Next Generation writer Michael Piller said: “A writer is very much like the captain on a star ship facing the unknown. When you face the blank page and you have no idea where you’re going. It can be terrifying, but it can also be the adventure of a lifetime.” After completing These Are The Voyages, a three-volume set about The Original Series, author Marc Cushman surely must have experienced the ultimate of adventures. Season One is out now, with Two and Three on the way. TrekMovie.com sat down with author Marc Cushman to talk about his experiences writing the historical Trek series. Hit the jump for our incredibly in-depth extensive interview.
“There’s your book right there,” Gene Roddenberry told Cushman in 1982, pointing to 70 boxes full of Star Trek production notes, memos, letters, budgets and scripts. Cushman was interviewing the Star Trek creator for a television special about the show. Cushman said Roddenberry added, “But you couldn’t get that into a book, and I dare you to try.”
Cushman finally took Roddenberry up on that ‘dare’ and after years of pouring through those boxes and interviewing those closest to Star Trek Original Series, has published the first of a three-volume set of books. These Are The Voyages Season One currently is available through Amazon.com for $27.95 through Oct. 31 or through the publisher, Jacobs Brown Press. These Are The Voyages Season Two is due out Christmas time this year. Season Three is slated for spring 2014.
I hadn’t known about this book until a friend showed me the copy he purchased at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention. His face lit up like a kid’s at Christmastime. He couldn’t wait to start reading. That was enough to convince me I needed one too. On the last day of the convention, I rushed back to the vendor’s room to see if I still buy a copy. I was lucky: Not only was I able to get a copy of the book, but I had the chance to meet the author and arrange for a phone interview.
After the third volume is out and he takes a well-deserved vacation, Cushman says his next project may be a biography, but he hinted he may entertain suggestions to start a similar set of books about The Next Generation.
Marc Cushman began writing These Are The Voyages after a career as a television writer, screenwriter, producer and director. To Star Trek fans, besides this book, he’s known for writing the original script for the episode, “Sarek.” He co-authored a book about another television series: I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series, which he says proved to be an excellent template for writing These Are The Voyages.
The following are excerpts of my conversation with Mr. Cushman.
While I was doing some research for another Trekmovie.com article, I wanted to rewatch some Original Series episodes and I very quickly realized Book One of These Are The Voyages makes a great viewing companion guide…
Actually that was one of my intentions. We’ve all seen these episodes so many times, and we love them, but sometimes we start to watch an episode again and we think, ‘Okay, but I’m too familiar with it.’ I wanted to find a way to make these episodes seem new again — and with the book you can learn about what went into the writing, and what went into in the production. When you’re watching it, you have something new to think about. It’s fun to watch these shows — with something we didn’t have before. The books will allow us to watch these shows again with ‘fresh eyes.’
I know it’s all there in your preface, but can you please tell again how you got started in this project?
I was working for a local TV production company in 1982. I came to Los Angeles to be a screenwriter and write for TV. In fact, Star Trek is what inspired me to do that. When I was a teenager watching it on NBC, I thought — and still think — ‘this is one of the best written shows ever done on television.’ One of the owners of the production company came into the office and said, “Okay we’re going to be doing a special on Star Trek. Who knows about Star Trek?” Everybody looked at me because they knew I loved the show. He said: “Okay Cushman, you got the job. You’re going on Tuesday to interview Gene Roddenberry.” And I thought, ‘Oh dear! Beat me with a club! Do I get paid too?’ (Laughter) So I went down to Paramount and met with Gene and he was so gracious and so wonderful. During the interview, he told his assistant at the time, Susan Sackett to show me around and take me to the various storage areas on the lot where they had lots of materials because he said he’d give me a copy of every script for use and any artwork that I could find from the series that I could use for the television special. In the course of that, I was introduced to about 70 boxes, filled with thousands of pages — all the memos, and all the ‘back-and-forth’ between Roddenberry and his staff. There were scripts, production schedules, budgets — all the communications with the network, and the de Forest Research notes for fact-checking on the scripts — to make them more scientific and more believable. At first, I thought, ‘Well I could make a copy of this one and I can make a copy of that one’ and the staff did that for me, but I then I thought, ‘I wanted a copy of everything!’ So I said to Gene, ‘You know, I’ve read I read The Making of Star Trek and I’m reading it now as my research for this TV special…’
By the way, The Making of Star Trek is fabulous book that was written halfway through the production of the series but they never revised it and it didn’t focus on the individual episodes, just the overall course of the production.
