Behr Reflects on Ferengi, '4400'By Michelle
August 23, 2005 - 10:41 PM
Ira Steven Behr blames his former Star Trek: Deep Space Nine colleague Rene Echevarria for his involvement in The 4400, the very successful cable show which has earned him an Emmy nomination. "Rene called me up and asked how I would like to have an easy job for a couple of months," he explained. "'It's going to be simple,' he said. It was finite...a miniseries. Of course, after I said yes, he left the show and suddenly I was running it!"
Speaking to Chase Masterson at TheFandom.com, Behr reflected on their time together on Deep Space Nine and talked about the differences between his former and present shows. "On DS9, we got to a point where everyone had their individual strengths, perhaps, but we thought alike - we all were really in tune with each other," he recalled. "It did get scary: we all had the same kind of beard at one point and we all wore the same clothes! I felt like it was the Reservoir Dogs of writing staffs. [The 4400] is a little different befause it's really just Craig [Sweeny] and I for the most part to do what needs to get done, so it's not as much fun."
As others have done before him, Behr described working on Star Trek as an extraordinary experience that he does not expect to find repeated. By the sixth season, they knew the end was coming, had a buildup to prepare for it, and "my car could have gone to Paramount with my eyes closed." He described it as very comfortable, the feeling of a family, and was very proud of the work they all did together, "a feeling of unity that is very hard to get in television. I really appreciated it."
With The 4400, the work started out more as a trial by fire. Echevarria, who recruited Behr, left before the two ever started working together and is on the staff of Medium now, "which is a great show and I've forgiven him", joked Behr. He enjoyed working with former DS9 staffer Robert Hewitt Wolfe again on the original miniseries, and getting to know Sweeny, a young writer Behr worked with for the first time on The 4400. "Craig and I did the heavy lifting on most of the season together," he noted. "That's part of the joy of it, actually...having to be a showrunner, it's a collaborative medium...use it, enjoy it, don't fight against it!"
The initial one-hour pilot became a two-hour pilot, then a miniseries, "and suddenly all this stuff, the shrapnel started to fill the air! This was supposed to be my laid-back waiting-for-something-choice-to-come-along! Now suddenly I'm in the trenches big-time." After the challenge of writing the pilot, the network planned to greenlight or reject the remaining episodes on a single day, so the writers had to prepare the remaining scripts as soon as they had finished the pilot. "At one point Craig and I and Robert Wolfe were working on four scripts at once, doing rewrites, juggling four scripts to get them to the network so they could say yes or no. We did those six episodes, and the rest is 4400 history."
Behr, who started out studying theater and was awarded a scholarship to Brandeis for playwrighting, ended up going to Europe for awhile, coming back to New York with no money and deciding to move in with a cousin in L.A. He had not watched television in years, not having been able to afford one, so "when I came out here I really had to do a crash course." To this day he does not watch much television for fun but likes to read everything from genre to what he describes as "the pretentious highfalutin' stuff."
Masterson asked where the joyousness of the Ferengi came from, something she believed had been Behr's doing on DS9 and a subject dear to her heart since her character, Leeta, married the Ferengi Rom. "I have to take a lot of responsibility for the Ferengi...I have such a mixed feeling about it," admitted Behr, who said that when he worked on The Next Generation he hadn't liked the large-lobed aliens and at first resisted when executive producer Michael Piller told him that the Ferengi would be involved in DS9.
"I'm thinking, 'Man that's gonna suck,'" he said. But Piller described how he saw Quark and put ideas into Behr's head which ended up leading to the Grand Nagus and the Rules of Acquisition. He also started the Quark-Odo relationship in "Babel", the first episode that was largely his own. "Deep Space was not really geared either through the directors or even the actors in building humor," he noted. "I know Armin was not that comfortable with that aspect of [Quark]. I had my conception of the Ferengi, but I understand that it did not always get there...it was always less subtle than I thought it could be, I always thoguht it could have more character and less schtick." Ironically, Rick Berman, whom Behr said could be "really brutal" when critiquing scripts, loved them; he told Behr that he found his Ferengi scripts were witty and had style.
Though he said he understands why viewers like to watch shows like CSI, which offer the same stimuli and the same rewards each week, since "life is complicated and sometimes people want to come home and know what they're getting", Behr added that such shows have never interested him either as a fan or from a creative standpoint. "I like to be surprised," he said, noting that when people ask him what The 4400 has in common with Deep Space Nine, he says, "'You never know tuning in quite what you're going to get.'" These days you may not know what you're going to get with Behr either, who had dyed his beard blue and found that people looked at him "like I'm a mutant", which may allow him to relate to his characters.
The full audio interview is at TheFandom.com.