Ronald D. Moore Shares Some Great Stories About Writing ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and ‘DS9’

     June 3, 2020

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If you’re a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and want to hear some really cool stories about the making of both series and the wild way Star Trek led to Ronald D. Moore getting his break in Hollywood, you’re in the right place. That’s because last week I did an extended interview with Ronald D. Moore as part of our Collider Connected interview series and he shared some great behind-the-scenes stories about being part of Star Trek including many I didn’t know. If you’re not aware, Moore wrote over twenty-five episodes of TNG, fifteen episodes of DS9, and was one of the writers on Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact, so he has a lot of firsthand knowledge.

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Image via Paramount

Anyway, back when TNG was filming on the Paramount lot in the late 80s, they offered weekly tours so fans could see the sets up close. It ends up Moore was dating a girl at the time who had a contact at Star Trek and she got him on a tour scheduled for about six weeks from when she asked. Moore decided he’d write an episode of The Next Generation while he waited for the tour and bring it to set to try and land a job. Here’s how Moore described it:

“I just decided I was going to give it a shot, and I sat down and wrote an episode and I tucked it under my arm and I brought it with me on the set tour. I convinced the guy that was giving the set tour, his name was Richard Arnold to read the script. He liked it and gave it to my first agent. Richard was one of Gene Roddenberry’s assistants. So the agent submitted it to the show formally. It sat in the slush pile for about seven months. Then Michael Piller, the late Michael Piller came aboard at the beginning of the third season, looking for materials, started going through the slush pile, found the script, bought it, produced it, asked me to write a second one. I did a second one. Then after that he brought me on staff and I was there for 10 years. It was a very lucky, amazing break that I got. I was very young. I was like 25.”

In this day and age something like this would probably never happen due to all the rules in place about unsolicited submissions, but it’s incredible to hear how Moore got started.

Besides sharing how he got started, Moore talked about the incredible production challenges trying to make twenty-six episodes a season on TNG, why they weren’t allowed to tell season-long storylines, how the writers were essentially working all year long, co-writing the TNG series finale “All Good Things” and how they came up with the idea of Picard playing poker with the crew at the end of the episode, and so much more.

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Image via CBS

After we discussed TNG, we dove into DS9 where Moore talked about why he landed on that series and not Voyager, how DS9 was able to push boundaries like featuring the first same-sex kiss on Star Trek, how the writers room was different from TNG, why they didn’t map out a season-long arc, the newfound respect for the series that it didn’t have as it aired, and more. Finally, at the end of the interview, Moore shared what props he took home from set and how he saved something very cool from the dumpster when the sets were being destroyed.

Like I said previously, if you’re a fan of TNG or DS9, you’re going to love hearing Moore share some behind-the-scenes stories that I’m sure you don’t know.

Due to how much these series mean to me, I’m doing something a bit unusual for this interview: you can either watch what Moore had to say in the player below, or you can read the full transcript further down the page. I know some of you prefer watching videos while others would rather just read the text. As usual, below the video is a listing of what we talked about.

Finally, if you missed what Moore had to say about For All Mankind, the unproduced live-action Star Wars series Underground, Outlander, or the Battlestar Galactica series finale, just click the links.

ronald-moore-interviewRonald D. Moore:

  • The crazy way he got involved with Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • The policy where anyone could submit a script to TNG after Moore’s script was purchased.
  • They started getting three thousand scripts a year and they had to bring on full time readers to go through them.
  • How Bryan Fuller and Jane Espenson got their start through submitting scripts.
  • What was it like writing scripts for a show in the 80s and early 90s where the technology was so different to what we have today?
  • What was it like trying to figure out the season arc and storylines?
  • How TNG was still part of the system that didn’t allow for season long arcs or continuity between episodes due to first run syndication.
  • How they were looking for a variety of storylines which meant not doing two Picard episodes in a row or two mysteries in a row.
  • They only had seven days of prep and seven days to shoot which was an incredibly fast schedule for a show like TNG.
  • How they never worried about the ratings.
  • After each season the writers would get a two week break and then be back at work.
  • Did he have a favorite character to write for on TNG.
  • What was it like writing the series finale All Good Things and was the storyline almost something else?
  • How he had been working on the script for Star Trek: Generations when he got the assignment about the series finale.
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    Image via Paramount Pictures

    How they spent a year working on Generations and one month on All Good Things but the series finale turned out so much better.

