George Takei: Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry Wasn’t Ready For a Gay Storyline

Screenshot 2014-07-23 13.36.27George Takei took some time out of his busy schedule of being generally awesome to stop by Bill Maher’s Real Time hot seat last Friday to talk about the gay-themed episode of Star Trek that never was. Takei, who was not publically out as a gay may while he was playing the role of Hikaru Sulu, claims that the cast and crew of the hit series were very well aware of his sexuality.

“But they were cool about it,” Takei explained. “Because they [knew] that if they made a public statement about it or made it very obvious then my career would be destroyed.”

Star Trek, known for pushing the conversation about a number of social issues forward through the use of allegory, wasn’t quite ready for a plotline dealing with homosexuality, Takei said. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, to whom Takei pitched the idea, feared that in pushing the envelope too far, the show might run the risk of being cancelled and losing its ability to make any kind of social commentary.

Check out a clip for Takei's new documentary To Be Takei about his life on Star Trek and a gay cultural icon AFTER THE JUMP

 

Comments

  1. Tyler says

    I don’t know, Carmelo. You keep bringing it up. Why do you hate Trans people so much? What’s your damage? Why are you such a troll. How did you fool people into believing you aren’t Rick when you so clearly are?

  2. Zlick says

    Some people have interpreted this interview to mean Takai was accusing Shatner of being homophobic; but he was not. He’s accusing Shatner of being CLUELESS.

  3. David From Canada says

    There are more gay plotlines in television shows today, but movies are a whole different story – according to American movies especially, gays don’t exist. Sad, and really needs to be fixed.

  4. MiloTock says

    Why is it so difficult for Towleroad to come up with an accurate headline? Takei did not say that Rodenberry was not ready for a gay storyline. He said that Rodenberry did not think that the network was ready for a gay storyline, and didn’t want to risk his ability to address other social issues by pushing too far.

  5. crispy says

    George Takei is great, but this sounds like revisionist history to me. Much of this doesn’t add up… a closeted man in the 60s was pitching a gay storyline? Gene Roddenberry, who gave us the first interracial kiss on television, was afraid of pushing the envelope? Star Trek producers were concerned about ratings despite it not being a hit during its original run?

    Sorry, George, it sounds nice, but so did the idea that you were posting all those fun things on Facebook, and it turns out you weren’t.

  6. jarago says

    I doubt that the original “Star Trek” would have dealt with a homosexual story line in 1969- we are still waiting for an openly gay character in the Star Trek universe ( and no those fan made episodes don’t count)

  7. says

    It wouldn’t surprise me if George did indeed advocate for a gay storyline, possibly a coded one. Many science fiction stories of that time and earlier used single-sex alien cultures as a metaphor for that — as did Star Trek: TNG once. On Bill Maher’s show, Takei said that when they aired the inter-racial kiss, networks in the South refused to air that episode and their ratings did tank as a result. So I can see why Roddenberry wanted to keep pushing the envelope, but slowly and gently. I could see him worrying that networks all over the country, not just in the South, might refuse to air it.

  8. ZLICK says

    CRISPY, did you watch the interview? Takei may have been officially in the closet, but he said everyone in the cast (except Shatner) and Roddenberry knew he was gay. That’s not hard to grasp, is it?

    He went on to say the show caught some major flak for the first interracial kiss ever on television, and that episode was blacked out in Southern markets. In light of that reaction, according to Takei Gene Roddenberry was reluctant to do a gay rights allegory episode (or whatever type of scifi homo story Takei was suggesting).

    You are also quite wrong about Star Trek being a hit in its original run. In fact, I think you got everything wrong.

  9. Nick says

    Zlick-
    you are correct -and I remember it well-
    it only ran 3 seasons and around 60 or so episodes and was cancelled due to extremely low ratings.

  10. SpaceCadet says

    There were 79 episodes of the original series over 3 seasons, although only 78 of them aired in the original run since the 1st pilot was deemed too cerebral by NBC (it had a female first officer!).

