Wednesday, November 2, 2005

RIP Michael Piller

Unless you're a fairly avid follower of Star Trek, you've probably never heard of Michael Piller, nor have heard that he lost his struggle with cancer yesterday. Piller is credited with breathing new life into the Trek franchise after the first couple of years of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and co-created both of the Trek's that followed (Deep Space Nine and Voyager). Oddly enough, my reason for remembering him on my blog here has little to do with Star Trek, but rather because of another show Piller was involved in, which provided the venue for my very first foray into web page design.

If you read the obituary carefully, you'll see a quick mention of a show called Legend that Piller co-created with a man named Bill Dial (although the obituary doesn't mention Dial). Legend was a short-lived series that aired on UPN back in 1995 (UPN's first year of existence, a time when very few parts of the country even had UPN programs on a dedicated UPN station). Legend was a Western drama with a Sci-Fi edge, starring Richard Dean Anderson (formerly of MacGyver, more recently known for Stargate SG-1) and John DeLancie (best known as "Q" from the modern versions of Star Trek).

The series told the tale of Ernest Pratt (played by Anderson), a dime novelist who often has to portray his novel character, Nicodemus Legend, in real life to appease the publicity needs of his publisher. This is often a struggle, as Legend is the stereotypical hero: doesn't drink, gamble, or have illicit relations with women, while the very human Pratt enjoys all these things. When the character of Legend is accused of illegally changing the course of a river, denying water rights to a wealthy landowner in Colorado, Pratt must go to clear his name. He soon learns that Hungarian scientist Janos Bartok (DeLancie) has achieved this feat by scientific means, in order to help some poor farmers who were being denied rights by this landowner. Bartok has used the identity of the fictional hero Legend in order to protect his own identity so that he might continue his scientific research undisturbed. Faced with the reality that his actions may cause Pratt to face legal difficulty, Bartok agrees to help Pratt to clear his name. But faced with the prospect of denying the poor farmers their livelihood, Pratt decides to accept the responsibility for changing the course of the river, and he and Bartok start to work together against the landowner, who has been trying to drive farmers away from the nearby land they legally own so that she might profit from illegal contracts that would bring a railroad into town, leading to huge profits to those in on the deal. To this end, Pratt accepts the identity of his fictional hero, Nicodemus Legend, for real. After the landowner is brought to justice, Bartok convinces Pratt to stay in town and be a hero on a more permanent basis. As the series progresses, Pratt continues to struggle to maintain his bohemian lifestyle while being called to the higher ideals of the hero he is forced to portray, partly by his publisher, but also by the fact that, deep down, he really does want to help people.

Faced with low ratings (caused by the fact that, at the time, few people knew the difference between UPN and UPS, a paraphrase from DeLancie) and a corporate shake-up at UPN, Legend was cancelled after only 12 episodes (along with all of UPN's first year of programming, with the exception of Star Trek: Voyager, which had been guaranteed a two-year commitment.). About a year later, I opened "The Unofficial Nicodemus Legend Page," which I ran for over five years, and am pleased to be able to say was regarded as the foremost Legend page in existence at the time. I stopped working on the page as I took on other commitments, but if you go to the Wayback Machine and search for "http://NicodemusLegend.web.com," you should still be able to find some of what I had done a few years ago.

I invite you to have a look, and see Michael Piller's other legacy.

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