In the early 1970s, twenty-two episodes of an animated Star Trek series aired Saturday mornings on NBC and Hal Sutherland directed all but the last two episodes.
Sutherland had a great deal of responsibility when it came to the animated series. “I retained absolute control of every faction of the production,” he said.
This meant that Sutherland worked closely with Gene Roddenberry on the series and sometimes that could be a problem due to Roddenberry’s attention to detail. “Adjacent to my executive office, there existed a workroom where Gene and I conferred over the scripts,” said Sutherland. “And if I had occasion to do any animation or drawing, etc., this was the control point. Gene was a perfectionist by leaps and bounds. He reviewed the scripts handed steadily to him by Dorothy Fontana, sometimes two or three times making changes to attain the perfection he so desired. She worked between Gene and the freelance writers. We reached a point at one time I had to tell Gene we were getting seriously close to overshooting our first production deadline. He immediately passed me the script he was again revising and told me, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Hal. Thank you for letting me know. That’s all I have to know. If I get stuck in another rut just get the megaphone out give me a good blast!”
Another challenge was finding the right people to help take some of Sutherland’s workload off of his shoulders. “I desperately searched about trying to find a couple of experienced storyboard artists to work exclusively on the Star Trek project,” said Sutherland. “Forget it! There wasn’t anyone who possessed the qualifications the project required. I finally made a decision to do all the rough storyboard sketches and designs, and plan the special effects and camera work myself. If I could then find someone to follow behind me and do the finished sketches over my roughs, I thought I might be able to keep a handle on everything.”
Eventually, Sutherland found two people to help with the show. “Finally, I procured a young fellow by the name of Brad and soon after a young girl named Dawn applied for a job at the studio … I sat both of them in the workroom next to my office to keep close tabs on their artwork; it was a tough and demanding battle. I spent a great deal of time going over their sketches, making corrections where necessary, and trying to educate them. Little by little they did improve and required less supervision.”
Star Trek: The Animated Series won an Emmy in 1975 for the Best Children’s Program for 1974-1975, beating out both The Pink Panther Show and Captain Kangaroo. How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth, written by Russell Bates and David Wise, was the episode which was submitted to the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for consideration that year.
Sutherland retired after his work on the animated series, to follow his dreams. “I left the animation world to follow a career in painting, which I’d dreamed of all my life, and to be with my dear family. The stress of productions kept me away from the family a good portion of the time. I wanted to be a part of their lives while on earth.”