Hugo-winning write of ST:TNG "THE INNER LIGHT" - ask me anything!

My Proof:

Thanks again for a great time. I'll come back when my Stan Lee project gets produced.

Comments: 287 • Responses: 73  • Date: 

Corgana72 karma

Are you still much of a Trekkie? What's your favorite episode (of any series) you didn't write?

innerlightwriter183 karma

The truth? Don't hate me but I'm way more a "Star Wars" guy. Remember, I was not on the TNG staff.

trekkie71960 karma

Did you write The Inner Light with the idea that the events of the episode would have a lasting effect on Captain Picard?

innerlightwriter69 karma


innerlightwriter41 karma

Thanks for a great time. And now... pizza!

thepenguinofreddit26 karma

Hello! The one thing I've always wanted to do was write for the screen. I was wondering how you came to be where you are, in terms of career. How do writers make it? Where do I start? Where did you start? And what are your career goals now?

innerlightwriter45 karma

I had a very odd career trajectory. I went from the LA times covering the TV industry to getting hired by NBC as a program executive, then I got hired by Stephen J. Cannell and wrote episodes of Wiseguy, Hunter, 21 Jumpstreet - you get the idea.

Regarding my career goals - I really enjoy being a showrunner and I'd like to that again with something I have created. Second choice - to be a showrunner of something I haven't created.

To get started - see post about writers' assistant.

Voidhound25 karma

If you'd been told that your pitch for "The Inner Light" was perfect, except that the episode couldn't focus on Picard, which character would you have chosen instead?

innerlightwriter78 karma

I originally DID NOT focus on Picard; it was him and Riker and Ro Laren together in the nucleonic mind-loop. It became all about Picard precisely because it was such a personal story with potential to reveal so much about his road not taken.

whativebeenhiding20 karma

Best book you've read in the last year?

innerlightwriter28 karma

It's a toss up between Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes and Anathen by Neal Stephenson

strozykowski16 karma

Anathem was transcendent.

Do you read many different genres, or stick to just a few? What are your favorite genres?

innerlightwriter21 karma

ALL genres. I also loved "Lionel Abdo" by Martin Amis - one of my fave authors. (Love his Dad, too.)

DaCrazyKoala19 karma

How involved was Nicolas Cage in the Dresden Files?

innerlightwriter25 karma

Nic's company is the reason it sold, but he personally was not too involved.

kraetos18 karma

Mr. Gendel! Glad to see that you decided to do this AMA. Here's my question: given how traumatizing Picard's experience on Kataan would be, would you have liked to have seen the other writers spend more time on the follow up? I mean we saw the flute again a few more times, including one episode where it was featured rather prominently while Picard was pursuing a romantic relationship with Commander Daren. (TNG: "Lessons") But on the other hand, in Insurrection, Anij asks him if he's ever experienced a "perfect moment," when "time seemed to stop, and you could almost live in that moment." And even though Picard has literally experienced a moment like that, he doesn't mention the Kataanian probe, even in passing.

I've always felt that an experience as impactful as that one should have had considerably more follow-up. After all, in Season 4, following his experience with the Borg, we spent an episode dealing with those repercussions. I suspect that his experience in the probe's Kataan simulation would have had just as much of an effect on his psyche, if not more, given that he was only assimilated for a week or so, but he experienced the Kataan simulation for several decades.

On the other hand, it was the 90's, the just before the dawn of serialized prime-time television. The fact that there was a follow up at all was more than most shows at the time would have done. So what are you thoughts on the follow up from his experience? Not enough, too much, or just right?

innerlightwriter27 karma

I pitched them an awesome idea for a sequel to The Inner Light, and they said they "Didn't do sequels". So I think you're on to something about the timing, in terms of where TV was at. But, I have now written that sequel as a graphic novel. Don't tell anyone.

kraetos9 karma

Can I buy a copy somewhere?

innerlightwriter14 karma

Tweet me @morgangendel and I'll get you the info.

The_Smeow_is_Mine8 karma

I just realized I asked a similar question about sequels. I would love the graphic novel as well!

innerlightwriter8 karma

Tweet me @morgangendel.

respite17 karma

What do you think about Netflix's influence on television? Do you think that the lack of commercials would have changed the way you have written "The Inner Light"?

innerlightwriter29 karma

This is one of the few TV eps I've written where the answer would be - no.