  • Who came up with the idea of Picard playing poker with the crew at the end of the episode?
  • Does he think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has gained a lot more respect since it originally aired?
  • How DS9 was doing longer storylines and they had to overcome a lot of opposition to it.
  • How he got involved in DS9.
  • How DS9 did things that had never been done on a Star Trek show like the first same sex kiss. Did they get a lot of pushback from the studio?
  • How the writers believed they should see how far Star Trek could go on DS9.
  • How did the writer’s room on DS9 compare to TNG?
  • Did they ever have the season long arcs figured out on DS9 or were they figuring out as they went?
  • Did he take home any props from set? He has some very cool stuff….
  • Has he watched Star Trek: Discovery or Picard and what has he thought?

Here’s the text of the interview:

Collider: I absolutely love Star Trek: The Next Generation. It might be my favorite show. I heard a story about how you got involved on that show and it’s so crazy, and I just can’t imagine that it would ever happen again in today’s world. So how did you get involved? I want to make sure what I heard is actually accurate.

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Image via NBC

RONALD D. MOORE: I was living in Los Angeles trying to be a writer and basically I started dating a girl who had a connection to Star Trek: The Next Generation. She found out I was a Star Trek fan because I had Captain Kirk posters in my apartment and she said, “Oh, you know, I still know people over there. I could get you a tour of the sets.” They used to have a regular set tour. Like once a week they would take people on the Star Trek sets, because so many people wanted to do it. So she made a call and they said, “Sure, you can get on the tour, and it’ll be in about six weeks.” So I just decided I was going to give it a shot, and I sat down and wrote an episode and I tucked it under my arm and I brought it with me on the set tour. I convinced the guy that was giving the set tour, his name was Richard Arnold to read the script. He liked it and gave it to my first agent. Richard was one of Gene Roddenberry’s assistants. So the agent submitted it to the show formally. It sat in the slush pile for about seven months. Then Michael Piller, the late Michael Piller came aboard at the beginning of the third season, looking for materials, started going through the slush pile, found the script, bought it, produced it, asked me to write a second one. I did a second one. Then after that he brought me on staff and I was there for 10 years. It was a very lucky, amazing break that I got. I was very young. I was like 25.

It’s crazy that happened because it’s so, I mean, Star Trek: The Next Generation had a very unusual, they had a different policy where people could submit scripts or … that was the case, right?

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Image via CBS

Yeah. After, well, I’m kind of responsible for that. Because after Michael found my script, Michael decided, “Oh, this is a great resource. We should open the gates up to the fan community and people that want to write for the show.” So he negotiated a deal with the Paramount lawyers where if you filled out this release form, anybody could submit a script to the show. So we started getting like 3000 scripts a year. And we had at least five full time script readers who did nothing but read Next Generation scripts and then wrote up coverage on every script. Then every week the writers, of which I was one at that point, would get this stack of spec scripts with coverage. And we would have to read the coverage and then people would be invited. Some very, there was maybe one or two scripts that were bought, purchased outright, after me. I think Tin Man was a script that was purchased. Then there were a couple of stories that were purchased. But there were a lot of writers that came in and pitched for the first time because of that. Some of them sold stories. Bryan Fuller, I believe, got his start that way. And Jane Espenson I believe also.

It’s amazing. You worked on 27 scripts on Next Generation. What was it like back then? Because nowadays, the modern technology, the way we’re talking to each other, modern computers, the way people can work, is so different than it was back in the eighties and early nineties. What was it like writing for a show when the technology was just so different?

