It's been nearly 35 years since the James T. Kirk actor told fans to "get a life" in a segment mocking Trekkies.
The son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not see the humor when William Shatner told Trekkies to “get a life” while hosting Saturday Night Live in December 1986.
In the infamous skit, Shatner plays a version of himself at a Star Trek convention where the diehard costume-clad fans ask detailed questions about Capt. James T. Kirk and the episodes. “Get a life, will you, people,” an exasperated Shatner said amid the ribbing. “For crying out loud, it’s just a TV show. I mean, look at you. Look at the way you’re dressed. You’ve turned an enjoyable little job I did as a lark for a few years into a colossal waste of time.”
In an interview to celebrate the beloved franchise turning 55 this month (the series premiered on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966), Rod Roddenberry, producer of several Star Trek projects and son of the legendary sci-fi franchise creator, told The Hollywood Reporter that while some found the moment to be hilarious, he found it surprising and, to a degree, mean-spirited.
“I never really appreciated that skit because I think it was demeaning to the fans,” Roddenberry told THR. “I think it was disrespectful, especially for a character who was an open-minded, intelligent leader.”
Although now in vogue with enormous mainstream popularity, comic and sci-fi cons were once an easy target to bash nerds (a term now worn as a badge of honor). So Shatner using SNL to poke fun and perhaps further ostracize the group was disheartening, Roddenberry says, adding, “But I don’t condemn it in any way. It’s Saturday Night Live, and it’s all fun.”
The younger Roddenberry does not know what his father thought of the moment, explaining, “Dad passed away when I was 17. I was a young, immature kid who did not have those kinds of conversations with him.”
It was fans who made the creator’s son a fan of Star Trek with their stories of inspiration, he says in admiring how special the group is to the family. “They were my introduction to Star Trek. They’re the ones who came up to me and said, ‘Star Trek inspired me. And because of Star Trek, I am now a teacher, a doctor, whatever the case is, and I owe that to Star Trek.’ At the time, I was watching Knight Rider — and Knight Rider didn’t do that for me.”
Of course, in the decades that followed, Shatner embraced the fandom with open arms, going so far as to write a book in 1999 titled Get a Life!, which favorably recounted his experiences with fans and conventions. He then in 2012 made a documentary under the same title, which dug further into the deeper meaning of the conventions and Star Trek fandom. For years, Shatner has appeared at several conventions a year spread across the country and globe.
Roddenberry notes his father “went through a lot of struggles with Star Trek,” with the original 1960s series only running three seasons and the first film in 1979 not being a big as expected. But the creator loved seeing fans at conventions.
“He didn’t go to many, but he would come out onstage and fold his arms and scan the room with a smirk on his face, nod his head and say, ‘Yup. Just the way I planned it.'” Roddenberry says. “He really appreciated the fans. The show was in syndication in the ’70s. And it was like-minded young people in the era of the Vietnam War and social injustice who agreed with his future. So, he always gave them credit for bringing Star Trek back.”
A 4K UHD collection of the first four Star Trek films — Star Trek: The Motion Picture (theatrical edition), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (theatrical and director’s editions), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home — will be released by Paramount on Sept. 7.