Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Star Trek at 50: Where No Man Ever Went

Karen: As we have reached the mid-point of the first season, I thought it might be interesting to discuss some of the story ideas that didn't make it into episodes in this first season (or maybe ever). Many thanks to Marc Cushman and his excellent book, These are the Voyages, Vol. 1 (if you haven't bought it yet, what are you waiting for?), wherein he discusses many of these failed concepts.

Karen: Stories were rejected at various stages of development, and for many reasons. Writing for a show as novel as Star Trek was not an easy task. Writers familiar with science fiction often came up with concepts too big (and expensive) for the TV screen. Those writers used to handling Westerns or police dramas just couldn't wrap their heads easily around the futuristic concepts of the show. So it was not unusual for stories to require a lot of hands-on from the staff. Sometimes they could be salvaged, but other times they had to be let go entirely.

Karen: In the first season, there were more than a dozen such stories which were either completely discarded, or reworked and produced in later seasons. Often considerable effort went into developing these stories, only to have Roddenberry or Coon come to the conclusion that it simply wasn't working. But perhaps a bit of an idea might be salvaged to be used elsewhere.

Karen: From the first season, prominent scrapped shows include Roddenberry's own "Omega Glory" which he had pushed again and again, and no one but he truly seemed enthused with it. It would eventually get produced in the second season, but grudgingly.

Karen: Science fiction writer A.E. van Vogt came up with an idea called "The Machine that Went Too Far," but apparently his idea went too far, and this story about an android who tries to take over the ship was reworked but rejected, although the second season episode "I, Mudd" had some similarities.

From "Elaan of Troyius"
Karen: Likewise, "The Galatea Syndrome" by Alfred Brenner involved the Enterprise transporting a hostile planet's leader to peace talks with another planet, and the leader's mistress used an aphrodisiac to wreak havoc on board. Although this treatment was disliked by Bob Justman and others, and rejected, elements of it can be seen in the third season episode "Elaan of Troyius."

Karen:  "Rites of Fertility" by Robert Sheckley, another SF writer, had the Enterprise crew turning into plant people. This one was rejected for a variety of reasons, including expense. 

Karen: One of the most intriguing, and perhaps infamous rejected stories, is "Portrait in Black and White." Fans have heard tales about this one at conventions and through other means for years. In his book, Cushman gives a detailed rundown of how this idea came to be. My short version: Roddenberry came up with an idea about a parallel world resembling the pre-Civil War era South, with the twist being that Blacks were the ruling class and Whites were enslaved. He handed this off to writer Barry Trivers to flesh out. Associate Producer Bob Justman was very uncomfortable with the whole thing, which included breeding camps, and he felt they had to send it over to NBC before they got too far along with the project. NBC flat-out rejected it, despite Roddenberry's protestations, and it died...but by the third season, a different story would use a blatant make-up technique to address racial hatred in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."

Karen: George Clayton Johnson, writer on the episode "The Man Trap" and numerous episodes of
George Clayton Johnson
The Twilight Zone, as well s the film Logan's Run years later, received an assignment to develop one of Roddenberry's ideas, titled "Chicago II," but it went nowhere. Johnson submitted his own idea, "Rock-a-Bye Baby, and Die," which involved the Enterprise becoming 'impregnated' with a newborn soul. As the being becomes aware of itself, it wreaks havoc on the ship. Gene Coon felt the story was too out there, and he and Johnson couldn't see eye to eye. Johnson went to Roddenberry for help and Roddenberry essentially said Coon, his producer, had final say. Feeling Roddenberry had taken the easy way out, and just generally annoyed by the whole situation, Johnson withdrew his story. It was the end of his affiliation with Star Trek.

Karen: One of the stories I find the strangest was titled "The Squaw," and was pitched by Simon Wincelberg, who had worked on "Dagger of the Mind." Essentially it is a cowboys vs. Indians story, where the Indians on the planet are primitive Vulcans, and the cowboys are human survivors of a spaceship crash. Spock winds up with the 'Indians' and one of them, a woman named Missie, becomes smitten with him. No, I am not making this up. This actually got through two drafts, but bad blood between Wincelberg and Roddenberry over the rewrites of "Dagger of the Mind" put a stop to any chance of our seeing Kirk and Spock riding horse -although come to think of it, we'd see them with six-shooters in "Spectre of the Gun" and they would encounter Native Americans in "The Paradise Syndrome."

