Break out the silver-pressed latinum! It’s the 25th anniversary of Deep Space Nine—the original “darker and grittier” Star Trek.
You’ll all be wading through accolades all day and all week about this time from 1993, I know. And as always, I might even point out its anniversary as June 29, 1992, the date of its first writer’s guide, or even April 19, 1992— the start day of filming on pilot “Emissary.”
(Or even that DS9, like TNG, didn’t have a single premiere day, but— as a syndicated show, with different airdays in each city/market—an airing properly listed as the “week of” Jan. 3.)
But as one who experienced the birth and life of DS9 in real time, let me offer a personal memento. DS9 exists at all only because of the oldest maxim in Hollywood— “If it ‘s a hit, make another!”—and in the early ’90s there was nothing hotter than Star Trek. Specifically, The Next Generation—and as the author of the best-selling TNG Companion, I should know.
So news of top-secret “Deep Space Nine” was both exciting and expected. And its promise became part of the bigger formula for why my new, young family pulled up stakes and came closer to Trek HQ for the excitement to come. While a follow-up Companion to DS9 didn’t happen for me— Paula Block and Terry Erdmann’s good fortune became mine as well, when the Fact Files soon came my way for 12 years—so it was all to the good, as well as Voyager, Enterprise, and all the rest of the boom. (And I did complete two “TNG”-style in-depth concordances done for S1 and S2 of DS9 before the crunch just got too heavy; that’s Kevin Hopkin’s original pen-and-ink cover logo seen here, built for the self-publish=Kinko’s days)
But the early hoopla did not last long, at least on the surface—and DS9‘s bold take on station-based Trek was soon ridiculed by impatient fans “not going anywhere” and “TNG Lite.” It wasn’t even overtly serialized yet, but it already felt like it, than any other—people just didnt get what this new dynamic was going to do to DS9’s landscape, much less the accumulation of 40 or more recurring characters.
Voyager‘s arrival as “The NETWORK show!” further cemented DS9‘s perception as the “middle child” of Trek, trapped and underappreciated as the last of both the syndication model and the “ship-less” model— the addition of the tough, little Defiant notwithstanding. The ’90s were marching on, competing sci-fi was booming, lesser stations were bumping DS9 to after the hockey game at 2 AM, and the “overlooked” rap on DS9 stuck: Trek fans were not only splitting but dwindling overall. “My VCR messed up, then I had a vacation, and now I can’t keep up!,” I heard more than one fan wail back in the ’90s.
Not here, though. Business needs of the Trek boom aside, I followed DS9 every bit as much as any other Trek incarnation— because they were all just volumes in the encyclopedia… they were all books on the same shelf. It was a healthy attitude to have when I realized finally to just put JJ’s KelvinTrek on an all-new shelf in a bigger bookcase.
That’s why it was always a thrill to meet and interview DS9‘s incredible and ever–growing cast of mostly classical actors, many of them doing it through “alien masks”…. soak up all the areas of visual creatives, from art to props to costumes and visual effects … and especially those writers, who mourned a little for the loss of the outward cheers but stuck to their own guts and guns and instincts, from Michael Piller right through Ira Steven Behr‘s majority of the run. I was more than happy in those pre-Internet days to help out with the sticky web of backstory they were so furiously spinning so fast they could barely keep up with it—from Dax’s hosts to the dodgy O’Brien bio to the line that helped save “By Inferno’s Light.” Whether Rick Berman really did throw up his hands to focus on Voyager… or had the good sense to let them just run with the “different” Trek… it worked for him, too.
Most of all, personally, my heart will always be smiling for any of my set visits to DS9‘s incredible location shoots or “out of the box” special shows…and I’m lookin’ at you, “Little Green Men,” “Doctor Bashir, I Presume,” and especially “What We Leave Behind” and even “Trials and Tribble-ations”—the latter that sparked the easiest major BTS writing I’ve ever done.
Ira always predicted that under-appreciated DS9 would have the last laugh at the Trek family reunions (albeit a respectful laugh)— and I knew in my gut he was right. That’s why it’s been no surprise to me over the last 10 years, when I take a show-of-hands survey among fans in my con audiences, that the biggest trend shift has been toward huge new DS9 love and numbers. I love proving Ira right! Even without a much-deserved HD re-do as TNG and TOS received, DS9 was the bigger winner of the streaming revolution led by Netflix—and it’s darker, serial tone has turned from hate fodder to amazing foresight.
That pendulum always swings, though, so we’ll have to see how the current crowd’s proclamation that DS9 is “the Trek that has aged the best” looks in another 10 years. But I do know it’s why Ira’s DS9 documentary “What We Left Behind” easily spilled into its crowdfunder stretch goals and is anxiously being awaited with the same love as greets any of its cast, writers and creatives on the con circuit and their new projects. And why DS9 artifacts and guests grab so much attention by our Portal 47 deep-divers.
Whether or not my sit-down with Ira make the cut in his film, this 25th anniversary just reminds me what a wild, exciting and enlightening ride it’s been from within even my tiny coverage-and-contribution corner of DS9. I didn’t leave it all behind at all—and apparently, neither have most of you!