Zab1897716 karma

How do you feel about J.J. Abrams and Star Wars VII?

innerlightwriter68 karma

Disappointed. What made the ORIGINAL 3 Star Wars (I hate the new numbering system. The 1976 "Star Wars" will forever be the "first" episode.) great was -- at least when they started -- they were done by a scrappy, hungry young director. I thought someone like Rian Johnson ("Looper") would have been a good choice. But J.J. is tried and true, and SW is no longer a new movie series, it's a commodity.

Darth_Rasputin3289815 karma

Hi Mr. Grendel. What have you learned as a writer on Star Trek, and how much of a mark do you feel you have left on the show?

innerlightwriter25 karma

In retrospect, I learned the value of writing props into an episode. Flutes, probe necklaces, graphic novels -- all good stuff at conventions. Mark on the show? I'll have to let you judge.

innerlightwriter18 karma

It was my first true freelance experience and I STARTED to learn how to behave properly in a writers room.

daveo99115 karma

Question about inner light. Would the experiences faced by whoever the probe encounterd be different for each person or was the probe just running standard program?

innerlightwriter41 karma

The nucleonic beam was interactive.

daveo9919 karma

I love redit! Now I Know!

innerlightwriter27 karma

To the extent any of can "know." I'm just assuming.

DaCrazyKoala15 karma

Did you ever see Stephen J. Cannell throw paper after writing a page like in his vanity card?

innerlightwriter19 karma

No -- but he wore the biggest belt buckles I've ever seen.

monsieurderp13 karma

What is your primary tool for sourcing inspiration for writing, e.g. coffee, whiskey, a cigarette, a jazz cigarette, etc.?

innerlightwriter34 karma

Long walks. The jazz cigarettes are to reward myself for some good writing.

revjeremyduncan13 karma

Did you come up with the idea for The Inner Light, or were you commissioned to write it based on something someone else thought of? If the former, was it always meant for TNG, or was it a story you had in you arsenal, that you adapted to fit with that series? It's one of the very best episodes, and I thank you for it.

innerlightwriter25 karma

My idea. I had an appointment to pitch TNG and needed an idea and the early version of my idea led to this. So no, not an idea I pulled out of my drawer and re-tooled for TNG.

Mustysack12 karma

Hello there!

When writing for a show like Law & Order, do you create the crime, victim, and perpetrator and then add in the misleading stuff later, or does it all happen more fluidly and at once?

innerlightwriter23 karma

You got it: you start with the facts, then dysfactualize them.

joshsawyer12 karma


innerlightwriter17 karma

Glad you asked that so I have a shot at redeeming myself from admitting to being a STAR WARS fan. I mentioned ANATHEM in a previous post - AWESOME stuff. SO literate, but so scientific too. Whereas "HER" - meh.

DaCrazyKoala10 karma

What does a program executive do?

innerlightwriter18 karma

That was MY question. Seemed like a giant circle jerk to me -- except for the boss.

Glittertwinkie10 karma

What are the steps necessary to be a writer's assistant?

innerlightwriter19 karma

Yeah - good question. That didn't used to be a big deal, but now it's your way in. The people I know who got those gigs just networked like crazy, if by networking you mean going to bars every night.

Glittertwinkie11 karma

Thank you. Any tips on certain watering holes to frequent?

innerlightwriter39 karma

Crazy idea I just thought of: find a show you like, call the office, ask to speak to the writers assistant, and ask him/her where they hang out.

m0j0j0_j09 karma

How could you turn your back on Star Trek... for... for... STAR WARS!?!?!? This is a serious question...

On a side note, if they brought you back for another series would you change your mind?

innerlightwriter16 karma

I didn't turn my back. I like STar Trek. I watched every ep of TOS when it first came out, and probably most TNG eps with my wife and (were they around yet? can't remember) kids. "Star Wars" is the movie equivalent of the Beatles. Don't get me started.

m0j0j0_j06 karma

This actually sounds interesting I would love to hear more :)

innerlightwriter24 karma

If you were there when "Star Wars" premiered in '76, you witnessed a sea change in American cinema, and a work of pop craft that became part of global culture. Ditto being around when the Beatles hit almost exactly 50 years ago. Those were both world-changing events. Remember - Star Trek's renaissance began only when STAR TREK: THE MOVIE was produced to play catch-up with STAR WARS. None of this is to put down STAR TREK.

