Roddenberry on Star Trek

“I think probably the most often-asked question about the show (Star Trek) is ‘why the Star Trek phenomenon?’ and it could be an important question because you can ask, how can a simple space opera with blinking lights and zap guns and a hobgoblin with pointy ears reach out and touch the hearts and minds of literally millions of people and become a cult in some cases? Obviously what this means is television has incredible power. They are saying that if Star Trek can do this, then perhaps another carefully calculated show could move people in other directions. What is to keep selfish interests from creating other cults for selfish purposes? Industrial cartels? Political parties? Governments?

“Ultimate power in this world, as you know, has always been one simple thing. The control and manipulation of minds. Fortunately, however, any attempt to manipulate people through a so-called ‘Star Trek formula’ is doomed to failure, and I’ll tell you why in just a moment.

“First of all, our show didn’t reach and affect all of these people because it was deep and great literature. Star Trek was not (Henrik) Ibsen or (William) Shakespeare. To get a prime-time network show on the air and to keep it there, you must attract a minimum of 18 million people every week. You have to do that in order to woo people away from ‘Gomer Pyle,’ ‘Bonanza,’ ‘Beverly Hillbillies,’ and so on; and we tried to do this with entertainment, action, adventure, conflict and so on; but once we got on the air, and within the limits of action-adventure, we did not accept the myth that the television audience has an infantile mind.

“As a matter of fact, we decided to risk the whole show on that premise. We believe the often-ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism, and all its old ways and old hatreds and that people are not only willing, but anxious to think beyond those petty beliefs that have, for so long, kept mankind divided. So, you see the magic ingredient that many people keep seeking, and missing, is not in Star Trek. It is in the audience. There is an intelligent lifeform out on the other side of that television tube. The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins, not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in lifeforms.

“We tried to say that the worst possible thing that could happen to all of us is for the future to somehow press us into a common mold where we begin to act and talk and look and think alike. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there, and I think this is what people responded to.”

– Gene Roddenberry 1976

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