Before Discovery or Strange New Worlds, the early days of the future as postulated by Star Trek were explored in the television series Star Trek: Enterprise. Celebrating its 20th anniversary at the end of the month, it was set roughly 75 years prior to The Original Series, during the fledgling days of Starfleet, when humanity was first venturing out into the cosmos.
Scott Bakula as Jonathan Archer captained the first starship given the name Enterprise, leading a team consisting of humans, a Vulcan, and a Denobulan. The voyage wasn’t always a smooth one, but certainly an important part of the canon. What follows, presented in oral history format, is a look back at the show’s formative days.
BRANNON BRAGA (executive producer/co-creator): Star Trek always needs fresh blood. I left the franchise before Enterprise; I just said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I remember where I was and what I was working on and where I was standing and at what point in time when I officially burnt out on Star Trek. I decided not to do the seventh season of Voyager and then I was asked to create Enterprise. Rick Berman had a really cool idea for it and I said, “You know what? I’m going to do this one more time.” One could argue maybe I shouldn’t have. Rick was a really good overlord, but even he needed fresh writers. One could argue maybe we both should have left earlier.
RICK BERMAN (executive producer/co-creator): As Voyager was ending, the studio came and said, “Let’s get another one up and going.” I begged them to let the franchise have a few years’ rest. In fact, they wanted it to start before Voyager ended and I managed to get them to at least wait until Voyager went off the air. The question was, what could we do that was different? I’d been working a great deal with Brannon, and so I asked him to work with me on creating a new series. Our decision, and I still think it was a good one, was to change the time period. We had done three shows that took place in the 24th century, and I thought it was time to go to another century. To go forward meant spacesuits that were a little sleeker and ships that were a little shinier, but it wasn’t that much to invent what had come before.
BRANNON BRAGA: Rick called me and said, “What do you think about setting it between the film First Contact and Kirk’s time?” And I said I thought that was a great idea. We started talking about it and considered what it would give us, and it evolved from there. We never considered another concept. We thought that First Contact seemed to be more of a relatable film somehow, because it had characters from the near future versus the distant future, and it allowed a more non–Star Trek audience to embrace Star Trek. You didn’t really have to know much to enjoy that movie.
RICK BERMAN: There was no Star Trek canon to respond to how Earth got from being in this post-apocalyptic nightmare to being in the world of Kirk and Spock with Starfleet Academy. So our feeling was to pick a time somewhere within that, when the first humans are going into space on warp-capable vessels, and they’re not as sure of themselves as Kirk or Picard were. They’re taking baby steps. We knew, with Enterprise, that we wanted to turn the ship [the franchise] around. We were dealing with the time when the first warp-drive ship was being developed for a crew of humans. There were no holodecks and people didn’t beam themselves anywhere, they just beamed cargo. It just seemed to be the right idea, so it’s the one we pursued.
BRANNON BRAGA: The biggest challenge was that the studio wanted something, but they were dubious about the prequel idea when we went in to pitch it. I don’t think they liked it very much. They thought Star Trek should be about moving forward and not moving backward. We were asking questions like, “How did we end up building the first warp ship? What was it like to meet a Klingon for the first time?” People had ball caps and walked dogs and wore tennis shoes and are more identifiable as people than, say, a Captain Picard, who is more of an idyllic man of the future that you probably wouldn’t recognize as a person that you could ever meet today.
RICK BERMAN: From the point of view of some fans, there’s the great sense of continuity that the shows have had, and they’re very, very particular about that. A lot of them were not happy about things that they felt were outside the canon of Star Trek. A lot of them felt that Brannon and I ignored that, which we absolutely didn’t. We tried to pay great attention to it and we had people who knew Star Trek backward and forward that helped us, but obviously there were things that had to be dealt with and adjusted.
