conducted by Don Harden,
with Tim Farley
published in SENSOR READINGS 1, April 1984
On February 12 and 13, 1983, the Third Annual Emory Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium was held on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta. The guests of this event included the late Robert Bloch, a Hugo Award winning science fiction, fantasy and horror writer; and David Gerrold, well known to Star Trek fans as writer of several episodes of the series as well as numerous books and magazine columns about the series. In connection with the Symposium, several interviews of Mr. Bloch and Mr. Gerrold were conducted, both separately and together. Material from these interviews has previously appeared in Stardate 18 (March 1983), and in some Emory campus publications. We have here combined these with some new, previously unpublished material for the first time.
Robert Albert Bloch was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 5, 1917. He began writing at age 17, and made his first sales to Weird Tales in 1935. He has worked as an advertising copywriter, a television panelist, and as a television and feature film writer. (The last of which he is probably best known for as originator of Psycho, although he won the Hugo Award for "That Hellbound Train" in 1958.) He wrote more than sixty stories or teleplays for Thriller, The Alfred Hitchcock Show, Star Trek and others, including the Star Trek episodes "What Are Little Girls Made of?", "Catspaw", and "Wolf in the Fold." He also wrote more than 200 short stories and articles, and over 20 books, including Psycho II (which bears no relation to the movie of the same name) and Twilight Zone--The Movie. In Night of the Ripper (1984), Bloch presented his solution to the Ripper murders in a fictional setting. Other books followed. Lori (1989) was a thriller about a woman who, after the loss of her family and her childhood home, slowly discovers that she may not be who she thinks she is. Psycho House (1990) marked Bloch's final return to the Bates Motel, now a tourist attraction complete with knife wielding automatons. Bloch's final novel, The Jekyll Legacy, written with Andre Norton in 1991, was a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Blochs last major work, however, was his autobiography, Once Around the Bloch (1993), in which Bloch recounts his life, career, and friends. Robert Bloch passed away on September 23, 1994, after a long fight with cancer.
David Gerrold was born David Jerrold Friedman, in Chicago, Illinois on January 24. 1944. He received his B.A. from San Fernando Valley State College in 1967, and has worked in a toy store, in a "dirty book store," and as a television producer. He got his start in television (and professional writing) with the sale of his script, "The Trouble With Tribbles" to Star Trek in 1967. Since that time he has written and co-written several other scripts for Star Trek, including "I, Mudd", "The Cloud-minders", "More Tribbles, More Troubles" and "Bem". He has written two books on the series, The Trouble with Tribbles and The World of Star Trek, the latter of which was re-released in connection with Star Trek III when this interview was conducted. He has written many other television scripts, for various series, and has served as story editor for Land of the Lost and Buck Rogers. He served as part of the staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its developmental stage. He has written over 20 books, including the Star Trek novel, The Galactic Whirlpool. He wrote a monthly column for Starlog magazine, as well as occasional articles for various computer magazines. When we spoke with him he was working on another Star Trek novel, tentatively titled To Shroud the Stars which was to feature "the neatest extraterrestrial menace I've ever come up withit's not a race, it's not a planet or something, but it's a menace."
Mr. Bloch and Mr. Gerrold made an interesting pair at the symposium, to say the very least. Mr. Bloch was a distinguished man (he smoked using a cigarette holder), and was witty, erudite and utterly charming. He was a virtuoso pianist. Mr. Gerrold, 27 years Bloch's junior, was and still is talkative, energetic, and has a laugh that will bring down ceilings!
Prior to the symposium, both gentlemen spoke with us together. Then, at various times during the events, we had opportunities to speak with each separately. This interview combines questions from various sessions; where Gerrold's comments and Bloch's comments are interspersed, they were answering the same, question; where their comments are more separate (and diverse) they were speaking separately.
We have concentrated on the Star Trek-related comments here, though the interviews covered a wide range of topics, including the responsibility of writers to their audience, the current wave of "splatter films", the production of Psycho, Psycho II, the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, the television version of Buck Rogers, and many other topics.
Question: Mr. Gerrold, is it more difficult now to break into television as a writer than it was when you were getting started in 1967?
