Watch William Shatner In 1975 Express Concern That Reviving ‘Star Trek’ Could “Fail Very Badly”

Last week we shared a rare 1976 audio interview with Leonard Nimoy where he talked about creating the character of Spock and gave his thoughts on the franchise’s future and if Paramount would ever recast Spock. As a contrast, today we have a rare 1975 TV interview with William Shatner where he also talks about working on Star Trek and gives his thoughts about the future of the franchise.

The January 1975 interview was conducted by Geraldo Rivera for ABC’s Good Night America and was conducted following the Fourth Annual International Star Trek Convention in New York City. The segment includes clips from the convention and bits of the popular Star Trek blooper reel.

Unsure if Trek would or even could return successfully

In the years following Star Trek’s cancellation the show had a resurgence of popularity in syndication, leading to talk about bringing it back in some way. Rivera asked Shatner about what he thought about Star Trek returning and actor noted he was skeptical:

I have heard so many rumors and so much has been made of it coming back that has never reached me in concrete terms. I tend to discard everything now. The possibility exists that it might come back as an hour and a half mini-series. That’s a possibility. But, as of this moment, Star Trek doesn’t look like it is coming back and it would be the first time it ever happened.

The mini-series Shatner is referring to was an idea at the time (touted by Gene Roddenberry) for Star Trek to return as a series of movies-of-the-week. Made-for-TV movies were very popular at the time and Shatner did quite a few, including two he promoted during this interview with Geraldo.

When pressed on if he would return to play Kirk, Shatner seemed reticent, saying:

[Returning to play Kirk] is the question in my mind I haven’t solved. I think that we could fail very badly, but being held up by comparison. This is a legendary thing that has happened. People back and say “God, that is what it was like.” Well, it was everyday television back than and I could go on about that. But, I think we could suffer by comparison if we weren’t careful. And I would want to be very careful not to do.

Later when asked if he was nostalgic over his time with Star Trek, Shatner noted how rare of an opportunity it was for him as an actor:

I think of Star Trek much as I think of other wonderful things I did in love. An actor works many times on two bases. One, he works out of love and passion, because the thing he is working on really satisfies a great many needs and fills him with money and publicity and billing mean nothing. There are other times where the piece isn’t so good, that all the other extraneous things to what an actor wants to do come into being. Star Trek was in that first category. You meet very few in a lifetime.

Of course, by 1977 Shatner had signed on to reprise his role as Kirk for the new TV series Star Trek: Phase II, which eventually morphed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, and led to him playing the role in six additional feature films through to 1994’s Star Trek: Generations. The success of the Trek movies, lead to to Star Trek returning to TV with Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was just the first of five live-action Star Trek series to follow the original.

Publicity still of Shatner as Kirk for Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Watch full interview

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Jef

Gotta love the 70’s fashion!

TUP

Shatner looks great in that promo pic for TMP. And those were lousy uniforms. lol I think it was Nichelle Nichols book that ripped Shatner a lot but made a point of saying how she thought he got into great shape for the film.

dennycranium

I believe it was Walter Koenig’s book( Chekov’s Enterprise) that mentioned how great a shape that Mr. Shatner was in for TMP.

nasty man

It did fail

Anthony Thompson

The Next Generation or the 6 films?

nasty man

TMP (in comparison to TOS)

Just Another Salt Vampire

Many consider it a creative failure, but it was enough of a box office success to reboot Trek with Wrath of Khan

Curious Cadet

It was arguably the highest grossing movie until STID adjusted for inflation.

nasty man

think it even bests STID when adjusted (worldwide) but it completely failed with audiences and fans

David Guirao Diaz Tatlitug

What failed. Took in a fortune on today’s dollars. Think the story failed but the movie was huge. As to being a nasty man, Shatner is like many actors. He really isn’t that unusual in wanting his privacy. People, it’s a job. He’s not Kirk for goodness sake.

Benjamin Adams

In 1975, he would have had every right to be skeptical – at that time, the last couple of tries at interstellar TV SF were the truly wretched THE STARLOST and the curate’s egg SPACE: 1999.

dennycranium

True enough. He would have been looking for other work. At the time, no other TV show had ever been resurrected.

Curious Cadet

@Benjamin Adams, SPACE 1999 did not first air until September 1975, so it was not even a factor at the time for Shatner’s perception. Also, it was a commercial success, which resulted in a Second Season order, which was undermined by Trek’s “beloved” Freddie Frieberger, and US broadcasters.

Benjamin Adams

You’re absolutely right – I misremembered 1999’s start date

Mirror Galt

The Federation is a social experiment, doomed to failure. Childish idealism.

THX1138

All progress is initially a ‘social experiment’.

But you’re right, why try to improve anything? Foolish idealistic dreams! Tribalism rules, time for another war!

VoR

Go play somewhere else. You’re in the wrong fandom.

