Remembering Star Trek’s Architects

Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek. But he was not the sole individual to give it life. No television program is the product of any one person, but instead the sum total of the efforts of all who appear on camera and work behind the scenes.

The quadrant is a little less bright after three of those contributors passed away within the last week or so.

Beyond Roddenberry, most credit Gene Coon as the man who most shaped Star Trek into what we have come to love. The unsung third man is Robert Justman, the associate producer who handled the technical production aspects while the Genes handled the scripts and actors. Justman, as seen in memos and commentary in The Making of Star Trek, had a hand in shaping the look of the series, which came to be trend-setting. He was a steadying influence, surviving the departure of his colleague John D.F. Black and the battles between Roddenberry and NBC.

He spent the 1970s working on a variety of series, often in the genre, including my personal fave, Search, and the less wonderful Man from Atlantis.

It was that steadying influence that enabled Roddenberry to once more helm Trek with The Next Generation. As fans know, the chaos surrounding its gestations and first two seasons were horrible. Justman kept everyone on track, helping to update the look of the future. He’s also credited as the man who pushed for Patrick Stewart to be cast as the lead.

With former Paramount exec Herb Solow, he recorded his experiences in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, a 1996 title that is a must read for fans.

But even Justman didn’t do it alone. While the visuals were unique, so was the sound. The 1960s was a decade when all manner of music was employed to create theme songs, moving away from the larger jazz/big band sounds that dominated the 1950s. Among those explorers was Alexander Courage who gave us the theme music for the series which has influenced all other composers in his wake. Courage also worked as an arranger, taking the sounds from composers such as John Williams, and, like Justman, bringing them to life.

The little flourishes that a director brings to a television series can make a good episode great. Time and again, Joseph Pevney provided that touches, making a script sing and getting good performances from the cast. He was a versatile director, able to go from the high drama of “The City on the Edge of Forever” to light comedy in “The Trouble with Tribbles”. He and Marc Daniels directed 14 episodes apiece but Pevney may have handled the most influential stories including “Amok Time” and “Journey to Babel”.

Justman. Courage. Pevney. Solid craftsman. Inspired contributors who each added pieces to Star Trek and we’re fortunate they were there to help shape Roddenberry’s ideas into something wonderful.

3 comments

  • This is a wonderful tribute.

    Somewhere I have a copy of Inside Star Trek, and I found it to be the most honest discussion of how the show got made.

  • Susan O

    Every time I read that someone else of cast or crew has passed, I start feeling *really* old. Our future is too quickly becoming our past. How sad no one looks at the careers of the behind-the-scenes guys until they’re gone, to realize just how wonderful they were.

  • Melissa Singer

    Engaging in some mutual mourning with my mother (what a bad day that was, Pollack, Korman, Courage, and Pevney all at once, not that the week since has been much better–YSL and Bo Diddley) . . . mom, a long-time Trek fan (I am 2nd generation geek), says, Did you know we were distantly related to Joe Pevney?

    No way! sez I.

    But apparently so, through my mother’s mother’s family. Mom says that when she was growing up, there was dinner table gossip about the Pevneys, none of which she can now recall (and it wouldn’t matter anyway).

    Why, oh why did she not tell me this when I was a Trek-i-fied teenager? It would have been useful currency in my social circle!

    A sad loss, regardless.