Gerrold: That's a good question. Seeing as how I'm not trying to break into TV right now, it's very difficult for me to make that kind of comparison. You know, if you have a credential, you can get work. I suspect that it is more difficult now because there are less opportunities and the opportunities are more difficult to find. It's sixteen years later and it's a whole different world. The shows now tend to be more staff-written, there's fewer episodes per season, and there's less of a willingness to be bold or experimental. There is a great rush in Hollywood in that everybody wants to be the first guy to be second. So there's not as many opportunities in the sense of finding a Gene Roddenberry or a Gene L. Coon who is willing to take a chance, especially on a beginner. Every time you buy a script, you're taking a chance. The question is, 'do we take a chance on someone who once delivered a script that was shoot able, or do we take a chance on a beginner?' On the other hand, there are shows like St. Elsewhere and Hill Street Blues that are remarkably innovative. Shows like that, which tend to take chances and try to do something in a different direction, are indicative of their own operating philosophy. Look at M*A*S*H, for instance: almost every cast member who wanted the opportunity eventually got to either write or direct. I would say that it's a question ultimately of the individual show. I don't think you can fairly generalize and say that the situation is not the same today.
Bloch: You have a statistical problem, too, because there are 6,500 members of the Writer's Guild of America, and there are approximately 1,000 assignments per year that are available in television, a good deal of which is staff written. This makes it very difficult even for those who are already established or have credentials and when you have somebody come in from outside, it's doubly difficult.
Gerrold: Let me add something to that: I was talking to a producer last week at a Saturday morning animation studio, and the studio has a commitment to do 65 half-hour episodes of an animated show for a big toy company. They're really hurting for scripts because what they've been getting has not been up to the level of quality they would like to have, and they still have 30 script assignments that they have to handle. Immediately, there was a question of me functioning as story editor, saying, 'Well, I'm going to hire the writers I know who are good and fast. So, if somebody came to me as an untried beginner--you know, if I, from 1967 walked into the office that I'm sitting in today, I would probably not be too eager to give myself a chance. On the other hand, there are some Hollywood people who are committed to developing new talent and making a contribution as well as passing on what they know to the next guy down the line. So, that is where the opportunity is today. Find someone who is willing to boost you along until you don't need training wheels any longer.
Question: Didn't Gene Coon, as a producer, start as a writer?
Gerrold: Gene L. Coon was a hell of a good writer and that was why he was such a good producer because he could look at the stories he was going to produce with a writer's story sense. He was not so much interested in the actors as people so much as the characters they were portraying. He would ask, 'what would Kirk do in this situation, and what would Spock do?' He was totally involved in the story he was telling. Total attention was given to the things that would make the story work. I think that was his success. And I think the same applies to Gene Roddenberry and Dorothy Fontana. In fact, the remarkable thing about the first two years of Star Trek was the level of quality all the way down the line. Everybody there not only knew how to do their job, but they also knew how to do it well.
Bloch: It's not true today in many instances, but the network calls the shots, and people are arbitrarily assigned to a show with very little preconception of what it is that they are about to do; and they have very little time in which to develop anything.
Gerrold: When a cast gets it together and is working, there is the sense of ensemble. Star Trek had it, M*A*S*H had it, Mary Tyler Moore and All In The Family had it.
Gerrold: Yes, and that teamwork has to occur behind the scenes. too. Star Trek had that. It was hard work, but they had fun doing it and they never lost that context of teamwork.
Bloch: Everybody knew what they were doing. I'll give you an example without naming names. I did an episode for a show about five years ago which was an abortive attempt at a science-fiction series (Editors note: The Return of Captain Nemo). The network gave the go-ahead on it, and they were going to do a four-part story. They assigned each individual episode to a different writer. You had four writers working, neither one of them knew what the other ones were doing, and they had a three-week deadline! And it went off the air after those first four weeks.
Gerrold: Something that has shifted is that the networks don't outright castthe show, assign the director and the writerthey make suggestions. The producer no longer has the freedom to produce the way he did ten or fifteen years ago. In fact, it was about the time that Star Trek was taken off the air that the age of real individuality and independence in television was coming to a close. And in order to be bold on TV today, you have to have clout.
Question: You get 13 weeks and then nothing.
Bloch: You don't even have 13 weeks anymore. They'll sign to a 6-week commitment and that's about it. (Editors Note: The Heather Graham series, Emilys Reasons Why Not, was recently cancelled by ABC after only one episode had aired, and the remaining five may never be aired.)
Gerrold: That's shifting: they're now letting the shows stay on a little longer.
Bloch: They should.
