Coto Contemplates The History of the UniverseBy Michelle
February 7, 2005 - 10:53 PM
"The fun of Enterprise has been showing the series we grew up with coming to fruition," said Manny Coto, a self-confessed original Star Trek fan who's now an executive producer on the most recent incarnation of the franchise. "The continuity issues are a great challenge; the Klingon head ridges created two great episodes."
Speaking to Lisabeth Shatner at TheFandom.com, Coto explained how his duties as a producer intersect those of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, discussed the earliest episodes he wrote for Enterprise and gave some hints about what viewers can expect for the remainder of the show's last season.
"Really, there are three showrunners," noted Coto when Shatner asked him to explain his job. "My basic duties are more geared toward the writing department: setting up the stories, deciding the course of the stories and the episodes that we'll be telling. I'm also involved in casting, choosing props and consulting about production design. Rick handles most of the post and the finishing of the episodes. Brannon is involved in the story department as well, but he's not as involved as he was last year. A 'showrunner' is usually the person who does all of these things, but in this case we're all kind of tag-teaming each other."
In terms of the writing he did before he became an executive producer, Coto said he was particularly proud of "Similitude", the episode in which Phlox creates a short-lived clone of Tucker in order to save the engineer's life. "I didn't actually set out to do a story about cloning," said Coto, explaining that he hatched the concept during his first week on the show, "just trying to come up with an interesting idea and a compelling hook." He came up with the idea of Phlox having a creature that could mimic biological entities.
"That one turned into a topical issue, I guess, but came out more from the idea of a being born and living and dying in six days," he elaborated. "What would it mean for the crew to learn to love this individual, and then harvest its organs to bring back their friend? There were actually lots of topical issues in that episode, not just cloning. The moral question was, is it right ever to kill to save billions?"
"Chosen Realm", another issue-oriented episode - in this case, religious fanaticism - was less successful in Coto's opinion. "Unfortunately, some people took it as an indictment of religion; it was really an indictment of the refusal to accept other points of view and where it can lead you," he explained. "Whereas 'Similitude' was more a drama, I think 'Chosen Realm' became preachy. In the original series, they always concentrated first on story and entertainment, and the issues that they tackled were there as a consequence of the stories they told. First and foremost, the show is meant to be entertaining."
Coto's own fandom stemmed less from the ideology of the original series than the characterisation of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. "You fell in love with those individuals and their interactions," he noted, joking with William Shatner's daughter that Kirk was "the man." The challenge of the later shows, he felt, was to create character interaction that would be equally compelling, yet not identical. "I remember when I watched The Next Generation premiere, I didn't like it. I was waiting for the Kirk, Spock and McCoy interaction but I found the characters too polite." Later, he said, he pulled himself "out of old-series snobbery" and started watching the new show because "they were telling great stories...they planted their own flag, starting with season three."
Working with the established canon of the previous show has been complicated for Coto but also one of his great joys. "You need an encyclopedic mind to keep up with Star Trek," he exclaimed. "On Enterprise...the Romulans had cloaking devices which they probably shouldn't have had. Anyone who knows the old series knows that we can't meet the Romulans - we can't see them face to face - so we created a scenario where two characters, Trip and Reed, are trapped on this Romulan ship that's operated by remote control." That storyline is coming to a conclusion on the series next Friday night in "The Aenar."
As for the rest of the season, Coto added, the upcoming Klingon arc fits in both with original series and Next Gen continuity and with the Augments arc from earlier this season on Enterprise. When the Augment ship was destroyed over a Klingon planet, he got a notion: "What if the Klingons became very impressed with fighting capabilities of these Augments and tried to create their own Augments with genetic material from the human Augments?" He decided that the attempt might have led to the difference between the original and later Klingons. "It's not ignored on Deep Space Nine. Worf actually said, 'It's something we don't talk about.'" The upcoming storyline, he said, takes the theme of experimentation out of control and uses it to address the subject of Klingon foreheads.
"It's this wonderfully coherent world," concluded the writer of the Star Trek mythos, which covers five shows with five different sets of writers and producers. "I think what's amazing is how well it holds up."
The complete interview may be listened to at TheFandom.com.