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  Majel Barrett Roddenberry
(1921–1991). American producer and writer.

Produced: Star Trek (tv series) (1966–1969); Genesis II (and wrote) (tv movie) (John Llewellyn Moxey 1973); Star Trek (animated tv series) (1973–1975); The Questor Tapes (story Roddenberry; screenplay with Gene L. COON) (tv movie) (Richard COLLA 1974); Planet Earth (story; screenplay by Juanita Bartlett) (tv movie) (1974); Spectre (story Roddenberry; screenplay with Samuel L. Peeples) (tv movie) (Clive Donner 1977); Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and story, uncredited, with Alan Dean Foster; screenplay Harold Livingston) (Robert WISE 1979); The Cage (original Star Trek pilot released as video) (Robert Butler 1986); Star Trek: The Next Generation (tv series) (1987–1991).

Wrote: "Charlie X" (story, screenplay D. C. FONTANA) (and provided voice), "Mudd's Women" (story, screenplay Stephen Kandel), "The Menagerie" (two parts) (1966), "The Return of the Archons" (story, screenplay Boris Sobelman) (1967), "A Private Little War" (story Judd Crucis), "Return to Tomorrow," "The Omega Glory," "Assignment: Earth" (story with Art Wallace, screenplay Wallace) (1968), "The Savage Curtain" (story, screenplay with Arthur Heinemann), "Turnabout Intruder" (story, screenplay Arthur Singer) (1969), episodes of Star Trek; "Encounter at Farpoint" (with D. C. FONTANA), "Hide and Q" (with C. J. Holland; story Holland) (1987), "Datalore" (with Robert Lewin; story Lewin and Maurice Hurley) (1988), episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation; "Decision" (1997), episode of Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict.

Created: Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict (tv series) (1997–2002).

Films and series based on his work: Strange New World (tv movie) (Butler 1975); Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicolas MEYER 1982); Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Leonard NIMOY 1984); Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Nimoy 1986); Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (William SHATNER 1989); Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Meyer 1991); Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (tv series) (1993–1999); Star Trek: Generations (David Carson 1994); Star Trek: Voyager (tv series) (1995–2001); Star Trek: First Contact (Jonathan FRAKES 1996); Star Trek: Insurrection (Frakes 1998); Ultimate Trek: Star Trek's Greatest Moments (tv special) (1999); Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda (tv series) (2000- ); Enterprise (tv series) (2001- ); Star Trek: Nemesis (Stuart Baird 2002).

What is there to say about Gene Roddenberry, except that he was a man of great strengths—and great weaknesses? He had a genius for meticulously developing thorough, plausible, and stimulating backgrounds for science fiction television series—but he wasn't very good at coming up with good stories to make use of those backgrounds. He was brilliant in noticing and productively casting unknown actors in supporting roles—but consistently indifferent or wrongheaded in casting leading players. In the beginning, he was a refreshingly down-to-earth, humble presence in the science fiction community—but his ego grew along with the popularity of Star Trek, so that he was eventually posturing as a cosmic sage, employing television and interviews to convey his portentous insights to the masses.

While Roddenberry had experience as a pilot and police officer before turning to television writing, it was his military service during World War II that had the greatest impact on his creations. After a one-season series about contemporary military life, The Lieutenant, Roddenberry developed a proposed science fiction series to be called Star Trek. The original pilot (now called The Cage to distinguish it from a later Star Trek episode that incorporated its footage and appropriated its actual title "The Menagerie") displays how skillfully its producer had distilled decades of written space opera into a reasonably thoughtful future universe to serve as an ideal setting for a variety of interesting stories; but the first story that Roddenberry came up with, politely dismissed by NBC executives as "too cerebral," might have been better described as tedious, a slow-moving saga of telepathic aliens that engenders stale homilies about human freedom and the differences between illusion and reality. But credit NBC with seeing the series' potential and requesting a second pilot, at which point the series was saved by decisions made by persons other than Roddenberry: when listless leading man Jeffrey Hunter declined an invitation to reprise his starring role, Roddenberry was obliged to hastily grab the first suitable actor who was available, who fortuitously happened to be William SHATNER, and the network's directive to ditch the series' female second-in-command forced Roddenberry to elevate into the co-starring role a supporting actor portraying a half-human alien, who fortuitously happened to be Leonard NIMOY. The rest, as they say, was history.