Gerrold: St. Elsewhere may survive because they're being given a chance to stay on longer. Hill Street Blues needed time to find an audience, same thing with Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, etc. A lot of the great hit shows like Dick Van Dyke and M*A*S*H were not hits in their first seasons and Star Trek was never a hit while it was on network because the network didn't know how to market it.
Question: What's interesting about M*A*S*H and Mary Tyler Moore is that they didn't get cancelled, they expended themselves in that they worked their concept until they figured they did everything they wanted to do with it.
Gerrold: That's right. If NBC had given Roddenberry a good third season time slot so that he could reach that younger audience, it would still be on the air today. Gene told them he needed an 8:00 time slot because most or them had to be tucked into bed by the time Star Trek came on at 8:30, or they couldn't stay up to see the end of the show. And NBC didn't believe that. It wasn't until the show went into syndication that Gene was vindicated on that because the local stations put the show on early, and the ratings sometimes knocked the network shows off the air. It was an incredible phenomenon, and Gene knew what he was tapped into: that awareness of where the next generation of excitement was coming from. He was totally caught up and involved in it, and so was everybody on the show. But NBC was so alienated from the audience that they had no sense of the audience they wanted to reach. Star Trek was one of those shows like Bonanza that could have lasted forever.
Question: There was a quote from NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff a few weeks ago which he said, "We're not purposely going to go out and make junk, because we've found that junk doesn't work, either."
Gerrold: (Laughs) Nobody sets out to make a bad show. But because of the way the system is structured, they are afraid to fail. Now, you have to be willing to lose before you can win. I mean, if you were afraid to lose, you wouldn't go out onto a football field. You have to be willing to lose a game before you can win it. And when they say that they're afraid to fail, they start cutting off this whole top and bottom range of what they are willing to do and they end up in this very narrow middle range of what they are willing to do. They're not willing to experiment in any way because that's risking failure. And if you don't dare risk failure, then you can't achieve greatness.
Bloch: If you want to be a successful executive in film or television, you will buy (at the most exorbitant possible price) a Broadway hit or a multimillion dollar best-selling novel; you'll hire the most expensive talent or so-called 'talent' that you can find, and if the film or the series fails, you can say, "Geez, don't blame me! This SOB played on Broadway for two years," or "The book sold eight million copies! It's not my fault! The goddamn writer, the goddamn director did this and that!" You're home free. You're safe, and there are many producers who have made a career of this.
Gerrold: You know, there's a motto in computer sales: "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM." Well, that's the whole game over at the networksthere are safe things to do. For instance, nobody ever got fired for buying another Hanna Barbera cartoon show for Saturday mornings; nobody ever got fired for picking up another show from such-and-such studio, you know ...
Bloch: You buy something with a built-in alibi. (Gerrold laughs). And you really have to personalize it. Put yourself in the position of somebody who has some authority over his head at the network. And what you do is you practice this kind of gamesmanship. Be sure that whatever it is that you are going to do, you won't be held responsiblebecause there will be some prior success that you can point to and say, "Well, look, I bought something that was hot! Somebody else screwed it up."
Question: You know, what comes to mind is the old Planet of the Apes TV series. You would have thought that would have been a great success, but ...
Gerrold: Well, they were using scripts left over from Rawhide. And in the New Odd Couple, they have used some of the original Odd Couple scripts! I mean, talk about terror! They're even afraid to hire a writer a second time. Now, there is some hope in the situation. There's a growing number of people in the industry who are committed to not having this situation continue anymore. There's a whole group of people called the Impact Group, and their purpose is to transform the industry from the operating context of what we've been describing into a context of making a positive difference on the planet. In other words, I love the old Frank Capra movies. They made me feel good about being a human being. That's also my vision of not only what the world should be, but also what the world is. Except that we've all seen just a little too much stuff, so we don't quite want to believe that people are basically good anymore. And when you tune in the news or read your daily paper, you're presented with a lot of information saying that the world doesn't work--which is a biased view, because there's an awful lot of information available that the world does work. If you knew about the Hunger Project, youd say, "Hey, there are people committed to ending hunger on the planet," etc. See, there's not enough emphasis on what does work. There is too much emphasis on what does not work.
Question: With television being a non-interactive medium, do you think there's any way to make it into more of a positive type of exchange?