SCOTT BAKULA (actor, “Captain Jonathan Archer”): Enterprise is The Right Stuff. That kind of energy of being the first ones out there and being a little scared sometimes and being a little overwhelmed by the experience, which I think is a great emotion to have to play with. Americans have explored our planet in a variety of different ways. Some successfully, some not. We have a wide history of exploration in this country. Certainly different experiences in Vietnam and places like that where we tried to impose our ideas or philosophies on different cultures, and still are in many places around this planet. Making it more about the experience and less about planting the flag. In other words, enjoying the experience and learning from it, rather than saying, “Now we’re here and we’re going to tell you how to do it. We’ve got good ideas and can do things better than you.” So if you’re someone out there looking to do good, and looking to explore in a healthy way, there’s a great responsibility to that. As well as a great temptation to change and alter and fix. Which became this very wonderful kind of play within the show, which is, how are we all going to deal with not only being out there, but the choices we make?
BRANNON BRAGA: Archer is something between Chuck Yeager and Kirk. He’s anything but the fully enlightened man that Picard is.
RICK BERMAN: It was very important for us to have a captain who was not necessarily that sure of himself, because we wanted him to be different from all the other captains. The other captains got on a spaceship at warp five or warp seven, they never thought twice about it. They ran into aliens every week and they never thought twice about it. We wanted a captain who was taking those first steps out into the galaxy; we wanted him to be a little green, a leader of men and at the same time, somebody who was in awe of everything he saw. With Scott, it just seemed like the perfect fit.
JAMES L. CONWAY (director, Enterprise pilot): Scott Bakula was the only actor ever discussed for Archer. Problem was, his deal wasn’t closed until the table read of the script three days before production began. In fact, there were rumors he was going to a CBS comedy pilot and we got very worried. We had never met him, talked to him, or heard him do the material. All during the casting process the casting director was the only one to read Archer’s dialogue. So it was a relief and pleasure to hear Scott brilliantly bring Archer to life at the table read.
SCOTT BAKULA: I responded to the idea of it and this character, and then I got the script for the pilot and everything just fell into place. I liked the character and it was really a return, in many ways, to what the original Star Trek was all about.
JAMES L. CONWAY: Scott brought a humanity to Archer that’s hard to put on the printed page. Also, as an actor and star of the show, Scott brought a top-notch work ethic and professionalism to the production. As star of the show, he set a great example for everyone.
BRANNON BRAGA: The funny thing about Scott’s take on the character was he spoke in kind of an unusual cadence when he was Archer and I could never figure it out. Someone told me he was a huge John Wayne fan. I’ve never talked to Scott about it, but I think he may have been doing a little bit of a John Wayne thing. He was our only choice.
SCOTT BAKULA: We had a different dynamic on our show, and I’ve thought about it since then, because basically I was the older captain compared to the younger guys on the crew. John Billingsley’s in the middle there somewhere. That’s why I think the stuff between him and me was always special, even though he was nonhuman. There was a different kind of distance between characters created by the casting. We were building those relationships, but it was still from a different place.
RICK BERMAN: John Billingsley is a character actor and somebody else who’s in tremendous demand. He’s just a wonderful guy. We wanted sort of a wise, quirky alien to play that role of Phlox. Somebody who would be our doctor, and he did a marvelous job. He’s another actor I would do anything to work with again.
JAMES L. CONWAY: We were having trouble finding an actress for T’Pol. We read a lot of actresses, looked at a lot of names on a wish list, but couldn’t find anyone we liked. The role was critical, because she was a Vulcan and had to be able to “be” a Vulcan, yet still have sex appeal. Thankfully we saw a demo of Jolene’s work, loved it, and then met and read and loved her.
JOLENE BLALOCK (actress, “T’Pol”): I grew up on Star Trek. My favorite was Spock. I would sit there with my dad and my brother just watching the show, watching the relationship between Captain Kirk, Bones, and Spock. My favorite relationship was between Bones and Spock, because it was just this animosity and this love-hate relationship. But overall there was such utter loyalty between all three of them. I love the way they worked together, just the way Bones would be, like, “You green-blooded fool.” Somewhere in The Next Generation, I got lost.
BRANNON BRAGA: We wanted a Vulcan babe like Saavik, and wanted a Vulcan on board because the Vulcans were very antagonistic toward humans and she was essentially a chaperone, which really rankled Archer. Their relationship worked kind of nicely, and we saw T’Pol, Archer, and Trip as our triumvirate of characters.
