The Story of 'Star Trek,' part two


Star Trek


Welcome back to The Story of ‘Star Trek!’ In part one we took a close look at the man behind the franchise, series creator Gene Roddenberry, and the various people who helped create the ‘Star Trek’ pilots--including ‘I Love Lucy’s Lucille Ball.


“The Cage” proved to be the most expensive television pilot ever made, despite the constraints of television preventing Roddenberry from creating the various otherworldly species and phantasmagoria that his initial script called for. The networks weren’t pleased with the pilot and the audiences they tested on weren’t enthused either; the female commander Number One had to go; the demonic and emotional Spock was off-putting; the complaints were myriad.


Roddenberry himself defended “The Cage” against NBC’s criticisms: “Whether or not this was the right story for a sale [to the network], it was definitely [the] right one for ironing out Roddenberrysuccessfully a thousand how/when/whats of television science fiction. It did that job superbly and has us firmly in position to be the first who has ever successfully made TV series science fiction at a mass audience level and yet with a chance for quality and prestige, too. I have no respect or tolerance for those who say things like “If it were not so cerebral...” and such garbage; I am wide open to criticism and suggestions, but not from those who think answers lie in things like giving someone aboard a dog, or adding a cute eleven-year-old boy to the crew.”


Roddenberry got the extremely rare gift of being able to produce a second pilot after “The Cage,” one where he could correct some aspects of the show that NBC executives saw as mistakes. One major change was that the cold, emotionless, logical persona of Number One was transferred to the Vulcan Mr. Spock, eliminating two problems and simultaneously creating one of the most popular television icons of all time. Interestingly, Spock would become the only character from “The Cage” to be carried over to what the series would become.


The script for the second pilot was selected from a batch by the NBC brass: they selected “Where No Man Has Gone Before” from Roddenberry’s science-fiction writing contact Samuel A. Peeples, selecting Peeples’ script over several written by Roddenberry himself. Perhaps an exercise in determining how Roddenberry would react under such constraints, NBC asked the creator to move forward with another writer’s script--provided that Jeffrey Hunter (who played “The Cage”s Captain Pike) was removed outright.


This lead to Roddenberry and Peeples working closely in tandem on what would become the new face of the series, the new Captain of the Enterprise... but every Captain needs a ship.



The burden of designing the Federation Starship Enterprise largely fell on the shoulders of set designer Walter ‘Matt’ Jeffries, an artist who had also been a pilot throughout his career. Jeffries was well aware of industrial and technical issues surrounding the design of aircraft and decided which aspects could be applied to starships. Roddenberry’s input was that the Enterprise should retain a naval aspect, getting away from popular imagery of rockets that graced the cover of every pulp sci-fi book and comic of the day. With that in mind, Jeffries worked with Peeples and decided that the ship’s main body would be propelled by two thrusters, tethered to the craft like a sailing ship. The iconic image of the Enterprise was born.


The easiest role to fill in “The Cage” was Number One, which was given to Majel Barrett, without any consideration to any other actress. Roddenberry’s blatant favoritism for Barrett would later be used against him when it came to the casting for “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”


The important casting from “The Cage” that carried over to the second pilot was made in Spock1964, casting Leonard Nimoy as the Enterprise’s alien Science Officer, Mr. Spock. In the script, Spock was described as “the Captain’s right-hand man, the working level Commander of all of the ship’s functions... Mr. Spock’s quiet temperament is in dramatic contrast to his [alien] look.” Other actors had been considered for the role, including popular Western actor DeForest Kelley--more on him, shortly.

It was Majel Barrett herself who was instrumental in the casting of Nimoy as Spock. Barrett recalled the slim, tall actor from a guest appearance he made on Roddenberry’s previous series ‘The Lieutenant’ and brought him to the producer’s attention. His angular features and authoritative voice made him the ideal choice for Mr. Spock.

To that date, Nimoy had made several guest appearances on various American television series, including ‘The Untouchables,’ ‘The Outer Limits’ and ‘Perry Mason;’ it wasn’t until ‘Star Trek’ that Nimoy would reach public fame and acclaim. Within days of Nimoy’s casting, Roddenberry wrote to the props department a famous note requesting the actor be fitted for “ear appliances...”


BonesHaving been rejected for the role of Spock, DeForest Kelley was next considered for the role of Doc, the ship’s Medical Officer. The initial pitch was for a character named Philip Boyce, “an unlikely space traveller. Aged fifty-one, Boyce is worldly, humorously cynical, makes a point to enjoy his own weaknesses. Captain April’s confidant, “Bones” Boyce considers himself the only realist aboard and measures each new landing in terms of relative annoyance, rather than excitement.” You can see already how much of the Boyce character would later be retained in Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the role that Kelley would win and make his own.


This brings us to ‘Star Trek’s Captain. First April, then Pike, Roddenberry opted to begin anew with “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” He modeled his new Captain on Horatio Hornblower, a flawed hero with a dynamic range of emotion. What they sought was an actor with a more expressive range than their Captain April/Pike, played by Hunter. And boy did they get what they wanted.


Robert Justman, who worked on the pilot with Roddenberry, had worked with a Canadian Kirkactor named William Shatner previously on ‘The Outer Limits.’ As Justman put it: “Shatner had a good reputation in the television and entertainment industries. He was someone to be reckoned with and we certainly understood that he was a more accomplished actor than Jeff Hunter... he gave us more dimension. Shatner was classically trained; he had enormous technical abilities to do different things and he gave the Captain a terrific personality. He embodied what Gene had in mind.”


