Was Gene Roddenberry an “incredible, insufferable jerk”? As Star Trek celebrates its fiftieth birthday, Matthew Continetti, a self-confessed Trekkie, presents the case for the intergalactic prosecution:
In 1964, after a decade as a freelancer, Roddenberry registered a treatment with the Writer’s Guild for a show he described as “Wagon Train to the Stars.” Lucille Ball’s Desilu Studios backed it. An initial pilot was filmed, featuring Leonard Nimoy as a pointy-eared science officer from the planet Vulcan. The network rejected it as outside the mainstream, but they filmed another pilot, with a new captain played by William Shatner. This time the network bit. Star Trek debuted on NBC on September 8, 1966. Roddenberry’s insecurities were apparent from the start. He fought with the studios, the network, the writers, anyone who crossed his path. “During the first year,” he says, “I wrote or rewrote everybody, even my best friends, because I had this idea in my mind of something that hadn’t been done and I wanted to be really there. Once we had enough episodes, then the writers could see where we were going, but it was really building people to write the way I wanted them to write.” But no one could do that. Roddenberry never stopped rewriting. “The problem,” says his biographer Joel Engel, “was that he basically couldn’t write well enough to carry it off.” For 25 years, a script never left Roddenberry’s hands without becoming worse.