I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a book with all these in it?’ Gene said, “You couldn’t fit all that stuff in a book, and I dare you to try.”
Wow! What was going through your mind when he said that?
My first thought was: ‘My God, I would want read that book! But I don’t know how to do it.’ I don’t have the time and I don’t have a clue to how to even begin. Nobody’s ever written a book like that. The closest would be The Making of Star Trek, but that didn’t delve into the individual episodes, which I wanted to. You watch those episodes and, most of them are just outstanding. Then there’s some that aren’t. If you watch the first season, which is what this first book covers — there’s only a couple episodes in the first season that really ‘don’t work.’ Almost all of them ‘work’ exceptionally well, but then you watch “The Alternative Factor” episode and you think, ‘What happened? It’s the same talented people. Gene gave me the scripts, and I read the script and was thinking, ‘What am I missing? Gene Coon rewrote it. Don Ingalls was a very renowned TV writer and did the first draft. So what happened?’ And nobody could answer these questions. The answers were in the show files. And now all of that is in this book.
Was it typical for a television series to have all of this material stored away like this?
No it’s not typical. Most of these script notes are done at meetings, either at meetings or on the phone. Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman and Gene Coon lived in memos — and that is very rare in television. There isn’t time to be dictating memos and having the secretary type them up and make copies and send to everybody. That’s not the time-efficient thing to do — but Roddenberry, Justman and Coon knew that Star Trek was special and they knew the show was their legacy. Now they would humbly say later that they didn’t know that — years later when people interviewed them, ‘Of course, we’d have no way of knowing.’ They had no way of knowing if it really would happen, but they believed it was possible to have a show that was that special and that unique. So they wanted to document the making of the series. That’s why both of them saved everything and then donated their materials to a UCLA Special Collections Library.
There’s a memo, that will be in Book Three, during that third season — very early in the season — Bob Justman sent Gene Roddenberry a memo and Roddenberry responded. Gene writes: “Bob, all of us writers can only hope that one day a biographer will be digging through all of our papers and memos and scripts and letters, to figure out why we did what we did and what we were thinking when we did it. And that memo you just sent to me has to go into that book.” You know what? It has! It’s in Book Number Three!
Are those boxes of documents on display for the public? Can anyone go to the UCLA libraries and take a look at these documents?
They are public, yes. First of all, Gene and Bob gave me documents that are not part of the UCLA collection. Secondly, I had to track down a lot of documents that are not part of that collection. Because what happened was: When he had been donated all this stuff to UCLA, it was 70 boxes. Now it’s 50 boxes. So you know what happened: People would go into the library and they would take some of these documents. So then you’d be seeing some documents begin to show up on eBay — several hundred dollars to buy a memo from Gene Roddenberry or Bob Justman. Fortunately, I’ve connected with a lot of fans and collectors who provided me with copies of some of these documents to add to what I’ve already had available to me at UCLA. The UCLA collection has been picked through. They’re very careful now. You go to the UCLA library and they watch you like a hawk and you can’t take anything in with you not even water. You can bring pencil and paper and take notes on the documents. They watch you as you turn every page and make sure it goes right back where it was supposed to go. It’s very closely guarded now because they realize that they were losing a lot of valuable material over the years. And even though those documents are still available, you would have to come to Los Angeles, and make an appointment to see them. It took me six months to go through those 50 boxes, working five days a week. Now if I didn’t live in here in LA, being a self-employed as a writer living here, how could I have possibly done that? The average person can’t. There are some fans who will take a week’s vacation and come to LA just look to the papers, but they can’t even get to the tip of the iceberg.
The book’s format is episode by episode, describing timelines, pre-production, reactions, sound bites, ratings… How did you decide on the format?
