Harlan Ellison: Star Trek Was Just "A Cop Show"

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by cooleddie74, Jan 21, 2019.

  1. cooleddie74

    cooleddie74 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I'm sure more than a few of you are familiar with the famous episode of Tom Synder's Tomorrow that was taped in or around February of 1976 and featured DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig and Harlan Ellison discussing the cultural phenomenon of TOS when the series was becoming a global sensation in syndicated reruns. During the show Ellison - never one to mince words about any subject and notoriously upset by how NBC and Desilu tinkered with his original script for "The City on the Edge of Forever" to remove what both the network and studio considered overt drug references and other counterculture themes - turned to Doohan and called Star Trek a cop show to the bemused annoyance of the former.

    Ellison posited that Trek was a series about human starship officers flying around the galaxy bringing order to alien societies and making things right and in that regard TOS was nothing more nor less than a cop show set in outer space in the distant future instead of here on Earth in the present day. Harlan also went on to give his opinion that the morality tales offered by Star Trek were lightweight at best and that the series just didn't live up to (nor really deserve) its fanatical cult status in the 1970s, what with the show being at best just a good TV series and not being as weighty in its story material as the fans of the era (and now, because little has changed over the past forty-plus years) wanted to believe.

    I'm a big fan of Harlan Ellison even though I find myself in sharp disagreement with some of his stances and the hills upon which he often chose to make his stands throughout his career, and I have to admit he had a point about the cop show comparison even if I don't fully agree with his decision to classify TOS as just a cop show set in outer space. When you take the time to analyze the Trek franchise in-general over the decades the series and films do more often than not offer a vision of a human future where noble and enlightened men and women travel into the depths of space righting wrongs and making moral judgments that both United Earth and later the Federation found justifiable but in retrospect would come off to the inhabitants of many other civilizations as being the smiling but condescending police officer who pulls into the neighborhood and proceeds to lecture the folks in the area on how they should live or else he and others with a badge will be keeping their eye on things and show up again if needs be to set things right.

    So did Harlan have a good point in your own opinions or was he way off base and just being the grouchy but lovable iconoclast that millions came to know and admire through the decades? Is it another nugget of indisputable Ellison wisdom or just another one of his passionately-held opinions that he felt to be the truth but almost nobody else would entertain or take seriously? The man had his moments where he made people think and this was one of them, but is this a case of sour grapes from a man who had experienced difficulty with the producers of the series?

    TOS and Star Trek as a whole: Expensive and lavish cop show franchise or just people in uniforms nosing into the business of others and feeling they know best because of human history and our behavior as a species?

     
  2. Takeru

    Takeru Space Police Commodore

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    He kinda nailed it.
     
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  3. The Wormhole

    The Wormhole Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    And now the question to set fandom into a fervor of never-ending circular debates: Is Starfleet a police force?

    Okay, on a more serious note, while I wouldn't go ahead and call Star Trek a cop show, it is a valid comparison and certainly the typical episode Trek or a cop show are set up and organized in similar fashions. The Captain and XO are the lead detectives, ship's doctor the medical examiner, the security officers the uniform cops, the admirals are the police chiefs, irritating Federation bureaucrats people with the city's government, the DA or lawyers. I'm sure the other characters can matched up to parallels in cop shows. They use their talents and job specialties to tackle the issue of the week, whether it's aliens up to no good/planets in distress or solving a crime
     
  4. cooleddie74

    cooleddie74 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    "The Apple(TOS)" is an episode that does sort of remind one of the cops who pull into the poor neighborhood and bust the drug dealer without any consideration for what the locals will do once their drug habits and addictions are no longer being fed, with the Sergeant giving a lecture to the local families that if they just be patient they'll learn there are cooler and better things to do than drugs before driving off in smug self-satisfaction that the police just saved the kids from a life of being stoners and wearing tacky clothing.
     
  5. donners22

    donners22 Commodore Commodore

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    Nicholas Meyer says something similar in his autobiography, in that TOS was about Starfleet/America going around imposing their values on “lesser races”.

    The Klingons call them out on it somewhat in The Undiscovered Country, and I saw an earlier version of the script which was even more pointed.
     
  6. The Wormhole

    The Wormhole Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Again, he's not wrong.
     
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  7. Gov Kodos

    Gov Kodos Admiral Admiral

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    And, as pointed out in the video, too. They're green, shoot them down, what does it matter.
     