BigG1238 karma

From the perspective of a TV writer, what do you think of the writing in Breaking Bad. As a person who doesn't do writing for television, I personally think it was astounding how the show was written. If you have seen it, what are your thoughts. What did the writers do good/bad in your opinion?

innerlightwriter14 karma

I LOVED the first bunch of episodes because that was my kind of humor. Dark, mixed with violence contrasted with quotidian domestic issues. Plus, Bryan Cranston had acted for me on "V.I.P." and I thought he was great. (That was before "Malcolm.") SO when it got more serious - I thought the writing was terrific but I missed what it was that drew me in.

daleygaga7 karma

How about British drama? Like Sherlock, or Dr. Who? What do you think of how they were written?

innerlightwriter14 karma

The Brits have no clue how to write action. It's quite laughable.

Beefcake217 karma

1.) In your opinion what T.V show had the best writing? 2.) How did you get into the industry? 3.) Any advice on what to do to get into the industry? Thanks.

innerlightwriter8 karma

"Homeland" is the best series ever written in this or any other universe. See some of my other answers to your other questions.

zarofearth7 karma

Any advice for an aspiring tv writer?

innerlightwriter18 karma

Just keep writing. Find an episode of a series you love, and outline it, then study that and see what it is that made you love that story.

wafflefries427 karma

Have you noticed any trends in the TV writing field since you've been doing it?

innerlightwriter19 karma

I see SO much TV writing (movies too) is writing based on other TV and movie writing, as opposed to drawing from real life. Most TV is derivative and lacking in any kind of surprise.

daleygaga7 karma

Do you have writer's block too? What's your best method to overcome it?

innerlightwriter10 karma

There's no blocking in TV. That's for indie movie writers.

innerlightwriter9 karma

TV writing is more craft than art. No time for blockage - unless it's the kind you get from too much cheese.

daleygaga3 karma

Wow, thanks!! Hahahahaha!! No such thing as too much cheese ;) I think. Haha.

Okay. But how do you make sure that the creative juices just keep flowing?

innerlightwriter6 karma

Too many juices. My new thing is to be a little more selective about the ideas I get excited about.

ll-ll-ll6 karma

Do you agree with those who say that TV is becoming the mature medium over movies?

innerlightwriter16 karma

Mature is a funny word. I think TV now has the time and money to tell a more developed story. But a great movie, seen in a theater, can still be a terrific experience.

I_smell_awesome5 karma

How many hamburgers do you think you've eaten in your entire life?

innerlightwriter13 karma

I started late because I was brought up kosher - but I made up for lost time as of, oh, age 18, so I'd say 576.

PiazzollaTiersen5 karma

Thank you for being here, it's truly an honor.

What did you feel the first time you saw the "The Inner Light" episode? Did you envision it becoming what it has become over the last 20+ years? You're obviously a successful person, where does winning the Hugo award rank in your life?

innerlightwriter17 karma

Good question. I saw the rough cut of "IL" and my mind was blown. It is SO rare to write a script then be pleased. Normally, you pick it apart - even your own contribution. So many compromises have been made. But this one? Everyone in the room knew it was special.

Hukfan975 karma

As a TV Writer, what are your opinions on the recent trend towards episodes that only serve as portions in a single-season long story? Do you think these are better or worse for storytelling/generally good TV than an episodic method of storytelling, of which "The Inner Light" is one of the greatest examples?

EDIT: Noooo, I appear to be 9 minutes too late :'(

innerlightwriter15 karma

Like all things in life, it can be done well or not-so-well. "Homeland," as I've said, makes terrific use of the serialized format. Keep in mind, the episodic form was a function of the business model of 20th century TV: a producer needed 100 episodes to replay in syndication, at any time, in any order. The DVD, then internet and VOD, changed all that.

The_Smeow_is_Mine5 karma

I love the necklace version of the probe that Eline wears, and almost got it in the "it's a wrap" auction. Anyway, did you write that part in the episode? Also, what do you think of the somewhat follow up episode "Lessons"? Did you expect any part of "Inner Light" to be carried over to another show? Thank you for writing one of the greatest Trek episodes!! :-)

innerlightwriter11 karma

I had the idea of a crucifix/mezzuzah she wore that was part of her culture - to tip Picard/Kamin off that this was linked to his Enterprise life. I wrote in the script that there were runish markings on the probe and the same markings were on this necklace. The production guys came up with the idea of making the probe itself in this distinctive shape, the same as the necklace. Brilliant!

scolmer4 karma

What was your favourite episode you wrote?

innerlightwriter9 karma

LAW & ORDER, "White Rabbit." I hear it's still Dick Wolf's favorite.

