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The Remaking of STAR TREK, Part 6: Back to the Small Screen
Paramount gives up on a feature, and Gene Roddenberry plans Star Trek, Phase II.
By Edward Gross
December 16, 1999
And the Earth shook.
If it didn't, then it must have been a movement of damn near equal proportion to the fans of a little television series they had had refused to let die. They had taken 'control' of the show's destiny by generating an unprecedented amount of enthusiasm, resulting in a phenomenon whose closest relative was probably Beatlemania circa 1964. They gathered together at conventions, met their idols, penned original fiction dedicated to the characters and ideals of the show and never stopped hoping for the day when it would be resurrected on either television or the movie screen. In the middle of 1977, it seemed as though their efforts had finally borne fruit: STAR TREK was returning to television.
After numerous attempts to bring the show back as either a feature film, television movie or weekly series, it finally seemed that a revival would come to pass. The original cast, with the exception of Leonard Nimoy (who, for career and litigation reasons, did not wish to play the role of Spock on a weekly basis) had actually been signed to reprise their most famous roles, scripts were being developed and sets constructed for the brand new starship Enterprise. Everything was coming together, allowing STAR TREK to touch a new generation in the same way as it had the previous one.
For some time, Paramount Pictures had dreamed of starting a fourth network to compete with the three majors, much as the Dumont Network had done during television's Golden Age. To this end, they contacted independent stations all over the United States and began offering product to fill one night a week with new programming, the cornerstone being a new series entitled STAR TREK (PHASE) II. Robert Goodwin, who until recently served as a co-executive producer of THE X-FILES, had been with Paramount Pictures for two years, one of them as the Director of Development. 'A guy named Gary Nardino came in and took over as President of Paramount Television,' Goodwin details. 'The plan was that every Saturday night they were going to do one hour of STAR TREK and then a two hour movie. My interest had always been more in the long form rather than the series side of television. Nardino decided that he was going to put me in charge of all these two hour movies, which was great for me.'
At that point, forces were at work which would pull Goodwin away from this choice assignment and bring him over to Roddenberry's team. Meanwhile, Roddenberry himself grew more vibrant with each passing day, as a seven year battle to bring STAR TREK back seemed at an end, and he was essentially being given the opportunity to top himself, although he never really looked at it that way. 'Those [original] episodes will always be there for what people want to make out of them,' he told STARLOG at the time. 'We're making a new set of them ten years later under very different circumstances. I think neither takes away from the other. The worst that can happen is someone would say that Roddenberry couldn't do it a second time. That doesn't bother me, as long as I did my damndest to do it a second time.'
What was truly exciting to him was the opportunity to deal with different social issues in a new and fresh style, as television had been altered considerably by such series as M*A*S*H and ALL IN THE FAMILY. Gone were the days when you had to hide your ideas within entertainment, for fear that network censors would not allow the show on the air. Things had changed to such a degree that television was actually challenged to express itself in new and different ways. 'Dialogue is more naturalistic on television today,' Roddenberry explained. 'Direction is more sophisticated. There are better methods of optical effects. There are better methods for special effects. The audience is certainly more sophisticated and able to reach their minds out further. The audience is ready for statements on sex, religion, politics and so on, which we never would have dared to make before.'
STAR TREK II was envisioned as a dream come true, and efforts were made to secure the proper creative team. First choice was the aforementioned Robert Goodwin as producer. 'They were looking for someone to come on as producer,' says Goodwin, 'and Gene Roddenberry had heard about me. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't anxious to do it. My real interest, as I said, was the long form, and I was supposed to supervise all those two-hour movies. I was pretty much strong-armed to do it, and not given too much of a choice. Paramount said, 'Forget the two-hour movies; you're doing STAR TREK.' So I went over to see Gene, and initially I got kicked out of his office. His assistant, Susan Sackett, thought I was an agent or something, and she didn't know that I had an appointment to see him. She wouldn't let me in, and I said, 'Fine,' and walked out. I was about a half a mile away at the other side of the studio, when Gene Roddenberry came running after me. To make a long story short, he wanted me to go in as one of the two producers. They were going to hire a writing producer and a production producer. It was kind of a strange situation.'
Roddenberry found his 'writing producer' in Harold Livingston, novelist and television writer. 'I had never met Roddenberry,' admits Livingston, 'but I think I was working at Paramount at the time. Bob Goodwin and I were both going to work under Gene. If I remember correctly, there were a lot of interviews and bullshit that went on, but Gene and I kind of hit it off. We had similar backgrounds. We had both been in the Air Force during the war, and we both worked for civilian airlines after the war, so I think that's one of the reasons that Gene, in the beginning, liked me.
'I had never paid much attention to STAR TREK,' he smiles sheepishly. 'I'd always considered it something of a media event. I was totally unwashed. Anyway, the object of the new series was very vague. All they knew was that the studio had some kind of arrangement with what was then going to be a fourth network. I suppose it would take the form of some kind of syndicated program. So thirteen episodes plus a pilot were ordered, and it was then my job to develop these stories, which I set upon doing.'
To this end, he began to utilize Jon Povill, Gene Roddenberry's assistant. 'I wanted Jon Povill to be my story editor,' Livingston explains, 'and Gene wanted him to continue cleaning his garage or something, so we had a big thing about that. I eventually got my way.'
'Harold was primarily responsible for getting me the story editor job,' concurs Povill. 'Gene was reluctant to move me 'that far, that fast,' to use his words. Harold was adamant that I was doing the job of a story editor, and by God, I should be getting paid as one.' He continues, 'Harold had not been very familiar with the old series at all, and kind of relied on me to monitor whether something fit with STAR TREK or not. Once everything got rolling, and we were in a lot of writer's meetings, I sort of took over as the person who pointed out where there were holes in the stories, and where they did not conform to what STAR TREK was supposed to be.'
