Saturday, February 28, 2015

The End Of The Genesis Project

Wow, this is a big one. Leonard Ninoy is dead.  He had a long and varied career, but, of course, he'll be remembered for one role.

As a young actor, he appeared in numerous TV shows in the 50s and early 60s.  With vaguely "off" looks he often played exotic and sinister characters. Just by chance I turned on an episode of Daniel Boone yesterday from the mid-60s and there was Nimoy playing a nasty Indian brave.  In an age of widespread Westerns he played a lot of Indians.  He also appeared in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with another guest star, William Shatner.

He could easily have been just another character actor, making a living yet barely known. But then he go the role of a lifetime.  Or, to put it better, he took a part and turned it into the role of a lifetime.  He was hired for the Star Trek pilot, which didn't fly.  Creator Gene Roddenberry was given the money to make a second pilot, and he had to decide who'd be in the new cast, and NBC would have liked him to get rid of the "weird" character, but Roddenberry stuck with Nimoy.  Even then NBC was nervous about Nimoy's satanic look and tried to downplay it--until he became the show's breakout character, even more popular than Captain Kirk, and NBC couldn't publicize him enough--to the chagrin of lead William Shatner.  He even became, against all odds, a sex symbol.

Still, that could have been that.  The original series was never that popular, and was canceled after three years of middling ratings.  Nimoy received three Emmy nominations for the role, but never won--losing to Eli Wallach, Milburn Stone and, for some reason, Werner Klemperer.

Nimoy's new fame put him on a higher track, and his next major role was as a regular on a real hit, Mission: Impossible.  Meanwhile, Star Trek was kept alive in syndication by a growing and fanatical fan base.  There was enough interest that an animated series using the voices of the original cast was on for one year.

Then, in 1977, Star Wars was a huge hit and Paramount, which owned Star Trek, realized there was money in sci-fi films.  So they made a huge Star Trek film--there was such pent up demand that it made money, but it was so bad (and so clueless--the audience didn't want to see new characters in charge of the Enterprise) it almost killed the franchise.  Luckily--thanks to director-write Nicholas Meyer and others (but not to Gene Roddenberry, who became a figurehead at this point), the second Trek movie, The Wrath Of Khan, though much lower in budget, was much higher in quality--many still consider it the best Trek in any medium--so the movies lived.  But not Spock, who died at the end. (Sorry for the spoiler).

But you can't keep a good half-Vulcan down, and he came back to life in the third film, The Search For Spock. It wasn't easy though--the producers had to let Nimoy direct.  He did a decent job, and an even better job on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which made the most money in the series.

All this led to a reflowering of the brand, and soon there were several Star Trek spinoffs on TV, and more than one new series of Star Trek moviesm  including the modern and highly successful reboot, which featured Nimoy, still the most popular figure in the Star Trek universe.

Meanwhile, Nimoy kept acting--theatre as well as movies and TV--and established a career as a director, helming the huge hit Three Men And A Baby.  He also had time to publish two volumes of an autobiography, I Am Not Spock in 1975, which apparently pissed off fans, and led to I Am Spock in 1995. (He also recorded some albums, but the main thing that can be said about them is he's a better singer than Shatner.)

In some ways, Star Trek fandom is a silly thing.  The original show was imaginative but crudely done. It's not worth building a religion around. (It's not Star Wars, after all.) And yet, with its unprecedented fandom, it brought happiness and a sense of community to millions, and that probably wouldn't have happened without Nimoy.  So while the man may be gone, it's good to know the love he spread will live long and prosper.


Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Virginia and Adrien, sittin' in a tree, k,i,s,s,i,n,g.

I do love the moment reported in the NPR story about the director who changed Spock--The first time actor Leonard Nimoy said the word was in an episode where the crew of the USS Enterprise faced a strange, sinister entity. No matter where the ship turned, the object managed to be in their way. The bridge was on high alert — so Nimoy shouted out his next line with the same energy: "Fascinating!"

"The director, God bless him, said be different from everyone else," Nimoy remembers. So on the next take: "Fascinating," in that cool, collected way.

And kudos to Nimoy for recognizing the moment--although he seems like the kind of guy who has spent the entire time since thinking about it.

6:21 AM, February 28, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I regret that we won't have a final send off to Spock in the movies. We will probably get a remote notice that the original Spock according to canon dies somewhere in space trying while trying to rebuild the vulcan home world, leaving us only with the new Spock, who isn't as unemotional and tormented by the conflicts of his dual personality as the original.

Unless of course in the third movie they somehow reverse the time stream (Scotty doing something with dilithium crystals, no doubt), and thereby reestablish the original canon. Nahhh.

8:45 AM, March 02, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Yet another reason I hate time travel.

11:17 AM, March 02, 2015  

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