DaCrazyKoala4 karma

Description from IMDB: A conservative suburban wife and mother turns out to be a fugitive student radical who was involved in an armored car heist and murder of a police officer 23 years earlier

innerlightwriter4 karma

Yes, it was based on Katherine Ann Power, the soccer mom arrested for her role in some subversive student activity thing.

Noetherville4 karma


innerlightwriter11 karma

Style was similar. I wrote for DS9 before it had premiered, so I was flying blind a bit. I'd say, looking back, DS9 had a little more organic humor. But the general STAR TREK approach in my mind was very earnest, not as cynical a style as I probably employed for other series.

DaCrazyKoala3 karma

What was your involvement in the Dresden Files?

innerlightwriter6 karma

I talked Jim Butcher into doing it and I optioned the books and pitched it to SyFy. Then, not too much. I would have made it more like the books, where Harry was more hangdog.

Bubbacubba3 karma

What is your favorite TV show or movie of 2013?

innerlightwriter6 karma

As I said, "HOMELAND" for TV; in the movies, "American Hustle" is my kind of movie. LOVED it. But the sleeper for me was "PRISONERS." Had no expectations, and it was one of the best movies in this genre ever.

DaCrazyKoala3 karma

Have you ever met Nicolas Cage?

innerlightwriter19 karma

No. But I just had a deal with Jennifer Love Hewitt's production company and didn't meet her either. That was way worse.

rcinmd3 karma

What are your feelings on new writers submitting spec scripts? Do you think this could be a good way to break in to the industry?

innerlightwriter6 karma

It probably never ever ever works.

ambroseburns3 karma

This episode and the movie Field of Dreams are the only two pieces of media that have ever made me cry. No question for you to answer, just thanks for being able to bring that kind of emotion out of me.

innerlightwriter7 karma

For me it's Cinema Paradiso. And I have no idea why.

thewreck3 karma

Where exactly are the escape pods on the milennium falcon? And how many?

innerlightwriter4 karma

Is that a trick question?

thewreck1 karma

Hah, not at all. Been looking at various schematics, and they are mentioned in the movie. Id just like your artistic take on the matter!

innerlightwriter9 karma

Escape pods seems like a good J.J. convenience. In the '70s and '80s, you just got stuck in an asteroid belt and had to disguise yourself as garbage.

daveo9913 karma

Tell us a little of the process to write for a show. How do you get approval? How longs it take you to write? What happens if you have a good pitch get halfway into writing it and realize its a terrible idea and cant work?

innerlightwriter6 karma

There are no longer freelance TV writers, so you have to be on staff, and then the process is whatever your showrunner wants it to be. But generally, you won't be pitching so much as developing the idea in the writers room.

Lurking_Alone2 karma

Have you gotten any chicks (or guys) for writing that episode? Have you ever gotten dumped for it?

How long did it take you to write the episode? Do you drink coffee while writing? Or use any other substances (alcohol, cigarettes, what have you)?

Are The Beatles your favorite band? Favorite song by them?

innerlightwriter8 karma

I have a weird relationship with coffee. As for the Beatles -- I tried to name ALL my TNG eps for a Beatles song, starting with "The Inner Light." "Starship Mine" was originally "Revolution." But Michael Piller got wise to me and that was that. Fave song? According to itunes, I've listened to "Hey Jude" the most.

Lurking_Alone3 karma

Hm, I'm interested your relationship with coffee, can you please expound that statement?

innerlightwriter6 karma

Caffeine gives me migraines. It also cure migraines.

dankdooker2 karma

Do you eat eggs?

innerlightwriter4 karma

Yes. Often. Sometimes whites only.

BigG1232 karma

How did you start to become a writer?

innerlightwriter5 karma

See my answer elsewhere here on how I got my break. As for my START - I was producing/writing skits that I put on in front of my elementary school. Not originals but "episodes" of TV shows I loved.

thebeat862 karma

Are film festival script competitions a good way to get noticed? Do you recommend a specific one?

