Gene Roddenberry’s 1964 pitch for his new show is arguably the most important Star Trek document ever. The pitch, usually referred to as Star Trek is…, was designed to sell the show to network executives and it’s an interesting look at Roddenberry’s earliest creative ideas.
The series is a great idea, Roddenberry said, because the universe contains so many story possibilities. He writes:
STAR TREK offers an almost infinite number of exciting Science Fiction stories, thoroughly practical for television. How? Astronomers express it this way:
Ff2 (MgE) – C1 Ri1 ・M = L/So
Roddenberry is referencing the Drake Equation, and states that the math proves there are “something like three million worlds with a chance of intelligent life and social evolution similar to our own.”
The Drake Equation is a real thing, but Roddenberry didn’t have the actual text handy, so he just made up the string above. It’s nonsensical; for example, C to the power of 1 is just C. No mathematician would write that.
Roddenberry’s take on the Drake Equation makes a brief appearance in Balance of Terror, although it is not named. Kirk, doubting his command acumen, asks McCoy “I look around that bridge, and I see the men waiting for me to make the next move. And Bones, what if I’m wrong?” The doctor replies,
In this galaxy, there’s a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don’t destroy the one named Kirk.
Star Trek is… is also the first documented use of the “wagon-train” to the stars concept Roddenberry employed to sell the idea to execs familiar with westerns. According to Harlan Ellison, the wagon-train idea originated with Sam Peeples, who wrote the pilot that sold the show, Where No Man Has Gone Before. Roddenberry would use the phrase for many years.
The pitch also outlines the Parallel World’s concept, which posits that other planets would experience cultural and historical evolution similar to Earth’s. In practice, this meant Star Trek could cut costs by using existing sets and costumes from Roman, Grecian, Nazi and gangster productions, among others, as can be seen in Bread and Circuses, Who Mourns for Adonais? and Plato’s Stepchildren, Patterns for Force, and A Piece of the Action.
Also of note, the captain is Robert April, the ship is the SS Yorktown, and it is a Cruiser Class, rather than the Constitution Class the Enterprise became. (Although, of course, the Enterprise is actually a Starship Class ship, but that’s an argument for another post.) Oh, and the Yorktown can actually land on a planet, a feature denied the Enterprise.
Roddenberry also included many story ideas, and you can see the seeds of The Cage, Charlie X, A Piece of the Action, Mudd’s Women, Shore Leave, and The Man Trap.
Some ideas would resurface in TNG episodes. The Stranger, in which “an alien intelligence has made its way aboard with the aim of taking over the minds of key crew members — purpose, to use our Cruiser to attack a rival civilization,” sees life in both Power Play and Conundrum. Infection, in which a female crew member is surprised to discover she’s pregnant, is basically TNG’s The Child and, before then, was to be used for a Star Trek Phase II story in which Ilia becomes pregnant after the Enterprise passes near a nebula.
It’s perhaps good that two other ideas never saw the light of a soundstage. In The Coming, the crew meets a “disturbingly familiar man…condemned to crucifixion” in a story that would have upset the network censors and a portion of the viewing audience. And A Question of Cannibalism has the Enterprise discover a planet on which sentient “cow-like creatures” are raised for food. It’s a solid concept (recently used on Discovery) but that era’s special effects and the show’s budget would have given us intelligent cattle that looked silly.
If you’ve never read Star Trek is… or it’s just been a while, click the link to download a copy. It is a foundation document that helped sell Star Trek and create all that followed.