  8. GNDN18

    GNDN18 270 Rear Admiral

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    Stardate 1312.4:
     
  9. The Wormhole

    The Wormhole Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    That's the opening narration to the unaired version of WNMHGB, right?
     
  10. cooleddie74

    cooleddie74 Fleet Admiral Admiral

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  11. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk Worf In the 23rd Century Premium Member

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    It was a SF cop show/western not too different than actual cop show/westerns.
     
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  12. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Star Trek's fan have long given it approbation for work it never actually did, supported by Roddenberry who frequently derided the quality of TV and his need to use Trek as a Trojan Horse get little morality plays on the air. But these notions don't stand up to scrutiny when you actually see a broader swath of 60's television than what survives in syndication today. Cicely Tyson was a non-maid black female character on East Side/West Side three years before Uhura. The Defenders tackled social issues head-on in a way Trek never had the mandate/guts to do for four years before the Enterprise hit the airwaves, I Spy Had a black co-lead a year before Trek and even did an episode on heroin addiction where the addict didn't kick the habit. Etc.

    Star Trek did have some progressive things to say, but it was neither unique or especially daring in that regard.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
  13. Delta Vega

    Delta Vega Commodore Commodore

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    I don't know the first thing about Harlan Ellison other than he wrote "The City On The Edge Of Forever", but once or twice over the years I've seen his outspoken comments about Star Trek.
    So fuck, they messed with your story, they rewrote it, they edited it, get over it.
    Did you get paid for it ?
    I'd guess that you did, so what ?
    To be honest, I've never gave this episode the uber worship that others give it.
    It's a decent story, but not the best ever Star Trek episode, not for me.
    I think the fact that I have a pathological hatred for Joan Collins doesn't help, but hey ho.
    In short, I think Mr Ellison comes across as a dick any time I've read quotes attributed to him.
     
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  14. Henoch

    Henoch Rear Admiral Premium Member

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    So what if it was a cop show at times. I like cop shows.
    He wins a Hugo award thanks to Star Trek, and he bitches about it. Dick.
     
  15. Burning Hearts of Qo'nOs

    Burning Hearts of Qo'nOs Commodore Commodore

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    I'd be lying if I didn't think of some of the TNG episodes as basically a procedural cop show. Every officer has their own little specialized scene where they add their technical input as the (whoever the main character is for this episode and their partner) A their way to B and C. It's like every episode of SVU.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2019
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  16. Gov Kodos

    Gov Kodos Admiral Admiral

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    Procedurals are popular on TV, especially in the US, so it is unsurprising that Trek followed that format. The clip isn't criticism the format so much as the belief in fandom that Trek is so different from and superior to other shows on TV when it is not. It's just another cop show.
     
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  17. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Ellison didn't win that Hugo: he shared it with the SHOW, which won the Hugo for "Best Dramatic Presentation". At that same presentation he won the Hugo for Best Short Story for “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”.

    But Ellison won the Writers Guild Award for his draft of the script, which in Hollywood is a way bigger deal. In fact, he won FOUR of them, something no other writer for Trek can claim; not Roddenberry nor Coon nor Fontana nor Bloch nor Sturgeon nor Ronald D. Moore nor Michael Pillar et al.

    I don't think the "City" episode Hugo mattered to him one bit.
     
  18. Mysterion

    Mysterion Vice Admiral Admiral

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    ^^^^
    And besides which, his draft of City was a much better story than what aired.
     
  19. The Wormhole

    The Wormhole Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I'm not exactly sure what any of that has to do with whether one agrees or not that Star Trek is similar to cop shows.
     
  20. Lance

    Lance Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    It isn't a comparison I'd ever considered, and I was prepared to dispute it. Star Trek, to me, was always more like 18th century British navy, the setup being that it's on an interstellar scale but that distant worlds aren't particularly different to distant lands. The ship entering orbit and becoming involved in a local problem being like HMS McBoatface mooring alongside an island in the Caribbean and doing likewise. But honestly, on thinking about it, I see his point. Structurally, there are comparisons there, certainly in terms of constructing a story, to the way one might write any police procedural. That being said, I feel like Ellison's draft script for "City", which included drug dealers among the Enterprise crew, was perhaps taking the cop show analogy ever so slightly too far...
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2019
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