Having seen Justin Lee Collins’ Bring Back Star Trek (wherein our hero tries to reunite the crew of the Enterprise for one last mission in the hostile climes of Hollywood), I can tell Trek fans that whether they love or hate Collins’ Gatling-gun mix of charm and stalker-like doggedness, there are some great insights into the original show from the many Enterprise crew members that the team track down and waylay. If you’re a fan of Collins, you’ll love it, and if you’re not, well, you can enjoy watching Bill Shatner set some unbelievably frightening dogs on him on Channel 4 at 9:00pm Saturday, May 9th…
We had a quick chat with Bring Back executive producer Simon Unwin about the show…
How many of the Bring Back series have you done with Justin Lee Collins?
It started with Grange Hill, and then we did Christmas Number Ones, One Hit Wonders, A-Team, Dallas, Star Wars, Fame…this is the eighth one! And I think probably, in terms of covering television, it’s the biggest one we’ve ever done. As the program gets over, Star Trek is probably the most influential sci-fi show in history, let alone one of the most influential programs – full stop.
What is your role on the show in a practical sense ?
I was executive producer on Fame and Star Trek, so I wasn’t actually out on location for those two, but I produced and directed all of the other ones. There are about two of us doing the producing, and certainly I’ve done all the American ones to date. Having done so many of them, it was hard for me to kind of move up and let some other people take over and give it some fresh blood.
Justin does seem to have a tendency to get the team into trouble; is there a kind of a ‘gulp’ moment before starting on location with one of these shows?
The thing is, to go to LA you need to have things in place to a certain degree. I remember when we did The A-Team, we didn’t have Mister T at all. I think for the person in charge, you do feel a little bit sort of sick to your stomach about what on Earth is going to happen. Obviously we try to push things as hard as we possibly can within the law; sometimes we are quite on the edge. Certainly you’ve got to worry about the legal and compliance angle on the show, and that’s always a worry.
But the thing about Justin is that he’s one of the few people like that who’s genuine because he genuinely loves what he does. Although he’s too young to remember Star Trek when it first went out, he’s obviously caught re-runs, as has half the world. So he has a genuine enthusiasm.
Certainly after he met Uhura, which was one of the first ones we did, he was just like a man in love! So in the end he enjoyed it all the more, because they got on like a house on fire.
And she forgave him for his deception as well, which is amazing!
Exactly! The thing about him is, and it’s not an act, is that he’s like the innocent abroad. People are completely disarmed by this fat hairy Bristolian, because you just don’t see people like that on TV in America – it’s always veneered teeth and Sunday tans. So they don’t know quite what to make of him, but because he’s such a charmer, he has a very disarming quality. Even if to begin with they’re going ‘What the fuck is going on here’, he’s such a charmer that it doesn’t take him long to win them over.
What was the biggest challenge in arranging events for this particular show?
A lot of the Star Trek people are superstars, so obviously they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, so I think finding ways of getting to them was quite tricky, bearing in mind that they are all kind of TV icons. Bill Shatner obviously has a reputation for being quite difficult – and that was certainly what we found. So I guess the biggest challenge for us was that we tried to get William Shatner but we didn’t get him!
Ultimately I think Spock was Justin’s favourite character from the programme anyway, and from the research we did…we had a consultant on board the program, to make sure that we were doing things properly and actually representing a case in the interests of Star Trek fans; we spoke to him quite a lot, and from what he was saying, and from the majority of the fans’ feedback, talking to Spock was more important than talking to Kirk. People have a huge passion for Spock, and his crucial role in the program.
So in an ideal world we obviously would have got all of them, but that’s real life – you don’t get everything you want.
And in fact Kirk actually does ‘release the hounds’ on your crew!
Exactly! So we tried everything we could. In a normal interview show, if you get a ‘no’, you go ‘Okay, no worries’, and you just go away, but with us we obviously then turn into stalkers! [laughs]
So we went to [Shatner’s] house, Justin dropped a note off in the letterbox, which wasn’t responded to, and then Justin had the balls to go and break in, more or less, to the set of Boston Legal, [laughs] and get away with it. It’s totally genuine, but that week was one of the few weeks when the Boston Legal lot are filming away from the set. They were doing a thing up at the Disney ranch, and bearing in mind what the security is like around anything to do with Disney…we just knew that it was actually going to be very very difficult. There was all of that risk of having our visas revoked or not being able to go back again to the states in the future…so we just decided to call it a day and admit defeat.
Do you ever have to tone down Justin’s ideas – or anyone else’s – in terms of what you can acceptably do to get a pitch going?
No, Justin’s got a very good sense of what is appropriate and what isn’t. We’ve done so many of them now, and he doesn’t really care about…whatever, really, now. So going up to somebody’s house, he might get a little bit nervous, but it tends to bring out the best in him, really. His handling of the unknown and these very unexpected events…he’s one of the very few people who can really do that well on television, I think.
What can Star Trek fans expect from Bring Back Star Trek?
Obviously there have been so many programs about Star Trek over the years, but I don’t think any of them are anywhere near as much fun as this one is. This is all done from a super-fan’s perspective, which you don’t often get either. The enthusiasm and the energy that Justin has, and the passion that he has for retro TV – that comes across.
All of the people we interview, they’re not used to being interviewed by somebody who mentions erections [laughs]. His angle of questioning is totally unconventional. So even if you have seen 100 interviews with Sulu before, you’ve never seen Sulu and the interviewer coming up with a new name for Bill Shatner and calling him ‘Bill Shitner’! So while there may not be any great revelations, because the story of Star Trek has been told a hundred times, what we’ve done is to bring a real freshness to the story, and I think that the archive in it – the historical archive that puts everything into perspective – just hits home even harder what an extraordinary program this was and how daring it was at the time.
Also when you look at the reunion at the end – of course, not all of them turned up, but so what? It doesn’t really matter. If you’re a Trek fan, like Justin is, to have three people in your CGI sequence is amazing. And I think that if you see Nichelle [Nichols] flirting away for Justin and going ‘Hailing frequencies clear, Captain Collins’…[laughs] you’ll never see that anywhere else.
The Turkish fight, the [recreation of] the ‘Gorn’ fight, is one of my favourite bits in the whole show. I’m sure there are absolute Trek-obsessives who will have seen that kind of thing before, but I think a lot of people won’t have come across that kind of scene. Genius.
I don’t think any program before has packaged up the Star Trek phenomena in such a fun and fresh way as we’ve managed to do on Bring Back.
Can you tell us about any upcoming Bring Backs?
Nothing confirmed at the moment. It’s a period where television’s going through tough times, and there’s a lot of cutbacks in terms of budgets and programming, particularly Channel 4. So we’ve got a long list of stuff that we’d love to do, like Baywatch, and Justin would like to do The Goonies…Prisoner Of Cell Block H I think would be a great thing for us, because it’s Australia and we’ve never been there before. So there are loads of things on the list…I just have to hope that people tune in and contact Channel 4 and tell them how much they enjoy it, and that will encourage them to commission more in the future…
Check out Bring Back Star Trek on Channel 4 Saturday, 9th May at 9pm.