With Star Trek returning for a second season in the fall of 1988, Ron Jones faced an embarrassment of riches in his scoring assignments. The success of The Next Generation had encouraged Paramount to develop another revival of a popular show from the ’60s, Mission: Impossible. Meanwhile, Jones continued his work on the after-school cartoon DuckTales and accepted an assignment to score a Saturday morning animated version of Superman (available on FSM’s box set of Superman soundtracks, Superman: The Music).
“The hardest lesson I learned in that period was to say no,” Jones admits. “I was saying yes and you kind of are conditioned working for yourself to say yes to everything, and you dream of getting a series and here I got four. DuckTales had been going for a while and they’d call me once in a while when they had something unusual and they couldn’t use the library I’d created for them. Star Trek was the main thing but it kind of collided with these other things and in some cases like DuckTales I brought in six or seven ghostwriters—like Mark McKenzie, Ray Bunch and Walter Murphy—and I’d say, ‘Here’s my themes, do this.’ I’d call Disney and say, ‘I’m crazy tired and I want to get this job done and I’ll supervise this job if you want.’ I remember going to the emergency room a couple of times, where you’re not sleeping, your immune system’s down and you’re drinking coffee night and day and sleeping on the floor of your studio.”
Jones ultimately found the situation untenable. “It ends up burning out not only myself but the people you’re working for. I lost Mission: Impossible—they filmed it in Australia and Lalo Schifrin recommended me to do the job. It was at Paramount and I was already working on Star Trek so Paramount said, ‘Okay, you can do this.’ I started out scoring it live and I wasn’t happy with the live set, it sounded like old Mission: Impossible. So I started hiring session guys like a record date, where they’d just sit in a studio all day for like two days, and I was writing and sending the charts to a studio, shoveling scores over and they wouldn’t even copy it. They would just get a copy of the score and we’d have 16 tracks of bass flute, so when you put it into the recorder the bass became really meaty and you could do all kinds of things with it. It sounded really hip and like stuff they’re doing on CSI today. The show lasted two seasons and it got to be impossible to work on. Even when I met with the other producers—and they were nice guys—we were all so tired and we were living in sweats. And we were so tired we would all just lay on the floor, we couldn’t even sit on the couches. Gravity couldn’t take us any further down. There’d be layers of notes from the producers in Australia, so it became too difficult.”
Jones had some unexpected help with his schedule when a Writers Guild strike delayed the debut of Star Trek’s second season. Rather than premiering in September, the first episode of season two did not air until mid-November—and the story (“The Child,” scored by Dennis McCarthy) was a rewrite of a teleplay planned for the 1970s Star Trek Phase II series. The writers’ strike had derailed plans for a season-one cliffhanger and unraveled some plot threads that would have brought narrative momentum to the series early in its second year. Instead, most of the changes to the show were cosmetic: Diana Muldaur replaced Gates McFadden as the ship’s doctor, lighting was slightly softer and more flattering, hair and makeup for Worf and Troi were improved, and Riker sported a beard. The producers also created a recreational area for the crew, Ten Forward, and hired popular comedian Whoopi Goldberg—an avowed Star Trek fan—to play the space tavern’s mysterious bartender, Guinan.
The show’s quality improved in fits and starts as the production recovered from the effects of the writers’ strike. In some ways, the season’s weaker stories proved even more problematic than those of season one, but the show also began to showcase some of the elements that would turn it into a critical as well as a popular hit. Jones was able to expand on his palette of Klingon music in “A Matter of Honor” and especially in “The Emissary,” laying the groundwork for an elaborate and popular “Klingon arc” involving Worf, his family, and the Machiavellian treacheries of Klingon politics. He also provided a powerful score for the show’s first Borg episode, “Q Who,” while developing unique musical approaches to quirky episodes like “The Royale” and “Up the Long Ladder.”
With the man who hired him, Robert Justman, leaving at the end of the first season, Jones found himself working with other producers who had less of an interest in music. “I was left more on my own with Peter Lauritson, and he would never tell me anything musically,” Jones remembers. Instead, “the scores started to be shaped more individually. So one score might be more romantic and one might be more psychological.”
Jones continued to lavish enormous amounts of time and attention on the series as he struggled to give each score the attention to detail it deserved. “The hard thing is you have to sketch to do the architecture, so I’d do a full seven-line sketch like Goldsmith would do, then I’d have to orchestrate it, which I had no time to do, because you’ve got to go over everything you’ve done. So if it took eight hours to sketch, it would take another eight hours to orchestrate, just to get everything in. So you have to make more time in the day and do 16–18 hour days just to keep moving forward, and that’s what killed me—I still feel like my health has been enormously impacted from working in that time.”
First- and second-season scores for Star Trek: The Next Generation were recorded by Gary Ladinsky at Paramount’s Stage M, then operated by The Record Plant, with an occasional episode recorded elsewhere for scheduling reasons (like Dennis McCarthy’s “Conspiracy” at Universal). But toward the end of season two, the studio’s lease with The Record Plant was ending and the stage was going dark for financial reasons, leaving Star Trek in need of a new venue for season three. Jones’s third-to-last episode of season two, “Up the Long Ladder,” was recorded by Armin Steiner at 20th Century Fox as a tryout, and the show struck a deal to do all its scoring with Steiner at Fox when it returned in the fall—which thrilled Jones, as he loved Steiner’s work. Over 20 years later, Jones and Steiner are still recording together on weekly episodes of Family Guy, often at Fox but also at Warner Bros. or Sony Pictures Entertainment—the only three large-sized scoring stages still operating in Hollywood. Paramount’s Stage M reopened in the early 1990s but closed for good in 2006, its historic building torn down to make room for a new post-production facility. —