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The Trek Nation - Bill Margol Interview

Bill Margol Interview

By Salvador Nogueira
Posted at September 18, 2000 - 10:14 PM GMT

The below interview first appeared on Brasilian Star Trek site Trek Brasilis, and was conducted by [p]Salvado Nogueira[/p]. The below English version of the interview is reprinted by permission.

Salvador Nogueira: First of all, a little profile with references from you: your name, academic formation, current job and previous job in Sci-Fi Channel...

Bill Margol: My name is Bill Margol and I was the manager of Special Projects at Sci-Fi from 1996-1998. I am currently Director of Development for TNT Specials at Turner Network Television.

SN: 2- You've mentioned you're a ST fan since childhood. How is it to suddenly become involved with your favourite franchise and the actor which gave life to those beloved characters?

BM: It was a fluke, quite frankly. The job at Sci-Fi came along at the right time in my career. I've always had an interest in science fiction, and it served me well in the job. In 1996 Sci-Fi acquired the rights to TOS, and I developed the idea of the Special Edition with Leonard Nimoy. Once again, it was pure luck that I ended up involved with the whole thing!

SN: During the production of the Special Edition for the Sci-Fi Channel, you've had the opportunity to work closely to many Star Trek actors. Among them was DeForest Kelley. So little has come to the screen from him... how was he at the time?

BM: De was ill at the time. He had just been through some fairly serious surgery about a month or so before and at the time of the interview, he was thin, frail and even more soft spoken than his usual demeanor. In fact, he wasn't going to do the interview at all, but Leonard convinced him that it was important to the project and important to the legacy of Star Trek. I'm not sure, but I think it was De's last interview - it was definitely his last extended interview. It was one of the highlights of the project for me, and one that I will never forget. He was a sweet, gentle and intelligent man and he got along well with everyone.

SN: Still about the Special Edition, there were any actors or actresses which didn't want to become involved with the project?

BM: Well, there were some guest stars that didn't want to be interviewed about it. You have to remember, as fans, we still see them in these roles - to them, it was a small part that they played 30 years ago. They would prefer to be remembered for things that they've done since. But the majority of the cast, guest stars and crew members were more than happy to participate.

SN: How much costed to the Sci-Fi Channel to produce the Special Edition?

BM: The project, including all of the fees, production and editing cost close to one million dollars. It's a shame that much of the work never made it to air. The project got caught in the change of ownership at USA Networks, the parent company of the Sci-Fi Channel.

SN: You've worked with the two greatest legends in the original series, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, in the production of the scripts for the presentation of the Special Edition. How was the experience with both of them? Which one is the best to work with?

BM: Well, to be precise, I worked with Leonard on the preparation of the scripts for his segments. By the time I was done researching and writing the 240 scripts (3 scripts times 80 episodes equals 240 scripts) for Leonard's segments, I don't think I could have said one more thing about Star Trek, so I hired a good friend to research and write the Shatner scripts. Still, I did review and edit all of Shatner's scripts. The experience all around was wonderful. Getting to exchange ideas and thoughts with them was a truly unique experience. Leonard and Bill each have their own particular ways and each of them was a pleasure to work with, in turn. So I couldn't say that one of them was "best."

SN: Shatner tries to transmit an image that he likes the franchise and the fans. Is this the impression he transmited while working on that project?

BM: Yes, I think Bill still has a passion for Star Trek, although I think that he and the rest of the cast, for that matter, view it for what it really is.a television show. They don't idolize it like fans or analyze it like professors. Bill is the kind of actor how learns what he has to do, show up, does it well and gets paid for it. He did that for our project. He was fun to work with and brought elements to the project that I could never have dreamed. He was also hysterical. He had a great sense of humor and kept us laughing much of the time on the set.

SN: Why the complete Nimoy sequence was not exhibited? I know you were not there anymore, but do you have any clue?

BM: Well, as I said above, the project straddled the take-over of USA Networks by Barry Diller, a media mogul here in the US. The new management he put in place apparently didn't see the value of the project that the previous management did. I had departed shortly before, and so my guess would be that they viewed the project as to "retro" or not forward looking enough. So they pulled the project off the air before the Nimoy segments finished airing.

SN: Originally, the Special Edition was being conceived as something even bigger, even with new special effects shots for the series. What were the exact plans for the Special Edition? Why the idea came to surface?

BM: That's not exactly true. There were never any plans to re-do any of the special effects. It was an idea that was suggested at the very beginning of the project as a possibility, but we knew from the very beginning that the costs of doing that would be prohibitive. Plus we had other concerns with doing something like that. I have a few objections to that concept that I'll get into below. We were more concerned with showing Star Trek in the best light possible, with new digital transfers and audio re-mixes.

SN: The other enhancements, like the new FX shots, they were abandoned for concept reasons or budget reasons?

BM: As I said above, they were abandoned very early in the process, mostly because of cost reasons.

SN: There is a company called Digital Stream which has a project of updating TOS effects. Sci-Fi Channel or Paramount have had any contact with those guys at the time? Have you seen their work?