The distinctive trio of the Captain (now named James T. Kirk), Spock and Dr. McCoy was in place. Majel Barrett, Roddenberry’s lover, was relegated to a background role as Nurse Chapel, appearing in later episodes. Following “Where No Man Had Gone Before,” NBC gave an order for a sixteen episode season: ‘Star Trek’ was alive, ready to Boldly Go.


What a sixteen episode order meant was that Roddenberry needed writers: he turned to the world of science-fiction and brought in as much talent as he could afford. Despite scripts coming from various different sources, all roads lead back to Gene, as he would oversee the final drafting of any script to ensure the universe of ‘Star Trek’ remained internally consistent. Just how consistent? Roddenberry made it perfectly clear from the pilot onward that sound effects for specific technologies and ship’s functions were to remain the same, episode to episode. Whereas other producers would simply fill in beeps and boops when called for, Roddenberry demanded a library of effects to draw from each and every week--this is why we all recognize the sound of ‘Star Trek’s main viewer, of the communicators, even the eerie hum of the transporter. Every sound remained intact--just one aspect of Roddenberry’s obsessive consistency.


The talent amassed on ‘Star Trek’ was impressive to say the least: writers Ted Sturgeon, Jerry Sohl, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison and Norman Spinrad each joined the team. Roddenberry would allow each writer free reign over their stories but would then personally begin the painstaking process of translating the script into something shootable for Desilu productions. The lesson Gene had learned with “The Cage” had apparently stuck with him. Most of the writers were comfortable accepting Roddenberry’s revisions, with Harlan Ellison being the noteworthy exception to that statement.


The basics of the series were determined by the constraints of television production: as mentioned in part one, the transporter was created to save on the cost of constructing a shuttlecraft to ferry characters to and from the Enterprise. It was determined that the crew Class Mwould be interested in inhabitable Earth-like planets (dubbed Class M planets) to avoid putting the series’ stars in cumbersome spacesuits every episode. For these reasons, the civilizations the crew encountered in far away galaxies almost always resembled an aspect of Earth--sometimes directly lifting from human history, recreating societies of the Romans, Ancient Greeks, Chicago gangsters or even Nazis. This was in keeping with Roddenberry’s vision of ‘Star Trek’ allowing for viewers to reflect on the human condition. These Class M planets in many ways represented parallel worlds to our own, showing how things could have been different here at home.


Several of what is now known as ‘Star Trek’s key defining features were created by people other than Roddenberry. Author Gene L. Coon ended up responsible for the creation of the Klingons (Roddenberry had created the Romulans, which predated the popular Klingon Federationempire), as well as fan-favorite villain Khan Noonien Singh, warp speed developer Zefram Cochrane, as well as the guiding concept of the Prime Directive. For those less familiar with the series, the Prime Directive was the guiding principle upheld by the United Federation of Planets (also named by Coon) which proposed non-interference in undeveloped indigenous planetary cultures--no matter what. Of course, Captain Kirk would regularly violate this Prime Directive, but the philosophy behind the concept remains laden in each and every incarnation of ‘Star Trek,’ until the Abrams films.


Nimoy himself developed the idea for the Vulcan nerve pinch as a manner of incapacitating assailants in a nonviolent fashion. Nimoy also devised the famous Vulcan salute and the saying “live long and prosper,” adding more flavor to the Vulcan race and the ‘Star Trek’ universe as a whole. Theodore Sturgeon would later flesh out Vulcan culture in greater detail in the episode “Amok Time,” which introduced viewers to Spock’s home planet.

Amok Time

It was early 1966 and Gene Roddenberry had secured his dream: a sixteen-episode order for his own science-fiction show on network television. He received a letter from patron Lucille Ball, congratulating him on “having a hit on his hands.” Production on ‘Star Trek’ was in full swing by the summer of 1966; after two pilots, ‘Star Trek’ production was ironed out and entrenched at Desilu, with an episodic budget of $193,000--just under $1.4million today.


Canadian actor James Doohan was cast as Scottish engineer Scotty, contracted for five Uhuraepisodes. George Takei was cast as Sulu, following Roddenberry’s insistence on a multi-Suluethnic cast (an extreme rarity in 1966), signed for seven episodes. Nichelle Nichols was cast as Communications Officer Uhura but with no minimum episodes locked into her contract. Initially it was believed that Yeoman Janice Rand would fill the role of a prominent female character on the program but the fan reaction to Uhura quickly graduated Nichols to the main stage.


The last aspect that needed to fall into place was the now legendary opening sequence, which can be viewed below:

Everything was coming up roses for Roddenberry and company... but the producer would soon learn that having a show on the air and keeping a show on the air are two very different things...


That’s for part III, where we’ll look at the campaign to save ‘Star Trek’ and the creation of Trekkie fandom. Tune in next time!

- Star Trek
- Gene Roddenberry
- DeForest Kelley
- Majel Barrett
- Leonard Nimoy
- William Shatner
- James Doohan
- George Takei

Written by: bad_subject
May 20th, 2013, 12:27 pm

Images courtesy of NBC



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Message Posted On May 20th, 2013, 7:04 pm

” and such garbage; I am wide open to criticism and suggestions, but not from those who think answers lie in things like giving someone aboard a dog, or adding a cute eleven-year-old boy to the crew.”

That quote from Roddenberry is ironic. The second series (TNG) did exactly that, adding Data (the lovable android, essentially the ship's pet), and Wesley Crusher, superkid. I wonder if Roddenberry had any say about those two characters.

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