Roddenberry had done a serviceable job of launching the starship Enterprise, but he had to depend on others to keep it soaring. Shatner and Nimoy were continually inspired to further develop their characters and the societies they represented; talented science fiction writers—Richard MATHESON, Harlan ELLISON, Theodore STURGEON, Jerome BIXBY, Norman Spinrad—contributed good scripts; and the series was sustained by the superlative work of producer Gene COON and the sappy but crowd-pleasing efforts of D. C. FONTANA. Roddenberry's own scripts and story ideas were consistently dreary; significantly, when Roddenberry offered NBC three possible scripts for the second pilot, they chose the only one that Roddenberry hadn't written. Roddenberry burdened his series with ludicrous alternate Earths ("The Omega Glory," "Bread and Circuses"), leaden allegories ("The Return of the Archons," "A Private Little War"), and lame domesticated dramas ("Charlie X," "Mudd's Women"). A nadir of sorts occurred in his "The Savage Curtain," where Kirk teaches advanced aliens about the difference between good and evil with the help of Abraham Lincoln.

According to the standard mythology of Star Trek, the series declined in the third season when Roddenberry withdrew from active producing to protest a disastrous scheduling change. Actually, the decline began in the middle of the second season, when Coon left the series and forced Roddenberry back into the role of producer, promptly leading to some of the series' very worst episodes. If anything, the third season was slightly better, in that hands-off producer Fred FREIBERGER, content to film whatever scripts he received, offered a mixed bag of scattered masterpieces, numerous mediocrities, and several embarrassments.

Even while Star Trek was on the air, Roddenberry was thinking about other series, and made one Star Trek episode, "Assignment: Earth," as a pilot for a proposed series about an alien-educated man on contemporary Earth starring Robert Lansing and Teri Garr, continuing the pattern of combining a dire star with a superlative supporting player. The similarly disastrous casting of Alex Cord doomed Roddenberry's first post-Star Trek pilot, Genesis II, whose well-realized post-holocaust world didn't work much better when the marginally better John SAXON came aboard to headline a second pilot. (A failed third attempt to get the series off the ground, also with Saxon, was made without Roddenberry's participation.) It is harder to explain why his more promising pilots, The Questor Tapes and Spectre, never became series, but perhaps Roddenberry was earning a reputation among network executives as someone who couldn't be trusted to come up with a winner. Still, the phenomenal popularity of Star Trek in syndication salvaged Roddenberry's career, first leading to an animated series and then to plans for a second Star Trek series, to include Shatner but not Nimoy, which advanced to the stage of developing scripts before Paramount decided to a make a big-budget Star Trek movie instead. This might be interpreted as Paramount's device to bring in some high-powered talent to maintain the Star Trek franchise and to marginalize Roddenberry, which is precisely what occurred after the modest success of the first film.

Having lost control of his original characters, and reduced to the meaningless role of "executive consultant" for later Star Trek films, Roddenberry resolved to make himself master of another universe by creating another Star Trek series, set one hundred years after the original series and featuring an all-new cast, which would serve as the ideal vehicle for the accumulated wisdom of Gene Roddenberry now so esteemed by loyal fans. The result of his efforts, Star Trek: The Next Generation, could best be described as a bizarre amalgam of Star Trek and Jerome BIXBY's story and Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," where an unseen juvenile presence is forcing a group of normal adults to act like perfectly well-behaved, constantly happy people. Although the stifling presence of miscast Shakespearean actor Patrick STEWART made the series superficially seem more mature than the original series, the essential immaturity of Roddenberry's insipid feel-good philosophy is conveyed by Wil WHEATON's boy genius Wesley Crusher (who proved so insufferable that even Roddenberry soon sanctioned his removal) and Brent SPINER's Pinocchio-like android Data, striving to become a Real Boy. All one can say in favor of Star Trek: The Next Generation is that, as an aging Roddenberry devoted less and less time to the series, it could occasionally sputter to life.

Like Elvis Presley's death in 1977, Roddenberry's death in 1991 was a great career move, replacing the increasingly problematic person with a beloved and profitable icon. There have been four more Star Trek movies, three new series, innumerable original novels, and several video games, all struggling in various ways to escape the stultifying legacy of Star Trek: The Next Generation and rediscover the flair and energy of the original series. Widow Majel Barrett RODDENBERRY, more impressive as a businesswoman than as an actress, has been more imaginative in exploiting his name. First, she dug up one of his old ideas for a series and developed Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict, which plodded on for five years without ever distinguishing itself. Then she dusted off his post-holocaust Genesis II concept, completely refashioned it as a Star Trek-like space opera, and mislabeled the results Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, which might be a harbinger of worse abuses to come (such as, say, taking The Lieutenant, transplanting it into the future, and calling it Gene Roddenberry's Space Soldier). There are plans to revive The Questor Tapes, and a second look at Spectre seems inevitable. But these posthumous products of varying quality will have little impact on Roddenberry's enduring reputation as the creator of the single most popular and influential science fiction narrative in the history of the genre. With that achievement under his belt, criticisms of his flaws and foibles will inevitably diminish with time, leaving only a few impolite commentators to continue speaking ill of the dead.

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