Originally conceived of more than thirty-five years ago, these dimunitive creatures have become stars in their own right. With uncanny grace and ease they have won hearts and upstaged stars. They are tribbles. When the writers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were looking for the perfect episode ith which their characters could pay homage and interact with the crew from the original Star Trek, "The Trouble with Tribbles" instantly came to mind. Here is the story of how the wizards of Star Trek were able to create the magic that enabled -- with nothing more than countless hours of work -- ordinary actors to time-travel. This is the story behind the creation of the episode "Trials and Tribble-ations." This is The Magic of Tribbles.
It's never easy being the middle child. The first child has everyone's hopes and dreams pinned to it. The younger child is getting most of Mom and Dad's attention. And then there's you, just old enough to be taking care of yourself. Sometimes it seems that all they expect of you is to keep out of trouble.... Spring of 1996. The 30th anniversary of Star Trek was a few short months away. Star Trek: First Contact, the second motion picture based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, was going into production. Star Trek: Voyager, the newest kid in the Star Trek franchise, had been given the go-ahead to do a special episode featuring one of the big seven actors from Star Trek. The studio was planning to produce a prime-time television special saluting Star Trek. Rumor even had it that Paramount was going to sponsor its first "official" Star Trek convention. But none of this activity involved the staff at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Until The Phone Call came. "We had already heard some of the plans for the 30th anniversary," recalls Ira Steven Behr, executive producer of Deep Space Nine. "They were already filtering through the building. And we kind of figured, being the middle child, we were going to miss out on this whole thing." But then there was that phone call from Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman, asking Behr if DS9 would be interested in doing something for the 30th anniversary. Behr pondered a moment. "I think my exact words were, 'Let me talk it over with the guys,'" relates Behr. "The guys" were the other members of DS9's writing team: Ronald D. Moore, René Echevarria, Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Hans Beimler. And like Behr, they had some concerns. If they did create something -- say, a special episode -- would it air in time for the actual anniversary of September 8? If it did, would it be considered the opening episode of the fifth season? How would that affect the last episode of the fourth season, "Broken Link," which, while not officially a cliff-hanger, had definitely left a variety of dramatic plot elements hanging in midair? All valid concerns. But they were soon overshadowed by one that played directly to everyone's creative ego. If they did do it, how good could they make it? "The meeting kind of broke up and Ira's last words were, 'It's just gotta be really cool,'" remembers René Echevarria. Cool it would most definitely be -- but cool is one of those serendipitous qualities that can avoid your every move one moment, and drop into your lap the next. The road to "Trials and Tribble-ations" would take twists and turns that no one had anticipated; at the end of the road, however, there wasn't a person who'd worked on the show who wasn't thrilled to death with the final product. "Every department knew it was special," says Scenic Art Supervisor and Technical Consultant Michael Okuda. "I think you see that in what everyone has done." First things first, though. In the beginning, there were the words. But no one was quite sure what the words should be. Clearly whatever they wrote should be a tribute show, a tip of the hat to Star Trek. Voyager using Sulu, however, seemed to cut out the idea of using one of the regulars from Star Trek in a similar cameo -- but how about using one of the plots from the series? They came up with a few ideas, and suddenly Ron Moore suggested an idea "that had been kicking around in my head for a long time," he says, "an idea that I had actually pitched to Michael Piller for the third season of The Next Generation." Moore wanted to take the Star Trek audience back to Sigma Iotia II, the planet visited by the crew of the original Enterprise in "A Piece of the Action." In that episode, Kirk and company discover that the Iotians are impressionable, to the point of being downright imitative. So imitative, in fact, that their entire culture is based on a book, an impressive tome entitled Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, that had been left behind a century earlier by the crew of the Horizon. Thus, when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to the planet, they find themselves in the middle of a gangster dispute -- and misadventure enough to fill one of the few comic episodes of the Original Series. Moore's idea was to send a crew back to the planet in the 24th century, only to discover that the Iotians had gone through another cultural shift, and were now a planet of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy imitators. "It was basically going to be the planet of Star Trek fans," says Moore. "Somehow they've gotten hold of the logs from the Enterprise, and they