Gerrold: I think that we are seeing the evolution of a whole new medium here. In fact, TV is going to change whether we want it to or not. We've got a 30-year long generation which has taken TV as a passive medium. The marriage of computers, video games and videodiscs will make for an interactive storytelling medium. You'll still have the bombardment of imagery, but you'll have more control over it. One of the positive things with cable pay TV is that commercials have been trimmed out of it. On my cable, there's a classified ad channel and a community affairs channel. So if you want to see something specific, you know where to find it. But they don't interrupt the movies every 14 minutes to tell me what a jerk I am for not using so-and-so's product.
Bloch: It's a matter of fragmentation, tooand the domination of the three networks has been a real problem for the last 20 years or so, plus the exorbitant costs. Now, at the time that television came into being, it was similar to much of radio. One sponsor had a program.
Gerrold: By the way, who do you think pays for the programs on 'free' TV? You do. Every time you buy one of those advertised products, at least 10% of the cost goes to the ads that got you to buy the product in the first place. Do you want to see the economy get sensible? Outlaw TV commercials, and all of a sudden the cost of advertising products will go down and the product cost will go down too.
Bloch: And the emphasis will be on improving the quality of the product in order to attract customers rather than improving the number of commercials and getting enough prime-time slots for them.
Gerrold: Then we'd have to find a new way to finance the shows. In England, there is a tax on your TV set, something like 25 bucks a year. Out of that, the shows are financed. So over there, shows aren't financed on the basis of what can pull the biggest ratings, they're financed on the basis of what best serves the audience. What gives the audience a well-rounded diet of viewing? In the U.S., what we have is whipped cream and sugar TV programming with only an occasional steak. You know, they don't neglect the other stuff in the meal. You may not like your cauliflower, spinach and carrots, but it's there. And the level of British broadcasting varies. There's some stuff that's very bad, and there's some stuff that's very good. What is sent to the U.S. is usually the stuff thats very good. And their good programs are so remarkable in their level of quality that it puts us here all to shame. It's really embarrassing sometimes for me to say, "I write for TV." So I don't--I say, "I write novels."
Bloch: There are other factors. too, which we take for granted. In England, it's not necessary that the length of a program be determined by the number of network commercial breaks. You can have a 15 or a 20 or a 40 minute show, and the script is as long as is needed to tell that particular story. And because they don't have the tremendous emphasis on ratings over there, there are no star salaries that become astronomical. $300,000 per show for some of these idiots, you know, in their third year, because literally they have the sponsors and the network by the throat! "You pay me or else you don't have a series." That's one of the reasons why you have so many fine actors on British TV. People who are stars in the West End will do a cameo or a small role in a showand you get the very best.
Gerrold: There are some incredible British actors and actresses like John Hurt and Sharon Phillips, and if you tune in enough, you realize that there is this whole set of extraordinary British actors. What is being demonstrated by the British is just how untrained some of our people are. In the thirties and forties, when the studios ran everything, you didn't write, direct or act in any movie until you paid your dues and were trained to do it. If you were hired as a contract player, you went to acting school, dancing school, singing schooland they trained you for a year before you ever got in front of the camera for even a short cameo. Since that system has been dismantled, and it's now all independent producers, anybodybelieve me; I know thisanybody can get up in front of the camera if the circumstances are right. So you wind up with some very untrained people getting in front of the camera. There was a major science fiction film (I won't identify it) in which two or three of the people who were cast in speaking roles had no training as actors. But, one was a secretary in the office, the other was the wife of the starand you could tell that it was the wife of the star, when she walked across the set for her one performance, she didn't even walk like a human being. She stumbled. And you were aware of the circumstance. You know, if you knew that this was the wife of the star, all a sudden, you're really aware that she is not as polished in her performance and shes supposed to be one of the people who knows what shes doing on the planetand she looks like she doesnt. You know, under the old system where the attention was to making a finished product, it was very much a Henry Ford attitude of, "We will have a crack team working on this and a crack team working on that." Rather than everybody scrambling for their piece, when you have a teamwork situation where people are trained to do their jobs, you get professional quality work. When you get a situation in which people scramble to see how big a slice of the pie they can cut for themselves, what you get is a very sloppy piece of work. It's a question of how people are operating in relation to the thing they are working on.
Question: If we could get back to Star Trek for a moment, there's been a lot of discussion since the release of the second film with Harve Bennett and others producing it and killing off Spockas to 'What is really Star Trek?' Is it just the TV shows, does it include the animateds and the movies? Do you have to have Gene Roddenberry there ...
