? Wasn’t there some way to ship his body to the Genesis Planet for regeneration?

That’s when I realized that I was confusing Nimoy with his most famous character.

I was hardly the first to do this. Even Nimoy struggled to keep his personality separate from that of his Vulcan alter-ego, as evidenced by his two memoirs, one titled I Am Not Spock and a second titled I Am Spock. The confusion is understandable. Nimoy was not Spock, but Spock is Nimoy. Although created by Gene Roddenberry, the half-human, half-Vulcan first officer was animated by Nimoy’s personality – intelligent, unflinching, analytical, yet approachable. The actor improvised many of Spock’s trademark expressions and gestures, including the FSNP (“Famous Spock Nerve Pinch”) and the split-fingered Vulcan salute (derived from a rabbinic gesture of blessing); the character’s indomitable spirit was Nimoy’s too. And Spock, more than any other character, came to embody the essence of Star Trek.

Although Nimoy is gone, Spock remains. He stands as an eternal testament to Nimoy’s ability to craft a complex, nuanced, believable character.

However, Spock is far from the only testament. I wrote extensively about Nimoy’s life and career in my books Star Wars FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise and Star Wars FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, the Movies, and Beyond. As I noted there, although none of them earned him fame, Nimoy authored several remarkable performances in television roles prior to Star Trek (on shows like M Squad, Combat!, and The Lieutenant) and he did the same in later, non-Trek movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). He also had a successful career as a writer, producer, and director, helming Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, along with the comedy smash Three Men and a Baby, among other pictures. Nimoy declined the opportunity to create what became Star Trek: The Next Generation due to the demands of his feature film career. And movies were only one of Nimoy’s pursuits. He was a restless, polymorphously creative individual who also enjoyed careers as a recording artist, poet, and fine art photographer.

The pressures that arrived with fame led him to alcoholism during the making of the original Star Trek series. But he eventually found sobriety, and in later years always seemed to have a smile and a handshake ready for fans and castmates alike – even his onetime rival, William Shatner, with whom he belatedly developed a deep and abiding friendship. I confess that it brings a smile to my face to picture Nimoy being reunited, somewhere, with DeForest Kelley.

Surely Spock must be embarrassed by the outpouring of emotions displayed by fans and colleagues today, following Nimoy’s  passing. But Nimoy, I’m certain, welcomes and appreciates all the affection.

 

The Wrath of Khan

The following is an excerpt of Star Trek FAQ 2.0 by Mark Clark, as posted by Bookgasm.com. Please visit Bookgasm to read the entire excerpt.

The Wrath of Khan offers everything its predecessor promised but failed to deliver. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced sci-fi adventure rich in both sustained suspense and character exploration. The story wades into meaningful thematic currents on the way to a powerful emotional payoff. Not only is Khan a worthy successor to the television series, but in some respects it represents an improvement on the classic program. Not only is the movie far superior in all technical aspects (sets, costumes, special effects), as almost any feature film would be, but it’s also better scripted, directed, and performed than the vast majority of the seventy-nine original episodes.

Although piecing it together was a painful process, the film’s dramatic structure is masterful, with early scenes (especially those involving Khan) providing the initial thrust and events steadily gaining momentum as the story progresses. The dialogue is crisp and often witty, supplying both amusing bons mot (such as McCoy asking Kirk, as young Saavik steers the Enterprise out of space dock, “Would you like a tranquilizer?”), a Spock-McCoy verbal joust, and some eminently quotable ethical observations (including Spock’s assertion that “The needs of many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”). Best of all, where the classic series often settled for heavy-handed moralizing (and The Motion Picture came off as ponderous and self important), The Wrath of Khan almost effortlessly addresses weighty, timeless concerns, such as aging and death. It also provides the franchise’s definitive statement about the self-destructive folly of seeking revenge, a theme also present in a handful of classic episodes.

Meyer’s direction is a model of narrative precision and clarity. While not renowned for his visual style, he includes several deep-focus compositions that greatly enhance the unfolding drama, particularly during Spock’s funeral, as the black torpedo-coffin slowly glides toward the camera, flanked on either side by mourning crewmates.

Keep reading this excerpt on Bookgasm.com!

