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September 16, 2014

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Q+A:

Brannon Braga discusses his ‘Star Trek’ legacy, ‘Cosmos,’ haters and James Bond

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Brannon Braga.

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Brannon Braga.

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson in "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."

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"Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Star Trek Convention

A Vulcan Wedding Band is seen attending the Official Star Trek Convention at the Rio in Las Vegas on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Star Trek Vendors

Robert Hurt, left, explains the authentic costumes for sale to Russell Williams while attending the Official Star Trek Convention at the Rio in Las Vegas on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Ask 100 Trekkies what they think of Brannon Braga, and you’ll get 100 answers. In addition to his work as writer and producer on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: Enterprise,” Braga has produced popular TV series like “24,” “Terra Nova” and most recently “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” and “Salem.”

I caught up with Braga ahead of his Star Trek Convention appearance Saturday. The Official “Star Trek” Convention is Thursday through Sunday at the Rio and will feature celebrity appearances, an Imzadi wedding ceremony, a NASA-sponsored science panel and several other “Trek”-themed parties and events.

It’s an understatement to say that you’ve had a lot of “Trek” to your name over the years. Is it still a big part of your life?

Well, I think the fact that we’re talking about a “Star Trek” Convention that I’m going to is a resounding “yes.” It will always be a part of my life, no doubt. I do one [“Star Trek”] convention a year, and it’s this one because it’s a big one and a fun one and it’s in Vegas. It’s nice to connect with the fans. But I also get a surprising number of interview requests throughout the year. This year it was the 20th anniversary of the last episode of “The Next Generation,” so it was that.

Inevitably, with every new project that I do, I get asked about “Star Trek.” On “Cosmos,” every interview I did on Cosmos, “Star Trek” came up. Of course, in making “Cosmos,” I brought a lot of the things I learned [on “Star Trek”] in making a space-bound show. I did it for 15 years, from ages 25 to 40 — those are formative adult years, so it will always be in my DNA.

Between that final episode — “All Good Things” — and everything else you’ve written and produced for “Star Trek,” where have you left the biggest impact on the franchise?

That’s probably a better question for a fan of the show. I think I just did some cool episodes. I really embraced the more high-concept, science-fiction-y episodes. The mind-bending, time-warping kinds of episodes tended to be mine, I think. Those sensibilities infused “All Good Things,” which is oftentimes reported to be one of the best episodes in the series. I certainly brought all of my time-travel instincts to that one, to create a real, special episode of the characters at three different points of time in their lives.

I think I’ll probably be remembered for that, but I’ll also probably be remembered for being a somewhat controversial figure in that I’m often blamed for the demise of the franchise because I happened to be at the helm when it went off the air, in 2004, was it?

You know, you write enough episodes, and I don’t even know how many I wrote — I think I’m credited with 130-plus, but I probably wrote more like 200. When you write enough episodes, there’s some that are going to be bad [laughs] — you know?

I wish I could say that all of them were stellar. I was a young guy, and I think I was just a lightning rod for controversy. Not anything that’s burning very hot today, though. The fans are more forgiving. “Enterprise,” the last show, which I co-created with Rick Berman, was pretty much vilified at the time, and it’s astonishing to me how tender it’s being treated today. I think people wish “Star Trek” was back on the air, and they miss it. As do I.

When you take on another project, do you consider that kind of fan backlash?

Of course. When I started on “Star Trek,” there was no [web]. When I started in “Star Trek” in 1990, our computers were monochromatic. It was a different time. We’d get the occasional fan mail, but we didn’t really have direct access to the fans unless we went to a “Star Trek” Convention. The Internet, of course, has changed everything, and I can only speak for myself, but it definitely informs my work.

I’ll take “Cosmos” as an example: I was very aware that I was involved in reintroducing “Cosmos” to a new generation, but I was also aware that there were many, many fans of the original out there. And they were going to probably compare the two in some way, and I just worked really hard and hoped that it would be worthy of the original. But I knew that if it wasn’t that we’d hear about it.

Now that it just finished airing, can you tell us a bit about the experience of producing the new version of “Cosmos”? How was the reception?