Question: ... behind the scenes? And what do you think of the novels?
Gerrold: Okay, to the purist, Star Trek is the 79 episodes. In fact, to the real purist, Star Trek is the first two seasons...
Bloch: The first two seasons, yes.
Gerrold: ... because in the third season, Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon and Dorothy Fontana weren't there, and there was a very pronounced shift in attitude because there was a different man in charge. [Editors Note: Fred Freiburger] And this man was not as receptive as he could have been to the people that wanted to support him in staying true to the original concept that Gene had initiated.
Bloch: So, I didn't write any more after those seasons.
Gerrold: Yes. So, to the purist, Star Trek is the first two seasons. But let me draw a larger circle into what we should call Star Trek. It's the concept that, here is a ship and its mission is to boldly go where no man has gone beforewe get that at the beginning of every episode. In other words, to explore the universe to see who's out there on the other side of the hill and say, "Hi, do you want to be friends? We're you're neighbors." That's it. That's the concept of Star Trek. And that's not dependent on any set of actors because we saw in the first Star Trek pilot, it was Captain Pike, Number One and Mr. Spock was there, but Dr. McCoy wasn't therehowever, Spock was the only one who remained after the first pilot. And Christine Chapel was playing Number One, you know, Majel Barrett. But the show is this concept. And there were episodes that stayed true to that concept and there were other episodes that didn't work too well. On the moviesit's funnythe first movie was more true to that concept than the second movie, yet the second one is considered more successful. But that's neither here nor there because that's just the reaction of audiences and there's all kinds of variables in there. On the novels, I haven't read any of the Star Trek novels except for the one I wrote. This is personal, and it's not an encompassing judgment, it's just that the novels are the individual author's opinion about what Star Trek is. There are only two novels written by people who had any connection with Star Trek the TV series. I'm one and the other is Howard Weinstein, who did a script for the animated series. [Editors Note: This interview took place before D.C. Fontanas novel was written and published.] I think there have been some Star Trek novels that have been absolutely untrue to the spirit of Star Trek. And, I say I think that because I have not read themI've skimmed a couple, I've looked at a couple, I've been given reports on what's in the books by some very skilled readers. Some author friends of mine have told me that there is this whole series of Star Trek novels that go down this road of, you know, the sexual fantasy of fat, overweight ladies who want to believe that Kirk and Spock have something going on between them. There's that subtext, and there's this other subtext over here and so on. I think that the Star Trek novels are nothing more than somebody else's fantasiesthey don't relate to the show that Roddenberry originally conceived. I do know that the animated series was a very, very powerful attempt to stay true to the series because Dorothy Fontana, who was story editor for the first two years, was functioning as associate producer and story editor for the animateds. She had scriptwriters like myself, Walter Koenig, plus other writers who worked with the original series. She also had a script from Larry Niven .... But the fact of the matter is that you have to really define Star Trek as being that commitment to the mission to go out and explore and meet. So, Star Trek is not just a TV series, it's a commitment for the human race. Let's get the project going where we get to listen to see who's out there, let's get the starships built, let's go and find out.
Bloch: There are two other factors I can add as a corollary... First, the crew of the Enterprise is a family. It's a human family made up of diverse races, ethnic backgrounds, but in the late 1960's there was tremendous alienation and repudiation of the family. There still was a need for that, and they found it in Star Trek. It was a family and we come back to one other thingand this is the second point. Star Trek is also about responsibility.
Gerrold: I mentioned the Frank Capra stories, and it's also in Star Trek, and you can find it in a lot of places in that, when confronted with a real problem, just about every human being on the planet will rise to the challenge and handle the problem .... The message in Star Trek is that people will rise to their responsibility if given even half the opportunity. People will always be true to their integrity if they can be clear as to what the choice is.
Bloch: Think about it a minute. There were no goof-offs in that crew. There were no scam artists. Everyone knows their jobs and did it to the best of his or her ability.
Question: Do you think that Star Trek is a personal vision of Roddenberry's or is it more of something that the entire group, the whole cast and crew contributed to?
