Wednesday, September 29, 2010

ST Top 10 Redux – Coon Hunting

So maybe I went a little bit overboard on both content and time-dedicated to the “Top 10” of Star Trek project … I was “rewarded” in terms of interest in the project. My blog counter went up about 250 during the “countdown” – more than 10 percent of the total hits since I started the counter a year ago. Turns out nerds use the Internet.

Now while I need to move on to pointlessly bashing “Glee” or making whatever political comments I don’t send to Utah Policy, I want to end on one item in terms of the “legacy” issue I mentioned several times in previous posts. Some of this will be summation, but most of it I formulated (or learned) as I was writing/researching the “Top 10.”

Star Trek does not owe its success to Gene Roddenberry.

Okay yes it does, but not really. While Roddenberry may have built the ship, a lot of other people deserve the credit for taking it to warp speed. The creative person behind so much of what became signature Star Trek concepts was not Roddenberry, but Gene Coon. Because he died in 1973, he wasn’t around to contribute to the movies or “TNG,” so he gets mostly forgotten, but Coon created

a) Klingons
b) Khan
c) Zefram Cochrane
d) The Prime Directive
e) The horta
f) The Gorn
g) Tribbles (with David Gerrold)
h) The term “United Federation of Planets”

Moreover, the high-point of the franchise – movies 2, 3, 4 and 6 – had virtually no input from Roddenberry. The movie he had the most to do with creatively was “The Motion Picture,” which was lame and boring but financially viable. Paramount realized that they had a good product, but not a great leader. So they tapped outsiders Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett to do “Wrath of Khan,” and then they – with Leonard Nimony – became the guiding force of the movies.

Roddenberry harrumphed his way through this, and his consolation prize was total control over the spin-off in 1987. While he created the characters for “Next Generation,” Roddenberry is also responsible for a lot of the truly lame stuff in the series. That first season, that’s virtually unwatchable? Yeah, guess who was in charge for those. “TNG” didn’t really start to get good until Roddenberry let go of the reins. And though he’s been denounced by Trek fans for years, Rick Berman was the driving force behind its most excellent work. He became executive producer at season 3, hired Ron Moore and Mike Piller, and the show went to warp factor 11.

Now some of the damage was undone in later seasons, but while Coon’s “TOS” first-season legacy reads like a hall of fame speech, Roddenberry’s “TNG” first-season legacy is like an FBI most wanted list. These include:
a) Counselor Troi’s “pedantic psychobabble” and constant space-PMS (quickly done away with)
b) Data’s “witless exploration of humanity” (Create a daughter? Yes. Learn about comedy on the holodeck? No.)
c) Wesley saves the day (though now Wil Wheaton is a hero to nerds)
d) Q (the first-season Q episodes are awful)
e) Ferengi as the legitimate adversaries (the “new Klingons”)
f) The holodeck

Now these are just details. But the biggest problems were intrinsic to the show’s premise:
a) A money-less economy because of “technology unchained”
b) Homogenous heroes that are never in conflict with each other
c) Starfleet is not a military organization and too much space politics
d) Goop-on-the-forehead aliens
e) Total religious secularization
Now one of my key issues is the fact that “TNG” has virtually no legacy – despite the fact that it (and more affordable, realistic-looking special effects) ushered in a veritable Renaissance of TV sci-fi and fantasy shows. And I think Roddenberry’s influence is responsible for this. Though Berman and others were able to work around some of Roddenberry’s constraints, they were duty-bound to pretty much keep a lot of the problems he created, as we'll discuss tomorrow.
But in short, we can summarize that if Gene Roddenberry had enjoyed as much editorial control as George Lucas had with the prequels, the "TOS" movies would have all looked like No. 1 and the "TNG" run would have looked like No. 2.

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