 

In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek rose from the ash heap of network cancellation and soared to the peak of its popularity with a series of blockbuster feature films and the smash sequel series Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek FAQ 2.0 picks up where the original Star Trek FAQ left off, chronicling the historic comeback of the “failed” series and its emergence as a pop culture touchstone. The book provides accounts of the production of every Star Trek movie (including creator Gene Roddenberry’s struggle to retain control of the franchise) and every episode of The Next Generation (and the conflicts that roiled its writing staff). It also offers profiles of the actors, directors, writers, producers, and technicians whose excellence fueled the franchise’s success, and explores often overlooked aspects of the Star Trek phenomenon, including unofficial, fan-made productions. Star Trek FAQ 2.0represents the final frontier of Trek scholarship. This book is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with CBS Studios Inc., Paramount Pictures, or the “Star Trek” franchise.

Common Thread: Wells and Roddenberry

MarkClark in ColorGuest Blogger: Mark Clark, author of Star Trek FAQ and Star Trek FAQ 2.0talks about the eerie similarities between H.G. Wells and Gene Roddenberry.

Common Thread: H.G. Wells and Gene Roddenberry

By Mark Clark

His fiction is inspired by vast views of a universe better conceived and better executed than the one we live in. Consequently, his stories are highly imaginative. Supposedly based upon science, they portray an evolution of mankind onward and upward into a social order than is only a dream.

Astonishingly, those words were not written about Gene Roddenberry. Although these lines seem to echo criticisms frequently lobbed at the man nicknamed “the Great Bird of the Galaxy,” they derive from the 1940 edition of Prose and Poetry of England, a high school textbook originally copyrighted in 1934. The object of the editors’ derision is author H.G. Wells, who they dismiss as a literary lightweight. “In spite of Mr. Wells’ contemporary popularity, his works will not interest the future,” they write. “His science is too unscientific, his fiction too unreal.” Time and again over the past forty-plus years, Star Trek has been written off in much the same manner, but it refuses to die…

That’s how I began my introduction to Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, the Movies and Beyond. However, with a wealth of other fascinating material to cover, I didn’t have room in the book to elaborate on the parallels between Wells and Roddenberry. This week, while writing a review of the Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray of Wells’ Things to Come (1936), I was struck again by the similarities between the esteemed novelist and Star Trek’s creator.

For the uninitiated, a brief recap of Things to Come will be necessary.

Although it was produced by the great British filmmaker Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Mezies, Wells had near-total creative control over Things to Come, which he adapted from his 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come. Although categorized as science fiction the movie, like the book, is more a polemic — a manifesto demanding the radical re-ordering of human civilization, foisted by a deeply imaginative and profoundly compassionate futurist who foresaw the coming World War and wanted to rescue his species from imminent destruction. While Wells’ proposed solution was misguided, no film ever had greater ambition or a more noble sense of purpose. This was H.G. Wells’ attempt to save the world. Literally.

Things to Come is a “future history” of “Everytown” from 1940 to 2036. A decades-long World War begins in 1940 and is followed by a horrifying plague known as the Walking Sickness. By 1976, human civilization has regressed to the dark ages, the world ruled by bickering regional warlords and struggling for mere subsistence. But then the Airmen arrive. They are a society of scientists and engineers who, hidden away from the rest of the world, have made great scientific advances and are now prepared to lead humanity to a brighter future – so long as it submits to their benevolent rule. Under the regime of the Airmen, by 2036, war, poverty and hunger have been eradicated and humanity is on the brink of its first explorations into space. The story contains some harrowing sequences — when the healthy people begin shooting the lumbering victims of the Walking Sickness, the picture suddenly becomes a forerunner of Night of the Living Dead (1968) – but, ultimately, Things to Come is uplifting. It assures us that, no matter how corrupt or cruel human civilization may seem, we contain within us the potential to build a peaceful, shining world.

The parallels between this scenario and Roddenberry’s Star Trek “future history” should be obvious to any Trek fan. Like Wells, Roddenberry postulated that a coming World War (a third one, fought with nuclear weapons) would nearly extinguish our species, but would also obliterate the national, cultural and religious barriers that separate us, enabling humanity to rise from the ashes and build a far better world.  It’s easy to imagine Roddenberry’s Zefram Cochrane as one of Wells’ Airmen, inventing warp drive and helping extend Earth’s near-Utopia to all corners of the galaxy. Roddenberry, a well-read science fiction fan, may have been influenced by Wells’ ideas; both men envision a brave new meritocracy free of national and religion identities, where people seek self-improvement rather than wealth, and everyone is treated equally regardless of race and gender.

