Sunday, November 13, 2005

Michael Piller

Sad news and once again news that has slowly trickled across the internet. Michael Piller lost his battle with neck and head cancer.

This is the man who, in my opinion, single handedly saved Star Trek. When Gene Roddenberry launched Star Trek: the Next Generation, the original series was at an all time-high. Star Trek IVwas a huge hit and that gave Gene the momentum he needed to recreate the entire universe, setting it in an even more advanced era.

It was terrible.

The stories were so bogged down by Gene's future philosophy and 'everyone gets along' mentality that there were almost no stories to be told. After two seasons, the entire writing staff was fired.

Then they hired Michael Piller.

Piller hadn't done much science fiction when he joined Star Trek, just a couple of short lived shows. He was best known for writing Cagney and Lacey and Simon and Simon, quirky cop shows loaded with character. That's the sensibility he brought to Star Trek and the effect was immediate.

People loved the original series not for the outer space locations (which, let's face it, were usually two panels of drywall and some glittery robes) but for the characters. Even non sci-fi fans love the energy and interaction of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty (my theory on why Spock was so popular? Watch an episode. He's the only one not screaming). This was a feature Roddenberry largely ignored for the Next Generation. Maybe he didn't want to give the actors credit. But Piller knew it.

The third season showcased a costume change that gives you a clear watermark. Fans know:

collars=good episode. Spandex=suck.

It's a nice tipoff that heralds the arrival of Piller's writing. Suddenly the crew of the Enterprise became characters. They had individual personalities and quirks. They got funnier, more vulnerable, at times awkward. By the time the season cliffhanger aired, audiences were rivited.

Piller planned to leave at the end of that season but stayed on for another 12 years. He created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which, while he didn't do much actual writing for it, was the best written show of the franchise with characters that actually changed and grew over the course of the series. He exited the franchise after Voyager which when everything in the franchise started feelng a little tired.

Piller was incredibly active in his final years, launching a new family show Wildfire just a few months ago. It's a testament to a writer who was great at his craft and truly loved it.

1 comment:

Gene Dinkleberry said...

He was a piller of the community.Where was McCoy when you needed him?