    I don’t think American TV audiences would have been ready for a gay allegory episode back in the 60s. Even the interracial kiss was pushing the boundaries back then. Even Star Trek: The Next Generation had a script in the first season that was an AIDS allegory and depicted a gay couple, but the studio executives wouldn’t touch it and it was never produced: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_and_Fire_(Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation)

    Even Gene Roddenberry by that era was in favor of showing of showing same-sex couples in the background holding hands and what not but nothing ever came of that idea.

  11. Editrix says

    Even if Rodenberry agreed to do it, the network (NBC) would have put a stop to it. And people forget that the ratings for the original series really weren’t that great. Most were surprised that it even got picked up for a third season. But NBC was fooling around with something new called “demographics” and saw that the series attracted younger viewers, and many of the people writing in to save the show were professionals. And by the time the third season started not every NBC affiliate was even carrying it.

  12. JMC says

    I think Rodenberry easily could have gotten the episode to air if the writing was subtle and clever enough. Then, Star Trek was rarely clever and never subtle, so..

  13. says

    I’ve been a Star Trek fan longer than I can remember. But I have never heard of the gay issue being raised during the original series run until this interview with Takei. Everything I’ve heard has been in the context of The Next Generation onward – of which Roddenberry produced the first two seasons (which were awful) and was then demoted to a consultant type role. I’ve been a fan of Takei since before he came out – but this version of events sounds like wishful thinking.

  14. crispy says

    Zlick, sweetie, I clearly wrote “despite it NOT being a hit during its original run.” Read more carefully if you want to engage with your intellectual betters.

    I’ve been to numerous Trek conventions and have met many of the cast members, including Takei. It’s just a little suspect that this story has never come up before, particularly given Takei’s penchant for being quite a storyteller.

  15. Chris says

    JMC, obviously you dislike the show. I don’t think Roddenberry could have gotten the show on air, and if he did somehow get it through, the backlash would have killed the show.

    People tend to think in modern terms, and forget the times. Will & Grace…the first gay male lead on a TV shoe was only 15 years ago, I was a BIG deal when a minor character was gay on Dynasty in the 80s, and in the time period of the original star trek, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and was illegal in most places.

    It’s very nice to say …oh but he could have…but the fact is that an interracial kiss almost put an end to the show, a gay storyline, regardless of how subtle, would be impossible.

    If you want to get a better idea of the times, read the newspaper coverage of the Stonewall Riots, that will give you a much better idea of what that time was like for gay people and how we were referred to by the media and population in general.

  16. Daniel says

    Crispy, whether the show was a hit or not the producers would be concerned with ratings.

    Also, being closeted in Hollywood is different than being closeted in Des Moines. These people often live openly as gay except when there is press around. He says that he was out to most of the cast and crew–he brought his boyfriends to the wrap parties. I can easily see him saying “What do you think of this…”

  17. Daniel says

    Crispy, also, it would have been presented as a metaphor not as an explicit storyline. Some of the Star Trek plots could actually be interpreted as gay metaphors–though more in some of the later series.

  18. JMC says

    um Chris, if it was done right there wouldn’t have been a backlash because people wouldn’t have known what the episode was about. do you think we’re suggesting Roddenberry should’ve taken a bullhorn and announced to NBC executives and the general public that it’s okay to be gay? lol plenty of creators included under the radar gay themes and characters in television and film in the 60s..

  19. Zlick says

    My apologies, CRISPY, I did indeed read that wrong. Heheh, the irony is the show so poorly received it was on the verge of cancellation – and a fan campaign to revive it was largely responsible for the third and last season of the show – which is so godawful it can barely be watched today.

    So a show with only two decent seasons went on to be a hit in syndication that sparked a four decade multi-media worldwide phenomena. Whoda thunk?

    I, too, have my doubts about Takei’s recollections of his gay episode pitch – but I hold him in too high regard to not give him the benefit of that doubt.

  20. Zlick says

    My apologies, CRISPY, I did indeed read that wrong. Heheh, the irony is the show so poorly received it was on the verge of cancellation – and a fan campaign to revive it was largely responsible for the third and last season of the show – which is so godawful it can barely be watched today.

    So a show with only two decent seasons went on to be a hit in syndication that sparked a four decade multi-media worldwide phenomena. Whoda thunk?

