Friday, March 24, 2017

Beyond Star Trek, Part 1: Other Gene Roddenberry Productions

                Gene Roddenberry will always be remembered as the creator of Star Trek.  However, during his lifetime Roddenberry did create another television series, which lasted one season, and a total of four TV movies in the 1970s.  Here are some of the lesser known works of Gene Roddenberry.
                Gene Roddenberry’s first series was actually The Lieutenant, which lasted one season from September 14, 1963, to April 18, 1964.  The series starred Gary Lockwood as Second Lieutenant William Tiberius Rice who after graduating the Naval Academy was assigned to Camp Pendleton.  Robert Vaughn played Captain Raymond Rambridge, Rice’s superior officer.  Being a modern day military drama, Roddenberry didn’t shy away from tough subjects at the time, including the Vietnam War, Communism, and Racism (the episode that dealt with racism never aired during the show’s original run).  The show is notable for having many of the Star Trek actors in guest roles before the Science Fiction series premiered in 1966, including Leonard Nimoy (as a Hollywood Producer), Majel Barrett (as the Hollywood producer’s assistant), Nichelle Nicolas (as a black army officer’s fiancée, in the unaired episode), Walter Koenig (as Sgt. John Delwyn, whose mother is a Communist).  Lockwood later guest starred in the first aired episode of Star Trek as Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell.  Twenty-nine episodes were filmed, and are available on two-volume set on DVD. 
                After Star Trek was canceled in 1969, Roddenberry struggled to find work.  In the early 1970s, before Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Roddenberry created four television movies, each meant as pilots for a Television Series, each of which was not picked up.  In 1973, Roddenberry’s first effort was called Genesis II (which aired on March 23 1973), and starred Alex Cord as Dylan Hunt, a man who is put into suspended animation and wakes up in a post-apocalyptic future (in the year 2133) following “The Great Conflict” (a third world war).  Hunt is revived by a peaceful organization called “PAX” who are trying to escape the clutches of a totalitarian regime called Tyranians.  
             Roddenberry’s next TV project was called The Questor Tapes, which aired on January 23, 1974.  In this movie, Robert Foxworth played Questor, an android robot on a search for his creator and his purpose, and he joins up with Jerry Robinson, who was one of the teams who created Questor.  Roddenberry and the network disagreed so strongly about the content of the series that Roddenberry abandoned the project that TV movie was all that came of the concept.  
              On April 23, 1974, Roddenberry’s third TV movie premiered, called Planet Earth, which starred John Saxon as Dylan Hunt.  In this follow-up to Genesis II, Hunt and a team of people from PAX go on the hunt for a missing doctor and wind up in the Confederacy of Ruth, where women rule society and men are used as slaves.  Hunt learns that women have been drugging the men to make them compliant.  (John Saxon would later be Captain Anthony Vico in Strange New World, which aired in 1975, about a PAX team put in suspended animation because of nuclear war, but that TV movie did not have Roddenberry’s involvement.)  
               Spectre, the final TV movie with Roddenberry’s direct involvement, was about William Sebastian, a criminologist with a belief in the occult, and his partner Dr. Amos “Ham” Hamilton, who refuses to believe in supernatural elements.   They investigate a family who has been plagued by a demon named Asmodeus.  The TV movie aired on May 21, 1977.

                Gene Roddenberry’s lesser known works have not been forgotten.  The Lieutenant has been released on DVD and each of the TV movies as well.  Check out Roddenberry’s television contributions beyond Star Trek.  

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