While it is easy to recognize Star Trek through the various actors who have embodied famous roles, or even the big-name creative talent behind the camera like Gene Roddenberry or Rick Berman, it is easy to forget that Star Trek is built on the words of countless writers. TrekNews.net was recently able to sit down with one of these writers, Will Stape, and talk about his role in shaping, at least a small corner, of the Star Trek universe.
Stape is credited for the story behind The Next Generation episode “Homeward,” which saw Worf’s adoptive brother Nikolai Rozhenko (Paul Sorvino of Goodfellas fame) violate the Prime Directive. Stape also provided the material for the Deep Space Nine episode “Prophet Motive,” which featured a story with Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn). Outside these two episodes, Stape has been heavily involved in Star Trek, including several articles for Associated Content.
Writing Star Trek Sex
His most recent published work, Star Trek Sex: Analyzing the Most Sexually Charged Episodes of the Original Series, marks one of Stape’s most unique contributions to the Star Trek phenomena. The idea for the book actually came from an unusual source: Howard Stern.
“It was definitely a longer process than simply getting an idea one day, in that I’d previously written a few ‘sexually themed’ Trek articles for the web, then while listening to Howard Stern on Sirius XM, it all came together,” explained Stape. “Howard and most of his crew are big Star Trek fans. They were talking about Robin having sex with Klingons and other silly, sex-oriented Trek stuff – and while laughing my ass off, the idea just took hold of me, and I truly appreciated how sexually fun classic Trek is.”
As scholars who have studied Star Trek before have found, carving out a niche of Gene Roddenberry’s universe to study only helps the fans. Having a resource dedicated to Stape’s particular theme helps explore the universe as a whole, and to analyze what makes Star Trek what it is. In that way, Stape hopes this book furthers readers’ appreciation for the Star Trek franchise.
“Mostly, I hope fans read and enjoy the book, and that it entertains them,” said Stape. “Star Trek is first and foremost entertaining – like all great television. Its educational aspects, complex human psychology or sociological underpinnings are all there too, and I hope people can come away with more of an appreciation for just how much Gene Roddenberry and his writing staff included human and ‘alien’ sexuality within the framework of Star Trek. All species have an important sexuality component to their existence. Roddenberry knew that this vital aspect wasn’t going to disappear for humanity in another few centuries. There’s an abundance of love and romance in Star Trek as well, and I hope I captured some of the vibe with my book.”
Look for a review of Will Stape’s Star Trek Sex in the coming days. While he was with TrekNews.net, Stape also touched upon the two episodes he created for Star Trek, and the unusual process pitching for TNG.
Writing for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine
“In the fourth season or so, producer Michael Piller ‘opened up’ TNG to any writer, regardless of them having an agent or credits or whatnot,” Stape explained. “This was a pretty pioneering thing. I haven’t heard of any other show doing it. I had never had anything produced at that point, and I certainly didn’t have an agent, so my interest was more than piqued. I bought Larry Nemecek’s Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion and read about Bruce D. Arthurs, whose script for Clues was purchased and produced. It really was one of those ‘light bulb’ kind of moments. I thought, ‘I’m going to do the same thing.’ I wrote to Larry and pointed out about a dozen photo flubs and text errors in his first TNG Companion. I requested contact info at Paramount. He wrote a nice letter back with a contact for Lolita Fatjo, who was script coordinator for the show. I wrote to Lolita, got the script guidelines – including the legal release form – and went about drafting my script.”
“Homeward” aired in TNG‘s seventh season in 1994. Fans may remember it as the only episode to feature Michael Dorn (Worf) without make-up. Stape would go on to pitch an episode to DS9 soon after his last year in college. This episode would go on to become “Prophet Motive” in DS9‘s third season. However, this wasn’t his last involvement with the writing staff for a Star Trek TV show.
“After my DS9 script was purchased, I was invited to pitch in Voyager’s first season by co-creator Jeri Taylor,” Stape said. “Also, Michael Piller’s office called to say they wanted me to pitch to Legend, a western/sci-fi series Piller created for UPN. Thereafter, DS9 contacted me and I pitched to producers Hans Beimler and Rene Echevarria. I had to be clear because the spec script route which led me to writing for TNG and DS9 requires far more work – you must write a teleplay 55-65 pages in length. It can be grueling because you have no idea if it’s going to be purchased, but it really teaches you the writing process. I’m glad it happened. With pitches, it’s much less work upfront, but it’s a sales process. You must pitch by phone or appear in person before a producer or more staffers to essentially sell yourself and your story.
I pitched five times to the Star Trek producers and it was fun, engaging, but more than a bit nerve wracking. With Jeri Taylor, I flew out and met with her at her office in the Hart Building on the Paramount Lot, so that was a wonderful thrill. Jeri was so encouraging and gracious and since it was my first Hollywood meeting, I’ll never forget the experience.”
Of his two episodes that made it to air, Stape said he couldn’t choose which one was his favorite, and that it’s “weird” seeing his own work on screen.
Star Trek first entered Stape’s life when he was four years old, and he has remained fascinated with it every since. He jokingly stated that he’s learned to “never trust anyone who doesn’t like Star Trek!” On a deeper level, like many people, Star Trek taught Stape some valuable life lessons as he grew up.
“I think Star Trek being in my life made me aware of us all growing up – as a human race and species,” said Stape. “Arguably, we’re still so primitive in so many ways, but look at where we could be going. We’ve played in a limited way outside of our planet thus far, but one day we can be truly trekking among the stars. Look at the recent discovery of so many Earth-like planets. It makes me excited to think there is a future like Star Trek in several decades or centuries. Gene Roddenberry’s vision – along with Gene Coon, D.C. Fontana and the other writers, gave us an optimism and a purpose. Optimism. That’s so much of what Star Trek has taught me.”
The chance to be involved with the worldwide phenomena that is Star Trek isn’t lost on Stape, especially now that he has contributed to the franchise’s body of scholarship with Star Trek Sex.
“As I write in my book, I can remember being fascinated and watching the show at only four years old,” Stape related. “That feeling of wonder still hasn’t left me. I can’t imagine ever being jaded or feeling as if Star Trek has run its course or has peaked for me. I go back at episodes I’ve watched a dozen times or more, and I always find something new or fascinating to mull over.”
This complexity and metaphorical work is something Stape hopes to see in the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery. He also hopes the writing staff for that show deal with more “ballsy” stories, something that he thinks is possible with the show’s airing on CBS All Access.
“The writers simply need to honor Star Trek’s legacy, its core vision, and strive for good storytelling, and they’ll be fine and the fans will be fine.”
If you are interested in learning about sexual themes in The Original Series, be sure to check out Will Stape’s book Star Trek Sex.
Stape will be contributing a weekly column to TrekNews.net about The Next Generation‘s 30th anniversary and the legacy of Star Trek.
You can follow Will Stape on Twitter @WillStape.