Thanks for doing this!

innerlightwriter7 karma

I'm not too aware of that - but a friend just won a competition and got money to shoot a short film. SO I guess it works.

BrainWav2 karma

I'm going to ask a non-Trek question. This is open-ended. I thought Dresden Files was great (I'll admit not perfect thouI was a bit disappointed that Bob wasn't a skull though), and Paul Blackthorne was excellent as Harry. What were your experiences on the show like? What could we have expected if it wasn't cancelled? Maybe the Carpenters would have put in an appearance?

innerlightwriter3 karma

I said earlier - not faithful to the books in terms of Harry as an underdog. I always saw it as "Rockford Files" with magic. But I didn't get to execute that vision.

RaceHard2 karma

I liked inner light, but I have one question, why was the issue of implanted memories not addressed? I mean Picard basically was brainwashed? I am sure he needed a few secessions with troy to really know what was real, and what was fake.

innerlightwriter20 karma

Hey, one of the reasons this episode worked so well is we didn't overthink or over-explain. No midichlorians!

innerlightwriter14 karma

Here's another answer: He was NOT brainwashed. Brainwashing is when you're trained/manipulated to adhere to ideas you didn;'t otherwise believe in. In Picard's case, his brain structure was reformatted so these were actual memories -- every bit as real as what he had experienced in his "real" life.

Lachlan_Ward2 karma

Terrible, horrible question but I'll ask it anyway because I haven't seen it yet.

Are there any books on writing craft or theory that have left a mark?

innerlightwriter9 karma

My first mentor on a TV series had me read Lajos Egir's "The Art of Dramatic Writing" and now I make it mandatory for classes I teach. It has nothing to do with TV or movies, but it's indispensable.

DaCrazyKoala3 karma

Was your first mentor Stephen J. Cannell?

innerlightwriter6 karma

Yes. A terrific human being. I owe my career to him, may he rest in peace.

innerlightwriter2 karma

That should have been "Egri."

DaCrazyKoala1 karma

How did you get to write a script for Law and Order UK being that its a UK show?

innerlightwriter2 karma

That was adapted from my episode here, "Hot Pursuit." SO I get credit.

EightPointOh1 karma

Since you're more of a Star Wars fan what are your thoughts on JJ directing Episode VII?

innerlightwriter10 karma

See my answer in a different thread. J.J is great, I want SW to be a shaggy mutt and not a pedigree show dog.

Fudgemuffler1 karma

Are you a Batman fan?

innerlightwriter12 karma

I've watched DKR about 9 times. It's the only superhero movie that rises above genre.

ZX_OLO1 karma

So......hows it going?

innerlightwriter11 karma

Actually I'm still depressed that Bill Murray didn't give it up more. He's a national treasure.

thenextmoney1 karma

Tits or ass?

innerlightwriter26 karma

Depends. And I don't mean an ass covered in Depends.

RPIDad010 karma

What's it like being Morgan Gendel? I've always wondered that. Thanks.

innerlightwriter3 karma

Really? Always?

paper_or_plastic_0 karma

Paper or plastic?

innerlightwriter2 karma

Paper. Except I HATE my cardboard VISA card.

heyman0010 karma

What is the best way to get my packet read (without going through an agent)?

innerlightwriter2 karma

For starters, stop saying "packet."

tf2manu9940 karma

Simple question: How are you today?

innerlightwriter3 karma

"Fabulous, Dad."

IncumbentShadow-2 karma

I know this will not be well received, but I don't think the inner light to be that big of a deal. The entire story can be deduced fairly early in the episode. Its basically a message in a bottle type of deal.

innerlightwriter6 karma

A. Fans really dug seeing a side of Picard they hadn't seen. B. The "Oh it's me" moment is SO touching. He lived a whole life, very fulfilling with wife and kids and grandkids -- then he finds his life really had deep meaning. Apparently many viewers found that moving.

IncumbentShadow-1 karma

A. I get that, but he was brainwashed into it. B. Its not his, his implanted memory makes him think that.

I guess it just does not resonate with me, I am more of a Sisko and the Defiant kind of guy, kick ass, chew bubblegum and kill a few Vorta before breakfast.

innerlightwriter3 karma

That's what makes America great.