VoR

Oh…it’s Lorca. You did Lorca. Ok. Funny how Mirror Evil Universe sounds so much like the occasional troglodytes that populate these parts.

Stuart

Some people clearly don’t get the reverence. Nicely done.

Dom

Stuart. I shrugged and went back to reading my book of maps! ;)

Marc W. Schneider

Actually, if you look at the later shows, Star Trek is much more like NATO if you take away some of the idealistic stuff. If you look at it one way, especially in the later shows, Star Trek is about hard core international politics with the same kind of realpolitik that we see in the real world. I actually prefer that to the fuzzy idealism of the earlier Star Trek shows.

Dom

Mirror Galt

Yeah, it becomes a failure. It’s all right in Kirk’s era (1960s show) but it’s a utopian fascist disaster by the TNG era. I’d live in Kirk’s Federation; I’d flee Picard’s!

Tiger2

Of course you can’t blame the guy for feeling that way. TOS DID fail when it was on and the idea it could come back and be a big success the second time around was questionable. It became more popular after it went off the air, it still was no guarantee they would watch the new show.

Of course 50 years now and Trek is still going with multiple shows and films proves its a powerhouse today.

Arathorn

And then a little movie called Star Wars opened in 1977, and suddenly all the studios wanted a piece of the Sci-Fi pie.

Disinvited

Arathorn,

Actually, Paramount considered STAR WARS, by itself, a fluke and kept equivocating on just exactly how they might best monetize a reinvestment in STAR TREK. It wasn’t until CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND also rang up the big bucks that they thought there might be some there there.

navamske

“Actually, Paramount considered STAR WARS, by itself, a fluke”

Fluke Starbucker

DeanH

I am not surprised about his skepticism. You have to remember that the ShatMan was the one who mocked Star Trek fans on that now infamous SNL skit and it wasn’t until Patrick Stewart had a word with him regarding the fans and conventions that he decided to openly embrace his role in the Star Trek universe. As for TMP and the rest of the movies, I am sure he loved the salary he got because he was the star of the show and the movies. Thank goodness that TNG came along.

Disinvited

DeanH,

And you have to remember that Shatner had absolutely nothing to do with the writing of that skit, which expressed the mocking sentiments of Robert Smigel (aka Triumph the Insult Comic Dog hand puppet), who wrote it, and NOT Shatner.

According to Seth Myers, the funniest story told about that legendary skit amongst the SNL writers was that the Canadian, Shatner, had never heard the epithet “Get a life!” before, and at the table read gave it all sorts of “off” dramatic reads that were hilariously wrong. Finally, Smigel took pity on his fellow writer’s chests heaving in laughter and demonstrated for Shatner how to say the line with proper mocking contempt Smigel wanted.

Jack

I don’t doubt this. But, Canadians said “get a life” long before this skit. And Shatner hadn’t lived in Canada since the early 50s.

Disinvited

Jack,

I’m a little fuzzy on what your point is? Are you contending “Get a life.” was a common epithet in Shatner’s 1950s Canada?

Or, are you contending that, while under the influence of the royalty, et al, Canadians didn’t favor and use different turns of phrases over the ones of their neighbors to the south?

The SNL skit wasn’t until the end of 1986. I believe the OED dates the phrase to 1983 SoCal valleyspeak which is how I first heard it used pejoratively (Prior to that I’d only heard those words used with a negative connotation in “The convicted felon will get a life sentence or he will get life.” Here in SoCal during that decade we referred to Canadians as “snowbirds” because they’d winter here, so it is possible they heard it while shopping at the mall. But as a lover of word coinage I’d like some citations that those Canadians, noted for their politeness and easygoing nature, readily and rapidly adopted in 3 years this pejorative as opposed to dismissing it as the lingo of rude young California girls.

Don’t confuse it with the admonition to the consoled that it’s time to “get on with life.”

navamske

“According to Seth Myers, the funniest story told about that legendary skit amongst the SNL writers was that the Canadian, Shatner, had never heard the epithet ‘Get a life!’ before, and at the table read gave it all sorts of ‘off’ dramatic reads that were hilariously wrong.”

He was used to hearing it as “Get a life, eh.”

Michael Hall

I saw this interview at the time–yes, I’m that old–and remember it very well, going so far at the time to make an audio recording of it. It was wildly exciting to see Shatner talk about his days as Kirk, but IIRC the interview ended on something of a bummer note, with Bill stating that he doubted that a Trek revival would actually happen, such a thing never having taken place before. Man–what a long, strange, frustrating, wonderful, exasperating trip it’s been.

Greg Stamper

I did as well, an old reel to reel audio recording. It was a wild, exciting time and it was a bummer to hear Mr. Shatner doubt a Trek return, but we persevered.

