In the first part of a four-part PBS series on the pioneers of television, science fiction shows including Star Trek will featured.
Several of the original series actors were profiled for the special, including William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Nichelle Nichols.
In the interviews, Nimoy speaks about an important Gunsmoke role he had just before he landed the role of Spock on Star Trek, and about his career before Star Trek. Shatner shares a story about being nearly choked to death and Nichols tells viewers what it was like to work with Nimoy.
Writer-producer Mike Trinklein explained what he wanted the audience to see in the science fiction segment, both the Star Trek fan audience and the general audience. “On one hand we have to touch on the standard things that much of the Star Trek audience would already know, but that the general audience might not, like the interracial kiss and Nichelle Nichols’ Martin Luther King, Jr. story,” he said. “What we were searching for was to set it all in history and see what was around Star Trek.
“We try to give you a sense of the times we were in, the shows that were influencing each other, and, of course, with this series it’s always about the pioneers. So it’s about Star Trek and The Twilight Zone and Lost in Space, and about the people behind these shows. We try to give you a little bit of a sketch, of a portrait of those people. Now, obviously, we can’t get into great detail in a one-hour show that’s got to cover several different people, but we at least give people a sense of who Gene Roddenberry and Rod Serling and Irwin Allen were and how they all fit into the picture.”
Fans will get to see a bit of the early careers of Shatner and Nimoy. “We have Shatner talking about (having been) on Howdy Doody and we see Nimoy in Zombies of the Stratosphere and see Shatner in Alexander,” said Trinklein. “It’s kind of cool to include those clips. I think a lot of people have heard about these things, but maybe haven’t seen those clips. So, Bill and Leonard talk about those credits a little bit and then we see the clips. That’s fun.”
In fact, Nimoy’s work on Gunsmoke had an influence on how he played Spock. “I found an old Gunsmoke episode that Nimoy had done, in which he played an Indian,” said Trinklein. “He did this just a few weeks before Star Trek started. You look at it and you go, ‘That’s Spock.’ He has the same attitude, the same emotional approach, the same kind of feel as the Spock character. And I asked Leonard, ‘Did this Indian character influence how you portrayed Spock?’ He said, ‘I never thought about it, but it kind of did.’ He played that Indian with the same kind of ‘still waters run deep’ feeling that he brought to Spock.”
Nimoy speaks about the role in a clip embedded below.
Other interviews include one with Martin Landau, where he talked about not playing Spock. “I was surprised that he was so open about it and his comments about being glad that Leonard Nimoy got the part because Leonard was better suited for it,” said Trinklein. “Viewers can draw whatever conclusion they want from that. But he was more than happy to talk about it.”
Pioneers of Television: Science Fiction will air tomorrow evening on PBS stations. Several other short video interviews featuring Nichols, Nimoy and Shatner can be seen here.