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(written from a production point of view)

"Bottle show" is a production term for episodes which take place mostly on existing sets and do not generally involve major guest stars. The term itself is derived from the notion of "bottling up the action." (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, paperback ed., p. 253) Equivalent terms are "ship shows" and "bottle episodes". (The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, p. 119) In such installments, action and special effects are often minimized. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, pp. 65 & 140)

Bottle shows are usually created due to budget and time constraints. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 94) Such shows are purposefully planned, every couple of episodes, so production can afford more expensive episodes, such as those filming on location or new sets. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, paperback ed., p. 253) As Bo Yeon Kim explained, "Bottle is when you are using the sets that you have, theoretically to save money." [1] While working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Michael Piller explained, "We need to do bottle shows on this series in order to pay the piper. We need to do contained non-optical direct shows." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 239) In hindsight, Tom Mazza, executive vice president of current programming & strategic planning at Paramount Television, agreed, "We were constantly having to navigate launching the show with a big episode and then over the first few episodes do what we call a 'ship show,' and all of a sudden there's a disease spreading on ship and you notice for forty-four minutes we didn't go anywhere [....] You can get away with it sometimes to offset some of those higher costs [on the bigger episodes]." (The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, p. 119)

The concept of a bottle show is related to that of a clip show, in that both are methods of producing under-budget episodes. The clip show TNG: "Shades of Gray" is also considered a bottle show. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 94; Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Continuing Mission)

Producing an effective bottle show was somewhat difficult. "It's really hard to make a bottle show interesting, because you are with your own actors and you are on standing sets," remarked Denise Okuda. (ENT: "Observer Effect" audio commentary, ENT Season 4 DVD & Blu-ray special features) Bo Yeon Kim observed, "It usually ends up being a production nightmare, 'cause it always, you know, involves some kind of crazy premise, like a time loop or people are trapped in elevators." [2]

Nonetheless, many bottle shows are popular among both fans and the production staff. Robert H. Justman remarked that many were "enormously compelling, as indicated by both fan reaction and the ratings." (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, paperback ed., p. 253) Likewise, Robert Hewitt Wolfe commented, "A lot of these small shows turn out to be pretty good." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 140) Attesting to the writing staff's predominantly positive reaction to bottle shows, Lisa Wilke, a writer who worked uncredited on TNG: "Tin Man", recalled, "I had gone to the sets a year before and [Michael Piller's assistant] Eric Stillwell told us, 'Bottle shows; all they want are bottle shows. Don't go to another planet, make it as cheap as possible and maybe they'll buy it.'" John Logan commented, "The Trek I love most is not the whimsical Trek. It's the bottle shows I love: The Romulans are here. The Enterprise is there. What's going to happen?" (The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, pp. 24, 199 & 391) Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt were fond of this type of this episode too, Kim remarking, "Erika and I love bottle episodes." Lippold stated, "It's kind of a fun way to see your sets in a different light because you're trapping your characters in them and there's usually an outside force that's acting against them, so you can get high-pressure situations. Like, you know, certain characters trapped together in certain rooms and stuff like that." Kim added, "Because you're trapping your characters in unexpected ways, it always ends up becoming fan-favorite episodes." [3]

However, only a few bottle shows were produced for TNG, at least in the opinion of David Livingston. During the making of the series, he stated, "Very rarely do we ever just do a bottle show. There's always some kind of element that will be visually interesting." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 236) Indeed, even episodes conceived as bottle shows occasionally did not go as planned.

Producing bottle shows was easier to do for TNG, though, than for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While working on the latter series, Michael Piller explained, "We can do a bottle show and save a lot of money on The Next Generation by just keeping it on the ship. Here, you keep it on the space station and you are still going to spend a lot of money. You have to because you have the sets like Quark's and the Promenade, where you have so many aliens and people in the background." (The Official Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Magazine issue 3, p. 11) Bottle shows were deliberately sought towards the end of DS9 Season 1. (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 54)

The production of many consecutive bottle shows was, at times, frustrating for the cast and crew. Janeway actress Kate Mulgrew remarked, "You know, when you're in the bottle too long – by that, I mean… as you know, that means a ship show – you do three or four bottle shows back-to-back and everybody starts to get wacky." (VOY Season 2 DVD) Aron Eisenberg joked that Star Trek: Voyager did nothing except bottle shows. [4]

When Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt were asked if they wanted to do anything in DIS Season 1 that they hadn't been able to, Kim replied that they would have liked to do one or two more bottle shows. "I think if we had more room, we would have loved to have done more, sort of, fun, flurry, contained bottle shows where we got to have more fun," commented Kim, a statement Lippoldt agreed with. [5]

Bottle shows[]

The following episodes are considered bottle shows:

Star Trek: The Original Series 365 (p. 275) notes that many episodes in the third season of The Original Series were bottle shows.

Harve Bennett likened Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to a bottle show, noting that sixty-five percent of the film took place on the set representing the bridges of the USS Enterprise and USS Reliant. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, pp. 111-118)

John Logan similarly described Star Trek Nemesis as "essentially" a bottle show, pointing out that he kept the focus of the film's story on the lead TNG characters, especially Captain Picard and Data, aboard the USS Enterprise-E, rather than Earth-based action. (The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, p. 390)

Cinefantastique (Vol. 23, No. 2/3, p. 43) describes TNG: "Silicon Avatar" as being virtually "a shipbound 'bottle show'" except for the episode's uses of the Crystalline Entity and the installment's teaser.

Similarly, the reference book Delta Quadrant (p. 38) refers to VOY: "State of Flux" as virtually a bottle show, apart from location work for that episode's teaser and use of some leftover sets that were made to look distressed.

Phlox actor John Billingsley remarked that, despite ENT Season 3 being primarily arc-based (due to its focus on the Xindi incident), it also contains "a few, kind of, you know, bottle-y shows. 'Bottle' not 'bodily.' Bottle shows that function within the arc, but allow you to have a little rest." ("Part Two: Front Lines", ENT Season 3 Blu-ray special features)

Episodes conceived as bottle shows[]

TNG: "The Naked Now" was conceived as a bottle show adaptation of "The Naked Time", as the series was in desperate need of a bottle show when that episode was written. (Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek, paperback ed., p. 222) Both TNG: "The Next Phase" and "Power Play" were also conceived as bottle shows, but rewrites led to more special effects being used. "The Next Phase", which had a multitude of visual effects shots involving characters walking and running through walls and other objects, ended up as one of the most expensive episodes of its season. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 203) Likewise, all the action in "Power Play", according to Michael Piller, "instead of helping us get even, knocked us into the stratosphere." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 239)

DS9: "A Man Alone" and "Starship Down" were also conceived as bottle shows. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 24, Nos. 3/4, p. 99; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 282) Michael Piller described "A Man Alone" as "the simplest bottle show I could create," but it ultimately went over budget. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 24, Nos. 3/4, p. 99) Due to the casting of guest star James Cromwell as Karemma Hanok in "Starship Down", that installment likewise did not remain a bottle show.

DIS: "An Obol for Charon" was also conceived as another bottle show. However, due to the quantity of visual effects in the episode, it turned out not to be. ("Star Trek: Discovery: The Voyage of Season 2", DIS Season 2 Blu-ray special features)

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