I watched Star Trek: Discovery last night, and came away thinking “This isn’t the Star Trek I grew up with”. I was really disappointed with the show. I’m not a trekkie, or trekker, or whatever those people are called. You know, the folks who watch every single episode, can quote dialog from memory, can tell you the stardate for every episode, and can talk about the show for hours. This series is supposed to take place ten years before Kirk and Spock came on the scene. I’ve seen every episode hoping it will get better. It’s not. The enemy doesn’t even look remotely similar to anything I’ve seen in the past. What I came away with was the feeling that Star Trek: Discovery is not for me.
Portions of the following post appeared as part of the Summer of MeTV Blogathon that was hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. I’ve re-written some segments, polished it a bit more, and brought it more up to date. It first appeared on my first blog The Old Movie House.
The brown envelope sat in the middle of the desk. Two grown men stared at it. “You open it Bob. I haven’t got the guts. Besides I already know what it says” said Gene. Robert H. Justman had been with Gene since the beginning of the show. Bob was the co-producer of the show, and wanted to know the contents too. “That’s what I was going to say to you Gene” said Bob. Gene Roddenberry was a large husky fellow, and also the creator of Star Trek. He was known for his courage. But at times he was also a coward. And this one one of those times. Bob reached forward, picked up the envelope, opened it and read the contents. All of a sudden Bob went white as a ghost. “Let me guess. NBC hated it”said Gene. “Let me sit down to read this” said Bob. He then looked at Gene and said “NBC thinks Star Trek is too cerebral”
“We’re WHAT ?” roared Gene.
“Look right here”. Bob pointed to a single word. “Cerebral. Apparently the network was extremely impressed with the creative and technical aspects of the pilot. They simply felt that no normal human being would want to watch the idiot box, and think at the same time.”
Or so the story goes. It’s probably been embellished so much it now qualifies as an old “war story”. Regardless of who said what to whom, NBC had painted itself into a corner. They made a deal with Desilu Studios to produce a quality “pilot” film, and they fully expected Desilu to fail in a semi-spectacular manner. Only that didn’t happen. Desilu had produced something that people just might watch – with the proper changes. Mort Werner, who in 1964 was the head of programming for NBC, had to make a rather unusual telephone call to Herb Solow, who at that time was the Executive In Charge of Production for Star Trek. If one was to describe the call it would most likely would called a call of apology with a side order of crow.
“I must tell you something Herb. I’ve seen many science fiction, outer space films. You name it. But I’ve never felt I was aboard a spacecraft. I never believed the crew was a real crew. But somehow you guys gave me the feeling of total belief. I loved it”.
That wasn’t all that was said, but you get the gist. But beyond all the praise, the handshakes, the backslaps, and some of the things that undoubtedly took place but can’t be repeated on-line, one fact that loomed uncomfortably close to Gene and Bob, was that Star Trek was not scheduled by NBC as a weekly series. They were concerned about the so-called “eroticism” of the pilot*, and what that could mean should Star Trek ever become an honest to god series. But most of their concerns were leveled at “the guy with the ears”**. NBC executives felt he might offend some station owners in “the Bible Belt”, and that he looked “too satanic”.
* they were referring to green Orion slave girls. ** the character called Spock.
After the fall schedule was firmly established Mort Werner and Herb Solow had a face to face meeting.
“Herb, you really gave us a problem”. Herb apologized for any headaches or ulcers the pilot may have caused. “I really didn’t think Desilu was capable of making Star Trek, so when we looked over the three pilot stories you gave us (NBC was supplied with three different scripts to choose from) we chose the most complicated and the most difficult one of the bunch. We recognize now that it wasn’t necessarily a story that properly showcased Star Trek’s series potential. So the reason the pilot didn’t sell was my fault, not yours. You guys just did your job too well. And I screwed up. So let’s do another pilot. We’ll agree on some mutual story with script approval of course, and then, if the scripts are good (NBC wanted another three scripts to choose from) we’ll give you more money for another pilot”. Kindly remember that last sentence.
The first pilot was budgeted at $451, 503.00 dollars. It went way over that, and ended up costing $615,751.00. The second pilot, which was completely unprecedented in the sixties, was budgeted at $215,644.00 actually cost $354,974.00. Remember that sentence “we’ll give you more money”?. The second pilot was expected to fail. Most NBC executives thought the spark they saw in the first pilot was something that would never happen again. And again Desilu was being asked to pull a rabbit out of its hat. To do a lot more with a lot less.
Let’s take a closer look at the conditions NBC put on Star Trek and Desilu. NBC insisted they utilize already existing sets left over from the first pilot. That included props too. Nothing new could be used. And if production costs went over what was budgeted, the studio, in this case Desilu, would pay the remainder. Next, almost the entire cast from the first pilot were to be given pink slips. Fired. The reasoning behind this, it was thought, that fresh blood would breath new life into the show.
See part 2 for the real reasons behind the mass firings. Check “Like” below, and don’t forget to leave a comment just below the “Like” section.