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Go Back   The Trek BBS > Star Trek Movies > Star Trek Movies I-X

Star Trek Movies I-X Discuss the first ten big screen outings in this forum!

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Old September 2 2013, 09:14 PM   #1
Sran
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Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

William Shatner's Star Trek Movie Memories book is an interesting read that I'd highly recommend to anyone who likes Trek. But you might want to skip the book if you're a fan of Gene Roddenberry, whom Shatner (intentionally or no) paints as a woefully incompetent and obsolete writer and producer. According to Shatner, Roddenberry pitched the following idea for every single Trek film but was shot down by some combination of Harold Livingston, Nick Meyer, Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Harve Bennett, and so on:

The crew of the USS Enterprise travels to 1963 to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But it turns out that saving Jack Kennedy's life has dire consequences. In the end, it's none other than Spock who fires shots from the grassy knoll that take the world leader down.

What's more, Roddenberry's behavior is that of a petulant child who's had his favorite toy taken away by his parents. While Phase II/The Motion Picture was in production, Roddenberry and Harold Livingston went out of their respective ways to sabotage each other's scripts. Paramount executives Michael Eisner and Frank Mancuso finally stopped Roddenberry in his tracks by telling him that his TMP script was "shit" and "made for television," opting instead to go with what Livingston wanted (but not before Livingston quit three different times to get away from Gene).

Obviously, Shatner's book is one person's perspective plus recollections from various people who were on the set at the time these events happened. Does anyone else know of information that supports or contradicts Shatner's telling of how each film was put together (and Roddenberry's diminishing input into each subsequent film)?

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Old September 2 2013, 09:22 PM   #2
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

From my own research/reading I consider Roddenberry an average television writer of original material/scripts, but an absolutely superb rewriter and shaper of problem scenes in other's scripts.

YMMV

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Old September 2 2013, 09:35 PM   #3
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

Sran wrote: View Post
Obviously, Shatner's book is one person's perspective plus recollections from various people who were on the set at the time these events happened. Does anyone else know of information that supports or contradicts Shatner's telling of how each film was put together (and Roddenberry's diminishing input into each subsequent film)?
Read Joel Engel's Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Who Created Star Trek. In the movie era, it covers a lot of the same ground and paints the same picture. (However, to be fair, Engel and Shatner's cowriter Chris Kreski used several of the same sources -- Livingston, Bennett, Meyer -- so the two books are going to tell the same basic story.)

Roddenberry as a petulant child -- that's actually a good description. His toy was taken away from and he lashed out at the people who had it. I've long suspected that the reason Roddenberry's views on Star Trek evolved so rapidly in utopian directions in the 1980s was because he wanted to put a stamp on what Star Trek was, even if what he said it was didn't match the reality of what it had been. That would explain why Bennett was confused by Roddenberry's pronouncements that his films weren't Star Trek, when he wasn't doing anything in them that Roddenberry hadn't done twenty years earlier.

If you're curious about the JFK script, this TrekBBS thread may enlighten you, as will this blog article about the story cited in the first post there.

As for the question in the title... No, I don't think Roddenberry was a terrible writer. He was a clunky writer, and he had the unfortunate tendency to believe his own press.
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Old September 2 2013, 09:38 PM   #4
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

I think he had some really good ideas in him, but wasn't always great at execution, and had some pretty lame ideas too. I think "The Cage" is a solid piece of science fiction and an effective character study of Pike. Yet many of his credited scripts or stories for TOS are loaded with silly parallel-Earth stuff ("Bread and Circuses," "The Omega Glory") or rampant sexism ("Mudd's Women," "Turnabout Intruder").

And he certainly had lost it by the time of TNG. The first season, which he heavily rewrote, is full of stilted and awkward dialogue. "Hide and Q," one of the few he got screenplay credit for, has got the most painfully awful dialogue in all of TNG.
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Old September 2 2013, 10:00 PM   #5
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

Perhaps like some GR is better at creating ideas rather than implimenting them. Remember we all have strengths and weaknesses.
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Old September 2 2013, 10:15 PM   #6
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

Sran wrote: View Post
Roddenberry pitched the following idea for every single Trek film but was shot down by some combination of Harold Livingston, Nick Meyer, Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Harve Bennett, and so on:

The crew of the USS Enterprise travels to 1963 to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But it turns out that saving Jack Kennedy's life has dire consequences. In the end, it's none other than Spock who fires shots from the grassy knoll that take the world leader down.
You know, I love TVH, but since they are both time travel stories I must say if I saw the above pitch and a pitch for TVH side by side, I'd probably go with Gene's idea (as just ideas on paper). Who knows how it would have turned out as an actual script, much less a film. But I admit, the idea is very interesting to me. And it very much sounds like something that would have happened on TOS. Hey, it's better than Abe Lincoln appearing in space.

