Star Trek Script Commitment

With the twelfth Star Trek movie hitting screens I searched out a documentary about the original series. Specifically, how it came about.

Creator Gene Roddenberry had already made the journey from WW2 pilot to screenwriter. He now had the idea for his dream sci-fi show. Always called Star Trek.

He took it to his then show’s producer Herb Solow, then making hit series Mission Impossible.

According to Herb, Gene’s first pitch was a disaster. He turned up with just one sheet of paper. Everyone else pitching arrived with a book. Pages full of character descriptions and relationships mapped out. Worse still, Gene stumbled through his pitch.

Herb stopped him, but did see a spark somewhere. So he arranged a further visit. This time pitching to his commissioning friends at studio NBC.

Gene again waffled. Herb took over, talking about the emotions and big picture. The receiving execs said it wasn’t for them. Herb couldn’t accept this so sought…

script commitment

They would go away, write an hour pilot, and the execs would read it.

It’s difficult to gauge how this procedure worked from a journalistic narrative. Yet you must expect that this phrase is not an accidental one. It means a true commitment. Its outcome produces something that becomes a collaborative, feedback-full document. A living, breathing, jointly owned piece of work.

This feels in stark contrast to say a ‘response to tender’.

It made me think of how you can go beyond the specs and techs of such a bland, emotionless document.

What can you do on a big bid about say, the ‘implementation’ phase? The on-going ‘maintenance’? Issue resolution? Progress reporting? How any inevitable ‘change’ will be managed in real-life?

Get something like this worked on together and you, like the creators of Star Trek, can nail that pilot episode.

One element troubling me is how to properly get the prospect to give you quality time. So a good way to kick-off this kind of approach would be through a workshop environment.

What’s in it for the prospect of course, is guaranteeing as smooth a project as possible with as vigilant an evaluation as their bosses could ever have imagined.

By the way, that pilot bombed. But Herb got an unprecedented second pilot.

And after original star Jeffrey Hunter only wanting to do movies meant William Shantner got the gig, the second pilot was a hit with test audiences. 29 episodes were ordered.

Their next Sales job was all Gene. During a second series ratings drop, he was worried about Renewal. He was determined to get a third run.

So he mobilised their loyal fanbase. This seems so simple in today’s instant social media driven times. But it was a first way back in the Sixties.

By stealth he got all the relevant postal addresses and even the phone number of a key NBC VP. Subsequent bombardment not being enough, he got 500 of the biggest local Trekkies to march on NBC. By embarrassment or pressure, NBC bowed down to this public lobbying and another 24 episodes for a third season were secured.

If you’re in such a ‘renewal’ position, where are your Trekkies, and are they phoning, writing or marching on the people that matter?

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