The Next Generation had proved the resilience and appeal of the Star Trek universe — it was not dependent on its famous first crew for its success. The future of Star Trek seemed unlimited. But after five years of production, Paramount executives could see that their own future was more constrained. It made little economic sense to continue most television series for more than five or six seasons. Costs invariably increased, storylines became exhausted and the syndication market would fill with too many episodes chasing too few time slots. From a purely business perspective, The Next Generation ‘s days were numbered. But everyone’s instincts said that Star Trek still had not saturated its market. In Paramount offices, the idea of a third Star Trek series was discussed.
The Next Generation had shown that Star Trek could thrive without its original characters. Could a new series survive without a ship? Rick Berman, who was Gene Roddenberry’s handpicked successor as the person to guide Star Trek after his death and Michael Piller, The Next Generation‘s most influential writer, created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with exactly that challenge in mind.
Production designer Herman Zimmerman inspects the space station model
For more than twenty-five years, one of Star Trek ‘s strengths had been the detailed future universe through which the two Enterprise s had traveled. Now the franchise’s newest guides decided it was time to venture out into that universe, choose a pocket of it and locate a new series there.
January 1992 marked the launch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Sadly the announcement of the plans to produce the series came shortly upon the after of Gene Roddenberry in late 1991. The timing led to the speculation that had Roddenberry lived, Deep Space Nine might not have. Suspicions along these lines were raised particularly after description of the new series filtered out. “It’s going to be darker and grittier than The Next Generation,” executive producer Rick Berman had stated in the March 6, 1992 Entertainment Weekly. “These characters won’t be squeaky clean.”
Even though the announcement about Deep Space Nine seemed to come out of nowhere several weeks after Roddenberry’s death, Berman and Michael Piller had actually been discussing ideas for a new series for some time. It was always planned to be a spinoff from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ideas were discussed with Paramount but it never went beyond the planning stages. When Brandon Tarticoff moved from being head of NBC to behind head of Paramount, he told Berman that he wanted to see another Star Trek series to launch into syndication. Berman and Piller returned to their series notes and worked up a proposal for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Alternative costume design by Robert Blackman
In October 1991, Berman and Piller began developing the new series and they decided to set it in the same time frame as The Next Generation — a decision made consciously to take advantage of the Star Trek universe that had so far been established. Berman and Piller wrote several different versions of the series bible while it was being developed. When they finally showed a later version to Paramount, the studio provided its own input into the project and in fact Brandon Tarticoff, before he left Paramount, suggested that the show might be something like The Rifleman in outer space, although Berman and Piller did not quite feel that this idea particularly fit in with what they were trying to develop. But the studio’s suggestions were weighed and incorporated into the series concept to produce the final result.
Deep Space Nine was a means of escaping the somewhat limiting constraints of Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek concept. According to Rick Berman, they “set about creating a situation, an environment, and a group of characters that could have conflict without breaking Gene [Roddenberry]‘s rules. We took out characters and placed them in an unfamiliar environment, one that lacked the state-of-the-art comfort of the Enterprise and where there were people who didn’t want them there.”
These are characters who come through much darker than the Next Generation characters,” reflected Michael Piller, “but I don’t know that I could say this is a dark series.”
It’s still Gene Roddenberry’s vision. It has an optimistic view of mankind in the future. Reason and dialog and communication are still the key weapons in the fight to solve problems. I think the label of darker is probably exaggerated.
Alternative costume design by Robert Blackman
For writing the Deep Space Nine‘s pilot, Piller was influenced slightly by “Encounter at Farpoint”, which had been The Next Generation‘s first episode. Piller took his cue from “Encounter at Farpoint” in delaying the introduction of some key characters until later in the story. Another key plot ingredient reused was the necessity of having the lead character explain or justify humanity to an alien race. Piller managed to give the concept, so many times used on both the original Star Trek and The Next Generation, an interesting spin — Sisko had to communicate with aliens who did not understood humans and their ilk because they did not, themselves, experience time in linear fashion. Sisko would thus be faced with the difficult task of explaining time, human consciousness and the importance of humanity’s past experiences to an utterly uncomprehending alien form of consciousness.