know all of the ship's missions and adventures backwards and forwards, and they argue over technical details, just like the fans. I thought it would be an interesting way to comment on the pop-culture phenomenon of Star Trek itself. The DS9 crew would think, 'well, it's kind of strange, but it's really kind of good,' because the Iotians seem to get something positive and uplifting out of it." "It seemed like a pretty fun idea," comments Behr. "All these people dressed up in Star Trek uniforms, living by the code of the Federation. But then we started to get paranoid, especially René, who said that he thought it could sound like we were making fun of the fans." While Behr notes that this was never anyone's intention, he admits that once Echevarria placed the thought in their minds, the story line quickly died. Back to square one. Echevarria began thinking about "cool." He remembers telling Robert Wolfe, "You know what would be really cool? Going back in time to the era of the original Star Trek, sneaking aboard the Enterprise, and using clips from The Original Series and coming up with a new story and putting our people in clips with them." Wolfe agreed that this would, indeed, be cool. But was it doable? Another meeting was convened. "We started talking about it and everybody immediately realized that it would be incredibly difficult, probably very expensive," says Echevarria. "You'd get into issues of permission from all the actors, and this and that. It really didn't go very far." Moore, in particular, was skeptical. "My first reaction was, 'there's no way,' because I went through this when we did 'Relics' on TNG," he says. "One of the early concepts for the holodeck sequence [where Scotty goes back to the old bridge of the Enterprise] had been to find some old footage and splice it together so our characters could interact with some of the original characters. It was prohibitively expensive; there was no way we could afford that on a TV budget at the time. We could barely afford to construct a piece of the bridge and matte Scotty into a visual of the old bridge." But Echevarria was certain that he was onto something. "That afternoon I talked to Ron in the parking lot, and I said, 'Ron, this is it man, this could be the coolest thing, I'm tellin' ya, I'm tellin' ya, I'm tellin' ya.' And he started getting excited about it." Realizing that a lot of innovative technology had been developed for the award-winning motion picture Forrest Gump, Moore began to side with Echevarria. "He told Ira, 'We should look into it,'" says Echevarria. " 'Maybe it's not that expensive. Maybe we can get the actors' permission.'" One thing Moore was adamant about, however, was that they shouldn't attempt to piece together a new episode using old footage, in other words, create a new context that would change the meaning of scenes the fans were already familiar with. "It should take place concurrently with an existing episode," he said. As an example, Moore tossed out the idea of some of the DS9 crew being inside the storage compartment bin in "The Trouble With Tribbles," tossing tribbles out and hitting Kirk on the head with them. Everyone liked that, so, as Echevarria puts it, Ron began spitballing additional ideas from off the top of his head. "There's the bar fight -- we could play with that -- and that great lineup, where we could replace a couple of their guys with our guys and Kirk could actually talk to them." Echevarria says that Moore even came up with the idea of a bomb being in one of the tribbles -- which became the spine of the episode -- during that little brainstorm, "But I started it all!" he says with a laugh. Although everyone was, by this time, quite taken by the idea of revisiting "Tribbles," they discussed whether it truly was the very best episode for their purposes. "We knew that if we did a dramatic episode where there's something really at stake, like 'The Doomsday Machine,' it would become difficult to laugh and jump and have fun while this life-or-death situation is playing out on the old Enterprise," says Moore. It soon became clear that they should narrow their choices down to comedy, or as Moore put it, "a romp." "They only did a few lighthearted shows, like 'I, Mudd,' and 'Tribbles,' and 'A Piece of the Action.' And of those, 'Tribbles' was far and away the best one to do."
Terry J. Erdmann (with Paula M. Block) have jointly written two previous Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ebook novellas: Rules of Accusation and Lust’s Latinum Lost (and Found). Their most recent nonfiction work, Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History, was the recipient of the Independent Publisher Book Awards’ 2017 bronze medal for best coffee table book. They also are the co-authors of the nonfiction titles Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier, Star Trek The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Star Trek The Next Generation 365, Star Trek The Original Series 365, Star Trek 101, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, The Secrets of Star Trek Insurrection, The Magic of Tribbles, and Star Trek: Action! Their additional titles include Monk: The Official Episode Guide and The 4400 Companion. During his lengthy career in film publicity, Terry authored The Last Samurai Official Companion. They live in Southern Oregon with their two collies, Shadow and Mandy.
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