You could sense the love of all things Star Trek in the air at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. With CBS All Access’s upcoming “Picard” series having a major promotional presence, it was the first time in years that you could feel the ghost of Gene Roddenberry hovering over the Gaslamp district. Additionally, 20 years after airing its season finale, the often-maligned, middle child of Roddenberry’s future, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, seems to have finally earned the respect it has long deserved. With the documentary “What We Left Behind” premiering this year, DS9 also had a presence at this year’s at San Diego Comic Con – a sort of unofficial 20-year anniversary panel for the show.
Deep Space Nine is not only a great Star Trek series, or a great science fiction show, it is one of the most important stories ever told. It just took 20 years for people to realize. Sadly, part of that may have something to do with how bad things have truly gotten in the real world. DS9 tackled social issues such as race, religion, poverty, politics, and – on a few occasions – even gender roles and sexual identity (though the writer’s admit they could have done more). Ironically, this is a partial reason why the series was so dismissed when it was airing. People expected a Star Trek show to “boldly go,” to be about seeking life, exploring new civilizations, but DS9 turned the journey inside. Many fans hated it at the time, but time has been good to Deep Space Nine.
SDCC 2019 proved that DS9 will never die. Hundreds of fans lined up for the panel, some an hour early. Unfortunately, most didn’t have much of a chance of getting in. San Diego booked the show’s 20-year reunion in way too small a room, with the convention programmers making the incorrect assumption that there would be little interest in a panel for a Deep Space Nine documentary. But, as soon as fans turned the corner and saw a sea of people waiting, it was clear that the room would not be big enough.
Wow. The line for the @DS9Doc panel is so huge the cast and crew are walking down the line to meet and thank the fans who might not get in. @AronEisenberg @7thRule #DS9 #WhatWeLeftBehind pic.twitter.com/6tCgBDbMiN
— Andrew Bundy (@andrewjb2517) July 20, 2019
Hundreds of fans still patiently waiting in line even though there is almost no chance of getting in. These fans care, deeply, and are all here to honor an amazing series and just how special it is to them. Such a shame #SDCC booked it in way too small a room. #WhatWeLeftBehind https://t.co/BlmVuRUP5R
— Andrew Bundy (@andrewjb2517) July 20, 2019
Thankfully, the amazing cast and crew who were there – showrunner, Ira Steven Behr, actors Andrew J. Robinson, Aron Eisenberg, Cirroc Lofton, Penny Johnson Jerald, and Chase Masterson – recognized this, and they all made a point of walking down the hall to meet, thank, and acknowledge the fans who weren’t getting in. Jerald even stopped every couple dozen yards, encouraging people to message her on Twitter if they had any specific questions. Despite the sour situation, you could feel the love radiating from that hallway.
Like most fans, we weren’t able to slip our way into the panel, but we were incredibly fortunate to sit down and speak with showrunner Ira Steven Behr for a quick chat beforehand. It was an honor and a privilege to talk with him briefly about running one of sci-fi history’s long unappreciated television shows.
Andrew Bundy: Thank you so much for your time, Ira. It’s really been amazing to see all the love that went into making the documentary, and to see how incredibly meaningful it’s been for so many people. Looking back now, after seeing how important “What We Left Behind,” has been to the fans, what do you think is so endearing about Deep Space Nine’s legacy?
Ira Steven Behr: Well, number one, I had to get over the idea that we had fans. I hadn’t been to a con in 13 years – from 1999 to 2012 – so, when I came back and did Vegas Con to see Avery Brooks – that’s why I went – I was amazed at both the amount and youth of the fans we had. There were people who were fans of the show who were not alive when the show was airing. Which Avery called me about. He was impressed by it too. So, to have Avery call me up and talk about the fans… that had an impact, and that was the major thing I found making the doc – about the fans; there seems to be quite a few of them and they all seem to be very passionate about it.
I was surprised by how many fans told me, “We were fans since the beginning!” I’m like, “Where were you? Why weren’t you writing fan letters or something?” Why were we only, mostly, getting all this negative feedback? If all the people who were fans claiming to be fans, were fans – back in the day – where were they at the time is what I’m wondering? But that was one of the fun parts of doing the doc, the fan interaction, getting more and more involved, and interviewing more and more of them with the testimonials and stuff.
AB: I actually work part time in a comic book store and one of our younger customers recently watched the series and it really spoke to him. So, I think, with all the polarity going on in the country – the racial problems and divisiveness – you look at Cardassian politics, or episodes like “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost.” It’s kind of scary how these things parallel our climate still.
