With “Star Trek,” he’s one of the most beloved science-fiction creators of all time. But Gene Roddenberry took his first stab at sci-fi almost a decade earlier, by pitching an episode titled “The Transporter” — a name that certainly resonates with “Star Trek” fans — to the anthology series “Science Fiction Theatre” in 1955.
IndieWire exclusively presents that original pitch document, with pencil corrections in Roddenberry’s own handwriting, that the TV writer, then just starting out, sent to series executives. The Roddenberry estate believes this document to be his first-ever attempt at writing science-fiction. It’s like seeing the first-ever attempt at dripping paint on canvas by Jackson Pollack.
More from IndieWire
This document will be discussed in detail on the October 26 episode of the “Gene-ology” podcast, which is devoted to the life and times of the man nicknamed “The Great Bird of the Galaxy” and is produced by Roddenberry Entertainment.
In 1955, Roddenberry had begun writing for Ziv TV, a production company for TV shows in syndication, specifically for the titles “Mr. District Attorney” and “Highway Patrol.” He had gotten into television writing by acting as a liaison for the LAPD, when he worked as a police officer in the early 1950s, to the show “Dragnet.” In that capacity he helped condense actual case files into story treatments that the show’s writers could turn into teleplays.
“Science Fiction Theatre” was a Ziv TV production as well. Hence why at the top of this document you see the company listed, before Roddenberry crossed that out in favor of the name of a production executive he’d be pitching. Here’s the document, and give it a closer look in PDF format here.
Give that a closer look in PDF format by clicking here.
The description of his pitch for the episode reads:
The proposed story is of the invention of the “Transporter” — a device which is television, smellovision, soundovision, all rolled into one. A device which creates an artificial world for the user, capable of duplicating delight, sensation, contentment, adventure–all beyond the reach of the ordinary person living the ordinary life. With it you can voyage to far-off lands, argue with Socrates, earn and spend a million dollars, or lay Marilyn Monroe. Take your choice.
And this is the story of the inventor who, after achieving this miracle, suddenly realizes that a commercial, greedy, sometimes inhuman world would take over his miracle. And it might be used as they have used the miracle of radio, television, the motion pictures–with much more devastating results. It could become the most powerful totalitarian enslaving device; it could become the most powerful opiate; it could create wants and desires for which the world would destroy itself–a dying race sitting at their “transporters.”
Well, “Star Trek” fans will certainly recognize quite a bit there, even beyond “The Transporter” being the episode title and the name of the central device. This particular vision almost sounds like an early version of the holodeck from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where crewmembers can indeed recreate any time period or live out any fantasy.
It also aligns with Roddenberry’s extraordinary knack not just for exploring real-life issues and dilemmas in an allegorical sci-fi context, but for imagining future technology. He would later cast his own wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, to be the 23rd and 24th centuries’ version of Siri, as the voice of Starfleet computers. Here in “The Transporter,” he seems to be imagining the metaverse, or that chip Elon Musk keeps talking about wanting to implant in people’s brains.
Intriguingly, he crossed out the final paragraph of his pitch:
We leave the ultimate question unanswered. Will he destroy the “transporter”–or will someday, somewhere the “transporter” appear. Sooner or later we will have learned enough about the brain to create it.
Hmm… is that last bit a storytelling pitch or a genuine prediction of the future? With Roddenberry, you always got a bit of both.
Best of IndieWire