It was amazing. You have to remember, it sounds antiquated now, but at the time we were all working on what was state-of-the-art equipment or at least we thought it was. I worked on a Mac at home, but they didn’t have Macs at the studio. So we had to use these IBM PCs. And they were black screens with amber lettering at the beginning, and the big five and a half inch floppy disks. Then graduated to color monitors and the three and a half inch discs. Still didn’t have them networked together. There was no internet. You had to, if you want something printed out, you had to take the disc down four flights of stairs, give it to the script coordinator. They would do the print outs for you and take it back up.

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Image via CBS

Changes were done on the margins, handwritten in the script. Then you gave it to the script coordinator to actually type in the changes. But it was a point of transition. There was still a secretarial pool, a typing pool at Paramount, which meant there were women that were in that pool who had been typing scripts for literally decades. If you wrote your script in longhand, you could send it to the secretarial pool and they would type it up in the right format and send it back to you the same day. It was literally a survivor of the era going back to I Love Lucy when they would do stuff like that. So it was really something. The internet came in while I was at Star Trek, and working on Star Trek, we were always very interested in technology. So there were first adopters among all of us. Different people were buying new computers and Macs and upgrades. People started talking about the internet and it was feeding our sort of technocentric kind of view of the universe or view of the future. So we always were sort of trying to get the latest and greatest stuff. AOL was a big deal, and all the stuff at the primeval era of the internet happened while I was at Star Trek. Message boards, and fan communication changed pretty profoundly once the internet came through. It was a fascinating time.

One of the things about Star Trek, the show did I think 20 something episodes a year, which is a massive beast of a production for a sci-fi show. What was it like in terms of each season, trying to figure out the ultimate arc? How much was it changing on the fly? I’m just curious about the way you guys developed the seasons back then.

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Image via CBS

Well, in Next Gen, you have to remember it was very episodic. This was before the era of television embraced story arcs and character arcs. There was a mandate. The studio was very adamant that it did not want continuity between the episodes because we were a first run syndication show. It went out to straight to the local syndicated stations, and those stations wanted the ability to show them in whatever order they wanted to. They didn’t want to have to get locked into a certain pattern of showing. The studio was frankly afraid that viewers tuned into episode four of a five episode arc and they went, “Oh, I missed the first three. Well, screw it. I’m not going to watch any of this.” So it was a very different mindset. So when we were developing the show, you weren’t doing arcs. At the beginning of the season, we were doing 26 a year, which it sounds crazy now, but we were doing 26 episodes and you would just start keeping, putting up one line things of concepts for an episode on a big board.

You were mostly looking for a variety of storytelling. You were trying not to do two mysteries in a row. You were trying not to do two Picard stories in a row. You were saying, “Okay, we’ll do this Picard. Then we’re going to do a Beverly story. Then we’ll do a Worf story. Then we’ll do another Picard story.” You were mixing it up in terms of the characters and the style of storytelling. “It’s too many time travel episodes this season. Let’s not do that one here. Let’s do that one next year. We’re going to do one Q episode. Okay, we’re going to do one Borg episode.” It was really about diversity of storytelling and the rhythm, but so that you weren’t doing the same kind of show right in a row.

With that many episodes, we never mapped out the whole season ahead of time. You barely, you were always trying desperately to keep ahead of production. And there would always come a point in the filming of each season where you were pretty much hand to mouth. Where you were writing them and they were shooting them and you’re writing and shooting. You were just barely keeping ahead of the camera at certain times. Then you’d have episodes that were disasters or got thrown out for whatever reason. It had to be completely reconceptualized, and they’re on the stage. It was a tremendous pressure cooker in the staff room. As a result, you never got that far ahead. At the beginning of the season, you might map out the first five or six episodes, and then you have to start writing them and then time is clicking.