ISB: You know, it’s funny but at the time… I will admit to being… somewhat skeptical of the more socially oriented episodes – obviously we did them – but, I always felt we were preaching to the choir; and it’s easy to take a stand when most people watching your show probably agree with you. But now, looking back, and looking at what’s happened since 2016, I’m so happy that we did those episodes. The fact is that those battles were never won. You think that you’ve won them, and things get better for a while, but it’s cyclical. And now we’re in a very, very, very bad time, in my opinion. Look at something like “Past Tense.” That episode takes place in like in 2022 or something… 2021, maybe? I mean, go to Los Angeles and see the homeless problem; Jesus Christ, it’s not funny. So, I’m pretty proud of that. And Michael Piller said from the beginning it was going to be a captain of color, and I thought that was a great idea at the time; the relationships with Jake, his relationship with Cassidy Yates, his relationship with his father, now all of that takes on great significance – as you say – it kind of seems more important now than it seemed at the time.
AB: One of my favorite lines the series comes from “Chimera.” “This is no time for a Changeling Pride Parade on the Promenade.” That is just such a great line.
AB: You were able to insert so many great little sentiments like that and did an amazing job covering so many things, and there’s so many great things you did, but do you ever feel you could have done more?
ISB: There’s lots we could have done. But the thing to remember is what we did accomplish did not come easy. Everything was a battle. Everything was an argument – in terms of the bigger things. I would have liked to have done more but given the time… In the ‘90’s people were very self-involved. Most people were very self-involved during that decade. Go watch Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” “Greed is good.” Wearing your heart on your sleeve to take a stand on something was not something people were dying to do, and we got away with it strictly because we were a science fiction series.
AB: And its wonderful science fiction in that sense, but to me the show is also so much more than just science fiction. It’s the only Trek that really delves into concepts like faith, creation, and the nature of storytelling; it almost feels like cosmic mythology with all the races having their various folklores. I love “Treachery, Faith and the Great River.” Were you always interested in that approach?
ISB: What I always said was that Mike and Rick had created this pilot, and all the tributaries to branch off of that pilot, in terms of religion, in terms of family, in terms of terrorism, in terms of politics – all these things – they were everything and right there in our pocket. And I always felt it was my job to take that to its farthest level; as far as you could take that and really examine it. As time went on, I think some people involved in the show thought that we went too far, perhaps; but it was set up that way. All we did was be good soldiers and keep marching forward. To me, if anyone takes issue with where we went as a Trek show, look at the pilot, talk to Mike and Rick.
AB: As a kid, the big Kira and Odo moment was the first time I ever really felt anything from a kiss on TV. How did you guys decide it was finally time? I love “The Search” and it feels like you all already knew then… but you held that card back, and it makes that moment in “His Way” so much more powerful.
ISB: Well, as we say in the doc, that’s something the actors really gave to us. We never thought about setting out to do an Odo/Kira relationship originally. What we did feel was that we kept failing Kira with love interests. None of them seemed to work; at least, we didn’t feel like they worked.
AB: Which is why she had so many?
ISB: Yeah, we just didn’t feel that they landed. We kept trying, but no one worked. She was a very strong character, and the guys just didn’t quite make it. And then we’d watch the dailies and look at Odo and look at the way he was looking at her. And then we were like, “Isn’t it obvious now? Isn’t it becoming more obvious? Let’s play it.” Rene was unhappy. He didn’t like it. I don’t know how much Nana liked it. But it’s not about liking it, it’s about whether it works, and I think it was a great relationship. Like all relationships that start with friendship, and then develop into love, they have a very deep core. And they were friends and became lovers. And I thought that was a really nice thing. So, anyone out there who is secretly in love with someone… when you think it’s just going to be a friendship that never blossoms… don’t be so sure; keep that friendship alive, you never know where it’s going to go.
AB: I love that idea. “His Way” was always like my crush sadness remedy. On that note, I really love Vic Fontaine and am kind of obsessed with holosuites. I love how you used them to add levity to the series. When you create a character like Vic, that must let you really play with things and try ideas, yeah?
ISB: Well, that season I worked on TNG one of the things we did is have Miles O’Brien keep breaking his shoulder kayaking in the holosuite. We decided that the holosuites had some danger to them; and there was something about them that was just bizarre, but I liked that he wanted to conquer the program. So, I always did want to do more with holosuites. It was a bonding thing for Bashir and O’Brien’s friendship. They got to kind of step away from their careers on the station and becomes flyboys, whether they were in World War I or the Alamo together, or whatever.