JOLENE BLALOCK: I personally believed that T’Pol should have more of her Vulcan culture. I didn’t believe she should be so desperate to be like everyone else, because the original Star Trek, which I grew up with, had a very simple message that I took from it, and that is that not everyone is like me, and I’m not perfect, and nobody’s perfect, and that’s okay. That really helped me.
RICK BERMAN: Connor was the only actor in four television series that I had to fight for. I just love this guy. I think he’s a remarkable actor, and I saw four pieces of tape on various things that he had done, and there was just something about him; that this character, Trip, that we had written, he was just made for.
CONNOR TRINNEER (actor, “Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III”): I wanted this job a lot. It was a good, time-tested franchise with a good audience. It had so many different things happening in it and it gave me the opportunity to play kind of a space cowboy—it was a dream job. Plus, you got to use your imagination as you’re meeting new species and races. Since this was our first time out, everything was new and we weren’t used to anything. You, as the actor, got to take in something as the audience did for the very first time, which was my experience as both an actor and a character.
ANTHONY MONTGOMERY: It was incredible. There was an electricity that just ran to my core, and it was because I was sitting at the helm of a show, being a part of a franchise that I grew up with and knew about. I’m not a Trekkie by any stretch of the imagination, but I still understand enough about the franchise that it made me say, “Wow, this is real!” That was even more exciting and intense than when I got the call saying I got the part.
RICK BERMAN: We were looking for an African American actor. We wanted someone young—we wanted this whole cast to be a lot more approachable, in a way; we wanted the audience to be able to relate to them more than they could other shows. Anthony was gorgeous, a terrific actor, and pretty much talked himself into the role the first day we saw him. We also wanted an Asian actor to play the role of communications officer and go back to a little listening device like Uhura had had in The Original Series. We also wanted her to be a translator of almost magical abilities. And Linda nailed it. We wanted somebody very vulnerable and someone who was not into flying on spaceships. In the first audition she completely got it and did very well.
LINDA PARK (actor, “Hoshi Sato”): There’s a lot of growth that happened for me, not only as an actor in front of the camera, but as a businesswoman. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that part of being an actor is that you are your own business, especially when you become successful at any level; you see how you work as a business and you can’t say, “I’m just an artist, and I don’t need to concern myself with the practical,” because it’s just as important to keep your artistic tools as sharp as your business tool. That’s the biggest thing I learned. In the end, it is my career and my life that these decisions are being made about.
RICK BERMAN: I had met Dominic on the first day of the last season of Voyager. He had the role of an English character. We were still a year away from going into production on the new series, but we were already starting to write it. He came in and I said to him, “We’ve got a role for you in a series that we’re creating that’s not going to be going on the air for eight or nine months, whatever it is, but I don’t want to use you up here.” This guy looked at me and said, “You’re right.”
DOMINIC KEATING: I had a chat with Brannon and Rick where I said, “I’m quite excited, and honestly, I’ll say whatever you put in front of me, but I would like it that he isn’t just the talking head Brit on an American spaceship.” Brannon said, “You won’t be saying lines like ‘My dear old mum.’” When I read the breakdown, he’s described as “buttoned-down, by the book, wry, dry, shy around women.” I’m like, “Oh, crap, I’ve got to act this.”
JAMES L. CONWAY: The pilot of Enterprise was terrific. But then the first season was very repetitive and it felt like it was written by people who were burned out. And Brannon copped to this, saying he had made some bad choices in hiring staff and he was burned out from finishing up on Voyager. So I think that first season suffered and it took him awhile to re-steer that ship.
BRANNON BRAGA: When we were shooting the pilot and it was time for me to start writing episodes, I had a lot of things that I wanted to do. But once the ship officially set sail, I felt constrained. I felt, “Here we go again,” and I felt very challenged. Also, it was the first time I wasn’t working with people I’d worked with before. It was a large staff of ten people, and Star Trek was notoriously difficult to find writers for, because it was a hard show to write. I don’t even want to say hard; it’s unique. It just had a specific voice, and I had this writing staff that was new to the genre. Out of ten people, I think just a couple survived that first year.