Few shows have left a more significant impact on our culture than Star Trek, and few people have been more involved with Trek than Brannon Braga, who’s worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise. More recently, he helped reboot Cosmos. We spoke with Braga about his career, from science fiction to science fact.
Geek & Sundry: How did you start working on Star Trek?
Brannon Braga: I started off as a scriptwriting intern with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. They told me I was going to be on a show called Star Trek: The Next Generation. I went in that first day, in June of 1990, for an eight-week internship. I essentially never left; I stayed with the franchise for 15 years, all the way to the end of Enterprise.
What was the experience on each Trek series?
On Next Generation, I was just one of the writers, with really talented people like Ron Moore, Joe Menosky, Michael Piller, [and] Jeri Taylor. I was 25 years old. I wrote some memorable episodes and ended up doing the finale with Ron. I then got offered the first TNG movie. So Next Generation was a coming of age for me as a screenwriter. I was lucky to work with and be mentored by the best writers imaginable. I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for the collaboration and the kindness of my colleagues.
On Voyager, I was rising through the ranks. Eventually it would become my first showrunning job, around season 4. That was a big moment. And then in season 6, as that was coming along, I got a call from Rick Berman that he wanted me to create the next Star Trek show with him. That was my trajectory and along the way, I produced 300 episodes of Trek.
What was it like to create Enterprise?
The first time I started to feel some pressure was toward the end of Next Generation. Being given a finale, I realized that this show means a lot to people and that I couldn’t screw it up. I certainly felt that way when I took over Voyager. I wanted to make it the best show ever. And I succeeded here and there.
I felt the most pressure with Enterprise. It was mine from the ground up. It was wonderful. But, I knew it was going to be scrutinized heavily. Rick Berman didn’t want to do another series so soon, but the studio wanted it. I was nervous about that. The show was heavily scrutinized and I don’t think it was as appreciated as it should’ve been.
What drew you to science fiction in the first place?
I’ve always been a fan of fantastical fiction. I read a lot of Stephen King and I was really into horror novels. And I was also into science fiction. My favorite show growing up was Twilight Zone. I liked reality-bending tales and I think my love of Twilight Zone translated very well to Star Trek. Trek is something of an anthology show, but with continuous characters. Every week they encounter some kind of impossible situation. And like Twilight Zone, is some type of parable. I was just drawn to more imaginative storytelling. I wanted to think about the future.
How did you become involved in Cosmos?
I got a phone call from Seth McFarlane, a long-time friend. Seth is a big fan of Star Trek. We put him on Enterprise a couple of times. He called and asked if I would come aboard and help get it made. I jumped at the chance.
I was a huge fan of the original Cosmos in 1980. I saw it in High School and it really changed my life. It was my first real introduction to science. And being taught a point of view on the world that never crystallized for me before. Cosmos is just a huge landmark on my life. I could never predict that 30 years later that I would be working on a new one.
I came aboard and worked with Ann Druyan, who cowrote the original with her then-husband Carl Sagan. And I was eventually asked to direct the show. You want to talk about pressure? Ann and I were both worried that it wouldn’t live up to the original. Thankfully, people seem to think so.
And what was the experience of working on a show about science fact?
Cosmos is about real science and real scientists, but it is a scripted show–beautifully scripted by Ann. I treated it as any one-hour drama. I think that’s what certainly gave it a good narrative thrust and spectacle.
All of my years on Star Trek prepared me to do Cosmos, both in terms of being somewhat scientifically literate, but also because Star Trek and Cosmos are cousins in a way. They are both about the very best that humanity has to offer. And they are both about exploration. Cosmos has a ship of the imagination.
Now that you’ve done science fiction and science fact, are you sick of science?
I will always be in love with science. There’s nothing that gets old about science because science is a process of continuous discovery and correction. It is the guiding light of our species, in my opinion. It will never get old. And science fiction, being a wonderful outgrowth of science, is the same thing. Always evolving.
Technology has been inspired by science fiction for sure, but also people. People who loved Star Trek or Cosmos have been inspired to become scientists or engineers or astronauts. I feel good that I played my small part in making something positive.
What are you working on now?
Salem is my horror foray which is premiering its third season on WGN America on November 2nd. The first two seasons are on Netflix. I’m very passionate about it. That’s been what I’ve been spending a lot of my time on.
What are your favorite episodes of Star Trek? Tell us below.
Top Image Credit: CBS Studios
Image Credit: National Geographic