Gerrold: I think it started with Roddenberry, in fact, I know it started with him, who else? Everybody else tapped into it because Gene was speaking to that basic spark of divinity. It's like when you blow on an ember which turns into a flame. That's what happened. The whole crew said, "This is something special, this is no job, this is a life, and it makes a difference on the planet." Ten years ago, a kid with multiple sclerosis was wheeled into a convention in a wheelchair, and this was the highest point of his life because at that point, he had like one year to live. Someone told Gene about him and about how much it would mean to him if he would name him a "Commanding Admiral in Starfleet." From that point on, he was Admiral LaForge, and I even mentioned him in my Star Trek novel. Later, his family wrote and told us that while it wasn't really such a big thing to do, it did mean so much to him that his life was transformed for him. "Gosh, I count! I make a difference!" The Star Trek cast responded to that human sparkthat human self. In most shows, the crew is playing gin rummy. Not Star Trek. In Star Trek, there was interest in what they were doing. It was speaking to the best in us. [Editors Note: The character Geordi LaForge was named for this young fan as well.]
Question: What was it that set Star Trek apart from other television series?
Gerrold: The integrity of the creators. The key factor was Gene Roddenberry at Star Trek and, if I may bring in a similar case, Rod Serling at The Twilight Zone .... these men had vision, and tried to bring that vision to the show. What Serling and Roddenberry were up to was, "How big a problem can we give a human being to solve, and how far will he go to write it?" Serling gave his writers space to exercise their vision, but there was also his vision. The classic episodes are the ones that said "being human is a privilege." And this attitude would show up on the set ... on Star Trek you were not only welcome, but you were invited on the set. They were awestruck that a writer would care enough to visit the set.
Question: Harlan Ellison did a review of Star Trek--The Motion Picture which he said that Gene Roddenberry was not a very good writer. It seems that other science fiction writers agree with that. Do you have any insight into this?
Bloch: Well, Roddenberry was not really into Star Trek as much as the other people who were there working with the show. He was more involved with trying to sell a pilot for his own Police Story series, because "after all, look what Dragnet did for Jack Webb." He's just not a very good writer, but that's not to take anything away from him. He did get the project started, and he was very talented as a coordinator.
Question: How did you come to work for Star Trek?
Bloch: I received a phone call from Dorothy Fontana and she said they wanted a story for Halloween. My arrangement with my agent is that I never solicit an assignment. They called me up and told me what it was that they needed.
Question: Didn't you do "What Are Little Girls Made of?" which guest starred Ted Cassidy as a monstrous android, first?
Bloch: No. I did the episode for Halloween first.
Question: Why did Gene Coon leave Star Trek during the second year?
Gerrold: He had a contract obligation at Universal Studios. He worked with It Takes a Thief.
Question: Did you get to work with John Meredyth Lucas, who produced Star Trek right after Coon left?
Gerrold: I never worked with Lucas, but I am aware that he was a rather kind, soft-spoken person. Somewhat unlike Coon and Roddenberry, who would often bellow with each other, Lucas was more quiet. He was more of a caretaker producer for Star Trek. I'm not totally sure of his input, but the scripts were already bought and written before he came in. But he was versatile.
Question: How did the decay that was evident in the third season really come about?
Gerrold: Gene Roddenberry gave up the show because of the actions of NBC. He walked off the show, and brought in a new producer, who came to Star Trek with his own vision. Instead of having Gene Roddenberry as the source, they had this man. It caught everyone by surprise, and the cast and crew were taken aback. [Editors Note: Freiburger himself has reported that Gene Roddenberry had already purchased all the scripts for the third season. It was simply his job to produce them.]
Question: Recently, a first draft script of "Spock's Brain" came to light, in which the storyline was remarkably better than that which we eventually saw. Do you think that in some ways, Star Trek began to be deliberately bad in the third season, because they knew they were doomed? Sort of a self-parody?
Gerrold: No! The truth is. No one pees in their own coffee. They did what they had to with the vision that was provided for them. No, Fred Freiburger was not a funny manthere were no attempts at humor after Gene L. Coon left. It takes daring to break your own mold, and Freiburger did not have that daring. Now, Gene got into wonderful arguments with people, too ... but with him it was differentit was never personal. If Gene Roddenberry had come back, there would have been that atmosphere or literary freedom, and the show would have survived.
Question: If Star Trek had gone for a fourth season, would you have served with the series as a writer or writing consultant?
Gerrold: If they asked me to, yes, I would.
Question: Would Roddenberry have still been the executive producer, had the series gone for a fourth year?