Karen: There were many more lost episodes but I think this is enough for now (the second season had some even more interesting ones!). One thing is for sure: no concept was ever wasted! Even if a story never made it into production, some concept could surely be taken and reworked for another episode.


Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for another enjoyable post, Karen, which in my case was quite informative: I don't think I'd ever heard of/read about any of these rejected story ideas.
The two I found particularly intriguing to think about are "Portrait in Black & White" and "The Squaw." If either (or both) had been made, I can see how they could have either a) been among the best-loved, most popular and critically acclaimed episodes of Trek ever, or b) well-intentioned but heavy-handed and ultimately cringe-worthy disasters.

By the way, just a minor correction: George Clayton Johnson didn't write the screenplay for Logan's Run, rather he co-write the original novel together with William Nolan.

Mike said...

Thanks for this post, Karen. I was looking for some fun reading for this summer, and I think these books by Marc Cushman just made my list. (Kindle list anyhow ... print is kinda pricey).

Anonymous said...
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Garett said...

Interesting glimpse behind the scenes-- thanks Karen! I like hearing about the creative process.

Pat Henry said...

ST several times dealt with issues of racial prejudice and class imbalance, and most of it was much more successful than the blatant (and boring) “Last Battlefield.” The divided society in the “Cloud Minders” springs to mind, although there were others.

It's remarkable that, as passionate as Gene Roddenberry seemed to be about "Omega Glory," that episode was a trainwreck that crashed with a thud. Like "Last Battlefield," it was about as subtle as a two-by-four. IIRC he had a similar passion about a screenplay called "The Child" that he tried to introduce several times. It eventually appeared as the first episode of Season Two of TNG, and it was a stinker. It apparently never crossed his mind that the concepts explored in a woman discovering she was mysteriously pregnant with an unwanted child through alien invasion were more creepy and disturbing than joyous and profound.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the unproduced Trek stories were thought to be either too "high concept", or too "lowbrow"; some of them sound like they were kind of ahead of their time.

By the way, I ran across this post over at John Scalzi's blog yesterday; it sounds like a pretty cool least for those of us who like to immerse ourselves in the minutiae of our favourite fictional universes.

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

Interesting. I wonder if that is a normal number of scripts to be rejected for a season of television, or did the sci-fi aspects make it more challenging? The fact that they could rework some of these but not others is fascinating; I wonder how it gets past the "pitch" phase if the concept is too outlandish or cost prohibitive. I don't know what normal is in terms of writing scripts for television; are there thousands of unproduced shows out there? Most of this sounds at least more conceptually challenging than some of the stuff that gets produced. Some seem to walk a very narrow line between what could have been intellectual discourse and what may have been offensive broad-brushing; it would be interesting to read some to see the actual outcome.

Edo Bosnar said...

Just saw this today - I think everyone here will appreciate such an interesting Trek artifact.

Pat Henry said...

Marinex1: Pick up any of Harlan Ellison’s books on the business of telescripts, which often include original drafts of reworked episodes for comparison. IIRC, his early essays—compiled in his anthology “The Glass Teat “—include his rants on the treatment of his single Star Trek episode, “City on the Edge of Forever.” Lots of inside detail about the business of submitting scripts in that era.

Frankly, I thought some things in his original would not have worked so well in final form and the compromise was a classic; so sometimes too many chefs in the kitchen reiterating material can have a beneficial effect.

Anonymous said...

"Chicago II was made as " A Piece of the Action", right?

Karen said...

Howdy Anonymous. My understanding is that "Chicago II" inspired "A Piece of the Action," but I don't know how much the episode actually resembled the initial story idea. My recollection is that the final product was much more of a broad comedy than was initially intended (or wanted by Roddenberry).

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