Things to Come possesses extraordinary strengths. It was the most expensive film made in England as of 1936, and Korda brought the full measure of his legendary production polish to bear on the project, hiring prestigious collaborators such as Menzies, Oscar-winning cinematographer Georges Perinal, esteemed composer Arthur Bliss, and Hungarian abstract artist László Moholy-Nagy, among others. The result is a science fiction epic that would remain unmatched in its interplay of unforgettable visuals and stirring music until Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

However, Things to Come also has glaring weaknesses. It is tediously paced, insufferably preachy, and completely devoid of believable characters or human drama. Wells was so intent on getting his message across that most of the story’s characters simply function as bullhorns spouting the author’s socio-political theories.  On the whole, Wells’ effort to save the world might have proven more successful had he been willing to emulate the approach of his early, most famous novels, which contained both big ideas and believable characters. As it stands, World War II arrived two years sooner than Wells anticipated (but mercifully ended 19 years earlier than Wells’ predicted 1966 resolution). And Things to Come was a critical and box office flop.

The flaws in Things to Come also present remarkable parallels with Roddenberry and his work. Both men looked back on their wildly successful early work (Wells on his classic SF novels, Roddenberry on the original Star Trek series) with some embarrassment. Both privately considered their early efforts immature and inadequate, especially as expressions of their Utopian aspirations for humankind. Consequently, their later works grew more overt and emphatic in their social messaging.

In a sense, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was Roddenberry’s Things to Come. It was a tremendously ambitious and expensive project (the costliest single film ever made in Hollywood at the time) that brought together enormously talented collaborators (including Oscar winners director Robert Wise, composer Jerry Goldsmith and visual effects genius Douglas Trumbull, plus science fiction legend Isaac Asimov), but it met with critical and commercial disappointment. Both films suffered because their guiding force (which in the case of ST: TMP remained Roddenberry, even though Harold Livingston received sole screenwriting credit) placed far greater emphasis on ideas than on characters, resulting in slow-moving, emotionless pictures that left audiences cold.

Both men suffered as a result of their failures. Two of three other planned Korda-Wells collaborations were scrapped. (The other finished picture, The Man Who Could World Miracles, was far less ambitious than Things to Come.) Roddenberry lost control of Star Trek, reduced to a figurehead “executive consultant” with no real power while Harve Bennett took the reins of the film franchise. When, with the creation of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Roddenberry gained a new fiefdom, her persisted in his insistence that Star Trek’s first priority was not to present compelling dramatic situations, but to promote his progressive philosophy, including his belief in the perfectibility of the human race.

Roddenberry believed that the Bennett’s Trek feature films had strayed from this mission and tried to put the franchise back on course with The Next Generation with a series of decrees to his writing staff. Since the new series was set a century later than the original, he believed it should reflect the ongoing maturation of both future technology and our species. Starships of the 24th century would be more sophisticated and more reliable, so he also banned plots based on mechanical malfunctions. More problematically, Next Gen Starfleet officers, he reasoned, would be of higher moral caliber than their twenty-third century counterparts; therefore, Roddenberry forbade the depiction of interpersonal conflicts among the crew. No personality clashes, petty jealousies, competing personal ambitions, romantic triangles or other such story elements would be tolerated, even though because such conflicts have been essential building blocks of drama as far back as Sophocles. A revolving roster of writers struggled to devise compelling plots and flesh out the show’s ensemble of characters, without recourse to forbidden plot devices.  As a result, during Next Gen’s first two seasons, Captain Picard and his crew went underdeveloped, their personalities, relationships and backgrounds largely unexplored. Next Generation never consistently hit its stride until Season Three, when Roddenberry’s grip began to loosen, as a result of health problems. Eventually new executive producer Rick Berman lifted most of Roddenberry’s most restrictive screenwriting prohibitions.

I could go on, but this is already pretty long for a blog entry. Suffice to say that in many respects Wells and Roddenberry seem to have been cut from the same bolt of cloth. It was fine silk, but eventually gathered a few moth holes.

