Thursday, July 20, 2006

Star Track

I guess this is the week I celebrate mid-60s TV shows. Two days ago it was The Monkees, today, Star Trek.

I just finished Inside Star Trek: The Real Story by Herbert Solow and Robert Justman. How is it these guys know the inside story? Solow was an executive in charge of TV production at Desilu--the company that owned and produced Star Trek until it sold out to Paramount. Robert Justman was a producer on the show.

What's interesting about their take is, though the two made creative decisions, they're not "artistic" types constantly condemning the "suits." In fact, these guys are the suits. To them, the actors, the writers, producer Gene Roddenberry and others weren't just creative people, but all too often obstacles to getting out each episode in time and on budget. It's a useful angle with so much else written from the fans' viewpoint.

I learned a few surprising things. Every Star Trek fan knows Jeffrey Hunter played Captain Pike in the original pilot. What I didn't know was when a second pilot was ordered--a very unusual thing--he was offered the lead again but turned it down. In fact, his wife came in and said that Jeffrey was a movie star and this role was no good for him. (Hunter died of head trauma in 1969. Little did he know he'd be best remembered as Pike since the footage was reused in Star Trek's two-part episode "The Menagerie.")

Also, I discovered when Leonard Nimoy became the show's breakout character and held out for better terms in the second season, a list was made of possible replacements. (Originally, NBC requested his character, Mr. Spock, be cut. They were so worried about his Satanic looks that the promotional material they sent out rounded off his ears.) The main reason for the list was to scare Nimoy. Nevertheless, one name on it stands out--David Carradine. Think of it, Star Fu.

It's impossible to imagine the show without Shatner and Nimoy. I know that's a cliche, but I mean it. I could easily imagine other actors in the other roles, or even those roles being cut. Perhaps Jeffrey Hunter missed out, or perhaps if he'd taken the role the show would be forgotten today.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree if Star Trek was like "The Menagerie " episode, we would only remember it like we remember the old Irwin Allen series (ie Land of the Giants) today- cute, slightly interesting and highly forgettable. Captain Pike seemed like he came from the 50s. Capt Kirk was still a bit of a throwback- but his character, he was more of a happenin' self-involved in-touch-with-his feelin's 60s dude (even in the early episodes when the uniforms looked sweaters your aunt gave you)

8:19 AM, July 20, 2006  
Anonymous Doohan Fan said...

The only one I can't imagine them without is Scotty. Where would they be without this brogue telling them they don't have enough powerrrrrrrr?

10:28 AM, July 20, 2006  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Well, I've disagreed with you in the past, since I tend to accept the (conventional?) wisdom that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are the core of the show -- not just Kirk and Spock.

At the same time, I'm not crazy, so I recognize that the show could have been almost as good without McCoy, but would have been a totally different show (and probably vastly inferior) without Kirk or Spock.

The show is available in three DVD boxes now, and I've got the first two and have been rewatching them a lot in the past couple months. I'm struck by how really bad Scotty is. I'm not sure if it's the actor or the character, but he really doesn't seem to give the role much, and the few times he is given a major role (i.e., Wolf in the Fold) he falls short and the Big Two (or Big Three) have to carry the episode despite him.

OTOH, I think George Takei was a great actor, and was quite underused. He steals every scene he's in in Mirror, Mirror!

10:54 PM, July 20, 2006  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

By the way, if anyone is considering rewatching the show, it's crucial that you watch it in production order. The boxed sets put the episodes in broadcast order, which seriously harms Season One.

If you watch them in production order, you'll see that Season One neatly divides into two halves. During Star Trek's first half-season, the scripts focus significantly on the junior officers: we get to see Sulu's cabin, or Uhura singing, or we get a scene in the dining room where Sulu, Uhura, Rand, and Riley are all having a discussion -- and no one over the rank of Lieutenant is present.

After the midpoint of Season One, Rand and Riley were both dropped from the cast. The junior officers added later on during the show do not relate to each other, but relate solely to senior officers (Chapel to McCoy and Spock, Chekov to Kirk and Spock, Kyle to Scotty and Spock). So never again did we get a glimpse of the social life of junior officers.

But the broadcast order was chosen by the network, based on how "exciting" they found each show. This shuffling completely obscures the existence of "early Season One".

[As an aside, I guess Kyle is a non-com, not a junior officer, since he wears a jumpsuit. But when George Takei was filming the Green Berets Kyle got a temporary promotion to his spot....]

11:02 PM, July 20, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I think Kirk, Spock and McCoy were supposed to be the core of the show, but Nimoy's character was so powerful it became about the adventures of Kirk and Spock.

It's too bad the show, for whatever reason, soon gave the secondary characters short shrift. On the other hand, watching newer Star Trek shows, where they try to give "moments" to secondary characters whom I don't really care about, there's something to be said for this approach.

Roddenberry loved DeForest Kelley (though I can't see why) and would have had him in the first two pilots if he could. When the show went to series, he finally got him in. (Majel Barrett, his gal on the side, he forced in through hook or crook.)

Doohan was in the second pilot. He auditioned with a variety of accents and when asked which he preferred, he chose Scottish. Not too many people think the accents on Star Trek have stood the test of time well. Thanks goodness Sulu wasn't required to do some dopey Asian accent, or the show would make you cringe.

12:37 AM, July 21, 2006  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Not too many people think the accents on Star Trek have stood the test of time well.

I totally agree. When Walter Koenig showed up on Babylon 5 without an accent, it jarred me at first. But I got used to it quickly. Ultimately, Koenig's "Bester" was a much better character than his "Chekov".

12:43 AM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Oh, c'mon, guys. Who will ever forget Andy Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"?

5:36 PM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Yes, Blake Edwards couldn't get enough of everyone's favorite 60 Minutes curmudgeon.

5:44 PM, July 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was Mickey Rooney.

1:19 PM, July 22, 2006  

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