- Trek Galaxy's Voyager Tribute -
By Gregory L. Norris & Laura A. Van Vleet exclusively for TrekGalaxy.
Day 10 - Kenneth Biller, Outtakes and Farewell Delta Quadrant
"Voyager won't abandon you."
-- Seven of Nine, 'Unimatrix Zero Part One'
Endings give way to new beginnings.
Over at Stage 18, the sound of striking hammers can be heard. Looking at our Paramount lot maps, Laura and I get as close as we dare. That muted sound of thunder is the heartbeat of Enterprise, the fifth live-action Star Trek series being readied to replace the fourth. It also signals the death of Voyager, the fourth, which will soon end. A few days earlier, Ethan Phillips put us on to this well-kept secret. We'd love to get a look at the new sets of the coming series, but with the fleet of golf carts and security that buzz around this place, we err on the side of caution. After all, we'll soon enough be standing on the Enterprise sets covering the series for any number of publications. Nothing, however, that's come before or will follow after can ever replace Voyager.
Soon after our visit, Stage 8, where much of Voyager has been filmed for the past seven years, the set that houses the Bridge, Mess Hall, Conference Room, and ship's corridors, will be condemned for demolition due to structural concerns. On this day, our last for now in California, we are to meet Ken Biller, who assumed the reigns of Executive Producer following Brannon Braga's questionable two-year run in that capacity. We quickly learn he has a lot on his mind - and his plate.
"How are you today?" I ask.
Biller, whose voice tends to speed up and rise when he's excited, says, "Tired. There's so much going on."
"Then let's kick off without delay. Does the crew get home?" I joke.
Biller laughs. "Well, you know I won't tell you that. You're just going to have to watch and find out."
"We were only kidding," I assure him.
The ice broken, Laura asks, "What do you believe Voyager contributed to the Star Trek mythos?
"Wow," Biller says, contemplating his response. "I think it contributed several new, interesting and unique characters, including the regulars, Kes, who's no longer on the show, and many of our guest actors. We will have done 172 hours by the time that all is said and done here, and I'd like to think that several dozen of those hours were really good, thought provoking and original story telling." Before we continue, Biller takes a pause, adding, "And I think we contributed another family, another crew that really is and has become a family over the years, a family fans enjoy visiting with, just like The Next Gen and DS9 had their families. Voyager's crew maybe made it a closer family than some of the other crews because of their isolation. And you know, I hope that we've contributed some excitement and some anticipation over the years, especially with the finale coming up."
"We love Voyager," Laura emotes. "And its cast."
"They're great," Biller continues. "I have varying relationships with all of them. I'm closer to some of them than others, not because I've chosen to be, but just because some spend more time talking to the writers and producers about the show than others. I have a very nice relationship with Bob Picardo. He is somebody who has always, from the very beginning of the series, cared intensely about the show. He is probably the most likely person in the cast to call with an idea or a suggestion or a question, always in the interest of trying to make the show a little bit better. So Bob and I have a really close relationship. I have a very soft spot for Ethan Phillips. He is one of the world's sweetest and funniest guys. I think I can say without insulting anybody on the cast that he is the funniest person on the show."
"He's hilarious," I add.
"He's just so funny. He makes everybody laugh all the time, and he's fun to be around," Biller agrees. "I think Kate has been a great leader, and she's sort of set the tone for the cast. Jeri Ryan is hilarious, and I have a lot of fun when we end up in a social situation together, with plenty of cackling and laughter involved. I love Roxann, and one of the really fun things that I've been able to do is be able to work with Roxann as a producer as she's begun her directing career. The two episodes she's directed, the second of which aired this past February, are some really excellent directing work. She's really such a smart person. I worked with Robbie McNeill as a director as well. I didn't really work as a producer so much on the episodes Tim Russ and Bob Picardo directed, but I have a particularly fond experience working with Roxann as the producer to her director. I really like and respect the entire cast. They're really hard workers. I know it sounds like I'm blowing smoke up their asses, but I really do like and respect them all. And by and large, for people who've been together for seven years, for the most part they really get along well with one another and they're very respectful of the writers and the producers."
"You came into Voyager as Executive Producer this year," Laura poses. "Were there things you wanted to do with the show that you couldn't with this being the final season?"
"Actually, most of the things I wanted to do I could do because it was the last year," Biller reveals. "There were episodes that we wouldn't have produced in earlier seasons that we were able to do this year. Obviously, it was not a time to be introducing new major characters or getting rid of characters, not that I wanted to do that. But I was given a table that was fully set. All I had to do was serve a meal. I can't really think of anything that I wanted to do that I couldn't do. There were times when there were stories that came along that you wish you could produce, and because of the nature of the show, you can't. Like - what would happen if so and so got home and met up with so and so - well, they're not home, so you can't do that show, those sorts of things. Certainly, it's been an enormous challenge to end the series in a way that is both satisfying and surprising to the audience, and hopefully we're going to give you that."
Laura asks, "You've been associated with Voyager for some time - do you have a favourite episode, or episodes?"