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Image via CBS

So you get a chance to start breaking the next couple episodes, and then next one, and maybe getting some freelance writer to pump out stuff. But again, you’re just trying desperately to get a script out in time to prep next week and shoot the following week. And it’s just going like this. Because they were also short shooting schedules. We shot an episode in seven days. Seven days is really tight. So that means you only had seven days of prep before you had to start shooting. So it was like, boom, boom. It was very, it was a relentless kind of schedule. Because it was my first gig, it was my first time working in television, I didn’t know any better. I just thought this was normal. It was like, “Okay, I just got to get with the program. Because everyone else is doing it,” and that’s how I learned. I just learned by like, okay, this is normal TV. And we just have to really work really hard as writers all the time. Because Star Trek never really worried about the ratings. I mean, the ratings were always great and there was no network because it was first round syndication. We never really worried about getting picked up. So we always kind of rolled into next season. Once we finished shooting season four, writers would get two weeks’ break and then we’d be back in the writers room working on season five while doing post-production on four.

Did you have a favorite character to write for on Next Gen?

No. I mean, you learn to write for all of them. And I enjoyed writing for all of them. They all had different graces and they had different reasons to write for them. It was fun to write Data because of Data’s humor. It was fun to write the big sort of Klingon stories for Worf, and Picard had the moral ethical dilemmas. There was always some something you could grab onto as a writer. So no, I genuinely, there weren’t really any favorites that I had. It was just fun to write for the whole cast.

I think All Good Things, the series finale of Next Generation is a straight up masterpiece.

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Image via Paramount

Oh, thanks.

It’s incredibly difficult to end anything. To give resolution to characters and make people happy. I love that episode. Can you talk about, because you were one of the people responsible for that one. Can you sort of talk about what it was like writing the series finale, and did it ever almost end up being something else?

Well, you know, it’s interesting. Brannon Braga and I co-wrote it, and we were writing Star Trek: Generations at that point. We’d been working on Generations for almost a year and there was an assumption among all of us on the writing staff that Michael Piller was going to want to write the finale of the show himself. Ultimately Michael was busy with Deep Space Nine. I think he was even working on Voyager at that point, and decided that he was going to have Brannon and I write it. We were thrilled and excited, but it was also right in the middle of working on Generations.

So suddenly it was this double load that we had to do. We were doing two two hour pieces about the exact same characters on the exact same ship. There were times when we were working on a script, an engineering problem with Geordi and Data talking about how to tech the tech for the work drive and we would get lost in which story this was. “Wait, is this the movie or is this the TV show?” The great irony of it all is that we spent four weeks working on All Good Things. We spent a year working on Generations. And All Good Things turned out so much better. It’s just one of those crazy lessons that you learn as a writer. But to answer your question, no, it wasn’t really ever going to be something else.

It was always pretty much about the three stages of a man’s life, which was Michael’s idea. I think Brannon and I pitched, there were various pitches on what it could have been, but it never came close. Michael pretty much locked into this notion of visiting all three periods of the captain’s life, of getting the Enterprise at the beginning, of what it was today, and his life in the distant future. So once that core concept kind of locked in, it never really changed radically after that.

Do you remember who came up with the idea of Picard joining the crew to play poker?

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Image via CBS Television Studios

I don’t. I think that was, that might’ve been even earlier. I think the notion that we were going to end the show with the poker game was something I think we talked about in the writer’s room for quite a while. So I think that was always like, “Yeah. And somehow whatever it is, it’s going to end in the poker game.”

Jumping off of Next Generation, I want to go into DS9. I love DS9. It was one of those fully formed shows right at the beginning. I thought it had its own mission, its own everything. Do you feel like DS9 has gained so much more respect now than when it was on the air? Or am I just mistaking this?

