Assignment: 1966: The Series Begins

It’s February 1966, and the cast and crew of Star Trek has been keeping busy since the filming of “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, and George Takei all made numerous appearances on television (with Shatner and Takei appearing together on an episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre). Additionally, Doohan appeared in the film Scalplock and Nimoy found a distributor for his art house film, Death Watch. Gene Roddenberry was also busy, producing two pilots for Desilu, Police Story and The Long Hunt of April Savage. The former series, created and written by Roddenberry himself, was an attempt to create a more realistic police procedural show than existed at the time, and wasn’t picked up. The second, a Western with a setup not too dissimilar to that of The Fugitive, was produced by Roddenberry as a favor to his friend (and Have Gun – Will Travel co-creator) Sam Rolfe, was a success, despite Herb Solow’s later claims that Roddenberry considered the job to be beneath him. However, the show never went past the pilot stage because Rolfe dropped out following a dispute with his agent, leading ABC to cancel the series without a second thought.

As the drama concerning The Long Hunt of April Savage played out, Desilu received further good news: CBS was picking up Mission: Impossible (which we will discuss in full in the fall) and NBC had agreed to air Star Trek. While losing April Savage stung, this gave the studio two new in-house productions in addition to the many shows that were making use of the studio backlot. However, there were some problems with the current arrangement.

First and foremost, Oscar Katz was let go. Of the 22 pilots he commissioned, only three were picked up (one of them being April Savage). If this wasn’t bad enough, the two shows picked up looked to be extremely expensive, and were created by men with reputations for being “difficult”. Additionally, one of those men (Bruce Geller, creator of Mission: Impossible) was working on a pilot for a series called Mannix that was already looking to be extremely expensive. The final nail in Katz’s coffin was that Herb Solow was already effectively running the studio. So, on March 9th, Katz’s departure from Desilu was reported in Variety, giving the cover of “personal reasons” as to why Katz was “leaving”.

The next order of business regarded the pilots. While CBS could be, with its deep ties to Lucy and the studio, expected to help financially with Mission: Impossible if need be, Star Trek was another matter. Even if NBC had faith in the series and Roddenberry, the costs were just too high. As a result, a board meeting was called, and opinions were almost unanimously negative against keeping Star Trek. (Lucy’s brother Fred went so far as to tell her to turn towards real estate.) The holdouts: Solow and Business Affairs VP Bernard Weitzman. However, with a nod of her head, Lucy’s decision was made: Star Trek would be a Desilu production.

And thus begins one of the primary conflicts of the making of Star Trek: the ability for Desilu to afford the show vs. Lucy’s desire to bail the studio out by producing as many series in-house as possible. And as a blog, this marks the beginning of semi-regular posts about the show’s incoming personnel, in advance of regular episode reviews (finally). So, as a blogging project, Star Trek Debriefed will be getting much more interesting from here on out.

Next week: It’s back to the ’80s, and that other superhero studio.

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