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Commentary : ‘Star Trek’ Commanders Haven’t Veered From the Original Mission

The Hartford Courant

It’s hard for some “Star Trek” fans to imagine a universe without Gene Roddenberry.

When he died in October, it must have seemed like the Starship Enterprise lost its captain.

But Roddenberry, the creator of the ‘60s NBC sci-fi series and its ‘80s reincarnation, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” had his No. 1 in charge.

Meet Rick Berman, executive producer of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the man who, in fact, has piloted the series for the past two seasons.

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Fear not, Trekkers, the man at the helm has a firm grip on the wheel.

In a recent telephone interview, Berman--who’s been with “The Next Generation” from its Emmy-winning start, offered what must come as comforting words for those who fear for the future.

“Staying true to Gene’s vision is a very specific task, which is involved in every single thing we do,” he said.

The fact of the matter is, however, that Berman has been steering “The Next Generation” for more than two seasons.

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“Gene’s involvement in the show was total during the conception of the series,” said Berman. “He created the shows, he created the bible (the outline of the show). It was his story. It was his idea.”

But, Berman continued, “In the second season he began to step away. And by the third season his involvement was quite a bit less.”

Mutinous words from a traitorous second-in-command? Hardly.

“We were very close professionally and very close personally,” said Berman of Roddenberry, who 25 years ago launched the USS Enterprise on a mission that has continued on television and in movies ever since.

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The original crew, Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan) and their 23rd-Century comrades, were succeeded in 1987 by Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Cmdr. William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Lt. Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) and Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) of the 24th Century.

And, dare we say it? “The Next Generation” has outperformed the previous generation on many, if not all, levels. Now in its fifth season--the original lasted just three--"Star Trek: The Next Generation” has become one of the most successful hours in syndication history, garnered multiple Emmy wins, and recently was named best syndicated series by the nation’s TV critics in a poll conducted by Electronic Media.

And yet Berman is the first to say he’s not a fan of side-by-side comparisons.

“I don’t like the sense of competitiveness,” he said. “There are people who run contests--'Which show do you like better? Which captain do you like better?'--what’s important to me is they’re two entities that are connected.”

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There was, perhaps, no better example of that spirit than the recent two-part episode featuring Mr. Spock and a mind-melding with Capt. Picard.

The original “Star Trek,” Berman said, “was created by ‘60s people for a ‘60s audience” and were it not for the mythological aura surrounding those shows, he noted, it might be more apparent that they don’t hold up so well.

But the universe Roddenberry created has remained consistent, which is one of the reasons, Berman said, “I have not attempted to change the show in any dramatic fashion.”

He thinks “The Next Generation” has a more serious edge than its progenitor, which was “a lot more fun and more swashbuckling and sexy than our show is, but I think the television in the ‘60s called for that.”

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