I had my practice with the I Spy book, which I think came together nicely. I knew Star Trek would be harder because there were more documents. With the I Spy book, there were several boxes of documents at UCLA and that’s about average for a TV show. Star Trek had 50 plus — at one time 70 boxes! So I had to take on something little easier at first to learn how to do it. Then I could approach ‘the mother of all books’ and it became three books. There was no way to contain all that into one book and the first book is 600 pages, and the type is kind of small! That could have easily been an 800 or 900-plus page book. It’s a massive, massive document — it could have been five books. But to answer your question better: My experience as a TV writer helped immensely. When you’re a television writer, or a screenwriter (I’ve done two movies), everything you’re writing is happening right now. It’s not someone remembering what happened. So my approach to doing these books is: You are watching Star Trek being written — you’re not looking back at it. You’re right there in the front office hearing Gene Coon and Gene Roddenberry and Dorothy Fontana and Bob Justman discussing the scripts. Thanks to these memos, you’re sitting there, hearing them have a conversation about the different drafts and scripts — the ones who made it and the ones they couldn’t find a way to make, then NBC coming in room at the same time, saying, “Do this and don’t do that.” And then there’s the production schedules — knowing what was shot, when, where, how… and having the AD notes. AD meaning: The assistant director who keeps notes on the set — about how late they went that night, what went wrong, who got sick… You’ve got all that information too. Then I’ve got the budgets. I know what was spent, how far over budget they go. Everyone was saying the Star Trek episodes were shot in six days, but most were shot in seven or eight days. It was planned for a six-day shoot, but not with science fiction — because everything is specially designed. It was just a very difficult show to make and it was hard to keep it on schedule, hard to keep it on budget. I put you, the reader, on the sidelines — you’re seeing all of that happen. You even know what was playing on the radio that day and what news story — what everybody on the set was talking about that day. This book is a time machine — it takes you back to the mid and late 1960s. This book puts you on the set, in the editing room, then in front of your TV set watching the first broadcast on NBC. You can feel the excitement, you can feel the pressure… you can see the blood, sweat and tears that went into making every single episode, from a writing point of view to a production point of view to a televised point of view. That’s how I laid it out. I take you through each episode with all those phases, and then move onto the next one. You start to get a sense of what it must’ve been like to be Gene Roddenberry or Gene Coon.
You write about the A.C. Nielsen Ratings. What was revealed about studying the ratings?
Here’s how it work back in the 1960s and even the 1970s: There were two ratings services. One was A.C. Nielsen. The other was Home Testing Institute that did TvQ — competitors. Nielsen would send the network the ratings — a page for each night so it was a seven-page report for all three networks, all the prime time shows. And stamped at the bottom of each page: “Property of AC Nielsen. Not to be copied. On loan to NBC. To show to clients and returned to A.C. Nielsen” by such and such a date. So these reports were not allowed to go public. Now Nielsen would allow on certain occasions, some ratings to be printed in Daily Variety, a top 10 list or top 20 list, but the deep reports with all the shows and all the exact numbers were not given to the public or even the press on a weekly basis, only on special occasions. People didn’t know really how well shows were doing. We trusted the networks to tell how the shows were doing and they would tell us, by whether they were to renew the show or not. We thought we knew what shows are popular — I was 14 or 15 when Star Trek was on NBC and everyone watched it. I didn’t know anyone at school who didn’t watch it. The teachers wouldn’t assign homework at night before. They’d say: “I know it’s Star Trek night.” And everybody would cheer. It got very quiet on the streets at night — everybody was in their house watching Star Trek. So when I read in TV Guide that it was ‘iffy’ whether it was going to be renewed and then to see the news: ‘NBC cancelled Star Trek because ratings were low.’ I was in shock and so was everybody else. I know we all watched this. It was what everyone talking about! It got more fan mail than all shows, except maybe The Monkees and sometimes it tied with The Monkees and The Monkees were at their peak! So how is that possible? But we had no way of disproving what we were being told.
So I decided I had to find the ratings. I called Nielsen when I was doing this book and I was told: No, they don’t keep them going back that far. There’s no reason to keep them going back that far because it would take rooms and rooms and rooms to store all this stuff. And why would they keep it? They’re in the business of providing new ratings for new shows. They can’t make money off the old ratings. So they said, “No, we don’t have that.” Then I tried calling NBC. They said, “Why would we have those? That’s a show we cancelled 40 years ago.” I called the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences — the Emmy people, and they said: We don’t have it.” And the Museum of Broadcasting: “We never had any ratings.”
