Voyager at 25: The first Trek I saw in the birthing room, and it still affects me

Happy birthday, Voyager!

Twenty-five years ago this week, (25 ?!?!) the “third spin-off series” of Trek debuted on Jan. 16, leading off the opening night of rookie new network UPN itself… and this very-90s billboard proclaimed it across the street from Paramount Studios (“TV” and “Pictures” back then, thankyouverymuch—as God intended). So glad I thought to snap it at the time.

The world saw VGR that Jan. 16 for the first time—but cast, crew and critics got it a few days earlier… and some of us had been living and sleeping with it for months. Even already sold a story!

Everyone across Trekland is analyzing and accolading the series this week, especially in hindsight for the character of Captain Janeway, its historic feminist lead and cast tilt (two years before Buffy) … bloggers, more than one podcast, essayists, even mainstream media.  As well they should…. deservedly so!

But I have an admission to make… and only now I think I can see the irony of it.  I guess you’d say I was the closest to this Trek from birth onward … and yet it’s the one I’m the most ambivalent about.

I had spent two months at Paramount for the TNG Companion “red edition” in spring 1994… as TNG was winding down and about to be kicked off stages 8 &9 for Voyager to move in and “crew up.”  And as we made the insane huge move to arrive in Burbank Aug. 1, my own “Number One” saw a 6-week temp job with Voyager‘s nascent writers’ room balloon to a five-year term. And my on-lot associated projects took off as well.

So there I am, living a good deal of the show’s “insider” backstage portrait— warts and beauty spots alike— as it developed, launched, and followed a warpy course. Both for the good— the firsthand  history and greater insight I was experiencing, recording, and able to share in different amounts at appropriate times—as well as the bad: the inevitable lesser moments for humans and choices involved.

Be careful what you wish for, lieutenant!

Don’t misunderstand: I’m neither complaining nor regretting. The great VGR cast and guest stars have been a joy to know and work with then and now, having known TOS folk as only a young fan would until later in life, and having come to TNG in depth but long after the early seasons’ ships all sailed. Same with DS9, and ENT was still to come of course, as well as all four TNG movies.

And that VGR creative crew— so many coming over from TNG, and alongside the bunch across the street at DS9— all of whose own creativity to this day I swear to preserve and amplify, in print and in live experiences like Portal 47 and The Trek Files.

But at times like these it just strikes me:  Intimacy can be a turn-off.  I just don’t think I can ever undo being an innocent.  Voyager will always be the series whose pilot screening I can recall as mind-blowing, its cast and crew on Cloud 9 with excitement as a worthy Trek heir and the first “network show” since the original— only to see the series blanded down and “vanilla’d” by a tinpot network whose ever-smaller reach on third- and fourth-tier local stations were the ratings’ own worst enemy.  Having three or four showrunners over the seven seasons, depending how you slice it, was no help either.

A sadly unfulfilled promise.

And yet, yes—recent years only reinforce its impact:  how beloved its cast, and how much it means to little girls (and big ones they grew up into). And how the only non-TNG returning character  in Picard now comes from this cast— and how I rooted for Jeri’s incredible arc of performance in the beginning, when the world thought she’d just bimbo along.

Hey, I’m just being honest, here from too-close a perch. But what I do know is there’s a glorious 25th anniversary year ahead for Voyager, and that we can both celebrate #VGR25 and welcome Picard, et al, at the same time!  I can’t wait for some of the Voyager events this year. And can’t for some VGR-era guests for our deep-divers in #Portal47.

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