Rounding out the early cast of behind the scenes characters, was Jim Rugg, a veteran from the original series who was to handle the special effects, and production designer Joe Jennings. Matt Jeffries, who had designed the original Enterprise, but was at the moment tied up on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, would serve as technical consultant. No sooner had the television series been announced than Gene Roddenberry received a letter from one irate fan who had recently attended a convention and was totally appalled at what he considered to be a 'make-a-buck' attitude on the part of the people behind it. Roddenberry took this to heart and sent a memo to Gary Nardino, in which he expressed his concern that a reporter might get his hands on something like this. In such a situation, he found it easy to imagine coast-to-coast stories on how STAR TREK rips off kids. He was fearful that this would happen, unless they took steps to 'protect our show and our image.' This brief memo proved that everything about this new STAR TREK was being taken quite seriously.
On July 15, 1977, Gene Roddenberry issued a memo telling the production crew that they needed to come up with a new bible for potential writers. Bob Goodwin, Harold Livingston, Jon Povill and several others began making contributions to this item, which had proved a successful tool during the course of the original series. The 'bible' that eventually evolved stated that the series would chronicle the second five-year mission of the Enterprise. While in dry-dock following its initial mission, the vessel had been completely refurbished. James T. Kirk, we learn, has refused a promotion to admiral so that he can command the starship on its newest voyage. All of his original crew have been reassigned to him, with the exception of Mr. Spock, who has 'returned in high honor to Vulcan to head the Science Academy there.' In updating the series and attempting to fill the void created by Spock's absence, three new characters were added, and hopes were high that actor Leonard Nimoy would frequently reprise his role of Spock for guest appearances.
In the guide, Roddenberry, who would make similar statements when originally discussing STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION nearly a decade later, wrote, 'We will use science fiction to make comments on today, but today is now a dozen years later than the first STAR TREK. Humanity faces many new questions and puzzles which were not obvious back in the 1960s, all of them suggesting new stories and themes.' Defining the basis of a STAR TREK story, the guide notes that such stories are about people, and not science or gadgetry; that each should always be told from the point of view of Captain Kirk and the crew, that the regular characters are heroes and should always react as such, and that home base is the Enterprise.
From here, the guide details the intricacies of the Enterprise's weapon and defense abilities, followed by a character breakdown, focusing on the new additions. Lt. Xon, a full Vulcan, has taken the place of Mr. Spock as ship science officer. This twenty-year-old, who is 'a genius even by Vulcan standards,' was destined to prove himself as capable as his predecessor. The primary difference between the two is that Xon has virtually no knowledge of the human equation, and realizes that the only way he will be able to equal Spock is by making an effort to touch his repressed emotions, thus allowing him to more fully relate to the crew. Roddenberry wrote that 'we'll get some humor out of Xon trying to simulate laughter, anger, fear and other human feelings.' Interesting to note is that the Spock-McCoy feud would have carried over to Xon and the doctor, with the difference being that McCoy believes their 'feud is a very private affair...and McCoy has been known to severely chastise (in private) those crewmen who have been unfair to the Vulcan in comparing his efforts to Spock's.'
The second new character mentioned is Commander Will Decker, Enterprise first officer who is something of a young Captain Kirk. The son of Commodore Matt Decker, who met his demise tackling 'The Doomsday Machine,' he comes quite close to worshipping the captain, and would 'literally rather die than fail him.' This is in direct contrast to the somewhat antagonistic Kirk-Decker relationship demonstrated in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Essentially Decker is a captain in training, and the idea was that the audience would watch his gradual growth during the five-year mission. In many instances, he would lead landing parties, thus alleviating the perpetual logistical flaw of the initial STAR TREK TV series: a ship's captain would never beam into potential danger as often as Kirk did, and it's a format change which would eventually be incorporated into THE NEXT GENERATION.
In a sense, this would make the situation more logical and would have given the Decker character an opportunity to develop. In addition, we could have witnessed Kirk's frustration at not always being directly involved with beam downs. The final new addition to the crew would have been Lieutenant Ilia, the bald Deltan, whose race is marked by a heightened sexuality that pervades every aspect of their society. Additionally, Ilia, as is common among her people, is abnormally intelligent, second, perhaps, only to Xon, and gifted with some rather unique esper abilities. As noted, 'unlike the mind-meld of Vulcans, it simply is the ability to sense images in other minds. Never words or emotions, only images. shapes, sizes, textures. On her planet, sexual foreplay consists largely of lovers placing images in each other's minds.' Like Decker, Ilia made it into the first feature film, and remained, essentially, as the guide depicted her.
These character profiles were followed by a breakdown of the original crew, an explanation of the standing sets, description of equipment and an explanation of terminology. It concluded with some very basic questions, followed by the appropriate answers. For instance:
Q: What is Earth like in STAR TREK's century?
A: For one thing, we'll seldom take a story back there and, therefore, don't expect to get into subjects which would create great problems, technical and otherwise. The U.S.S. on our ship stands for 'United Space Ship'--indicating without troublesome specifics that mankind has found some unity on Earth, perhaps at long last even peace. If you require a statement such as one that Earth cities of the future are splendidly planned with fifty mile parkland strips around them, fine.'
The STAR TREK feature films have provided tantalizing hints of the future, but never delved into it in great detail. Some things, one would assume, are best left to the imagination. Nonetheless, the show's bible was an efficient guide to the dos and don'ts of STAR TREK II.