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When Rod Roddenberry was 8 years old, he visited his mother’s office. Majel Barrett Roddenberry — who played Nurse Christine Chapel on the original Star Trek series — ran Lincoln Enterprises, a company that sold souvenirs related to the show created by her husband, Gene Roddenberry. “There was a back storage room that was dark and dingy,” Rod recalls. “There were thousands of canisters that contained Star Trek footage taken off the cutting room floor during the three years of the original series. I thought it was fun to put my finger in the middle of the reels and twist and make a ‘volcano.’”
The cans were moved around over the years to various storage facilities and finally the basement of the Roddenberry home, which experienced at least one good flooding. Thinking that the reels of unseen deleted scenes, alternate takes and bloopers might be of interest to fans, Rod began a series of phone calls and meetings with CBS in 2006, and a year later, Star Trek experts Mike and Denise Okuda, whose many assignments have included working on Star Trek: The Next Generation and writing multiple editions of the Star Trek Encyclopedia, were brought in to view and log all of the footage. It took them three years to watch all of it.
The project has been so secret for the past decade that Denise couldn’t even tell her parents what they were involved with. Phil Bishop, vp worldwide production for CBS, gave the Okudas a code name for their work: Sargon, after an alien entity in “Return to Tomorrow,” a second-season episode of the original series.
This past weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, the veil of secrecy was finally lifted as the Okudas, Bishop, Roddenberry and producer Roger Lay Jr. revealed that this rare, long-hidden Star Trek footage would be released in various Blu-ray products under the umbrella title The Roddenberry Vault. The first rollout is expected in the fall, according to Liz Kalodner, exec vp consumer products at CBS.
It’s been a long journey for Rod, CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment. In his youth, he didn’t understand the impact of his father’s creation. “I wasn’t into it,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I never paid attention. My father wasn’t the great bird of the galaxy to me, he was my dad, an authority figure. I was more interested in girls and cars and heavy metal music and being cool.” Rod didn’t watch Star Trek as a teenager, but he did tune in to Knight Rider and Starsky & Hutch. “Compared to Star Trek, it was fairly one-dimensional programming.”
But he didn’t realize that until after his father died in October 1991. Rod was 17. “That’s when I started to listen to these amazing people who either had a disability or they came from an abusive situation or they were never given the support by their family members that they needed and they’d tell me that Star Trek gave them a future and now they’re a doctor or a scriptwriter or they’re raising their children in a better way and they attributed that to my father,” he says. “It just blew me away. I couldn’t believe that this TV show inspired people. So I learned about Star Trek from the fans first and then I went back and watched it. I thought, ‘I get it! Now I see what you guys are talking about.’ Sadly, it was after my father passed away.”
On March 3, CBS announced that Roddenberry and Roddenberry Entertainment COO Trevor Roth were joining its CBS All Access series, Star Trek: Discovery as executive producers. “When we found out that CBS was going to do a new series, I thought it was great and I hoped they would find a good team,” says Roddenberry. “I was surprised when they said they wanted me to come on board and be an executive producer on this. I had quite a moment of hesitation. Being the son of Gene Roddenberry, I don’t want to be Gene Roddenberry. And what would my involvement be? Could I do the show justice?
“I never wanted to take over Star Trek or follow in my father’s footsteps,” he continues. “I love the show’s philosophy and I am so proud of my father’s vision for the future, which I call my own vision now because I feel the exact same way. For the past couple of decades, I’ve done my best to represent the name. Now that I’m involved in Star Trek, it’s not my show to write. I was thrilled when they brought Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, American Gods) on board because he’s an accomplished writer and a fan and he really gets the philosophy. He’s the right man for the job. Trevor and I are a part of the team and we are very much involved. As materials come through, we provide comments and thoughts and ideas and share where we can share. But Bryan’s got it. I appreciate the way he’s approaching it, too, because the landscape has changed in television. Star Trek is about change and diversity. I think he’s going to make a fantastic new version.”
Roddenberry’s plate is more than full, not just with his production company and duties on Star Trek: Discovery, but with The Roddenberry Foundation, which he founded in 2010 to embody the philosophy of Star Trek. “We find organizations, institutions and individuals who are working toward the long-term advancement of our species,” he tells THR. “We’re not looking for band-aid solutions. We find the systemic cause of a problem and we try to fix it.” In 2011, the Foundation made a $5 million contribution to the J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco to establish the Roddenberry Center for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine. “They do stem cell biology,” he relates. “They can take any cell and reverse engineer it into a stem cell programmed to be heart, liver or lung cells. The implications are tremendous. You can test heart medications on cells.”
The foundation also contributed $5 million to the J. Craig Venter Institute. The grant went to scientist Orianna Bretschger for her work on converting sewage into drinking water. “Microbial fuel cells break down sludge into its atomic form, converting it to clean water,” Roddenberry explains.
In 2014, the foundation gave a grant to the Global Learning XPRIZE crowdfunding campaign to support developing technology to bring literacy to hundreds of millions of children around the world.
Gene Roddenberry didn’t live long enough to see his only son become an adult. He only knew the teenager who was concerned with girls and cars and heavy metal music. But there is no doubt the father would be more than proud of the son who has a strong dedication to the humanitarian philosophy behind Star Trek, the TV series that in its 50th year continues to have an impact around the world.
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