No, I think that’s accurate. That’s certainly my observation. When we were on the air, we definitely felt like we were the forgotten stepchild of the Star Trek franchise. Next Gen was, had become this iconic thing and Voyager was going to be the big new show. Then we were like the middle child and we were the weird child and we were the one that, the show that didn’t go anywhere. The space station stayed in one place and had these long political and religious overtones to it. It wasn’t real Star Trek, to a lot of people and the studio kind of shrugged at us too. We were like, “Yeah, I know. It’s fine.” They were sort of wanting it to be a bigger deal, closer to what Next Gen was. But those of us who worked on the show, we just had faith in what we were doing and we told ourselves at the time, “They’ll love us one day. One day it’s going to be special, and it’ll do really … it’ll go down well in memory.”

It’s nice to see that that’s true. I think the show has aged well. We were doing long character stories and character arcs on Deep Space Nine, and it was kind of the first time of us doing that and we had to force our way into doing that and really kind of overcome a lot of opposition to it, because again, people just didn’t do that kind of storytelling in the one hour drama format unless you were a soap opera in those days. Now all of one hour drama kind of moves in that direction. So people that do discover Deep Space Nine now start to pick up, “Oh, and there’s these long character arcs, and there’s these ongoing plots and stories.” It feels a little bit ahead of its time.

I think that’s one of the reasons why it stands up so well, is those long character arcs. You joined, I want to say, in season three or four. I could be wrong about that.

Season three.

So what was it like? Because obviously you leave Next Generation, you’re working on the movie. Did you immediately want to jump into DS9? Or was it one of these things where it’s like, they’re offering you a job, stable employment. Because it seems daunting to jump from all of that Star Trek into even more Star Trek.

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Image via CBS

Well, you’ve got to remember, I was a Star Trek fan. So I was a big fan. This was a godsend to be on the show at all. So as Next Gen was winding down, I did, I wanted to remain in the Star Trek universe, and the question was, where would I go? Would I go to Deep Space Nine, or would I go to Voyager? Which was just coming together at that point. Michael Piller brought me down to his office to talk about it and it was his idea that I should take a look at Deep Space. Because he thought it would play more to my strengths, I liked darker stories and more ambiguous characters. He could tell, there were things I struggled against on Next Gen about making the characters more ambiguous and less morally clear on some areas, and more continuing storylines.

He said, “I think you should take a look at Deep Space.” And also, Ira Behr, who I’d worked with on the third season of Next Gen, was now running the writer’s room at Deep Space. I loved Ira and really wanted to work with him again. So the combination of those factors became, “Maybe I should give Deep Space a chance,” and I sat down and watched a lot of the episodes. I mean, when I was working on Next Gen, I didn’t really watch a lot of Deep Space. I had seen the pilot, and maybe I’d seen an episode here and there. But Star Trek is so, the show was so all-consuming, when I got home and I was going to relax and watch something else, I didn’t want to watch more Star Trek. It was like doing something else.

So I really hadn’t seen the first two seasons in any great detail. But when I started watching it I was really interested in the characters and in the setting, and the space station, the geopolitics that were going on with Bajor and the Federation. Yeah, it really appealed to me. I decided to go to Deep Space.

One of the things about Deep Space Nine, it pushed more boundaries than Next Generation did. I believe it was Star Trek’s first same sex kiss.

Yep.

It dealt with a lot of stuff. Did you, at the time, was there less resistance from the studio in terms of putting this material out there? Did you have resistance in terms of trying to do things that had never been done before?

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Image via CBS

Yeah. I mean, we were pushing the envelope. There were definitely, you had to sort of overcome fear. It was all about fear. There were fearful executives at Paramount that weren’t sure we should do that. But we fought the good fight on it, and we won, and we were always trying to push the boundaries of what Star Trek was. I think that was something that the writers on staff saw as our core mission. Let’s push Star Trek. Let’s see how far Star Trek can go. Let’s see what the boundaries of it are. And then let’s push them further. So we were always looking for ways to sort of try to do something new.

Did you experience the same kind of, in the writer’s room, DS9 also had to churn out a lot of content. Was it the same experience where you were just rushing through it? Or was it, at that point, any easier?

