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Budgets, production realities and a first try that didn’t quite work out..what would the pilot of Star Trek have looked like if these problems didn’t occur? Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History takes you through entire process in the creation of the Star Trek pilots.
NBC provided $435,000 toward the costs of the script and filmed episode, but the budget for “The Cage” was close to $600,000. Ball and the Desilu board of directors took a leap of faith and decided to deficit finance the difference. They believed in Roddenberry’s concept, and they wanted a show on NBC.
But what would the U.S.S. Enterprise look like? Where would the captain sit? Roddenberry delved into the latest scientific theories and astronomical research. He used his Pentagon contacts to access the Air Force’s Weapons Effects and Test Group, which in turn pointed him toward California’s RAND Corporation think tank. There, Roddenberry met physicist Harvey P. Lynn, who consulted with Roddenberry for those crucial first eighteen months of the show’s life. It was Lynn who first anticipated the shuttlecraft and shuttle bay, and he took Roddenberry’s fuzzy sense of astro-geography and made it fit actual astronomical charts. Roddenberry, though, chose to give the planets distinct names as opposed to the dry combination of letters and numbers used by astronomers.
Lynn also helped Roddenberry envision energy-beam weaponry beyond the newfangled lasers just becoming commonplace in the world. After calling the weapons “laser pistols” in the pilot, Roddenberry later ignored Lynn’s suggestions and chose “phaser,” feeling that the similarity to the already familiar term laser would help audiences understand the futuristic weapon.
Roddenberry asked Desilu’s production designer Pato Guzman to study the look of MGM’s 1956 feature Forbidden Planet. That movie’s design and approach to telling a humanistic science fiction story was quite influential on Roddenberry in those early days. Roddenberry soon met Ben Casey’s production designer Walter (Matt) Jeffries, a member of the Aviation Space Writers Association. Jeffries gave the series its streamlined look and the starship its identification number. International aviation agreements labeled United States planes with an N but Gene asked for more letters, so, thinking about visual clarity on a small screen, Jeffries added the CC. The Enterprise became NCC-1701.
In August, Roddenberry turned to Kellam de Forest, a researcher with offices at Desilu, hoping his team could help determine how the future might look. Such research would play a key role in the show’s success and longevity, even if Roddenberry would eventually come to dread the nitpicking comments coming from de Forest.
William Ware Theiss, a costume designer with credits including Spartacus, was tasked with both exotic alien attire and starship crew uniforms. Roddenberry liked ABC’s SF anthology series The Outer Limits, and wound up hiring from their production ranks. Solow wanted Robert Justman to come over to work as associate director, but Justman refused at first, saying he didn’t possess the requisite post-production knowledge. Solow appealed to OL creator Leslie Stevens and borrowed Justman for about a month’s work.
Justman tapped Outer Limits colleague Fred Phillips to design the alien makeups, from Spock’s pointed ears to the heads for the guest alien race, the Talosians. He also had to figure out how to turn an actress into a green Orion slave girl, which led to one of the most oft-told legends of the series. A shade of green was applied to Majel Barrett, and then filmed. The lab processed it, and everyone was shocked to see a Caucasian skin tone. The process was repeated with the same results, until a call revealed that since no one had told the lab technicians Barrett was supposed to be green, they kept correcting the “mistake” by adjusting the color resolution.
Budget and production realities forced some changes— originally conceived as crab creatures, the Talosians became big-headed humanoids, which incidentally helped separate Star Trek from the bug-eyed-monster science fiction films common in the 1950s. Prop genius Wah Chang left The Outer Limits long enough to work with Phillips to design and craft the Talosian head appliances, complete with tiny ears and throbbing veins. Janos Prohaska, who had designed alien beings for the ABC series, contributed the anthropoid ape from the episode “Fun and Games,” and the humanoid bird from “The Duplicate Man” to fill Talos IV’s alien zoo.
Even though Roddenberry read and liked science fiction, he wasn’t steeped in its history. Early on, he sought out television-and-science-fiction writer Jerry Sohl to learn more about the current state of the genre. The two hit it off and became friends. Fellow screenwriter Samuel Peeples also served as a guide to the science fiction world. In many ways, it was Peeples who pointed Roddenberry toward a more literate take on the future, which resulted in several noted authors writing Star Trek stories.
By summer 1964, Star Trek’s core elements were taking shape. In September, a nearly complete draft went to NBC for their feedback. According to Solow, Roddenberry chafed at their “interference” regardless of the notes’ validity, a portent of fights to come. Still, subject to minor revisions, NBC gave their approval to film the script and Robert Butler was hired to direct. Butler had already filmed dozens of TV episodes and would later attain a stellar record directing pilots beyond Star Trek.
From the start, Roddenberry wanted Majel Barrett to work on the show and she was the first person cast, as Number One, the stoic second-in-command. Roddenberry had hoped for Martin Landau to play Spock, but was turned down. Roddenberry’s former star and regular drinking partner Gary Lockwood claims he suggested The Lieutenant guest star Leonard Nimoy to become the Vulcan. Marc Daniels recalled that Roddenberry had been off the set when that Lieutenant episode was produced, and it was Daniels, the director of the episode, who had hired Nimoy for the guest shot, a fortuitous event for Roddenberry.
Feature film actor Jeffrey Hunter was chosen to play Captain Pike. A serious man who’d already headlined one TV series, Temple Houston, Hunter was prepared for television’s fast production pace. Butler rejected DeForest Kelley for Dr. Boyce and selected the older John Hoyt. Butler also chose Peter Duryea as navigator José Tyler and helped choose Susan Oliver in the guest role of Vina. Butler and Roddenberry agreed on casting women as the frail, telepathic Talosians, using male voiceovers to give them an otherworldly quality. Laurel Goodwin, a child model turned actress, was the youngest member of the cast, playing Yeoman J. M. Colt.
Production commenced at Desilu’s Culver City studios on November 27, 1964, with a scene between Dr. Boyce and Captain Pike.
Butler and Roddenberry may have been in synch during preproduction, but as the cameras rolled, they clashed over how gritty the sets should look. The producer prevailed, insisting on a spotless future, a Star Trek hallmark for decades to come. As a result, Butler was somewhat dismissive of his own efforts, telling interviewers that Star Trek’s future world was “too square-jawed, heroic” and “too worthy and clean” for him.
Alexander Courage was hired to score the episode in January 1965 and he created several audio special effects, including the planet’s “singing” plants. His stirring theme music added just the right touch to the sixty-three-minute film, using soprano Loulie Jean Norman to sing above an orchestra playing a somewhat jazzy beat. And that whooshing sound as the Enterprise streaks across the screen? That was Courage doing vocal sound effects. The composer also used a five-piece band to record various sounds, giving each planet distinctive, unearthly sounds.
The cast and crew were treated to a screening before it was shown to NBC and they recognized this was a unique production, a cut above typical television. There was other screenings as well, one of which was attended by DeFores Kelley, who had become friends with Roddenberry. He told the producer, “Well, I don’t know what the hell it’s all about, but it’s either gonna be the biggest hit or the biggest miss God ever made.”
NBC rejected the pilot in March, stunning Solow and Roddenberry—but not Butler. The cliché has been that the network called it “too cerebral,” but the reality appears to be that it was too staid and serious, a little too-mind-bending with its themes of reality versus dreams. And despite network approval of the script, a woman in a command role apparently bothered them, while the pointy-eared fellow worried the sales department.
The execs still liked the premise and they were reluctant to walk away from their investment. On March 26, NBC’s Mort Werner called Solow and surprisingly agreed to order a second pilot. Desilu had proven they could make a complex film, but now NBC wanted an action-oriented story, more representative of what the weekly series would be. Before they’d pay for a new script, NBC had several demands, the first of which was getting rid of Number One. They also wanted the alien off the bridge, but Roddenberry prevailed in keeping the character as a visual reminder that Star Trek presented a future populated by more than humans from Earth. Roddenberry also claimed years later that NBC attempted to whitewash the cast, while Solow credited Werner with encouraging the producers to stay with an international (and interracial) cast. Barrett’s departure removed the awkward issue of Roddenberry’s mistress being so prominent on the series.
Hunter himself didn’t attend the cast’s preview screening, but his wife Joan Bartlett did—and declared this was not the sort of production her husband the movie star should be associated with. Hunter’s agent made a formal request for his client’s release two weeks after the option on his services expired. With the second pilot commissioned, Roddenberry’s team had to start fresh.
The Second Pilot
NBC asked for more story springboards so Roddenberry revised “The Women” as “Mudd’s Women,” assigning the script to Stephen Kandel. He also crafted the somewhat hokey “The Omega Glory,” which he scripted himself. Roddenberry then asked Samuel Peeples to generate story ideas, one of which was commissioned as a script.
Kandel took ill so his script wasn’t completed in time to meet NBC’s schedule, although it would be produced as part of the first season. That left a choice between “The Omega Glory” and Peeples’s “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” NBC preferred the conflict in Peeples’s story for its tighter focus on the captain and a clear antagonist. In late May 1965, the script was reviewed and approved.
James Goldstone, a known quantity to Solow and Roddenberry, had been selected to direct before a script was chosen, enabling him to add his input. Sets were refurbished, costumes modified, and a new Starfleet cast was recruited.
Roddenberry already had his eye on some young, charismatic actors to replace Hunter. After being turned down by Jack Lord (who went on to fame in the original Hawaii Five-O) and Lloyd Bridges (star of Sea Hunt), the producer got third-time lucky.
Canadian-born William Shatner had been around Hollywood for a while, beginning with a role in The Brothers Karamazov. Around the time “The Cage” was shooting, he and future Batman, Adam West, were making their own unsuccessful pilot, Alexander the Great.
Roddenberry showed “The Cage” to Shatner, who liked the flawed, brooding lead, and recognized a terrific opportunity. He also thought everyone took themselves way too seriously and the second pilot needed to lighten up. Roddenberry agreed, but also planned to give his lead an obligatory action star fistfight.
Rather than recasting Pike, Roddenberry created a new captain—James T. Kirk (a name selected as late as May 1965; the middle name Tiberius was lifted from The Lieutenant). Many of Number One’s traits were transferred to Spock. In “The Cage,” Nimoy’s somewhat bombastic performance was a conscious attempt to counterpoint Hunter’s brooding captain, so he appreciated playing a more fully developed character. Spock, still the science officer, would also become second-in-command.
The bridge also featured Lloyd Haynes at communications (a rare nonstereotypical role for a black actor) and Paul Carr at the helm. George Takei represented astrophysics and James Doohan was first seen as a nameless engineer with a Scottish accent. Doohan, a Canadian with a gift for dialect, auditioned using a variety of accents; when asked which he preferred, he told the producers that engineers are Scottish born so they went with his choice. Paul Fix was Dr. Mark Piper, a father figure reminiscent of the Pike/Boyce relationship. Roddenberry never warmed to Fix’s portrayal and made a mental note to cast DeForest Kelley if the series got picked up.
The second pilot took nine days to shoot, between July 19 and 29, 1965. As the post-production process stretched into the fall, Roddenberry turned his attention to producing Police Story, another pilot for a thirty-minute drama, starring Steven Inhat, DeForest Kelley, and Grace Lee Whitney. Then Solow hired Roddenberry to produce The Long Hunt of April Savage, written by Sam Rolfe, a writer Roddenberry respected. However, Roddenberry infuriated one and all by informing ABC he’d be unavailable to produce the series should April Savage sell. The pilot starred Robert Lansing, and Justman, who served as associate producer, recalls it as a haphazard production—during which Roddenberry decided to flex his muscles by ordering Justman to throw ABC executive Harve Bennett off the set.
A musical score was belatedly added to the Star Trek pilot in late November, and the episode was screened for NBC. Before committing, the network did an audience test that yielded horrible scores. Solow pointed out the pilot had been screened for senior women, an odd demographic for testing a primetime series. NBC retested the pilot to a better sampling of men, women, and youth, which provided a truer and more positive score.
NBC bought the show on March 6, 1966, adding it to its 1966–67 schedule. Roddenberry and Desilu celebrated and then got to work adapting the pilot into an ongoing series. They had just six months to be up and running.
John D. F. Black, who had just won a Writers Guild of America award for an episode of Mr. Novak, was quickly hired as story editor. He was unfamiliar with science fiction, but was charmed by Roddenberry, who persuaded him to take the job hours after Black won his award. While the producer had a talented production crew in place, he needed writers.
Roddenberry had taken the new pilot to the Writers Guild and screened it for interested writers, pitching the series with the improved showmanship that became his hallmark in subsequent years. Jerry Sohl liked what he heard, as did Harlan Ellison, who’d just won an Emmy award for The Outer Limits’ “Demon with a Glass Hand.” As premises and early drafts arrived, Roddenberry read them and gave the writers detailed memos highlighting where things skewed from the bible, or had to be altered based on the evolving concept of the crew and their relationships. Tight budgets meant some grandiose concepts had to be scaled back or reconsidered entirely.
Alterations were also made to the cast. While Roddenberry felt Paul Fix just wasn’t the actor he envisioned for the doctor, he decided the character of communications officer Alden was too boring, costing Lloyd Haynes his role. By May, Roddenberry conceived of a new communications officer, a sexy woman. He suggested they cast Nichelle Nichols, who by then was having an affair with him.
Justman took Roddenberry’s vague notions of the planets visited and wrote an April 12 memo limiting the worlds visited to those with Earth-like conditions, later called M-Class.
For the first season, Roddenberry retained Harvey Lynn as his scientific consultant for $50 per episode. Lynn went on to suggest things that became the vocal shipboard computer and sick bay’s diagnostic beds. In many ways, Lynn was the show’s unheralded godfather.