    I, too, have my doubts about Takei’s recollections of his gay episode pitch – but I hold him in too high regard to not give him the benefit of that doubt.

  21. Robert Seth Vorisek says

    There was an episode in the original ST series (Season 1; Episode 5) called “The Enemy Within,” where due to a transporter malfunction, Kirk is split into two personalities. It was written by Richard Matheson, and might be interpreted – in its final moments when one Kirk holds the other split-Kirk in his arms before taking him to the bridge so they can be ‘reunited’ as one complete being. It’s a stretch, but I remember feeling it having a slight homoerotic sense to it, without really stating it outright.

  22. SpaceCadet says

    The Cardassian tailor character of Garak on Deep Space Nine was originally portrayed as sexually ambiguous by its actor, Andrew Robinson, until the producers told him to dial it down. I didn’t learn that until after my gaydar was being pinged watching those earlier episodes where he has meals with Dr. Bashir, and then I did an online search and my suspicions were validated!

  23. ratbastard says

    To understand the time period we’re discussing watch a CBS documentary with Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame, called ‘The Homosexuals’. I believed it aired in 1968. This may have been a time period of revolutionary change, and a ‘sexual revolution’, but the ‘radical’ movements of this period certainly did not embrace homosexuals, and the vast majority of the public, of all political ideologies, would have agreed that homosexuals were, at best, ‘sick’.

    There’s no way therevwould be a overtly gay angle to any TV show from this period. 10 years after there were some pretty raunchy stuff on TV like the sitcom ‘Soap’ that pushed the envelope, but the world changed dramatically between the mid to late 60s and late 70s, early 80s.

  24. Sean says

    There were some “gay laced” plotlines in the daughter series of Star Trek.

    In the “Next Generation” series with Jean-Luc Picard, there were at least two episodes with metaphorical homosexuality: one planet had a “third sex” who was necessary for procreation; on another planet, there was one hermaphrodite gender and consorting with a male (or female) gender was “disgusting”.

    In the “Voyager” series with Katherine Janeway there were some very veiled homosexual themes: 1) if the Doctor hologram could be any queenier he would have been in drag. Unfortunately, the story writers really destroyed that idea with is “quest” for a female companion. There was also the episode when he came across another hologram on another ship and more nelly you couldn’t find in the Quadrant!
    2) there were a few episodes when a male consciousness entered a female character – leading to some same sex kissing.

    However, “Deep Space Nine” had the most explcit homosexual themes with “lipstick lesbian” characters. “Dax” almost immortal symbionte who lived inside “Jadzia”, a humanoid host and, over the generations of hosts, has been either male or female. In one episode, a former female lover of the character (when Dax had a male host. Dax had since moved into a female Jadzia) came a courting.

    I assume that if there is yet another Star Trek series that gay characters would be a thing of normality.

    At the risk of going off on a tangent, there is a very explicit gay character in a recent Sci-Fi show, Stargate Universe. The Chinese woman civilian leader left her lesbian/female lover on earth but her consciousness could travel across the universe into a host (who, as it turns out) could be male or female.

    —–

    Nonetheless, none of the gay characters depicted were male, only what I call “lipstick lesbians”.

  25. Craig Howell says

    Even with 40+ years of gay activism, I am still inordinately proud of my participation in the successful fan campaign in 1968 to save the original “Star Trek” series for a third season. Yes, as someone has observed, that season was awful, but it made syndication possible and all that followed in its wake.

  26. SpaceCadet says

    The third season of Star Trek was not the best but it still had some great episodes like The Enterprise Incident and Day of the Dove, but even a notorious clunker like Spock’s Brain was so bad it was good!

    @Sean, what was the episode of TNG that had the “third sex” on it. I know my Trek and I don’t recall such an episode.

  27. crispy says

    I think Sean is mistake about the “third sex” episode. It wasn’t TNG. It was an Enterprise episode during the second season called “Cogenitor.” And honestly, it didn’t have much of a homosexual parable; it felt more like something out of Margaret Atwood.

    There was an episode of TNG about an androgynous race. It was called “The Outcast” from season 5.

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