Today TrekMovie finishes up our exclusive interview with writer David Gerrold – this time Gerrold talks frankly about his troubled time working on Star Trek: The Next Generation and coming into conflict with Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman, being ‘blackballed’ in Hollywood and he even gives his thoughts on JJ Abrams Star Trek.
Gerrold Interview Part 2
In part 1 of our interview with Star Trek writer David Gerrold we focused on his time with the original series and animated series, in part 2 we talk about his tumultuous time in the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Warning: interview includes adult language)
TrekMovie: Gene’s sensibilities changed a great deal from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. He became more of a pacifist, and he…
David Gerrold: Well this is something we don’t like to talk about. Gene gave us Star Trek and he was a great visionary in that regard. But he didn’t know how to share the credit with everyone else and he was self-centered. And that led to some serious mistakes, and one of them – and I have no idea why – but he was a substance abuser. First it was alcohol, and then it was grass, and then it was Quaaludes and other drugs. He had this disease. If he had stayed off the booze and the pills, he would have been going strong until ninety. He was just a big strong guy, but he fell into that trap of substance abuse and it killed him. We could see that breakdown in his thinking processes very early. Maybe the stress of producing was tough on him. I didn’t know him that well personally, I only knew that professionally that there was stuff going on with him.
TrekMovie: From a philosophical perspective, it would be fair to say that by the time The Next Generation came around, Gene was more about the notion that conflict would no longer occur among the crew of the Enterprise, and that lack of dramatic tension boxed in the writers…
David Gerrold: Well that came from Gene’s lawyer [Leonard Maizlish], a scumbag of a human being. I cannot say enough things – he was a truly evil human being. He was going to be Gene’s helper on the show. He appointed himself Chief of Staff and he would go around and say we can’t do this and we can’t do that and “on Star Trek everybody loves each other.” For those of us who had written for the show knew that wasn’t true! We knew our people got into arguments. But what happened was he would go to Gene and say “you can’t let David do this and can’t let Dorothy do that.” Everybody has to be good friends. It is that whole ‘band of brothers’ thing we established in the first. Well, no. What we established in the original series was that there was a lot of tension between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. It is normal and appropriate. Yes, there should be tension between these people who have different jobs. But you get Leonard Maizlish wandering the halls telling writers “you can’t do this” and everybody is terrified because you could argue with Leonard and explain to him and the next thing you know you get a memo from Gene that was dictated by Leonard. I had it happen to me several times where I would talk to Gene and explain that I thought “Data” was a bad name for the android and Gene would say “you are probably right, come up with another name.” And we would come up with another name and the next thing – later that afternoon – Gene would say “no, I’ve talked it over with my lawyer, we will keep the name Data.” Another time I would say we should do so and so and he would agree and then later in the day Gene would say “I’ve talked to the lawyer and we have to do it this way instead.” And I was “why does a starship need a lawyer, Gene?!” That was the control that the lawyer had. Gene was terrified that the studio would try and take the show away from him, so we ended up with this bizarre circumstance that Gene was so afraid of losing his show that he gave control away to his lawyer and he didn’t trust me or Dorothy Fontana after. That was the part that hurt Dorothy and I the most is that Gene stopped trusting us and started treating us as the enemy. The result of that is that I am not going to fall into the “Gene was the Great Bird of the Galaxy” bullshit that everybody loves to share, because I saw Gene being something other than the Great Bird of the Galaxy.
TrekMovie: Let’s talk about “Blood and Fire” – the AIDS allegory that you wrote and the obstacles you ran into trying to get it produced.
David Gerrold: I don’t blame Gene as much as I blame Rick Berman for that clusterfuck. Others have confirmed it. They have said that in their experience Rick Berman was a raging homophobe, which makes the whole thing even more bizarre. Because, before Rick Berman came on the show, he had written a three-page memo on ‘here are some of the stories we could tell, some of the issues we could address’. And number three on his three-page memo was AIDS and how we should do something about AIDS. So now Gene and I appeared at a Star Trek convention in November of 1986 and somebody asked “will there be gay people aboard the Enterprise?” And Gene – to give him credit for knowing the right thing to say at the right time – said “yes, it is time, we should show gay people on board the Enterprise.” This got a lot of applause. So then he repeated it in a staff meeting and balled out one of the producers and said “no, it’s time” So I figured if Gene said it in a staff meeting, then he truly means it. So it was time for me to get a script assignment and I started to do “Blood and Fire,” because I wanted to do something so far removed from funny. I wanted to show I could do something horrifying. Here is something about this disease that is so awful that we are not allowed to rescue anyone from that other ship but we don’t find out until after our away team has already beamed over so now we have to try. So the story wasn’t about AIDS as much as it was about the fear of AIDS. People had stopped donating blood because they were so afraid of AIDS.
TrekMovie: There was tremendous amount of misinformation out there at the beginning.
David Gerrold:So I wanted to do a story that involved blood donorship and the whole story was structured that we would need blood donors from the Enterprise to show that the crewmembers were not afraid of donating blood. I even wanted us to put a card at the end of the episode saying you can donate blood, contact your local Red Cross. I figured if blood donorship went up after the episode it would get news. It would not only demonstrate how big the audience was and be good PR for the show, but also raise blood donorship. So it was a win-win. So that the script, somewhere in there I was “you know what, these two characters, they could be boyfriends.” There were two lines of dialog. “How long have you two been together?” and “Since the Academy.” That was it. I go off to a Star Trek cruise and come back to find there has been a clusterfuck. Rick Berman writes that we can’t do this episode and how we are on at 4PM in some markets and mommies are going to write letters. We get half the staff saying we shouldn’t do it and the other half – those who could recognize a good story – saying “this is a hell of a script, we got to do this and demonstrate we are the Star Trek that everybody’s been waiting for.”