I almost gave up but it just kept bugging me and things weren’t making sense as I’m writing these books and going through the memos. Occasionally there’d be a couple of documents in the files about the ratings and those few occasions where they would be shared, and Star Trek look pretty strong. There was a letter from Lucille Ball to Gene Roddenberry, congratulating him on the fact that his show was number one in its time slot and there was a letter from somebody at NBC, congratulating him from another week.
I became so obsessed with getting the ratings that I called Nielsen back and I said it in a way I hadn’t said it before. I said,” I’d like to license the ratings reports from the late 1960s” They then said, “Oh, okay we’ll switch you over to that department. What ratings are you interested in?” I said, “Thursday night, 1966, 67 and Friday night 67 through 69.” They said, “Okay, we’ll get back with you.” They called me back they very next day and said, “Yeah we’ve got them. How many do you want?” I said, “I want one for every week they said, “Okay here’s how much they’re going to cost…” I said: “Whaaa??? Okay well, maybe I’ll just take the one for the first run episodes and forget the reruns…” Although I did get a few of the reruns, just out of curiosity. So I licensed all these ratings, which set me back financially a bit, but it was like a lost treasure! I found out for Season One and the episode “Mantrap” had an audience share of 47 percent of the TVs in America running, were tuned into Star Trek. Quite often and usually most of the time it’s number in second place, and there is no shame in second place, and by the way, the show it’s beating almost every Thursday night is My Three Sons, which was considered a hit on CBS and went for another five seasons. The show that it’s losing to, was but not every week, ABC’s number one-rated series, Bewitched. It was the top show the network had out of all of their shows. Star Trek on more than a dozen occasions beat it; on other occasions tied with it, and on the rest occasions came in a close second.
I went further. I looked at the ratings of the shows before and shows after, on that night and found out that Star Trek was NBC’s top-rated Thursday night show — their biggest hit of the night! You don’t cancel your top-rated show! That was the show all the other shows are anchored to. But NBC tried to cancel it. And I’ll give you a peek into the future — in Book Two: They moved it to Friday nights, which is not a good night for a show like that, with the college audience, so obviously they’re trying to distance it from the audience, and it was still their top-rated show for that night. It was their top-rated Friday night show, and they tried to cancel it. But the network got buried in protest letters, so they renewed it, but then they moved to Friday nights at 10 p.m. to make sure it was dead. That’s called the death slot — that’s the worst time of the entire week.
Why do you think NBC had such a problem with Star Trek? Was it too controversial? Too costly?
No, the studio was shouldering the burden of the cost — that was Desilu and sadly, Desilu went out of business because of Star Trek, as you’ll find out in Book Two. Lucille Ball lost her studio because she sponsored Star Trek, and was determined to put in on the air. Her Board of Directors said, “You can’t afford this show.” But she said, “No, we’re going to do it.” She was an advocate for Star Trek — and she lost her studio. It’s very sad when you read those chapters in Book Two. She even ran away the day she was supposed to sign the contracts. She got a plane and flew cross-country. They even had to chase after her to get her to sign the contracts — that’s how devastated she was. That’s in Book Two — lots of drama.
NBC got nervous about a lot of this material. The network got nervous at the last minute about “The Alternative Factor” because it would have had the first interracial love story. John Drew Barrymore, from the famous dynasty of actors, was originally cast to play Lazarus, and Janet MacLachlan was cast to play the woman he seduces to get the dilithium crystals. NBC knew who he was, but they didn’t know who she was, because was still new in her career. The network approved the script, which had him kissing her, and making out… in order to steal the crystals. NBC found out a few days before the show was supposed to start shooting and said,”You’re not doing that!” So Gene Coon gutted the script and rewrote it. Then John Drew Barrymore came in, read the script and said, “This isn’t what I agreed to.” Then he drops out and they are scrambling to continue shooting around the character. They found Robert Brown at the last minute. You see, I love finding out these answers!
Gene Roddenberry couldn’t get along with the network and they didn’t get along with Gene. It all started with his show, The Lieutenant on NBC. That show lost its sponsorship of the Marines. They were kicked out of Camp Pendleton. They were filming for free with all the extras they wanted — uniforms and tanks — you name it. Gene wanted to put an episode on about racism in the military and Pentagon said, “Don’t.” And NBC said, “Okay, we’ll throw it away.” Then Gene went to the NAACP and launched a protest and the NAACP went after the network, so NBC was forced to air the episode. NBC cancelled the show — they were that upset. Now why would they buy another show from Gene Roddenberry? MGM (the production studio for The Lieutenant) didn’t want to do any more work with Roddenberry.