Early Cardassian costume design by Robert Blackman
Piller, however, was dissatisfied with his early versions of the script for “Emissary” and continually involved a somewhat reluctant Rick Berman in constant rehashing of their original story ideas. The basic plot with Sisko explaining humanity to the unseen aliens was too talky, according to Piller and the other aspect of the story, the transition to Federation command of the space station, seemed to be suffering.
In the early concepts of the series, the setting of Deep Space Nine was to have been a dilapidated, seedy space station with technology that lagged somewhat behind that of the Federation. In the course of series development, this notion had been scrapped in favor of a more high tech look. Now, however, Piller was forced to rethink this whole approach — while that station would still be a fairly advanced piece of alien technology, Piller decided that the departing Cardassians would ransack the place, leaving a shambled that Sisko would be faced with rebuilding. Now the new commander’s job would involve convincing the merchants of the Promenade, and other inahbitations of the station, to stay and pull things back together.
“Emissary” would end up costing as much as twelve million dollars to film — two million of which were spent on building the standing sets for the series.
When production began for Deep Space Nine, the Star Trek universe was already well defined. The Bajorans had been introduced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Ensign Ro,” when Ro Laren became a popular character though not a regular cast member. “Ensign Ro” and later “The Wounded” told of the planet Bajor, a world conquered fifty years before by furthless aliens known as the Cardassians. The Nazi like Cardassians stripped the planet of natural resources using Bajorans as slave laborers. After forty years of Bajoran terrorism and the mining out of the planet, the Cardassians left Bajor which immediately sought Federation membership, offering Starfleet to take control of the former Cardassian space station.
The first episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine explored Bajoran culture and religion. Bajor’s religious leader, the Kai, appears in crucial scenes in “Emissary.” Not long after, in “Battle Lines,” her character is written out of the series, leaving Bajor in religious turmoil. The series explores Bajoran culture in “The Storyteller,” “Cardassians” and “Sanctuary,” continuing in season two with “Homecoming,” “The Siege,” “The Circle” and “The Collaborator.” Piller and Berman set Deep Space Nine in the midst of Bajor and its conflict with the Cardassians. Piller, who had headed the script department of The Next Generation, said, “One of the primary goals in making this series is to do something we didn’t have the opportunity to do in The Next Generation.”
Early Cardassian costume design by Robert Blackman
The experienced creative team and established storyline failed to give a strong start to Deep Space Nine. Berman and Piller wanted to break new ground. That began with Commander Benjamin Sisko. “We wanted to create a new kind of Star Trek hero,” said Michael Piller, “a man who is not just the Starfleet officer who has given up family for career, like Picard; not like Kirk, who’s one of the boys on a great adventure. He is a man who had had a family and has lost a wife he loved and must raise a son.
Avery Brooks said his “very human” character avoided the military strictures adorning many Starfleet officers. He said of his character, “So much of the military veneer is not there. He expresses what he feels. He isn’t particularly interested in being here. He’s following orders. He’s worried about raising his son in this environment. This station has been devastated.”
Deep Space Nine was the ultimate distillation of the Star Trek universe. The crew was united under one flag. There was no ship and there was little physical exploration. More importantly, what remained of Star Trek was the firmly established background details of the twenty-fourth century, the ever more complex consistency of future history and technology and the determination of Berman and Piller and their production crew to create an arena for adventure and storytelling that would live up to the name, Star Trek.
Which they did. Deep Space Nine was an instant success, sharing many viewers with The Next Generation, adding new viewers of its own, demonstrating once and for all the deeply appealing richness of what Gene Roddenberry had wrought. It wasn’t the characters. It wasn’t the ship. Star Trek was a state of mind. And millions still wanted to share it.
From Garfield, Judith Reeves-Stevens, The Art of Star Trek (1995) and James Van Hise, Hal Schuster, The Unauthorized Trek: Deep Space Nine The Voyage Continues (1994).
The station played host to a wide variety of alien lifeforms, not all of them quite humanoid. Here a Dan Curry alien concept.