Star Trek turns 50 years old this year - an anniversary that will be celebrated with not only the Star Trek Beyond movie, but also the prep work for the franchise's return to television after a 11-year drought with CBS's new series.
Trevor Roth is one of the executive producers on CBS's upcoming Star Trek series, and is also Chief Operating Officer of Roddenberry Entertainment - founded by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Newsarama covered the 50th anniversay panel at C2E2 where Roth talked to fans and helped show off several things from the Roddenberry archives, but the conversation continued after the panel ended.
Newsarama talked with Roth about the upcoming TV revival he's helping steer, as well as as the "Star Trek 366" campaign which is revealing never-before-scene images and artifacts from Gene Roddenberry's archives.
Newsarama: So Trevor, for this "Star Trek 366" campaign, have you found something that you think defines Gene Roddenberry as both a creator and a person?
Trevor Roth: Wow! Goodness. So, my answers to that are going to be with the caveat of that I’m aware of the entirety of what’s going out this year. One thing I’m not aware of is what’s gone out versus what is still coming out. So I will tell you in regards to Gene Roddenberry, I think there are many, many pieces of the 366 campaign that gives you insight as who the man was or what he was trying to create and therefore what he’s trying to do with Star Trek.
I think you really gain an insight for someone you’re no longer able to talk to recognize the motivations behind him and perhaps also everything from the attention to detail and interest of wanting to collaborate with people within the industry, even outside the industry, who might’ve had an appropriate influence on the show. Gene was well known for going out to NASA and finding other people to explore those areas of what’s going on in the world of development and research and extrapolating from that to what could end up on Star Trek.
So I think on a variety of different levels you have a sort of gain and understanding on who Gene was and what he was trying to do with Star Trek through a variety of the artifacts we’re showing. A lot of those, of course, being actual papers and documents. The visuals are cool striking visuals that are just awesome in my opinion.
Nrama: Earlier this year, there were hundreds of floppy disks found from Roddenberry as well. Can you talk a little about that?
Roth: I can’t talk about them from this standpoint, but the process of going through all the archives, which is literally a multi-year process, and it’s one of the reasons we got to share the 366 campaign this year was because of all the preparation we have done. During that process, was the occurence of us finding these disks. In doing so we obviously sort of recognized we didn’t know what was on them and we tried to find a way to get everything off of them so we can see what could be of value and what’s not.
At the end of the day, we found a group of people who were able to help extract it. This is really old technology and as much of it is digital in nature and able to progress into today’s world and technology, truly extracting all that content was a very difficult task that we have to thank others much smarter than us for doing. In doing so we were obviously able to take the contents of those disks into the archives that we sharing with the world. To us it was an additional box of stuff to enter in with the mix and share it with the rest of the world through our 366 campaign.
Nrama: You talked a lot about the legacy of Star Trek at C2E2 with the video presentation and there was Nichelle Nichols singing happy birthday, and the thing is, looking back, it was only on the air for a few years, but the fanbase lives on. Why do you think Star Trek became the pop culture staple it is ?
Roth: I mean first of all, isn’t that incredible? Three seasons and it is what it is today. So insane if you think about it. You know at the end of the day I think that there are many things I can point to that explain why it was able to last so long and still be relevant today. A lot of that has to do with how Star Trek was constructed, and the idea that Star Trek as a lot more meaning to it. There’s more than entertainment to it; it has a science fiction infrastructure that allows you to talk about very real and relevant issues through deep substance and accessible characters you could connect to and care about.
That as a structure is something that is everlasting. It’s one of the main reasons that Star Trek has been able to appreciated this long is because that structure has allowed, through the years and through the decades, it to continue to be something that people desired and wanting. I think if you look at that you’ll see the luck of history itself. The chaotic time when Star Trek came about and the need for something like that. The ideas of us landing on the moon, the mindset of the world having space something that we could wrap our minds around...all of those things ended up making Star Trek a perfect storm; a true phenomenon that brought us to this 50 years.
Nrama: Starting with Kirk and going all the way to Archer, what do you think each Captain brought to their own series?
Roth: Wow. I mean, each Captain brought their own side to being a captain. From the outsider’s standpoint each brought something new, especially with Janeway being a woman and Sisco being African-American, but each of them had a different look at how you can be a captain. The Captain is always an interesting and intricate character and to be able to reference different ones and say “hey, Kirk would have done things this way,” or “Picard was more of a thinker.” All of these characters had different styles to them and different issues to deal with and personalities to bring to the table that we could get behind and count them among our heroes, but at the same time know they’re human so their failures and convoluted complexities of their humanity as well.
Nrama: Newsarama covered your panel at C2E2 and you had brought something exclusive for that show from the archives and for that audience, so I’m curious if there’s something you want to keep just for yourself.
Roth: You know, anything that I would want to keep to myself or to Roddenberry, the desire to share would overwhelm the desire to to keep it to ourselves. There are some personal things that Rod, my business partner and Gene’s son, that he might want to keep to himself, but when it comes to Star Trek and things that come from outside the personal realm, if you will, I think that the whole idea of Star Trek is sharing and inclusivity. Because of that, I think that our ability to methodically and slowly share things that we find fascinating and interesting is really paying homage to the show and Gene itself.
Nrama: The new Star Trek, after the pilot, will only be on the CBS All Access app. What do you think are the risks going down that route?
Roth: You know the new show, it’s a complex thing. We are dealing with a new market that I grew up on. I think the challenge of it is to have people understand that they’re going to be moving, or adding, CBS All Access to their repertoire of viewing and we’re making sure people have something worth going for. The good news about that challenge is that we’re excited to be bringing something that is worthwhile and of true value to people from the standpoint of the show that they’re going to get to see if they’re part of it. I think it’s important for Star Trek and the continuation of where we’re going with entertainment. You always have to be pushing for the next level and evolving not only in the contents and the way we tell stories, but also the way you deliver that.
Nrama: Loving the show as a kid and now being able to play in this intergalactic sandbox, how does that feel to you as a fan?
Roth: You know, Rod and I grew up as more Star Wars fans than Star Trek fans, and I think that’s very, very true of people who grew up in our time period. But once we reached a certain age, I’d say 13 or 14, this is when Star Trek: The Next Generation started to come out, we really got to understand Star Trek and what it offered on a completely different scale. I think that changes every decade of what you can appreciate from a new show because as you mature and gain wisdom and experience, the immense appreciation for a franchise like this just grows and grows. So to be a part of this is just incredible. You have to pinch yourself from time to time and say “are we really doing this” because it’s something you don’t really get to do and so many don’t get to do. We’re lucky and honored and it’s exciting.
Nrama: Lastly, what does your dream Star Trek show look and feel like?
Roth: I don’t know if I can answer that in full because I’m not allowed to talk about anything about the new show, as we’re just in the beginnings of it, of course.
But I think at the end of the day there are certain tenets of Star Trek that make it what it is. I think that continuing of those tenants and create a cast that are truly relatable to people, regardless of their species and alien makeup. For those character to go through journeys that are relevant to people, for us to create a show that is a smart show and something we can be proud of, yet still entertain people. These are all the balances that teeter-totter that into everything that Roddenberry does. We’ve made graphic novels and TV shows, and all these kind of things. In a perfect world and an ideal setting, we are making good on the promise of Gene Roddenberry’s name. To me, that’s the show we’re looking for.
That’s a lot, but I think we’re up to the challenge to do it.