Well, I was involved with it for two years. Ann Druyan, of course, was involved with it for longer than that. A lot of it was really arduous, took a lot of work, a lot of traveling, a lot of brainpower, but it was really a pleasure to work on. A real passion project for everyone involved. That comes across in the show. It’s just filled with wonder and joy, and it’s a fantastic piece of television, I think. But it’s because everyone put everything they had into it.

I’ve heard from fans of the original, and they really weren’t drawing any comparisons. There were a couple of negative things said here and there, but 99 percent were positive. And the most encouraging aspect has been, forgetting the 12 Emmy nominations and all that stuff, was hearing from a dad who watches it with his 6-year-old daughter, or families watching it together, or that children and teenagers had perhaps the strongest response of anyone. That was the most encouraging thing because that’s what we were hoping for. I was rather surprised that kids really dig it, young kids. It could not have done better.

You touched a bit on this, and critics have picked up on it as well, but Cosmos has a bit of a “Trek” vibe to it. Are those two series comparable?

Yeah, I think the souls of “Star Trek” and “Cosmos” are closely related in that both are about humanity aspiring to explore the cosmos. The next gen of the Starship Enterprise was [“Cosmos’ ”] Ship of the Imagination.

[“Star Trek: Next Generation”] was a science mission. It was a mission to meet new species. But there could be not doubt that the Ship of the Imagination on “Cosmos,” which had a fairly glancing presence in the original but we embraced it whole-heartedly in this new one, was a character. It was like a “Star Trek” ship, and you really felt you were exploring. The two shows are kind of soul mates in that regard.

What’s it like going from producing largely drama series to a scientific show like “Cosmos,” which is more documentary?

“Cosmos,” to me, was more than a documentary. We didn’t go out to record polar bears as they rose out of the water [laughs] — and we certainly couldn’t send a documentary crew into deep space. To me, it was a narrative, telling the story of scientists who paved the way, telling the story of the continuity of science and exploration and the scripts that Ann wrote and bringing them to life visually with just the right mix of propulsion without being too flashy.

Bringing the Cosmic Calendar to life alone, making it cinematic and immersive — were just great filmmaking challenges. And in that regard, it was very much something that I was eager to do, and it didn’t feel much like a documentary at all. In some regards, yeah, everything is fact-based, but we had scripts. Neil [DeGrasse Tyson] wasn’t making the words up, these were scripted theories. It straddles the line, something of a documentary or docu-drama adventure. I’m not sure what you’d call it. It’s kind of its own thing.

Which is part of the charm for some people, certainly, that you can’t put it into one category?

Absolutely. It’s that Cosmos Feeling — for me, it’s when you get a lump in your throat, and you find yourself tearing up at the wonder of it all. It’s the only show that’s ever done that for me — the original, that is. And I think this one has affected a good number of people in the same way. I don’t know any other science show that can do that.

Is there any plot thread or franchise that you’d like to revisit or follow up some day? Something new you’d like to take on?

Well, there’s always the idea of returning to the “Star Trek” universe. I have not been asked to do that, and I’m certainly asked all the time if I would — it would depend on what I was doing. You know, I do miss “Star Trek,” I really miss it and I miss its spirit, though I definitely had that with “Cosmos.” But I miss its spirit and its message and I miss the freedom of storytelling, so there’s a “maybe, I might do that some day.”

Certainly nothing imminent. And I’m a James Bond fan. I’d love to do a James Bond movie, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. That’s really about it. I also find myself missing “Cosmos,” as well. If there were ever another “Cosmos” iteration, I probably wouldn’t turn it down.

You’ve recently been working on “Salem” for WGN, which was just picked up for a second season. In addition to that, what do you have coming up?

Right now, I’m taking a little vacation. It’s Comic-Con and then the “Star Trek” Convention, so it’s not really a vacation. But I’m taking a break, then I’ll be doing Season 2 of “Salem.” I did Season 1 of “Salem” and “Cosmos” at the same time, so I had a year there that was pretty backbreaking. So for a year, I’m going to focus on doing just one thing for a change.

Jorge Labrador is the editorial assistant for Las Vegas Magazine, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun.

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