So he went to Desilu, who was desperate for product. Herb Solow was a former NBC guy and he was able to talk them into taking the show. NBC was number three. They used to be number one, but lost a lot of their audience to CBS and ABC. They were going up against the younger crowd, the baby boomers… NBC was essentially shows like Kraft Music Hall and Perry Como… So NBC said, “We have to change so they picked up I Spy and The Man From Uncle and they finally picked up Star Trek, and a few other colorful, fun shows that would attract teenagers and young adults. But the problem is — as you read the books and you see in the memos — Gene keeps putting on episodes they don’t want him to put on.
Gene wanted to be a modern-day Jonathan Swift. He wanted to tell controversial stories. He wanted to shock America. He wanted to make statement and change the world. Back then, the networks weren’t looking to change the world. Back then, a network wanted the least offensive material possible so that all their affiliates — whether they’re in the North or the South or the West to the East — would carry the show. They didn’t want the affiliates boycotting the show. They would lose money so they pick shows that everybody would watch across the country.
Gene wanted to do stories that were ‘rocking the boat.’ When NBC tried to bring him under control; he resisted. The network didn’t want to do political commentary in primetime, not in the entertainment shows. They felt that belonged in the news division, not in entertainment, but Gene wanted to do stories about Vietnam, stories about sex and sexism, racism, religion, overpopulation, drugs, women. Look at “Mudd’s Women.” That was drugs and hookers in space! That was one of the first episodes! Or look at “The Enemy Within.” Kirk tries to rape Janice Rand on NBC TV… in 1966! And as you’ll read in the memos in the book, NBC refused to repeat it. Then there’s “The Naked Time” where you see all the insides of people. They were naked in a sense… emotionally!
NBC said, “Why can’t you make this more like Lost In Space — a fun show for the family?” NBC said, “This isn’t what we signed on for. You promised us ‘Wagon Train in space.’ We’ve never seen Major Adams from Wagon Train trying to rape anybody! We’ve never seen a Wagon Train episode with hookers and drugs.” You know, there’s a saying in Hollywood: “A network can’t guarantee a hit, but it sure as hell can guarantee a failure.”
It sounds like there’s a lot juicy information found in These Are The Voyages. Anything else you’d care to share, that, say if it had leaked out in the 60s, it may have hit the tabloids?
Oh yeah! There’s a lot! Jumping ahead to Book Two and then in Book Three: You’ll find out why the two Genes (Gene Roddenberry and writer/producer Gene Coon) had a falling out. You can find out why Gene Coon left Star Trek. In Book Three, you’ll see the memos between (Fred) Freiberger and Roddenberry and (Robert) Justman and Stan Robinson from NBC. At that time, all the memos never mention Gene Coon — they always say, “Lee Cronin.” There’s a great memo from Stan Robinson, which reads: “ ‘Oh you’ve got Lee Cronin to write the script… we’d better get this one done quickly…before he gets busy with his other commitments.’ “ So even NBC is writing ‘Lee Cronin’ in their letters as a code word for Gene Coon, because Gene Coon couldn’t legally write these scripts when he was already under contract with Universal as the producer of It Takes A Thief. So they were all involved in the cover up. They were all in this conspiracy, hiding this information — even the network. That’s fun to see even the network going along with this conspiracy, this cover up.
I’ll tell you something else you’ll see in Books Two and Three. They did the first 16 episodes of Season Two and they’re waiting around to find out if they’ll get picked up to do more — even though they were winning their time slot quite often. They’re shooting episode Number 16 and they’re half into it before the network tells them, “Okay, we want some more episodes.” Now in TV, how the hell do you pull that off? You’ve got to have a script ready. You have to have it cast — you have to have sets built. You can’t just start shooting an episode on Monday without any preparation. So they’re having to write scripts and do things to prepare for an episode that they don’t even know if they would be shooting. The cast doesn’t even know if they’re going to be coming back the next week, but they can’t take any other work because they’re under contract.
