Fans of “Star Trek” worldwide just marked what would have been the 100th birthday of the creator of their favorite franchise — Gene Roddenberry. Thanks to this series of videos, fans can see folks from all walks of life recognize how Roddenberry’s vision helped change television. More importantly, Roddenberry’s view of the future also changed the way people think about science and technology and what was possible.
Though “Star Trek” debuted 55 years ago, the show initially did not earn universal praise from the scientific community. Among the critics who did not like what they saw on NBC was the noted science fiction author and futurist — Isaac Asimov.
Asimov’s “I, Robot”
Modern science fiction enthusiasts are undoubtedly familiar with Asimov, whose books are still hailed as landmark and groundbreaking. He created the Robot (the “I, Robot” movie starring Will Smith is loosely based), the Galactic Empire, and the Foundation series of books. According to Newsday, Asimov penned over 400 works in his lifetime.
Fans might start to see more of Asimov’s name in the media as Apple TV+ will soon release a television series based on his Foundation series of books. “The Foundation” is a big-budget space opera created to rival Trek and “Star Wars.” Some have argued that “The Foundation” trilogy could not — or should not — be adapted to film or television because it “seems to consist almost entirely of people talking in rooms.”
But, the trilogy will debut on Apple TV+ on September 24. It will reportedly not stick to the style of storytelling that is used in the books. In a way, much of the story has been told already, as many, including Asimov himself, thought that George Lucas based a whole lot of his space opera on Asimov’s books.
Even still, it seems that Asimov will be getting his due in pop culture, a position that Roddenberry and “Star Trek” have enjoyed for decades. While these two titans of science fiction ended their careers as friends, they did not start out that way.
From the very start of “Star Trek,” Roddenberry struggled with NBC, production company Desilu, network affiliates, writers, and others to put (and keep) his show on the air. Even though Trek had a devoted fan base, who would ultimately save the show from being canceled after Season 2, Roddenberry had other critical voices criticizing his show.
One of those voices was Asimov, who in 1966 wrote an article for TV Guide entitled “What Are A Few Galaxies Among Friends,” which ripped the current crop of sci-fi shows. He said that these shows, among which were “Lost In Space” and “Star Trek,” spent their “millions on special effects” and would not invest in “a paltry hundred dollars a week to get a technical expert.”
What he wrote was not incorrect, but it stung Roddenberry, who responded with his own letter to Asimov. The ‘Creator’ defended his program and informed Asimov that he struggled to get Trek on the air because NBC and others wanted a “juvenile” show, with a “Lassie” on board the Enterprise.
Roddenberry also responded directly to the “sharp edge” comment, saying:
“I agree certainly that this was stated badly, but on the other hand, it got past a Rand Corporation physicist who is hired by us to review all of our stories and scripts, and further, got past Kellum deForest Research, who is also hired to do the same job,” wrote Roddenberry. “And, needless to say, it got past me.”
After some time, the two became friends and even allies. Asimov advised Roddenberry on how to keep Captain Kirk (William Shatner) as popular as Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and even told “Time” that he took breaks from his writing to watch “Star Trek.”
Asimov thought “Star Trek V” was “childish”
Eventually, Asimov would sign on as a technical advisor for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” In a series of letters, he agreed with Roddenberry that “Star Trek V” was “childish” and would likely “displease everyone.”
Asimov’s influence on “The Next Generation” was even mentioned on screen, as the person who dreamed of a “positronic brain.” This would be what powered the massive intellect of the android, Mr. Data (Brent Spiner).