Last week, Star Trek fans must have felt like they were slingshot-ing around the sun and headed back in time: acclaimed writer/director Nicholas Meyer is coming back to Star Trek! Bryan Fuller—the showrunner of the new CBS Star Trek TV show— has brought Nicholas Meyer—director of The Wrath of Khan & The Undiscovered Country— into the new Trek writer’s room.
Luckily, just days after this announcement, I was able to get Nicholas Meyer on the phone and grill him on his initial thoughts about being called back into service for Starfleet. Read on to discover which Star Trek film might be the touchstone for the new show, why Meyer came back, and what how he himself views his legacy and popularity.
Interviewer’s note: This interview took place over the phone on 2.27.2016. Mr. Meyer was at his home in Los Angeles.
Make no mistake: Nicholas Meyer is the reason why Star Trek made it out of the '80s. Without his direction and writing of The Wrath of Khan, we could live in an alternate universe in which J.J. Abrams never makes 2009’s Star Trek, and, by extension, The Force Awakens never exists. I say this not only because Nicholas Meyer gave a very-young J.J. Abrams a copy of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes for his bar mitzvah, but because The Wrath of Khan revitalized the Star Trek brand for an audience beyond just Trekkies and science fiction fans.
The Wrath of Khan was a box office and critical hit, which is more than can be said for 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. If Wrath hadn’t been so full of pathos, literature, character and real storytelling, there’s every reason to think the future of Star Trek movies (and future TV shows) might have died right then and there. In 1982 Janet Maslin of The New York Times began her glowing review with the words “Now this is more like it” while one of today’s leading geek critic Jill Pantozzi reminds us that Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek films “[gave] the character’s back their personalities.” He re-wrote the script of Wrath in two weeks, inserted tons of funny bits in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and gave the original cast a poignantly political send-off with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. If Nicholas Meyer was your parents’ Star Trek, then your parents’ Star Trek was awesome.
Check out our brief chat with Nicholas Meyer below:
Ryan Britt: Just a few years ago, would you have thought that you’d be back writing for Star Trek?
Nicholas Meyer: No. No one’s ever asked me!
How much do you know about the new show? What can you tell me?
I can’t tell you anything! I know things. But if I told you, I’d have to kill you.
What will be your new role in the writers’ room? Will you be writing individual episodes? Or larger story arcs?
If I’m lucky, I’ll get to write episodes. If I’m less lucky, I’ll just get to sit in that room with all those other clever people.
How big of a writers’ room do you think it’s going to be?
I don’t know!
A lot of Star Trek fans are hoping that this new show might signal a return to self-contained stories, rather than the big season-long arcs we see in most contemporary television. Will this be the case?
I think it’s going to be a different Star Trek. It will go in a different direction. And I think that is probably good. Because the thing that mainly troubles me about Star Trek is the fear of it being maybe re-treads of itself. And to the degree that I had any influence on the thing [Star Trek] at all was that at least while I was there, we were fooling around. And if you’re not fooling around, then things can become stale. And I think that Bryan [Fuller]—who is a very clever fellow—has ideas—some of which I’ve heard—that are innovative and different. Different is what got me interested.
Is that sense of difference the most exciting thing about this?
I like to go boldly where people haven’t gone before!
What’s the biggest challenge or fear?
The same fear and challenge of every project. It’s called “failure.” Fear of failure!
You’ve always incorporated literary influences into your previous Star Treks. Are we going to see more of that this time? What kinds of references might we see in the new Star Trek? More Hornblower? Sherlock Holmes? Dickens?
What people take to be my penchant for “literary references,” is just me free-associating. It isn’t as premeditated, or as thematically bound-up as I think people might think. If it’s trademark you can blame my high school and the University of Iowa. It’s just sort of how I think.
But as an after-effect, for someone like me, it’s a bonus. It may have been free-association for you, but for many of us, I think it enhanced our enjoyment of Star Trek and maybe even got us into some of those books. [Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes, et al.]
Well, I’m hoping the reason I was invited to do this was connected to—presumably— something I would have to offer. Whether that is the case, or whether it’s recognized when it happens remains to be seen. I’m not a silver bullet… Jack Warner said this of screenwriters: “They were just schmucks with Underwoods.” You know what an Underwood is?
I’m not sure…
[Laughs] It was a typewriter!
I should have known that! So, the politics of both Star Trek IV and Star Trek VI are what make those movies what they are. Is there something from the existing political landscape that might make its way into these new Star Treks?
The one thing I can relate to you is that The Undiscovered Country—according to Bryan [Fuller]—is a real sort of taking off point, or touchstone for how I guess he’s thinking about the direction of the new show. I don’t want to be misquoted and I don’t want to misquote him, but he’s fond of that film. Let’s put it that way.
How soon are you going to be getting to work?
[Laughs] I’m waiting for them to tell me!
What can you tell fans of Star Trek or fans of yours to look forward to?
Tell them to cross their fingers! [Laughs]
The new Bryan Fuller-helmed (and now Nicholas Meyer co-written) Star Trek will debut on CBS in 2017.
* main image courtesy of StarTrek.com *