But Vic we actually started thinking about back in Season 5. I wanted it to be Frank Sinatra Jr. and originally it was going to be. The whole gag was, in the 24th Century, Junior was more popular than Frank Sinatra. It was a great idea. We wrote it. I spoke to Frank and, of course, cause he’s a big fan he wanted to play an alien. And I said, “Anyone can play a goddamn alien, but you’re a singer. Not everyone can play a live singer.” And he was like “I’m sorry, but if you need me to play an alien in lots of make-up, I’d love to do that.” So, I said forget it, and then we started talking about bringing the idea back as Vic Fontaine. We wrote it for Season 6, but that didn’t work out. We went to a bunch of different people, names, show business casts – Robert Goulet, Steve Martin – everyone we could think of; and then, again, it was like, “It’s over, we’re not going to do it.” But then, Season 7 came along and we were like. “If we don’t do it now, we’re never going to do it.” Right? Did Vic come in Season 7?
AB: At the very end of 6. So, basically.
ISB: Yeah, the end of Season 6. So, I was at this thing, this industry thing and there is Jimmy Darren, and my friend starts talking to him about the Jimmy Darren pasta sauce he had in the ‘70s – which didn’t last long; and I guess he was amazed that someone knew, let alone put his pasta sauce on their pasta – and he was just so cool dealing with my friend, and he was the coolest guy in the room. And I said: “That’s goddamn Vic Fontaine.” And I went to the casting people and we got James Darren. He hadn’t acted for years. He had been directing and he didn’t want to play a lounge singer – you know that story – but it always worked out because it had to work out. And then, I’m doing this indie film in 2017 “Lucky,” with Harry Dean Stanton and David Lynch, and an actor drops out, and I’m like, “You know that would not be a bad role for Jimmy.” I’m driving on Mulholland Drive and there’s Jimmy Darren standing on the side of the road. I mean, what the hell. I literally did a U-turn on Mulholland Drive. I came up to Jimmy and said, “What the hell are you doing standing here?” He says, “They’re taking my car in for service and I can’t make it up the hill to my place, so I drove it here, so that they could get the truck.” And I was just like, “Jimmy, are you working right now?” He says, “I’m available. I’m singing, but available.” I said, “Keep this weekend open. This isn’t a job offer. But you’re going to hear from me next week.” And he wound up doing the movie because it was just meant to be. So, every time I see Jimmy, it’s always for a reason.
AB: Always meant to be. That’s just amazing.
I’m just so impressed by how you were able to develop and add so many layers to all the races. You look at Sovak from “Captain’s Holiday,” and then Rom, and the sort of sweet irony of them both being played by Max Grodénchik. I love how that sort of represents how you were able to evolve the various species.
ISB: What I always felt, strongly, was that the show was always about character and not about plot. Michael felt the same way. And because we were on a space station and not a starship, obviously – as you know – we weren’t “going places.” So, decisions mattered. You couldn’t fly away from your decisions. So, character was just everything. Again, whatever we came up with, whether it be a religion, or it was about race – whatever it is – we knew that we were going to examine it, and examine it, and examine it, closer, and closer, and closer, and closer, to really try to figure it out. So, we needed everyone in the show – whoever it was – we needed them to land and be as nuanced as possible. They could not just be one dimensional. The Ferengi are not just interested in making money. Yes, that is their overarching thing, but it has got to be more than that. The Cardassians are Nazis but they’re not Nazis. Every race we treated this way. The Bajorans were victims but they had to be more than just victims. So, in a way we lucked out. We just had an orange and a lemon and there was a lot of juice there and we kept squeezing that goddamn orange, and that lemon, until we squeezed the best juice we could make.
AB: Well, you made some of the best juice ever in my opinion. Again, thank you so much for everything – for all of your work, for the amazing documentary, and making the time for this interview.
Extremely grateful to the folks over at @sliceofscifi and @ShoutFactory for helping arrange an interview with @IraStevenBehr, showrunner of my all-time favorite TV series #StarTrekDeepSpaceNine. Was a pleasure to chat with him. @DS9Doc panel tonight! #DS9 #SDCC #WhatWeLeftBehind pic.twitter.com/PTVJxs6Wp8
— Andrew Bundy (@andrewjb2517) July 20, 2019
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Actors: Avery Brooks, Terry Farrell, Nicole de Boer, Wallace Shawn, Nana Visitor
Directors: Ira Steven Behr, David Zappone
Format: NTSC, Subtitled
Language: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)
Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR Not Rated
DVD Release Date: August 6, 2019
Run Time: 115 minutes