It was easier in that it was a more stable writing staff. When I started at Next Gen, the writing staff in the first two years of Next Gen had been very chaotic. There had been a tremendous amount of turnover. Writers had been fired or quit and kept churning for well into the fourth season. Then at the end of the fourth season and into the fifth of Next Gen, it started to be more cohesive, and it settled down. Then on Deep Space, it was much more stable.

Some writers came and went, but it was a much more stable group. We all had worked together for quite some time. So it was easier in that sense, but we were still plotting this giant thing. So it always felt like we could never plot out all 26 at the beginning of the year. You could get maybe 10 of them, and you have an idea of where things like the Dominion War was going to go or what Worf, his first season arc might be. So you had a sense of confidence and experience that allowed you to do it. But still by the end of the season, it was still very hand to mouth. You were sweating the production dates and you were desperately trying to get rewrites out the door, and it was difficult. It was a treadmill at a certain point.

Well, one of the things that you mentioned about DS9 is that you had these season-long arcs. And so did you ever have at the beginning of, say, season five, the end of season five in mind? Or was it sort of like, did you ever have those long ranging arcs figured out? Or was it always like, “We’ll see where it goes.”

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Image via CBS

It was pretty much we’ll see where it goes. I think Deep Space Nine, in the last two, three seasons, yeah, we might’ve said “Here’s where we want to be at the end of the year.” And then just stake that out as a target that we were going to get to. But didn’t really have the fundamental arc along the way. So we would have sort of a long range idea of what the season five and six endings were. And then obviously what the finale was generally going to be. But it wasn’t, we just didn’t have the time to really map out that kind of stuff in detail because so much would change.

So it was also, if you spent the time to map out a 26 episode arc and then started writing it, chances are, the first couple episodes would go through so much change and so much tumult. For production reasons, for story reasons, for notes, for all kinds of stuff, that there would be a huge domino effect through all 26. So it was almost like wasted effort to really do a great amount of detailed work like that when we knew the first episodes would, by their nature, go through a lot of change.

Did you take home any props or souvenirs from either Next Gen or DS9?

Yeah. I have a bottle of Saurian brandy name from Quark’s Bar. I’ve got some props from Dr. Bashir’s office. I have, if you remember in Next Generation there used to be the big gold ships on the wall in the conference, in the observation room of all the Enterprises. I have all the Enterprises.

Really?

I did, I saved them. I saved them literally from the dumpster.

I’ve heard stories about what they threw out and it’s amazing to me that it was thrown out. There are so many fans that would have been like, “I’ll take it, please give it to me.”

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Image via Fathom Events

Well, that’s what happened. I mean, I got this call, Michael Okuda, who was working in the art department and was one of the great graphic artists and did all kinds of stuff, just called me up and said, “Ron, they’re throwing out the gold ships. If you want them, come get them.” I was like, “I’ll be right down,” and I pulled my car in and took every single one of them.

Are they in your house? Do you have them on display?

I have them in my office. I had them mounted up on the wall in my office in the same pattern that they used to be in the observation lounge.

Please, I know you don’t use social media, but can you please tweet a photo?

Sure.

Just so some of us can see them.

I might’ve tweeted a photo of it at some point. I thought I did. Maybe I didn’t, I’ll find one.

If you did, I’m not on Twitter all the time. I’m sure people have missed it. I would be more than happy to look at it now.

Okay.

I have to ask, this is my last Star Trek thing, but have you watched Discovery, Picard? Have you watched the Star Trek shows that have come on since your time? Or do you sort of, “I can’t look at these.”

I’ve seen them. I enjoyed Picard very much. I was invited to the premiere, that was a very lovely gesture that they made. And it was great. It was really, I was surprised how emotionally satisfying it was to see Patrick in that role again. It really made me like, “Wow. This is really kind of cool, watching him be Jean-Luc again.” The same with Brent and Jonathan. It was like, “Wow.” It meant a lot to see them up doing those roles. It was very cool.

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