Gerrold: It depends on the deal the network would have given him. If they had given him an earlier time slot with more control, he would have produced it.
Question: What was your capacity in your work with the animated Star Trek?
Gerrold: I acted more as sort of an informal advisor, in addition to having written some scripts. Dorothy Fontana was associate producer, and we are friends. She would sometimes ask for my input, and I would suggest stuff for her from time to time. I had some influence on the animateds as they were laying out and planning the series. As I mentioned in one of my books, which was in reference to something Roddenberry said at one time, we wanted to codify the aspects we wanted to preserve in Star Trek.
Question: How would you assess your contributions to Star Trek?
Bloch: Well, David Gerrold has almost made a career out of his association with Star Trek. Yes, I was involved with Star Trek, too, and I enjoyed it, but I have been involved in many other things. People are always talking to me about Psycho, for example. That's not to criticize David; it's simply what he has chosen to do.
Question: What did you think of the Star Trek movies?
Gerrold: I enjoyed both of them. I had a lot of fun. It's funny, I've heard a lot of people put down the first movie as being boring or slow-paced or whatever. And I went back to look at the film again a year later, and the thing that slows it down is, I think, the film score is too slow-paced such that you're made conscious that the film is slow-paced. But there is a level of idea there about the nobility of the human spirit which is true to the original conception of the series. Whether or not they succeeded is an individual assessment, but you can see that Gene was working for something. It's an interesting film, but it's not totally successful in even Roddenberry's eyes. The second film is that kind of slam-bang action that Trek could never do on TV, so it's like "Oh boy, now we finally get to see what we only really hinted at before." Each of the two films has its own strengths. I made up my mind that I want to see more Trek, so I enjoy both films. I like 'em both.
Question: It's interesting that Harve Bennett was a friend of Gene Coon's and that Coon co-authored the "Space Seed" script that Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan was based on.
Gerrold: I had a couple of meetings with Harve Bennett about a year before the film started production and I had a chance to read one of the early drafts of the script and he asked for my input. I gave him some thoughts as to how to remain consistent with the first film. He asked if they could ignore the first film. I said, "Not quite, because theres some shift that you have to acknowledge in the relationship between Kirk and Spockyou know, Spock is not the same character anymore, etc." But Bennett was at a loss. He said he didn't know what he was doing here, and he wanted to do the very best Star Trek ever, and he didn't want to screw it up. The more he talked, the more I sensed his commitment. And I felt that it was like having Gene Coon back again with the same sense of commitment he had to Star Trek. Bennett had to literally reinvent Star Trek, and he did a marvelous job of it. The only thing I want to see for the third film is a little less emphasis on killing the bad guys and a little more remembering of what Star Trek was about: it wasn't about winning fights, but about preventing fights. [Editors Note: Gerrold appears to have gotten his wish in Star Trek: The Search for Spock and Star Trek: The Voyage Home.]
Question: Mr. Gerrold, have you been asked to write more Star Trek in the future?
Gerrold: If there is ever a new Trek series, I'd love to write for it. If the opportunity were handed to me. You know the old joke that the job is worth $100,000, but I'll pay whatever they want. And I'm doing another Star Trek novel for Timescape books this year because I love to tell Star Trek stories. [Editors Note: Gerrold went on to help develop Star Trek: The Next Generation for television.]
Question: We've noticed that if you compare the two television pilots to the two motion pictures, you will find that the first ones were slow-moving and somewhat uninvolving, while the second ones were dramatic action-adventures.
Bloch: Yes. For the second TV pilot they brought in Sam Peeples, who knew how to write a good dramatic script.
Gerrold: Star Trek could easily do comedy, drama, tragedy ... there was room for any kind of story. It had available to it the whole universe of ideas.
Question: Can Star Trek survive without Spock?
Gerrold: Let me give you an example of what I feel about that. Peanuts used to be one of my favorite comic strips. In it, Snoopy was a minor character at first, and then he took off and became the star of the strip. At that point, it became a fantasy. It lost touch with the real world. It simply became cute. Spock was unfortunately emphasized on Star Trek to the detriment of the other minor characters. I'm afraid that the larger view of what Star Trek is all about is lost when we analogize and say that Spock is Star Trek.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Bloch, Mr. Gerrold, and the members of Psi Phi (who put on the Symposium each year) for allowing us to conduct these interviews.
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