Rick Berman was the heir to the Star Trek throne in the 90s. When Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, stepped back from active involvement in the shows, Berman was the one who stepped into the leadership role on set. According to Memory Alpha, citing several Star Trek insiders, Berman wasn’t the one Roddenberry wanted to hand his legacy off to; he was the studio’s pick. Berman contests these assertions, saying that he dedicated years to understanding Roddenberry’s vision for the franchise so he could carry it on respectfully.
After Roddenberry died in 1991, Berman officially took over the Star Trek universe. He was in charge of the later seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) and the entirety of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise. Though he had varying levels of involvement with each of the shows, ranging from little involvement in DS9 to total involvement in Enterprise, he had his hands in each Star Trek show that aired in the 90s and 2000s.
The vilification of Berman has been compounded by the rumors that it was very difficult to work for him and that he created a toxic work environment. Actors on the shows he headed have spoken out, as have members of the production staff.
One of those production staff members, Eric Stillwell, spoke to Heavy in February and gave us his perspective of what it was like to work with one of the most controversial figures in the Trek universe.
‘Berman Sometimes Could be an Ass’
Stillwell served as a production assistant on TNG under Roddenberry for a few years. He eventually worked his way up to being a script coordinator, which was what he was doing when Berman took over on TNG.
He described a rigid and unforgiving work environment where Berman was the law. Everything had to be done precisely his way, without any deviations. When things were the least bit off, Berman wasn’t afraid to let people know how upset he was.
In Stillwell’s own words, “Berman sometimes could be an ass.”
He shared a few stories about his experiences with the producer that were particularly revealing.
A Late Night Phone Call
One of Stillwell’s jobs as a script coordinator was to keep track of all the edits made to each script, especially dialogue. Each change had to be marked with an asterisk. This let the actors know that their lines had been changed and they had to learn new ones.
Unfortunately, the technology the crew was working with wasn’t the greatest, and the asterisks often got placed in the wrong spots. Stillwell proofread each script checking for errors, but of course, mistakes get made.
After one such asterisk goof, Berman called Stillwell after hours, at home to “scream” at him.
“I was in tears over it,” Stillwell said. “You’re literally working 12-13 hours a day, high stress, tight timelines, and then someone has to call you up and scream at you on the phone.”
Banned From the Set
The two clashed again when Stillwell was on the set of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the episode he co-wrote with his writing partner Trent Christopher Ganino. Stillwell and Ganino were watching the scene where Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby, and Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg, were talking in Ten Forward. During a break in filming, Goldberg approached them.
“Apparently someone had told Whoopi that we had written the episode, so she came over and started asking us if she could change one of her lines. And we were like ‘Oh you have to talk to Rick Berman. That’s Rick Berman’s domain. Only Rick Berman can go through and change the dialogue.’ There are some shows where actors just ad lib their lines, then there’s Star Trek where you have to say exactly what’s on the paper. So, I as a courtesy said I would let the production office know that she had a question about the script… Rick’s response was ‘Why the hell was Whoopi Goldberg talking to Eric Stillwell? What was he doing on the set?’ The next thing I know, I’m banned from the set. Just for passing on a message… and it was humiliating, on my episode, that I’m banned from the set.”
Stillwell shared yet another story about how Berman was “furious” that he had taken on an after-hours, volunteer gig editing a Star Trek newsletter. Even though Stillwell had been asked to take on the job by Majel Barrett, Roddenberry’s widow and the “First Lady of Trek,” Berman forced him to give it up.
The Women of Trek on Berman
Stillwell is far from the only member of the Star Trek family who has unsavory stories about Berman.
In an interview for the book The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, which chronicled the behind-the-scenes history of the Star Trek series in the 90s and 2000s, Terry Farrell, who played Jadzia Dax in DS9, said that Berman created a sexist work environment. She said that Berman would frequently make lewd comments about women’s bodies, especially during costume fittings.
“He’d comment on your bra size not being voluptuous. His secretary had a 36C or something like that, and he would say something about ‘Well, you’re just, like, flat. Look at Christine over there. She has the perfect breasts right there.’ That’s the kind of conversation he would have in front of you. I had to have fittings for Dax to have larger breasts. I think it was double-D or something. I went to see a woman who fits bras for women who need mastectomies; I had to have that fitting. And then I had to go into his office.”
She also said that Berman bullied her into leaving the show. Though she’d wanted to sign a new contract for a recurring role, he told her that she needed to stay on the main cast or quit. So, she quit. He killed off her character and refused to bring her back for the show’s finale.
In a tweet two posted years ago, Crosby, who exited TNG in its first season because she was unhappy with how her character was being written, also shared a story about the kind of work environment Berman created.
Oh friend, my final scene on @StarTrek was not in SKIN OF EVIL but SYMBIOSIS which was filmed out of order. You came to the set to thank me and brought a cake, then ceremoniously ripped off my Communicator badge saying “you won’t be needing this anymore.” Don’t remember?
— Denise Crosby (@TheDeniseCrosby) February 4, 2019
Jolene Blalock, who played T’Pol on Enterprise, called out the sexist writing on the show, for which Berman was largely responsible as the showrunner.
“You can’t substitute t**s and a** for good storytelling,” Blalock told SFX Magazine in 2004, quoted via TrekToday. “You can have both, but you can’t substitute one for the other, because the audience is not stupid. You can’t just throw in frivolous, uncharacteristic … well, bull, and think it’s going to help the ratings.”
It Wasn’t All Bad
Though Stillwell had some rough experiences with Berman, he stressed that working with him wasn’t all bad.
“I’m more forgiving than I was in my youth when I was quite passionate about things,” he said.
Stillwell later said that Berman “redeemed himself a little bit” when he chose to name a Starfleet captain after him in the finale of Enterprise. He also brought up a few times when Berman had been supportive of his career and his successes.
Though some of the women who worked with Berman found him to be misogynistic, others didn’t have that experience. In the interview with Entertainment Weekly seen above, Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Kathryn Janeway on Voyager, said that she dealt with a lot of sexism on set, but not from Berman. In fact, she said she “liked [Berman] very much.”
According to Airlock Alpha, Brent Spiner, who played Data on TNG and worked with Berman extensively, has frequently defended him against his critics, saying that the franchise would have ended without him.
Whether Berman is the villain of the Star Trek story is a question that will never have a clear answer because everyone involved has their own story to tell.
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