On February 12th of 1965, having recently screened the show’s pilot episode to NBC executives only to hear rumblings of negativity, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote the following letter to his agent in order to reiterate his vision for the show and make known his unwillingness to compromise its integrity just to make “a sale.” Soon after, NBC did in fact reject that episode; however, having seen potential, they immediately ordered a second pilot. That episode — Where No Man Has Gone Before — was far more successful.
The first season of Star Trek premiered on September 8th, 1966.
(Source: P. Evans; Image: Gene Roddenberry, via.)
Desilu Productions Inc.
February 12, 1965
Mr. Alden Schwimmer
9255 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles 69, California
Have just talked to Oscar Katz in New York about present indefinite sales status of STAR TREK. I felt that all sides had been heard from but me and I owed it to Oscar that he understand my feelings clearly. And of course I want you to be in on any such conversation, so therefore am repeating it here in this letter and sending a copy to Ted in NYC.
First, about the STAR TREK pilot itself. Whether or not this was the right story for a sale, it was definitely a right one for ironing out successfully a thousand how, when and whats of television science fiction. It did that job superbly and has us firmly in position to be the first who has ever successfully made TV series science fiction a mass audience level and yet with a chance for quality and network prestige too.
We have an opportunity, like “Gulliver’s Travels” of a century or more ago, to combine spectable-excitement for a mass group along with meaningful drama and something of substance and pride.
This particular story, whatever its other merits, was an ideal vehicle for proving this point to ourselves. And if the network wants to be partners in such ventures as these, they have to share some of the pain, responsibility and risk of this type of planning. Or they can have copies of other shows, or parallels, breaking no new ground, without any pain or risk at all. I’m quite willing, and I think capable, of giving it to them either way. In a sense, this has been sort of a test for me whether any brave statements I’ve heard are true.
Now, about the length of the pilot, etc. I agree it should be shorter and should be paced differently. It’s my fault that it wasn’t since I let myself be swayed by an arbitrary delivery date and did not take a day off and then look freshly at the whole picture before it went to negative cutting. This will not happen again. In future, of the two risks, I will risk violating contract provisions rather than sending out product readied only through weeks of sixteen hour a day fatigue. Where the agency can help here is early in the planning of a pilot, leaning hard on the network in those primary stages where they waste three, four and five weeks getting back to you with approvals on this and that. This plays a very large part in ending up with production dates which are bound to create problems.
Let me say about the foregoing, I was under no undue pressure from either Katz or Solow. Unlike most studio executives, they stayed off my back, contented themselves with merely pointing out the obvious contract delivery dates. Solow, whom I worked with most directly and intimately, was enormously helpful. One of the most pleasant and talented men I have ever had the pleasure to work with in this business.
Now, summarizing attitude on the pilot, I think even as it now stands, certainly with many things I’d still like to do with it, it is a good quality product.
For those at NBC who honestly do not like it, do not understand or dig it, do not believe it has audience potential, no complaints from me if they turn thumbs down. I have learned to applaud people who make decisions. But I have no respect or tolerance for those who say things like “If it were just a couple minutes shorter…”, or “Yes, but if it were not so cerebral…”, and such garbage. And I respectfully suggest to you as sale representatives for this product that tolerating or compromising with this kind of thinking could only lead to us making a bad show out of what could have been good. In other words, am wide open to criticism and suggestions but not from those who think answers lie in things like giving somewhat aboard a dog, or adding a cute eleven-year-old boy to the crew.
I’m not saying anyone has suggested the above. Or that you would stand still for it. But having been around television for some time, I do know that shows sometimes reach frantic sales moments in which things like that have been known to happen. And it’s only fair to let you know I’m not that anxious to sell the show.
Which, I guess, is my central point. There seems to be a popular delusion that networks do people a favor by buying shows. I happen to think the truth is somewhat nearer the other direction — that a man who creates a format and offers integrity and a large hunk of his life in producing it, offers much more than networks or advertisers can give in return. Therefore, it logically follows, that side has a right to some terms too.
Mine have not changed. And no matter how difficult or tenuous any negotiation for sale may become, they will not change.
a. We must have an adequate budget to do a show of this type.
b. We must have a time slot which gives us a chance, otherwise the labor involved is foolish and meaningless.
c. Network must give early notification that they are buying the show, or at minimum an early story order so scripts can be put into work.
d. Network must agree that any notifications of pickup or cancellation must be made early, or additional story orders must be made early enough to permit proper continuation of schedules.
Without the above, a sale would be completely meaningless for me. Have no desire to risk heart attack or ulcers without at least a fighting chance to make entertainment I can be proud of. If terms should turn out different, I will cooperate with all involved to find a producer who feels otherwise.
Incidentally, I’ve told both Oscar and Herb Solow I’ve had it with the audience testing thing. The fact that there was this enormous twenty point different between the two STAR TREK tests so far certainly must indicate to any sensible man these people are capable of gross error. And since they are obviously capable of this, I insist that this final test be run in number one position so it is at least a fair comparison with the last test. And no amount of statistical rationalization will budge me from this position. It’s make or break with me, Alden. If they are going to use these tests (and we both know they give great weight to them despite anything they say), then they’ve got to at least give us the benefit of an even chance.
Although I’ve been nervous about STAR TREK for this couple of weeks of decision, actually it’s been a good thing for me. Like a fever reaching a crisis point and then breaking. For the first time I think I see our particular and peculiar medium exactly for what it is. It has been and can be very good — and if someone proves to me they want me to try for that level, I gladly will. On the other hand, without that proof, I intend to aim for safe copies and parallels of existing successes — settle for doing it just two or three percent better than the next guy so that job and profits are always there, and I eat dinner every night at 6:00 p.m. with the children and have two days at home out of every seven to play horseshoes and putter in the garden. And do everything possible to move on into another medium.
Sorry, didn’t mean to make this an epic poem. Maybe it’s just catharsis. But I think it’s more.
(Signed, ‘Gene R’)
cc: T. Ashley-New York