It does make me wonder though by the time they got around to TVH, did they say, "hey Gene, we love the time travel idea. But hey, instead of your JFK angle, how about we go back and get some whales instead?"
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Old September 2 2013, 10:22 PM   #7
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

dub wrote: View Post
It does make me wonder though by the time they got around to TVH, did they say, "hey Gene, we love the time travel idea. But hey, instead of your JFK angle, how about we go back and get some whales instead?"
That's actually a reasonable approximation of what happened. With each film, Roddenberry spent more and more time typing up angry, hateful memos that he circulated around the Paramount lot for everyone to read. Harve Bennett finally realized that the only way to get him to stop was to try to praise as many of his script ideas as possible in order to make him feel like the films were still his creation while still keeping the major story elements in line with what Bennett and Nimoy wanted. So when Roddenberry pitched his JFK idea again, Bennett and Nick Meyer told him they liked the time travel idea but that they wanted to use it differently.

TVH is actually a combination of two scripts put together. Bennett wrote the film's beginning and end. Meyer has everything in the middle, including the bulk of the San Francisco scenes, as he used a lot of ideas that were in Time After Time.

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Old September 2 2013, 10:24 PM   #8
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

MacLeod wrote: View Post
Perhaps like some GR is better at creating ideas rather than implimenting them. Remember we all have strengths and weaknesses.
That has always been my take.
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Old September 2 2013, 10:33 PM   #9
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

Sran wrote: View Post
With each film, Roddenberry spent more and more time typing up angry, hateful memos that he circulated around the Paramount lot for everyone to read.
From what I've read, as the movie series went along, Roddenberry spent less and less time dictating memos of any sort about them. In the Star Trek II production files there are a number of detailed memos from Roddenberry about the script; in the Star Trek VI production files there are none.

Indeed, on that last film, Roddenberry elected not to take his usual "executive consultant" credit -- although he still took the money.
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Old September 2 2013, 10:33 PM   #10
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

MacLeod wrote: View Post
Perhaps like some GR is better at creating ideas rather than implimenting them. Remember we all have strengths and weaknesses.
Actually it seems more like the other way around, a lot of the time. After all, he rewrote all the scripts in the first two seasons, but stopped doing so in the third, and the quality of the writing was much more solid in seasons 1-2. So that suggests, as Sir Rhosis said, that he was good at the implementation of other people's ideas. But the scripts/stories credited to him, the ideas he came up with himself, were often pretty goofy or problematical.
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Old September 2 2013, 10:43 PM   #11
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

Harvey wrote: View Post
From what I've read, as the movie series went along, Roddenberry spent less and less time dictating memos of any sort about them. In the Star Trek II production files there are a number of detailed memos from Roddenberry about the script; in the Star Trek VI production files there are none.

Indeed, on that last film, Roddenberry elected not to take his usual "executive consultant" credit -- although he still took the money.
Interesting. I may just not be remembering what Shatner said. What I do know is that it was never confirmed that Gene was the source of the memos. But both Shatner and Nimoy suspected he was behind it. Bennett tried to smooth things over by including as many of Roddenberry's small ideas as possible in the films to appease him.

Another interesting thread from Shatner's book is the saga of David Gautreaux (Xon). Majel Barrett tried to get him removed from Phase II by bringing in a British actor who turned out to be terrible at his script reading. Then he was left hanging once Wise started trying to recruit Nimoy into the picture because TPTB realized Xon was unnecessary if Spock returned.

--Sran
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Old September 2 2013, 10:46 PM   #12
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

Sran wrote: View Post

The crew of the USS Enterprise travels to 1963 to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But it turns out that saving Jack Kennedy's life has dire consequences. In the end, it's none other than Spock who fires shots from the grassy knoll that take the world leader down.

I prefer Red Dwarf's take on the Kennedy Assassination.

Kennedy: "You mean shoot my self"

Lister: "Yeah, It'll drive the conspiracy nuts crazy, but they'll never figure it out"
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Old September 2 2013, 10:47 PM   #13
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

Aside from those who thought it was an awful story idea, I wonder if another reason the idea was passed on was because the assassination was still too fresh to use as a plot point in a film like this? Especially if it was first pitched in the '70s/early '80s?
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Old September 2 2013, 10:50 PM   #14
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

No, Roddenberry wasn't a terrible writer. Much like any other writer he had his hits and misses.
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Old September 2 2013, 10:55 PM   #15
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Re: Was Roddenberry a Terrible Writer?

dub wrote: View Post
Aside from those who thought it was an awful story idea, I wonder if another reason the idea was passed on was because the assassination was still too fresh to use as a plot point in a film like this? Especially if it was first pitched in the '70s/early '80s?
Partly. Shatner mentioned people also feeling like the story didn't leave much room for imagination because everyone knew what the ending had to be: Kennedy must die in order to save the world. There was also the matter of reconciling the story itself with the events of previous films. How could Spock be the shooter in Star Trek III if he died in TWOK, for example?

I think the JFK storyline had potential, but I think it would have been disappointing for fans wanting an original idea rather than something already used in "The City on the Edge of Forever." Plus, Nimoy was determined to make a lighter film for TVH after the drama of TWOK and TSFS. JFK dying on the big screen wouldn't have been that. Unless Jack Ruby shouted "double dumbass on you" instead of "you killed the President, you rat" before shooting Oswald.

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