Saturday, March 17, 2007

New (GAY) Star Trek?!?

This should be interesting for you trekkie (David and Dann) fans.

(New York) When David Gerrold left Star Trek: The Next Generation back in 1988, it was with a bit of a broken heart. He had penned an episode called "Blood and Fire" which dealt with an epidemic caused by a blood-borne pathogen that was an allegory for AIDS. The episode was to have featured the first openly gay couple in Star Trek history, something that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was said to fully support.

Gerrold was with Roddenberry at a Star Trek convention when Roddenberry was asked whether there would be gay characters in Next Generation. Gerrold recalls him saying, "You're right, it's time we do that."

But Roddenberry was in fading health by that time, and he had less to do with the show's day-to-day operations than he had on the original Star Trek series that ran from 1966–69. So after reviewing Gerrold's completed script, the show's producers got cold feet.

"This script was written as a promise," says Gerrold, an associate producer on Next Generation who was largely credited with mapping out the new series. "There was a subtext that they were gay, but we treated them like they were really good friends. But someone does ask them: 'How long have you been together?' Well, a few people in the office went ballistic! A memo came down that said, 'We don't want to risk the franchise by having mommies calling the station because they saw gay people on Star Trek.'"

Frustrated by office politics and upset that the gay-themed episode had been shelved, Gerrold left the franchise that had meant to much to him. "I walked away disappointed at the stories that weren't going to be told," he says. "I wanted to recreate the spirit of the original series. The episode where you are up against some terrible threat [and] as long as you were fighting it and seeing [it] as an enemy, you were going the wrong way. The only way [to succeed] was to stop resisting and learn how to be friends."

Gerrold never forgot the episode that didn't get made, but he moved on to other things as the Star Trek franchise continued to thrive through the successful runs of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager as well as feature films with the cast of the original series.

But with no Star Trek series on the air since the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, several fan websites have helped to keep the Star Trek franchise alive by shooting their own episodes that are available for download. Among the most successful is Star Trek: New Voyages which has already shot three episodes; the most recent one features original cast member George Takei reprising his role of Capt. Sulu.

New Voyages is gearing up to begin filming its fourth episode in June, and it will be an updated version of Gerrold's "Blood and Fire." The gay characters in this version are Capt. Kirk's nephew, Peter Kirk, and his boyfriend, Lt. Alex Freeman.

"I knew about the script and the story, and I approached David [Gerrold] with an idea of using it in our series," says James Cawley, executive producer for New Voyages. "A few of the original elements were kept intact but changed to make it relevant to 2001 as opposed to 1987. I really feel this is something Gene Roddenberry wanted to do. He had promised there would be gay characters. That was the episode that was going to deliver. They never had the guts to tackle the issue, which is a shame. If we don't pick up his torch, it's never going to happen."

In addition to a revised script by Gerrold with Carlos Pedraza, also involved in the production will be D.C. Fontana, an associate producer from Next Generation, and Darren Dochterman, who was behind the visual special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

"Producers did not want to address homosexuality in Star Trek even though the original series talked about race and war and drugs and hippie culture; they addressed all that stuff," Cawley says. "All the subsequent shows have been adventures in space. We have dared to [do] something that the franchise holders would never do. We are including an openly gay couple in the Enterprise, showing the world that it is a totally acceptable thing … in the future. The prejudice and the bias will be gone."

Cawley describes New Voyages, which he and Jack Marshall created in 2003, as "this fan project that has grown to enormous proportions." The most recent episode has been downloaded more than 30 million times. It is designed as a continuation of the original series with Cawley stepping into William Shatner's shoes as Capt. Kirk and Jeff Quinn as Mr. Spock, the role originated by Leonard Nimoy.

"I grew up when the only Star Trek was Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and they were being neglected," Cawley says. "I thought the property was like James Bond or Batman and Superman. It's not so much the actors but the characters. I think Star Trek has that universal appeal to everybody. To me the hook was … that we have a future that is worth getting to."

Paramount Pictures owns the legal rights to the Star Trek franchise but has traditionally allowed the distribution of fan-created material as long as there is no attempt to profit from it. New Voyages, which recreated the show's original sets, falls under this area.

For the young actors portraying the gay couple, they have the advantage of not having to recreate an iconic role made famous by another actor. Bobby Rice, 23, was cast as Peter Kirk after Cawley saw his performance on another web-based Star Trek project: Star Trek: Hidden Frontier, which is set in The Next Generation era of Star Trek. (It should be noted that Hidden Frontier has also included gay characters and story lines.)

"How cool is that?" says Rice. "It's pretty wild. I never thought I'd be a Kirk. I feel like what we are doing is fantastic and groundbreaking. It takes place in the future, and homosexuality should be generally accepted in the future. Star Trek has always been about tackling these kinds of issues, so it's a great place to have this story. The gay fan base has had a really positive reaction."

Although the episode has yet to shoot, Rice has already met his on-screen love interest, Lt. Alex Freeman, who will be played by 22-year-old Evan Fowler, when the two got together for a photo shoot.

"When I first read about the audition, I didn't even notice it was a gay role; I just saw Star Trek and thought it sounded cool," says Fowler, who beat out hundreds of other actors for the role. "But it being a gay part made it more intriguing. As an actor, you are always looking for more complex characters and to do something groundbreaking."

Fowler admits that he was far from a Trekkie before landing the gig, but he is making up for that now. "The more I ask people about Star Trek, the more I hear about the social undertones regarding race and social issues," he says. "The original script was very realistic but a little docile. The new one is up a notch, and the issues it tackles are even more prevalent today than when we wrote the original."

Fowler, who graduated last year from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in history and European studies, says he is quickly learning just how powerful being involved in the Star Trek franchise can be for an actor.

"People are taking notice of it and for me — being so new and not having much experience — it's the best situation you can put yourself into," he says. "The fans are so loyal and so interested in what's happening. You don't get that much in Hollywood."

For Gerrold, New Voyages is providing him with an opportunity to give his original script more edge. "Can we go places we couldn't go in 1987?" he asks. "Yeah. At one point they are talking about getting married, and at one point they actually kiss on-screen. But we are not going any place that's thematically out of place in Star Trek. I'm enormously proud of how far we have come in such a short time and that I get to live long enough to see this episode be shot."

He adds: "New Voyages doesn't have time limits. If we were doing it for prime-time TV, we'd have to tell the story in 44 minutes. The script is probably twice as long as it should be so it's going to be a long episode, almost the equivalent of a short movie."...

© 2007

No comments: