Why Roddenberry Created Star Trek

By James H. Burns: Marc Scott Zicree perpetuates a myth when he states that Gene Roddeberry didn’t create Star Trek as a money machine…

A pleasant fable, but a non-truth, nonetheless.

The only reason Roddenberry created Star Trek, at least initially, was to sell another series to a network.  He was, if not desperate, anxious…

He had just failed with The Lieutenant, for Norman Felton’s Arena Productions, and more importantly, had incidents where he failed as a producer, letting shows go over budget, and other elements get out of hand.

No one was clamoring for another series from Roddenberry, or even his scripts.

His agent suggested he come up with a space series…

(This may have led to what The Outer Limits historians insist are the accurate — if generally unknown — accounts of Roddenberry hanging out at times on the set of The Outer Limits. When I learned this, it wasn’t hard to imagine that series creator, and executive producer, Leslie Stevens — an elegant and urbane gentleman, a former Broadway playwright — was someone that Roddenberry may have sought to emulate.)

It’s important, if unpleasant to note, that the first Star Trek pilot does not feature an integrated cast.  (Even the character described in the series bible as being Hispanic, is mysteriously blonde…)

Herb Solow, the Desilu executive overseeing StarTrek, maintained that Trek‘s multi-ethnic cast came as a suggestion from NBC’s execs…  (And intriguing to remember that for all the accolades Star Trek gets for its multi-cultural aspect, Ben Casey, ABC’s medical series, was there first.)

Roddenberry’s rap about using Star Trek in the way that Jonathan Swift used fantasy in Gulliver’s Travels to comment on modern society came far later, and was something he kind of cribbed from Rod Serling’s television and other interviews.

Gene — who on a personal basis I always found terrific, and charming — deserves vast credit for all the many great things he accomplished with the original teleseries.

And elsewise, I agree with much of what Marc’s written!  (And have very much enjoyed much of his work, for years now!)

But had Star Trek sold immediately, without the eventual contribution of so many other talented individuals, there’s a decent chance the show we loved would have been very different.

And more important to this particular point, Roddenberry, when first noodling his presentation, was simply concerned about making a sale, making good on his development deal at Desilu —

And maintaining his new standard of living.


13 thoughts on “Why Roddenberry Created Star Trek

  1. “Money makes the Federation go round.”
    Which is interesting since they don’t have any.

    Do they have cabarets?

  2. But they do have money on Star Trek. It may not be physical currency, but Cyrano Jones and the bartender in “Tribbles” negotiate over how many credits will be paid per Tribble. And Harry Mudd was clearly selling his “Women” for something; those miners were described as rich and he wasn’t dragging them across the galaxy because he was a hopeless romantic. And the miners on the planet of the Horta were described as on the verge of being “embarrassingly rich.” So, money in some form — not necessarily in greenbacks — does exist in the Trek world.

  3. Hm. It seems like the Federation is post-money during the TNG era? Which would mean actual social change. Unless I misremember TNG. Which is very possible.

  4. “fifth!” is a hybrid between the traditional proclamation of being first to respond in a comment forum, and a reference to an e-book that briefly had two 5th chapters. It could be taken as a massive over-response to the e-book, but people are having so much fun with it.

  5. I saw reference to a self acknowledged genius by the same self acknowledged genius on Amazon. I guess I need to be fifth more often. Or at least twice in the same day. Perhaps the genius was drinking a fifth and did it twice. I don’t think we’ll ever know.

    Perhaps it should be spelled “5ifth”?

  6. If I remember correctly, the “no money” thing was introduced in Star Trek IV. In Star Trek III, McCoy attempted to buy passage to the Genesis planet, and I believe the word “money” was specifically mentioned. In ST IV, the crew seemed to be oddly unfamiliar with money, though they had plenty of experience with it in the series. (And money was an important issue in the previous time travel story, “City on the Edge of Forever.”) I don’t think the money issue was brought up again until TNG where again it was used to contrast the Federation against supposedly less enlightened civilizations.

    There seem to be a lot of myths about Roddenberry. I always assumed that Star Trek was done to make money. I just like the results (well, for some series and movies), though I don’t take it too seriously.

  7. Did someone say, “STAR TREK cabaret?”

    This is somehow grotesque, and charming, at the same time…

    (But the saving grace, is it’s my guy, Elvis!)

  8. It makes more sense if you assume that when Kirk said they didn’t have money in ST IV, he meant they didn’t have currency. There’s a definite reference to “credits” in TOS, and later series refer to more specific types of credits (Sisko talks about using up all of his transporter credits, for example) which suggest that what’s finite is actually energy (and possibly processing power) — which makes sense given their transporter/replicator technology. The only things material things that are shown as being valuable are things that are necessary for that tech, like dilithium crystals. (Latinum, which non-Federation folk like Ferengi use for currency, probably falls into that category as well, since it’s described as being intrinsically valuable.)

  9. Money wasn’t on the ships–they were self contained universes. Outside, there was need to barter and deal when the civilization they worked with (or in conflict with) was negotiating. So, yes, they used money. Or goods.

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