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Studying Star TrekI am 100% certain that most people today who visit websites about Star Trek would not likely stop to think for even just a few seconds about scholarly studies which examine this show business phenomenon. However, I was never one of them.
My personal interest in Star Trek began when I was in my final year of high school. As it happened, a certain science fiction space travel adventure called Star Trek was in those days fresh and new. I had never heard of Star Trek at the age of 17, but a high school teacher in English language studies assigned me to write an essay about it and do an oral report in class. Mercifully, no evidence of my writing or public speaking survived the passage of time from my high school days, so I am afforded the opportunity to fantasize about how eloquent I certainly must have been as a teenage boy.
Star Trek Radio Documentary in Hollywood
After I completed an undergraduate degree in journalism I ended up working in the radio broadcasting industry in the number two market, Los Angeles. This gave me the unique opportunity to produce a radio documentary series about the original Star Trek on the occasion of the 1973 debut of the Saturday morning animated spinoff. Read more and listen to the voice of Gene Roddenberry, who created Star Trek.
I first met Gene Roddenberry in 1973. I somehow persuaded him to agree to an interview for the radio documentary that I was producing.
At first, he did not want to talk with me. He told me that he had been “burned” by the media previously. So, I came up with the idea of using two tape recorders simultaneously while interviewing him at his office in Burbank. I assured him that if I used those two tape recorders, I could then hand him his own copy of the taped interview before I even left his office. And so he agreed to talk with me! Only small portions of the recordings I made of Roddenberry’s comments in his own words were ever broadcast.
By listening to the Roddenberry interview that I did, you will go deep inside the series and learn from its creator what was done and why. Experience Roddenberry’s soothing voice, his intense personality, and his passion for Star Trek.
One significant (if unusual) aspect of Roddenberry was that even though he was a television producer, he much preferred books.
And he was certain that his appetite for reading directly influenced his writing and producing Star Trek
He credits starting out at Lucille Ball’s studio, Desilu (later sold to Paramount Pictures) because the studio was willing to spend “more than an ordinary amount of money” to make Star Trek work.
When he was writing the original format for Star Trek, when he did not have science fact to rely upon, he improvised.
Roddenberry created the basic concept of Star Trek from the ground up, but wanted to share credit with others, including Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, and others, saying it was “ a creation of many people.”
A woman was second in command in the first version of Star Trek, Mr. Spock was fourth in line, and none of that survived the development of the series because of NBC demands for changes.
The economics of mid-sixties television production today seem more implausible than faster-than-light space travel. But the original Star Trek pilot—the one that didn’t sell–cost a little over $600,000.
He explained how he worked as a producer, fostering joint contributions from everyone on Star Trek.
And he gave a clear picture of how the writing on Star Trek was carefully crafted to give the storytelling a high degree of believability.
Because of censorship restrictions, Star Trek producers and writers hid intended messages within stories of action and adventure in space.
He explained that he promoted an atmosphere of practical joking to relieve the pressures of production on Star Trek.
He declined naming his favorite episodes.
In what would be the final season of the original series, Roddenberry’s world changed. Roddenberry backed out of producing the third season (but for legal reasons he was given screen credit as executive producer) after failing to convince NBC not to schedule Star Trek in an unfavorable time slot.
Roddenberry says NBC made a business decision to cancel the marginally-rated series in 1969 and noted it was ironic that the network discovered too late the demographic power of Star Trek.
And he insisted on maintaining the quality of the original Star Trek series when he produced the 1973 animated series for NBC because he did not want to insult viewers.
He did not think Star Trek necessarily had long-term value in predicting how life may actually be in the future. But, he pointed to the exceptional value of the idea content of the storytelling that persuaded people “there is a tomorrow.”
Roddenberry said he would hate for mankind to go “barging around and getting involved in other societies and civilizations” in the cosmos because humanity does not, in his view, yet have the wisdom to handle extraterrestial contact. But he did not “hate mankind” and believed our species is “beginning to reach out of childhood now.”
Further Encounters with the Star Trek CreatorRodenberry created a “cottage industry” for himself by giving speeches across the United States at college and university campuses in the years that followed the 1969 NBC cancellation of his series. Doing so was highly unusual in those days for a television producer to do. Most television producers may have been known from their names in the closing credits of televisions shows, but few achieved the personal fame that Roddenberry earned. There was a strongly-interested audience out there and Roddenberry knew how to give his audience what they craved. His speeches focused upon embedded idea content that he saw as integral to the storytelling on Star Trek. His science fiction series eventually became known for how it was idea oriented for adult viewers.
I was 26 when I entered the doctoral degree program in communication at Indiana University, Bloomington. I happened to believe that Roddenberry was correct when he suggested embedded idea content was deliberately inserted into Star Trek. I got the approval at Indiana University to conduct of original scholarly research into how Star Trek and other science fiction television shows were capable of covert persuasion disguised as “mere” entertainment.
After I became someone with an earned doctorate in communication I got hired to teach at a small university in Connecticut. In 1982 Roddenberry brought his national college lecture tour to New Haven. He and I met at his hotel to discuss me possibly introducing him on stage. He probably was amused to see me again. I had been a young kid who nearly ten years earlier had interviewed him in Burbank for a Hollywood radio documentary. He approved me as the one to introduce him on stage to the crowded auditorium.
For me, the high point of the evening was after leaving the stage in New Haven that night. Roddenberry invited me to dine privately with him. We talked over steak and potatoes and wine about his work creating Star Trek and his plans for the future. To say the very least, that evening with Roddenberry in New Haven certainly stands out as an “other-worldly experience” for me.
Listen to 4 episodes of
“The Universe of Star Trek” radio documentary
originally broadcast on KIQQ-FM (“K100”) in Hollywood in 1973
featuring: DC Fontana MP3 (2:51) 1342 K
D.C. Fontana: She was very forthcoming about her passion for Star Trek and interviewing her at her office at Filmation was engaging. She was a proponent of women’s rights and relished in telling me about a forthcoming episode on the animated series in which Uhura takes over control of the starship Enterprise.
featuring: David Gerrold MP3 (1:28) 691K
David Gerrold: Especially famous for writing “The Trouble With Tribbles,” this Los Angeles writer allowed me to interview him in his home. When I arrived at his front door, I was surprised to be greeted by a Vulcan female. The young girl had the obligatory pointed ears and a Spock-like costume. No, I never asked David Gerrold who she was and what she was doing in his home.
featuring: Walter Koenig MP3 (3:13) 1510K
Walter Koenig: We all remember him as Pavel Chekov from the original series. Walter Koenig was a very young man when I interviewed him. He demonstrated a strong comfort level about his celebrity from Star Trek that I was not expecting from someone so young.
featuring: Bjo Trimble MP3 (2:17) 1077K
Bjo Trimble: It was a trip to visit the home of this campaigner who campaigned to save Star Trek from cancellation. Her living room was filled with Star Trek memorabilia and she had boundless energy.
How did Roddenberry feel about my work? He wrote to me in response to my radio documentary, telling me how pleased he was with it. You can read his comments in the letter (pdf) he sent me.