Star Trek FAQ 2.0

This book is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with CBS Studios Inc., Paramount Pictures, or the “Star Trek” franchise. In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek rose from the ash heap of network cancellation and soared to the peak of its popularity with a series of blockbuster feature films and the smash sequel series Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek FAQ 2.0 picks up where the original Star Trek FAQ left off, chronicling the historic comeback of the “failed” series and its emergence as a pop culture touchstone. The book provides accounts of the production of every Star Trek movie (including creator Gene Roddenberry’s struggle to retain control of the franchise) and every episode of The Next Generation (and the conflicts that roiled its writing staff). It also offers profiles of the actors, directors, writers, producers, and technicians whose excellence fueled the franchise’s success, and explores often overlooked aspects of the Star Trek phenomenon, including unofficial, fan-made productions. Star Trek FAQ 2.0represents the final frontier of Trek scholarship.

Star Trek FAQ Giveaway

Trivia time! Be the first to answer all four questions correctly and you’ll receive a free copy of Mark Clark’s  Star Trek FAQ . Make sure to include your email so that we can contact you if you win.

1. Who played Khan in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan?

2. Name three civilizations that feature in Star Trek.

3. What is Warp Drive?

4. Who played the original Spock and Captain Kirk?

Star Trek: Into Darkness, a review

MarkClark in ColorGuest Blogger: Mark Clark is the author of Star Trek FAQ (available now) and Star Trek FAQ 2.0 (available June 2013).

Very soon, Applause Books will publish my latest work, Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, The Movies and Beyond (Unofficial and Unauthorized). This volume picks up where my previous book, Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise, left off, and continues the story of the franchise up to now. Or rather, up to last fall, when the manuscript was completed. The book concludes with the impending release of Star Trek into Darkness, about which little was known at the time. Since Star Trek FAQ 2.0 covers (among many other things) all the other films in the series, I felt compelled to share my thoughts about the latest Trek movie here. Consider this an addendum to the book proper. Feel free to print this out, fold it up and slip it into Star Trek FAQ 2.0 between Chapter 40 and the bibliography. No extra charge.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to dispense with any plot summary and assume anyone reading this article has already seen the film. (If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) Warning: Spoilers ahead!

The bottom line is simply that if you liked producer-director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 re-boot, then you will adore Star Trek into Darkness. If you didn’t enjoy the previous film, then you probably won’t go for this one, either. All the flaws from Abrams’ first Trek outing return, but so do all the strengths – and the good stuff is much better this time around. Like the last one, Into Darkness is handsomely mounted, impeccably performed, thrilling and often hilarious. The story moves at warp speed and is overstuffed with dazzling action and visual effects sequences, including the most spectacular space battles and white-knuckle chase scenes of any Trek film. And once again, the film is strewn with inside jokes and references to classic Trek people, places and things, including a tribble in sick bay. But, as before, the frenetic pace disguises gaping holes in story logic and faulty science (for a hilarious rundown of these gaffes, visit http://io9.com/star-trek-into-darkness-the-spoiler-faq-508927844). For me, the only really bothersome lapse was that exploding 72 photon torpedoes inside a starship would not only vaporize the vessel and everyone onboard, but would also obliterate everything else in the vicinity and possibly rip a whole in space. But Abrams’ biggest mistake was casting Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus. While the actor’s work is fine, the presence of Weller – who hasn’t played a sympathetic character since the Robocop films, and already portrayed a two-faced Star Trek villain in a memorable Enterprise two-parter (“Demons”/“Terra Prime”)  – telegraphs the “twist” that Federation power brokers are up to no good. This plot point would have been far more effective with someone warm and likeable (for instance, avid Trekker Tom Hanks) cast against type as Marcus.

On balance, however, the film’s assets far outweigh its liabilities. If Abrams isn’t very good with precise, logical plots, he excels at understanding audience expectations and playing off them. Evoking The Wrath of Khan enables Abrams and screenwriters Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to toy with fans’ preconceived ideas; the film delivers everything viewers think they see coming, but never quite as anticipated. At times Into Darkness stands Wrath of Khan on its head, with suspenseful or amusing results. Among the most refreshing of these inversions is the sight of Spock, rather than Kirk, starring in a major action/chase sequence. Considering that Vulcans are supposed to be physically stronger and more agile than humans, this should have happened before. Abrams also has a gift for eliciting fine performances from his cast, and Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and Bruce Greenwood shine again as Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Captain Pike. One of the major differences between this Trek and the original is that Abrams and company don’t even attempt to recreate the Kirk-Spock McCoy chemistry of the classic series. This is a Kirk-Spock bromance, with McCoy, Uhura and Scotty as supporting characters and Chekov and Sulu for window dressing. This is intended merely as an observation, not necessarily a criticism. It’s probably smart, since I don’t believe Pine, Quinto and Urban (or anybody else) could duplicate the rapport of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. Similarly, while Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Khan Noonien Singh has garnered much well-deserved praise, his icy take on the character couldn’t be more different from Ricardo Montalban’s alluring, romantic performance.