DataMat

Star Trek was Sci-fi, and it was optimistic! That was not in vogue in the 70’s, watch the Empire of Dreams documentary if you Don’t believe me (A very good doc!). Star Wars was never supposed to succeed, nobody thought it as going to be anything but a complete disaster! Except for kids and young people who turned up at the theatres and basically put two fingers up at big studio ‘suits’ and their dogmatic approach to making films. Even Lucas was preying for miracle in the final hours before release. He must have thought he was dreaming on the day of release. Everyone was shocked by Star Wars.

Linda sohl

I love capt kirk, he encapsulates everything i could want in a man

chanjoo brown

An actor or artist should never be so quick to bet against a “long shot”, other wise your just someone looking to make a paycheck within the “status quo.”

Endeavour Crew

Oh Geraldo never mind the facts. It was 3 seasons you moron……. lol

Anthony the other one

That rug is much better and more natural looking than the Perm curly things he had in TMP and through Voyage Home. TUC was a slight improvement.

kmart

agree completely – the TUC one is kind of an aging Lee Majors look that worked well for the guy and the character, but the ‘crotch transplant-cum-Brady-Guys-After-Hawaii’ looks from late 70s up through TFF was godawfully bad.

navamske

“That rug is much better and more natural looking than the Perm curly things he had in TMP and through Voyage Home. TUC was a slight improvement.”

I’m reminded of a Usenet discussion from the ’90s in which it was speculated that Shatner would appear on Voyager. Several people said it would never happen, that there was no way it could work canonically. I suggested it could work if, say, Janeway had a problem and summoned up a hologram of Kirk for advice. Someone replied, “Yes, that could work — but how would they explain that it’s the old, fat, bald Shatner, and not the young, fat, bald Shatner?”

Anthony Thompson

No, I’M Anthony the other one! You’re nothing more than an Anthony-come-lately.

DataMat

I found this video a few weeks ago, before Trekmovie did!

Anthony Thompson

Do want a doggie biscuit?

DataMat

Nope.

A cup of tea will do just fine, NO sugar!

Hat Rick

This is slightly off-topic, but what, exactly, does that gadget thing that’s on TMP uniforms (where a belt buckle might be in current times) … do? Is it a communicator? Probably not. A utility-belt stand-in? A channel-changer for the viewscreen? What, exactly? Has anyone actually addressed this issue?

Also, with respect to 1970’s fashion: Yes, it was atrocious. But, it might come back. Stranger things have happened.

Regarding Mr. Shatner’s comments about the prospects for a Star Trek revival: It goes to show that even insiders couldn’t have predicted the genuine phenom that was, and remains, Star Trek.

I foresee that Trek will grow even stronger in the years and decades to come.

But then, I’m no insider.

Scott Gammans

IIRC, the belt device is supposed to be a bio-transmitter that constantly sends the wearer’s vital signs to the ship’s computer for monitoring.

Mike Walsh

Wow, if the wind caught those bell-bottoms and shirt collars, Shatner would be up to warp speed in no time………..

Jonathan Bass

Batman survived without Adam West, Kirk will be okay without Mr. Shatner.

Jonathan Bass

Lucas opened the door.

Wallace

Nope. This has constantly been suggested and it’s not true. The decision to bring back TREK happened before STAR WARS came out. Paramount just couldn’t get their act together and get it done. They couldn’t even decide if it should come back to TV or a film. They finally decided on TV, then STAR WARS happened, then they changed their minds again and converted the TV series to a movie.

Lyle

The uniform top that Shatner is wearing in that publicity photo is not the final version of the uniforms that appeared in TMP, although it is very close. Looking at the cuffs gives it away.

I guess I’m in the minority on this but I never really got the hate for the TMP uniforms. I like them.

Kev-1

That’s the jumpsuit version, he wears it on the bridge in the last scene. They had these on under the tan “field jackets”.

Lyle

Yeah, it’s the jumpsuit version, but there appears to be a “cuff” (for lack of a better word) at his wrists which I don’t believe was present in the film. It’s most obvious on his right arm. Although, maybe he just had the sleeves pulled back a bit – the sleeves do look wrinkly. Maybe it fooled me into thinking there was a cuff there.

Curious Cadet

@Lyle — same here. I think TMP costumes hold up well. Same for SPACE 1999, except for the bellbottoms and hairstyles.

the dogfaced boy

You have to remember, bell bottoms came from the sailor’s uniform. So there is some continuity there. Well, there would be with Trek anyway.

Anthony Thompson

They were MUCH better than the uniforms in #2 thru #6.

Cassaundra Gilchrist

The one and only James Tiberius Kirk. Yes!

Anthony Thompson

Green witches? Really, Geraldo? Well, the fans were a lot younger and better looking in those days. And not full of angst.

Rich

I love the 70s with all my heart. Seeing things from this time period instantly transports me to my childhood. Shazam!, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, The Six Million Dollar Man…loved it all.

BaldyB

How did his face age so much from 1975 to 1979? he looks like he did in TOS in that interview, and by the motion picture he looked so tired.

Fabio

He was right. I would not see Into Darkness again even if they paid me.