It was probably available before at conventions or someplace online, but Gene Roddenberry’s original (1964) pitch for Star Trek was making the rounds a week or two ago, and it was the first time I’d seen it.
Most of us know the basics – Captain Robert April became Captain Christopher Pike and finally James
R. T. Kirk. “Wagon Train to the stars.” (Which at this point has ensured the probably forgettable Wagon Train a sort of immortality by proxy.) The SS Yorktown instead of the USS Enterprise – a name I find myself wondering how they even could have considered. It just sounds so… wrong!
Surprisingly, there is almost no sign of Roddenberry’s infamously insufferable naivete when it comes to his characters. There’s no insistence that the Earthlings aboard the Yorktown be flawless paragons of virtue; no clear disregard for the basic human imperfections that create a compelling drama. I’ve always suspected that (much like George Lucas), Roddenberry retroactively retooled his creative vision to fit popular critical interpretations. In other words, only after reading articles about how Star Trek represented the hope of a bright future for humanity did the Great Bird decide that, oh yeah, I meant to do that. Uh huh.
Credit where it’s due, though: the mult-cultural/gender flavor (though completely different from the final product) is present here from day one. Number One appears to be every bit the capable female that we saw in “The Cage” (perhaps even more so). The navigator is “Jose Ortegas,” a South American with a “Latin temperament” (but surprisingly not a shallow stereotype, given his “painful” awareness of the reputation of the hot-blooded Latin lover, and his perceived inability to live up to it.) Oh, and the cute yeoman, who is the Betty to Number One’s Veronica.
The list of suggested plots is fairly familiar – Roddenberry seemed to love the “crew discovers a planet remarkably like earth”-type stories. Or maybe he was just trying to sell the network on how he could make a weekly sci-fi series cost-effective. I was never a fan of those, for the most part, though his proposed “To Skin a Tyrannosaurus” would have been pretty badass, I must admit.
Most impressively of all is the inclusion of what appears to be some variation of the Drake equation (used by astronomers to speculate mathematically the likelihood of intelligent life in the galaxy). I’m hardly a Hollywood insider or anything, but I can’t imagine a ton of TV pitches include complex mathematical theorems. Certainly not in 1964, anyway. Kudos, Mr. Roddenberry – somehow you got this show off the ground with the additional handicap of boring the executives with math.
So, yeah. In addition to giving us a brief glimpse of the Trek that might have been, this document also paints the much-maligned Roddenberry in a much better light than his contemporaries (and, let’s be honest: Matt and I as well) have done in recent years. He may have had some weird ideas about how to run things once it got going, but based on this original pitch, I wouldn’t go revoking his Visionary status just yet.