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Roddenberry, Gene

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Film, TV.

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(1921-1991) US television scriptwriter, producer, director and creator of Star Trek. Roddenberry began writing in the late 1940s while working as a pilot for a commercial airline. In 1953 he sold his first television script and in 1956 his first that was sf, a genre in which he had not previously been particularly interested. In 1954 he became a full-time television writer. In 1963 he created and produced a series of his own – The Lieutenant – for MGM, and in the same year conceived Star Trek but had difficulty launching the project; and it was not to be until 1966 that the show reached television screens. Star Trek was not a great success in terms of ratings and was ended in 1968, but over the next decade, partly as a consequence of reruns, the show built up a huge following.

After Star Trek, Roddenberry spent much time trying to launch other television sf series, but without success, although four pilot episodes appeared as made-for-tv films: Genesis II (1973), Planet Earth (1974), The Questor Tapes (1974) and Strange New World (1975). In 1977, turning from sf to horror, Roddenberry wrote Spectre, a television pilot, directed by Clive Donner, along the lines of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with Robert Culp as a demonologist detective; this too failed to be sold as a series.

Throughout the 1970s a Star Trek revival was continually announced, either as a television series or as a theatrical film, but it was only after the success of Star Wars (1977) that such a project became feasible. In 1979 Roddenberry finally produced Star Trek: The Motion Picture, directed by Robert Wise, with the cast of the old series stranded among state-of-the-art special effects. The announced budget was much inflated by many years of development costs having almost nothing to do with the final film; without such irrelevant factors the film would have been the most successful of the Star Trek movies. As it was, on the official figures, though commercially successful, it was by no means the blockbuster that Paramount had envisioned, and Roddenberry took a less personal interest in the ongoing sequels, of which there have been five to date, commencing with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982); these eschew the daring but tedious mystical approach of Wise's film and revert to the cosy soap-and-sentiment basics of the original series. In 1987 Roddenberry cowrote and produced Encounter at Farpoint, the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), a sequel television series set 80 years on in the Star Trek universe; he continued to serve as overall creative guide, but not on a day-to-day basis, and died shortly before his basic concept was spun off into a third television series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999).

The Making of Star Trek (1968) by Stephen E Whitfield and Roddenberry was actually written by Whitfield and The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1980) by Susan Sackett and Roddenberry was written by Sackett. Roddenberry was also credited as author of the novelization Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). He was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007. [JB/KN/PN]

Eugene Wesley Roddenberry

born El Paso, Texas: 19 August 1921

died Santa Monica, California: 24 October 1991



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