So Gene’s lawyer sits on Gene’s face for a while – he was another homophobe – and said “you have to take the gay characters out.” And so I give half the lines to Tasha Yar, because if we still get the episode on the air, the point will still be made. And we go through rewrite after rewrite after rewrite and the script doesn’t get any better and I see what is going on and I don’t want to be trapped in an office where we have hypocrites running the place. I can’t deal with this, my health was already starting to suffer. So I started taking vitamins and nothing is getting better and I said “I can’t deal with this hypocrisy” and then I hear a rumor that they are planning to fire me. So I am thinking “they really don’t want to go there.” And then I get offered a really nice deal over at Columbia. So I tell Gene I want take the deal at Columbia and to please not renew my contract. He and I part pretending to be amicable and a week later my agent calls me and says “why are people saying you got fired from Star Trek?”. I bring in a stack of everything I had. We go over to the Guild and the Guild looks at it and files a grievance that says “you have this kid doing producer level work and you were not paying him producer level wages and the Guild.” The Guild examines the “created by” and “developed by” credentials to see if I am entitled to those because of the amount of work I did and that Gene didn’t. So I ended up making six figures off of that little thing, because Gene and the lawyer set out to screw me. Dorothy made at least as much because she got jumped on her credits too. And the lawyer was also telling people “Dave is mentally ill too.” They paid for that. He repeated that to a reporter for the LA Times and my lawyer called him and said “what kind of car do you drive?” and he said “what do you mean?” and he said “because David is going to own it when we get finished suing you.” That ended that particular bit of slander, but I know for a fact that Gene set out to destroy my career for television because while there is no official black list, if you say “so and so is difficult to work with” you won’t get work.
Not only could I not get a phone call returned, for ten years I couldn’t even get an agent because Gene and Berman and everybody they had working for them was going “oh yeah, David Gerrold is a hard…” Look, after a few years everybody knew it wasn’t me, it was Gene. But, I kept my mouth shut because you couldn’t win with the steamroller of lies. So I just went off and concentrated on writing novels and adopted a little boy. And in the long run, Gene did me a favor. I got to write books that would not have been written any other way and I got the most remarkable son. I have to walk myself around the block on this. I could have stayed on Star Trek. I could have found my way to make it work or found a way to come back after a while, but then after a few years I would have had a credential of being a name on the credits of a second-rate show or I could go back to my first love, and be known as a pretty good science-fiction writer. So Gene did me a favor there. So I got to write all the books I wrote in the nineties, and “The Martian Child” which won me a Hugo and Nebula and some other trophies and I got to rediscover my love of writing. And by the way, my health improved so fast once I was out of that office, it was amazing. Gene did me a favor. The ten years I couldn’t get an agent were great. I rediscovered how to be a good writer because I wasn’t writing to please a producer but to tell a good story.
TrekMovie: What are your thoughts on the two JJ Abrams Star Trek films?
David Gerrold: You know JJ has a different style of writing and Melinda Snodgrass recently pointed it out and I think she said it brilliantly. What JJ does – and he isn’t the only one, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were doing this in some of their worst pictures – where they get an idea “let’s have the dinosaur do this” or “let’s have the robots do that.” Let’s have this moment on screen. So they would write the story to the action moment – to the blockbuster moment. So you get a series of moments like you are going through a dark ride at Disneyland and it pretends to be a story. But a real story has a character that is growing and you are tracing the emotional journey, not the physical journey. But a lot of the movies being produced by the studios have fallen into the blockbuster trap of we have to have big moments, big blockbuster, CGI, exciting moments. And so what gets sacrificed is the emotional growth of the characters. There is no emotional through line. For me that is the problem in the JJ pictures is that they very exciting but they don’t get us back to the heart and soul of the original Star Trek which is that Kirk has an interesting problem to solve that forces him to deal with a moral dilemma of the prime directive, being a Starfleet captain, and following the rules. And if you look back there was a severe limit on what Kirk could do because he was a Starfleet captain. And what we got in the JJ movies is a little too much Star Wars and not enough Star Trek.
TrekMovie: What are you currently working on and what do you have coming up in the future?
David Gerrold: I just finished a short story. I have got a story in the current issue of the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction and one more in the next issue and two more that the editor has bought but hasn’t scheduled and four more on his desk. I also just finished stories for two other anthologies and I have to get back to work on a couple of books I promised. And I might have a movie deal but I can’t talk about that.
New Gerrold.com Site + Win David Gerrold eBooks
David Gerrold recently rebooted his website, Gerrold.com, and it’s full of new features and free stuff, including a free copy of “The Kennedy Enterprise” when you subscribe to David’s mailing list, free excerpts from David’s newly-released eBooks each month, giveaways, and more. Twelve of David’s classic works have been recently released in eBook formats, and you can get details on those eBooks on Gerrold.com.
And you have a chance to win a copy of Gerrold’s “Boarding the Enterprise” behind the scenes books, plus four e-books, thanks to David. Just click on the contest embed below.