So the drama gets stronger with each book. You know some people have said to me: “Why do a book on Season Three? That wasn’t as good as Season One or Two.” I tell them, “You’re going to enjoy the book on Season Three even more than One and Two. The story of Star Trek gets more interesting as it goes along. It gets more dramatic as it goes along. The ante gets raised more as it goes along, the stakes are greater, the exhaustion is greater and the conflicts become greater. This was a very exhausting three-year journey — five years actually, if you consider the pilots.
Of course Gene Roddenberry and some of the Original Series actors, producers and writers are gone now… Who were some of the people you interviewed as you completed this project?
Of course, Gene helped me before he was gone, and I even interviewed him a second time when I came in to talk to him about Next Generation. And I interviewed Bob Justman as many as six different times — he gave me lots of material. D.C. Fontana is still with us and working and teaching over at American Film Institute. I interviewed her four times. She gave me provided me with pictures and materials. John D.F. Black is a neighbor of mine — in fact I recently did an interview on Access: Hollywood with him. We talk every few days. He was producer before Gene Coon and executive script editor and his wife, Mary, who was his assistant at Star Trek. Harlan Ellison called me to tell me he liked the book. I didn’t expect that in a million years. He said, “Marc! I’m not going to say it’s awesome, because that’s a word I reserve for the Grand Canyon and Eleanor Roosevelt but it comes close!” Leonard Nimoy called me a couple weeks ago. It was great. He said, “Marc, the research is astounding!” When he said that, he sounded exactly like Mr. Spock. What better compliment to get from Mr. Spock than to have him say, “The research is astounding!” I thought, ‘My God! I can die and go to heaven!’ (Laughter)
Walter Koenig wrote the Foreword for Book Two, and I had interviewed him for Books Two and Three. I interviewed Vincent McEveety. There was a rumor that he was dead but it was his brother Bernard who died. They were both directors and they worked at the same time on a lot of the same shows. I tracked down his son and called him up and said, “Can I interview you about your dad and about his work on Star Trek?” He said, Okay, but I don’t remember that much about Star Trek… I was a kid… why don’t you just talk to my dad?” I said, “But I thought…” He said, “No, that was my uncle. Here’s my dad’s phone number….” So I called him, and he was fabulous! He gave me some great quotes! Read the section about “Miri.” Boy, does he open up about “Miri” and Kim Darby.
Grace Lee Whitney gave me terrific interviews. I tracked down director Marvin Chomsky …Robert Brown… Morgan Woodward….so many actors and writers. I tracked down people who had never been interviewed: John Erman, who directed “The Empath” in Season Three. And Joyce Muskat, who wrote, “The Empath.” Jean Lissette Aroeste who wrote, “Is There In Truth No Beauty” and “All Our Yesterdays” also Emily Banks and Bruce Mars from “Shore Leave.” I tracked down these people who’ve never talked about Star Trek. Not only do they talk to me about it, but they talk about it in such detail! They literally are like ‘tour guides’ walking you through the production and through the writing.
I interviewed Ralph Senensky, who directed seven episodes and was fired halfway through the episode, “The Tholian Web.” Did you know that he was fired halfway through “The Tholian Web” because he fell a half a day behind? At that point Paramount had taken over the studio. So the drama gets intense during Books Two and Three.
It’s amazing Season Three is as good as it is! I’ve since reassessed it. I remember when I was 15 when Season Three came on, and I was disappointed because it wasn’t as fast-paced as Season Two. I’ve come to find out maybe the best way to watch Star Trek is start with Season Three and watch it backwards. If you haven’t seen “The City on the Edge of Forever” and “The Trouble with Tribbles” and “Mirror, Mirror” and “The Doomsday Machine” — all these great episodes. If you hadn’t seen those and you are watching the third season, You’d probably think: “Wow! This is great show!” Then you start seeing the other ones, you probably think, “Wow! Now it’s really getting good!”
What are your thoughts about other series in the Star Trek franchise?
You know, I shouldn’t say this because I know this goes out to all the fans for all the shows, but I didn’t really care for the sequels too much. And I worked at Next Generation. I wrote the first draft of the “Sarek” script. Gene said, “We’re going to have to rewrite you, because you’ve written it too much like the first show. It’s paced too much like the first show. You’ve got the voices right, but the feel of it is more like the original.” But that’s because I love the Original. I went in to pitch for him numerous other times and gave him some springboards for other episodes. I also pitched for Voyager and Enterprise, but not for Deep Space Nine.