"There's a bunch that I like. Off the top of my head, I really do like 'Work Force', which is still fresh in my mind. I love the episode 'Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy' that Joe Menosky wrote. I loved those aliens. I tend to like the comedies. There's an episode that a lot of fans don't like that I love called 'Virtuoso', which has the Doctor becoming Elvis, basically. 'Timeless' was a really fun episode. One of my favourites this year was 'Lineage', which has wonderful acting performances from Robbie McNeill and Roxann Dawson. It has a wonderful science fiction premise, but also an enormous amount of emotion. I thought that was a really terrific show. I liked the two-hour we did earlier, 'Flesh and Blood', and 'Unity' is a favourite episode of mine that I wrote many years ago. 'Faces', which I wrote in the first season, where B'Elanna got split in half, that was an old favourite of mine. I also liked 'Before and After', that wacky time travel episode where Kes goes backward in times - the chronoton radiation poisoning - and speaking of the Krenim, I loved 'Year of Hell'. That was a fun two-hour episode."
"Not for the crew, it wasn't!" I say lightly.
Biller chuckles. "There have been a lot. I wish I could give you a single favourite. How about this - my favourite is the two-hour finale, 'Endgame'. It's my favourite two hours of all time!"
-- Voyager Outtakes --
Greg: In the movie Burglar (starring Whoopie Goldberg), your character said what has to be the funniest line I've ever heard - 'that guy got more ass than a toilet seat…'
Ethan Phillips: (laughing) I can't believe you knew that line. We'll, there's an interesting story behind it. Whoopie wanted to change the line to, 'he gets more pussy than the ASPCA'. The director thought it was funny, but that it was a little crude. But Whoopie insisted we use the line, so we shot her coverage. Then, at midnight, she went home and he had me do the original line to a stand in so that they could use the regular line. He didn't want to go against her wishes. He figured she would forget it when the movie opened, and sure enough she did.
Robert Duncan McNeill
Laura: Tim Russ told us you got your ass lit on fire by a jetpack-
Robert McNeill: Yes, I did. It's a funny story to talk about now, but that day, and for a week afterwards, I had singed cheeks.
Laura: If you could take one thing from the set, no matter how large or how small, what would it be?
Kate Mulgrew: Something I wear every day - my uniform boots.
Laura: I really want the Captain's desk from the Ready Room for my office.
Kate Mulgrew: I think I can help you steal it - we'll just sneak over to the set and I'll help you carry it out.
Greg: We're supposed to meet with an agent for TV representation on our scripts, but he hasn't returned our calls yet. We were thinking of using the transporters to get us into his office in Beverly Hills, then he'd have to see us.
Kate Mulgrew: Well, after we get the desk, I'll sneak you both into the transporter room and I'll beam you into his office, how's that?
-- A Fond Farewell to The Delta Quadrant --
For weeks, as Voyager's finale has neared, I've been plagued by a brooding sense of loss. Dreams about the show have crept into my sleep, and as the multitudes of magazines and newspapers we've covered the finale for have hit the web, newsstands, and streets, that malaise has worsened. It sounds silly, I know, to allow a mere television series to weigh so heavily on a person's heart. But both personally and professionally, Voyager has meant much more to me than an excuse to flip channels. Long before so beautifully assuming the big chair, Kate Mulgrew was my late mother's favourite actress. My mother, Diane Elaine Gauthier, was a key figure in helping my pursuit of a career in writing. The same week I quit my last 'time clock job' to write full-time in early 1995, Voyager premiered, and I was immediately hooked. While I have loved all the incarnations of Trek, perhaps it was this coincidence that heightened my affection for Voyager early on.
Professionally, hundreds of feature articles, exclusive news stories, and sit-down conversations like the ones found here bearing both my writing partner's by-line and my own have revolved around Voyager. Having been able to contribute to the actual writing of the series with Laura is something I will take with me for the rest of my life. I know the next leg of our journey will no doubt be even more exciting!
To Kate Mulgrew - you are lovely, genuine, and flawless in so many ways. Thank you for giving us the most courageous captain in all the quadrants! To Roxann Dawson, thank you for your graciousness over the years. To Robbie McNeill, Ethan Phillips, and Bob Picardo, you are gentlemen through and through. To Jeri Taylor, thank you for putting a woman in the Captain's chair. To Nikolas of trekgalaxy.com, thank you for this wonderful opportunity. To all the fans who have taken the time to read our Voyager set visit stories, may you always dare to dream. And finally, to Laura, the best friend and most talented writing partner I ever could have hoped for, thank you for travelling 75,000 light years and back with me. It's been a great voyage!
-- Gregory L. Norris
Like the struggles and dilemmas the Voyager crew has faced over the years, so goes the working team of G&L Creative Company, (a.k.a. Greg & Laura). But with every struggle came strength, and with every dilemma came creativity. This writing team has definitely without a doubt improved its firearms, shields, allies, and more importantly their parallel inner strength.
When I watch the final episode of Voyager, I will be constantly reminded that this was the beginning that started this writing team together. I will be filled with enormous amount of nostalgia, pride of our accomplishments, and our laughter that still rings in my ears over bizarre and ridiculous situations we have gone through and sometimes even created ourselves. To say the least, I will miss Voyager every Wednesday night; it will be a weekly friend no longer there. I will always have a deep fondness for Voyager, it was the beginning for Greg and I, and now sadly it's time turn our ship to another destination, but before we do, I will lift my glass to Voyager and to my best friend and writing partner. Greg, once again we come full circle, to the next, Cheers…
A final thought: Greg and I are proof that you can pursue and succeed at anything. It starts with a dream, as ridiculous as it might sound at first, if you put your mind to it, and pursue with courage and tenacity. You too can 'trek' to the stars.
-- Laura A. Van Vleet