Brian Volk Weiss is celebrating five-plus decades of Star Trek with The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek, now airing on History. The sci-fi franchise has been documented on screen and in print for decades, but The Center Seat provides a fresh perspective on its vaunted history. That’s not a surprise given that Brian and his own elite crew at Nacelle are also responsible for Behind the Attraction, the Disney+ series that changed the way we look at our favorite Disney landmarks.
I recently connected with Brian to discuss bringing his expertise to the Star Trek universe and his own love of going boldly where no man has gone before. Here’s what he had to tell me about putting together this show that is a must-watch for Trek fans and TV fans alike.
Brittany Frederick: What got you interested in doing a Star Trek series? Was it simply being a fan of the franchise or were there other factors involved as well?
Brian Volk Weiss: I’ve been a fan since I was like five, and it really was two things. We do this show on Netflix called The Toys That Made Us, and before Toys That Made Us a lot of the shows that we made, we didn’t get a long leash. So I couldn’t direct the way that I wanted to…There was an anniversary coming up and to be honest, I had produced something for the 50th anniversary that I wasn’t very proud of. I viewed this as an opportunity to make the show the way I wanted to make it five years ago.
BF: You have some experience now in dealing with these huge pop culture franchises, having done Trek and then Disney with Behind the Attraction. Did you learn anything from that show that you brought to the process of making The Center Seat?
BVW: Behind The Attraction was a little easier than Center Seat as it relates to picking the episodes, because there’s hundreds of attractions to cover, and we only had to pick ten out of at least two hundred. With Center Seat, I had this vision where it was Lucille [Ball] and Gene [Roddenberry] turned the lights on, Rick Berman turned the lights off. I just decided I wanted to end it with the end of the Berman years. Once we made that decision, it was kind of easy to pick what was what. There’s so much history, so many cool stories in Star Trek, but a lot of it has been documented.
BF: Knowing that, what were the creative discussions about making this distinct from previous shows or other sources on the subject? How did you make Center Seat feel unique?
BVW: That’s an issue we are obsessed with before we even start the research. Answering that question was really easy for us, for a couple reasons. Every episode we did fell into two categories: it’s been done to death or it’s never been done before. The good news was in the category of “it’s been done to death,” I’ve been thinking about it usually my whole life, so I was able immediately to say this is how I want to do it.
I’ll use the first episode, which is probably the episode that’s been done the most, the creation of Star Trek—since junior high school if not younger it’s always driven me crazy that Lucille Ball never got any credit…The thing we did for the 50th anniversary was also all about Lucille Ball, but I was forced to cut it out. If you watch The Toys That Made Us‘ Star Trek episode, you’ll see I hinted at it but I couldn’t do that big of it because it was a show about toys. So this [Center Seat] episode allowed me to do what I wanted to do since I was 13.
Then the next episode was about Star Trek: The Animated Series. No one’s done a documentary about it before, so it was much easier to do it. And then the other thing is we always look at our shows as being complementary to other shows on the same topic. I’ve probably seen 99 percent of all documentaries made about Star Trek so I know what’s always been talked about, and I deliberately didn’t talk about it if I could, because people could watch other docs about that topic.
BF: As a fan, what was the most rewarding or fun or surprising part of The Center Seat for you?
BVW: The interview I did with Kirstie Alley. Star Trek II changed my life drastically. [After] the interview with Kirstie I look at the movie differently, and this is a film I’ve seen probably three hundred times. That was definitely great and then I’ve got to give an honorable mention to F. Murray Abraham. Something they had in common with each other, which is very unusual—you could ask anything and even if it made them look bad, they gave you the truth.
BF: Is there anything you want people to know about how this series got made? Since this is a whole project about the history of how a television show came together.
BVW: I’m part of a big team of about two dozen people that have been working together for five years straight, ever since Toys That Made Us. I know that people don’t think I make the show by myself, but I like to reinforce that I am one part of a reasonably big machine that cares. These shows could not be made without love. The amount of passion and hard work that goes into them is staggering.
The second part is 90 percent of the people we interview, when we shoot the interview for the show with our big, fancy cameras, that’s actually the third time we are interviewing them. We pre-interview 90 percent two times before the actual interview…to make sure that we are accurate, and to make sure that as we start to dig into the subject matter we are absolutely, positively getting the best scoop we can.
BF: Did your perspective on Star Trek change at all through the production process? Did you learn anything major that you didn’t know before?
BVW: When I was interviewing Nicholas Meyer, I said to him one of the things you did brilliantly was that [Star Trek II] scene where Kirk says “Battle stations!” and it cuts to this shot of the floor being opened and photon torpedoes being loaded into the launchers. I always love that scene because to me, it showed something that Star Trek has always been about but it’s never been shown before, which is the balance between the scientific aspect of Starfleet and the military aspect of Starfleet. I just thought that was brilliant.
He goes “Well, that’s great, Brian, but that’s not what I was doing.” And I go, what were you doing? He’s like, I just like pirate movies and I love the shots when they push the cannons into the portholes to get ready to start firing. (laughs)
The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek is airing on History and on demand. More information about the series is here. Stay tuned later this week for the second part of my interview with Brian about his work on Amazon Prime Video’s A Toy Store Near You.
Article content is (c)2020-2022 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.