I just wasn’t able to get as involved with those shows as the Original, and that’s not to say that I don’t think they’re good. I saw quite a few episodes of Next Generation I thought were terrific. I’m not going to tell you I’ve watched every episode. I mean I’ve watched every episode of the Original several times over. I’ve seen probably about half of Next Generation — certainly I saw the Borg episodes. And I loved the Deep Space Nine episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations” — when they went back to “The Trouble with Tribbles” and incorporated that footage. I thought, ‘what a clever, clever premise and how beautifully realized that was!’
What about the new movie releases: Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness?
I love them. I know a lot of Original fans are having trouble with them. I don’t all because: ‘Look, I’ve got an 18-year-old son and because of these movies, he’s started watching the Original show.’ He said to me, “I know you’re writing the book about this. It’s not bad!” He said, “I’ve been watching these and when they’re over, I find myself thinking about it for 10 or 20 minutes… what that show was about.” I said, ‘Ah ha!’
That’s the magic of shows like Star Trek… and Twilight Zone. Roddenberry and Rod Serling certainly both put a message in every script. The theme — there had to be a theme. Gene Roddenberry was the only producer I’d ever pitched to, who asked me, “What’s the theme?” Gene would say, “Okay I love your ‘hook’ but what’s your theme? What are you trying to say, as a writer? What message are you trying to get across to the audience?”
Were you always a fan of science fiction?
Oh yeah! I always loved science fiction! It grabbed me more than anything when I was a kid. I think it does for almost all kids. I read Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, but I was more of a watcher than a reader. I loved how TV is happening right now — in front of you.
What do you think will come next for the Star Trek franchise?
I’m glad I don’t make those decisions but my guess is: They’ll make at least a couple more of these movies with the current cast because both (Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek: Into Darkness) have done tremendously well. The second one was highly rated, got great reviews and it made certainly enough money to warrant continuing. They may try to take this cast onto TV in a few years, after they do a couple movies.
Here’s the thing — whether you like all the different Star Treks or not: I think most people will agree that the first show was the best — or at least the best by design. People will say: “It’s not as good because it was done in the 60s and how can you compete with something being done now from a technical point of view…” But I think it was the best by design because the characters are rich. There’s tremendous conflict between these characters. Hell, there’s even tremendous conflict inside these characters — with themselves. Spock has a waging war going on with himself constantly — but so does Kirk! Great characters!
Paramount got very smart in saying, “Let’s go back to those characters and hire young actors and make them a little younger, so then they can grow into the roles.” The newest movie is written for a young audience. It suspends belief and that’s my one problem with it that but I understand why they have to do that — to get my son to go see it and people that age. I get it! (Laughter) But I’ve got to say they’re doing wonderful things with these characters. They’ve done their homework. They’re portraying characters properly. They make lots of fun little references to past episodes like, “Oh that’s the ship we got on the Mudd incident,” a reference to “Mudd’s Women” episode, but of course, in that episode, it blew up! But this is a sort of an ‘alternate universe.’ It’s a great concept! I love those kinds of ideas — that are that deep and that intellectual!
The most recent movie is kind of like the Original Series because into two hours they pack the most incredible action sequences, incredible science fiction concepts, incredible villains, incredible drama, incredible conflict, but with lots of humor at the same time! Action, adventure, science fiction, humor — all pulled together in one place! That’s not easy to do, I can tell you — as a screenwriter. Yet the first Star Trek series did it. These movies are doing it. My hat is off to them. I think they’ll do a few more and if they’ll smart to get that the characters back on TV every week and wouldn’t that be wonderful?
If owned Paramount, I’d take the Star Trek Animated Series, which has the voices of all the Original cast, written by all the Original writers, produced by Roddenberry and Fontana — I would take those 22 episodes and I would redo them with CGI, which can almost make it look like William Shatner is actually standing there at the age of 34. You’ve got his voice already! Why do that? Because then they’d have the fourth season of the Original Star Trek right there! They have the technology now to do it! (Laughter) Hopefully, if you put that in your article, they’ll read it and think, “What a great idea!”