St. Petersburg native Rene Echevarria molds Spielberg's vision into Fox's Terra Nova
For a nerdy science fiction fan covering television for Florida's best newspaper, it was like stubbing your toe on a gold bar at the beach.
I had to read the biography twice. Was it true that a writer for Star Trek was from St. Petersburg?
Turns out he was. And even better, writer/producer Rene Echevarria was a smart, even-keeled up-and-comer, just past a career-making success when I met him: Writing the classic Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which digitally inserted characters from the more modern show inside the 60-era Trouble With Tribbles episode.
The first time we met, at least a dozen years ago, I got to hang in his office and get a look at the giant dry-erase board they used to plot out the arc of Deep Space Nine's season. He also gave me a copy of the show's Bible -- a short summary of all the characters, situations, locations and devices most used on the show to help novice actors and writers get up to speed on the universe they were joining.
In short, a geek's dream.
In due course, Rene kept living that dream, working with well-known auteurs like James Cameron (Fox's Dark Angel) and Glenn Gordon Caron (CBS' Now and Again and Medium), while also working on shows such as The 4400, Castle and MTV's Teen Wolf.
Now he's bringing all his show business experience to bear helping guide one of TV's most-anticipate series, Terra Nova, which airs its two-hour debut tonight on Fox.
It's a convoluted premise: Family from polluted, population-controlled future sneaks into a group of settlers approved to head back in time 85 million years to colonize a non-polluted, dinosaur-filled Earth. (Writers come up with a convenient device -- the trip produces an alternate reality disconnected from the future they're traveling from -- to explain why the first trip didn't immediately and totally change Earth in 2149.)
But it turns out writing and producing this beast of a series has been even more difficult, as Los Angeles-based Echevarria and longtime writing buddy Brannon Braga negotiate the extreme time difference between the show's Australia set and America's West Coast, along with implementing suggestions from the biggest name among the show's dozen or so executive producers, science fiction movie genius Steven Spielberg.
Click here to read my feature on Echevarria, who recalls taking English classes from St. Petersburg Times arts critic Lennie Bennett when she taught at St. Petersburg Catholic High School and staging performances of old Carol Burnett Show episodes at the Cathedral of St. Jude School.
And look below for a preview of Terra Nova, which I named one of my favorite new shows of the new TV season, along with a look at Echevarria 14 years ago when Trek revisited Tribbles.