In Star Trek FAQ 2.0, I wrote the following about the 2009 film: “Although fans may disagree with some of the choices made by Abrams and Orci and Kurtzman, the reality is that after Nemesis and Enterprise, the franchise had been written into a corner. Abrams and his compatriots simply did what was necessary to break out of that trap, while crafting a livelier, more sensational and more emotional Star Trek with wide appeal beyond the Trekker faithful. The film may or may not mark the passing of the previous, statelier version of the franchise, but its success has assured that Trek will continue, in some form or another, for years to come.” Star Trek into Darkness only confirms that verdict. Although its opening weekend box office fell slightly below expectations (due largely to competition from Iron Man 3 and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby), Into Darkness has all the markings of major hit, and figures to keep Star Trek in business for the foreseeable future.

At the conclusion of Into Darkness, Pine’s Kirk has finally begun to mature into something closer to Shatner’s version of the character, and the USS Enterprise is set to embark on its famous five-year mission. The galaxy is wide open. The most interesting question now becomes, where does the franchise go next? And who – with Abrams busy making a new Star Wars trilogy – will lead it? Look for musings on those topics in a future blog entry.

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Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, The Movies and Beyond (Unofficial and Unauthorized)

This book is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with CBS Studios Inc., Paramount Pictures, or the “Star Trek” franchise. In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek rose from the ash heap of network cancellation and soared to the peak of its popularity with a series of blockbuster feature films and the smash sequel series Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek FAQ 2.0 picks up where the original Star Trek FAQ left off, chronicling the historic comeback of the “failed” series and its emergence as a pop culture touchstone. The book provides accounts of the production of every Star Trek movie (including creator Gene Roddenberry’s struggle to retain control of the franchise) and every episode of The Next Generation (and the conflicts that roiled its writing staff). It also offers profiles of the actors, directors, writers, producers, and technicians whose excellence fueled the franchise’s success, and explores often overlooked aspects of the Star Trek phenomenon, including unofficial, fan-made productions. Star Trek FAQ 2.0represents the final frontier of Trek scholarship.

Mark Clark, an interview

 Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Mark Clark, author of Star Trek FAQ and the forthcoming Star Trek FAQ 2.0, chats with Patrick Phillips, host of The Patrick Phillips Show. Re-posted here with Patrick’s permission.

>>>LISTEN HERE<<<

Star Trek FAQ tells the complete story of Star Trek, from the before the beginning (the books, films, and TV shows that inspired producer Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek) until after the end (when the show emerged as a cultural phenomenon in syndication), and including dramatic behind-the-scenes stories (e.g., Leonard Nimoy’s struggle with alcoholism and actress Grace Lee Whitney’s controversial firing) often omitted from “authorized” histories of the program. Along with in-depth looks at the pre- and post-Trek careers of the show’s iconic leads, Star Trek FAQ includes profiles of guest stars and “redshirt” extras alike, as well as the many writers, technicians, and artisans whose efforts enabled Star Trek to take flight. The book also explores the show’s unprecedented resurgence in the 1970s with chapters devoted to early Star Trek fiction, merchandising, and the short-lived animated series. Combining a wealth of fascinating information about every facet of the show’s production with original analysis of Star Trek‘s enduring appeal and cultural influence, Star Trek FAQ goes where no Star Trek book has gone before.

Is Star Trek: The Next Generation All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

 

Guest Blogger: Mark Clark, author of Star Trek FAQ (Applause Books)

 

In a previous blog entry, I answered the question (posed by reviewer of my book Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know about the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise), is Star Trek all it’s cracked up to be? For the record, I responded with an emphatic yes. But what about Star Trek: The Next Generation? In my forthcoming companion volume, Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know about the Feature Films, I write about the quality of the sequel series:

During its prime era (from Seasons Three through Six), Star Trek: The Next Generation consistently delivered elegantly produced, convincingly performed, character-driven stories enriched by imaginative, thought-provoking science fiction concepts. The series was as ambitious and well-crafted as any on the air. Simply put, it was one of the best shows on television. But The Next Generation, while collecting an impressive haul of Emmys in various technical categories, for many years was shut out of these more prestigious “creative” categories. This became a source of frustration for the show’s producers and cast, who believed Emmy voters didn’t take the series seriously because it was syndicated, and because it was science fiction.