BM: I don't know that company in particular. We had several talks with Gary Hudsel, who works on the effects for the current Star Trek series, and he, in fact worked on the update of effects and film for the DS9 episode 'Trials and Tribble-ations.' Gary proposed doing the same thing to the entire Original Series, but we all knew it would be too expensive. I don't know if Gary is involved with the company you mentioned.

SN: What do you think of updating the effects for TOS?

BM: I think it's a mistake. It's one thing to go back and clean up scratches, dust marks and the occasional bad matte line. That, I view as restoration. But if you go back and replace shots with new effects, you're changing part of what made the series special. The series, as it stands right now, is a reflection of the era in which it was produced. The effects, the costumes, the make-up, the stories are all reflections of the '60's. Let's take it a step further.would you go back and change one of the story lines about Viet Nam, because Viet Nam is no longer going on? Would you air-brush out the valour shirts because they are no longer in style? How about this.forget about Star Trek. Let's look at it as a piece of art. Would you go back and re-do one of Picasso's paintings simply because better paints are available now then were available then? No. You might clean up the paining to bring out the colors that Picasso originally intended, but you wouldn't change the colors or paint it with water-color instead of oil. Star Trek is the same thing. Clean it up, yes, alter it, no.

SN: Do you believe TOS still has a chance against the new sci-fi series?

BM: If you're talking about special effects, obviously not. But if you are talking about what is really important, story and character, I think the original series could stand up against anything you throw against it. It's got compelling, intelligent writing. It's got characters that you care deeply about and that are well developed. Name another story that people care about 30 years after it has come and gone.

SN: Why did you leave Sci-Fi Channel?

BM: Nothing other than a better opportunity elsewhere.

SN: Did you have any problems with actors saying: "if Mr. X is involved, I will not be on it", or something like that?

BM: No, no one gave us an ultimatum, if that is what you mean, We had to be careful to schedule interviews in such a way that people who weren't necessarily fond of eachother would not accidentally be on the set at the same time.

SN: Which of the original cast actors is the most enthusiastic about Star Trek, in your opinion and experience?

BM: I think Leonard still has a great passion for the work and integrity of the original series and is very protective of the series and of the character of Spock. Of course, I worked with him most closely of all, so it's tough for me to judge. I don't think any of them have any great enthusiasm or love for the new Star Trek series or incarnations.

SN: Are you a fan of current Trek (TNG, DS9 and Voyager)?

BM: I was a fan of the Next Generation. I tried to get into DS9 and Voyager, but I think they never really delivered on the promise of Star Trek. There was very little "going where no man has gone before." DS9 was better than Voyager though. Voyager is probably one of the worst incarnations of Star Trek ever. Its unfortunate. They had a great premise going in.

SN: What do you think of Rick Berman?

BM: I don't know much about Rick Berman. I had some brief contact with him when we were planning the Special Edition. I would say that if I were the Paramount executives and I saw the diminishing returns on the Star Trek franchise, I would look first at the person who is heading that franchise. Rick did a great job picking up the reins after Gene Roddenberry died, but perhaps it's time to inject some new blood into the series.

SN: What do you think of Brannon Braga?

BM: Much the same as above.

SN: John Logan has been chosen to pen Star Trek X. What do you think of that choice?

BM: I can't really comment on it, because I don't know him or his previous work. I hope he has the talent to put some life back into the franchise.

SN: You have a project of yours about a possible ST series, "Star Trek - Legacy". It doesn't look a bit like "Andromeda", the new series Roddenberry based, written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe (ex-DS9)? Coincidence?

BM: We developed the concept for Star Trek: Legacy independently and without any knowledge of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda concept. I haven't even seen anything about Andromeda so I can't even say how close it is to ours.

SN: What do you expect from Series V, currently being developed by Berman and Braga?

BM: Someone once told me "Always have the highest of hopes and lowest of expectations. That way you'll never be disappointed." What do I expect? Unfortunately, more of the same. What do I hope? Well, I hope that they'll take the opportunity to really put Star Trek into new territory the way they did when Next Generation was created. That's what we tried to do with our Legacy concept.

SN: What do you think of the Excelsior campaign, destined to bring Captain Sulu to the center seat in a weekly series?

BM: I think it's a noble effort. I wish I could have some hope that Paramount could be influenced by it, but Star Trek is first and foremost a business. The decisions are made based on money, not on fans wants and desires. Personally, I don't love the Excelsior idea. I'm not big on the whole Captain Sulu thing, because I'd rather see a brand new series concept with brand new characters.

SN: Do you know Brazil? Any messages for people here?

BM: No, I don't know anyone from Brazil, but that's not on purpose! I guess the only message I'd have to say is that it's great to be able to get a chance to talk to new folks and that it's the world-wide support of Star Trek that has kept it alive.

SN: Is there any Trek thing you would like to do and I haven't? Any one you'll never do?

BM: I'd like to be hired to create the new series! But I guess that's not going to happen. I wouldn't mind selling a few ideas to them though! Seriously, I'm always open for new experiences and wouldn't count out some future involvement.

SN: Any other thing you might like to add?

BM: Just that I'm always happy to answer questions if anyone has any!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Salvador Nogueira is webmaster of Trek Brasilis.