“Because our show doesn’t air on one of the traditional networks, we continually face the frustration of being an anomaly,” Berman complained to a reporter from Entertainment Tonight, in a story about the production of Next Gen’s landmark eightieth episode (one more than the original program). “We can only hope our show will be acknowledged by the industry, which an increasing number of viewers have obviously been enjoying for the past four seasons regardless of where they watch it.”

In the same interview, Patrick Stewart seemed even more irritated. “We’re conscious of that some people think of us as ‘That syndicated kid’s show,’ and as far as a large part of the TV industry is concerned, we are,” Stewart fumed. “Otherwise, how can you explain the total absence of Emmy nominations for directing, writing and acting?” Stewart went on to compare Star Trek with Shakespeare, pointing out that the Bard’s plays were also considered escapist entertainment in their day, but “clearly his plays could be very serious, too.”

Indeed, looking back, Star Trek: The Next Generation compares favorably with many of the programs that earned higher ratings and greater Emmy recognition during its prime years (from Season Three in 1989-90 through Season Six in 1992-93).

Situation comedies dominated this era in television. Shows such as Cheers, Roseanne, The Cosby Show and Murphy Brown ruled the Nielsen ratings. For the 1989-90 season, no drama series finished in the Top 10. The top-rated dramas were L.A. Law and Murder, She Wrote, which tied for Number 14. In the Heat of the Night (Number 17) and Matlock (Number 20) also cracked the Top 20. Over the next three seasons, only three dramas cracked the Top 20: Murder, She Wrote (all three seasons), Matlock (in 1990-91), and Northern Exposure (in 1991-92 and ’92-93). Today, Next Gen boasts a far larger following than any of those series.

The critical darlings of the era were L.A. Law (which won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 1990 and ‘91), Northern Exposure (Emmy champion in 1992) and Picket Fences (the 1993 Emmy winner), along with frequent nominees China Beach, thirtysomething, and Law & Order. A science fiction series rubbed elbows with this distinguished company, but it wasn’t Next Gen; it was Quantum Leap, Emmy nominated for three consecutive seasons from 1990 through 1992. Yet The Next Generation, arguably, was more innovative and in form and adventurous in content than any of those more celebrated programs.

The Next Generation was belatedly honored with an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Dramatic Series following its final season in 1994, which was somewhat ironic since the show’s teleplays were very inconsistent that year. Although it failed to win that year (losing to Picket Fences), Next Gen became the first syndicated program ever nominated for the award. Next Gen won a George Foster Peabody Award for the Season One episode “The Big Goodbye.” It was the first syndicated program ever to win the award. Over the next several seasons, the Peabody Award (not widely known outside the broadcasting industry but cherished within it) went to China Beach, thirtysomething, Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. Peabody voters, at least, considered The Next Generation on par with the finest dramas on TV from the very beginning.

Of course, this analysis leaves open the question of which series was better, the original or Next Gen. But that’s an issue for another day – and, perhaps, for a future blog entry.

Star Trek FAQ tells the complete story of Star Trek, from the before the beginning (the books, films, and TV shows that inspired producer Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek) until after the end (when the show emerged as a cultural phenomenon in syndication), and including dramatic behind-the-scenes stories (e.g., Leonard Nimoy’s struggle with alcoholism and actress Grace Lee Whitney’s controversial firing) often omitted from “authorized” histories of the program. Along with in-depth looks at the pre- and post-Trek careers of the show’s iconic leads, Star Trek FAQ includes profiles of guest stars and “redshirt” extras alike, as well as the many writers, technicians, and artisans whose efforts enabled Star Trek to take flight. The book also explores the show’s unprecedented resurgence in the 1970s with chapters devoted to early Star Trek fiction, merchandising, and the short-lived animated series. Combining a wealth of fascinating information about every facet of the show’s production with original analysis of Star Trek‘s enduring appeal and cultural influence, Star Trek FAQ goes where no Star Trek book has gone before.