By David Lambert
Our interview concludes as David discusses his television history, what REALLY happened to his participation on Star Trek: TNG, and we take a look at a library of DVDs that cover one TV writer's career.
After Land of the Lost, you moved on from that and did a number of scripts over the years for various. You hit Logan's Run, Tales from the Darkside, Twilight Zone, The Real Ghostbusters...
Yeah! I did something for a little Saturday morning show called The Biskitts, which was a knock-off of The Smurfs. But I think that's one of the few things where I can't even find a copy of the script, let alone a tape of the show.
One question about one of those episodes. Tales from the Darkside, on the internet I can find a credit for you co-writing "If The Shoes Fit...", but that you co-wrote it under the pseudonym "N. Ward".
Yeah, what happened there is they bought the story from - I forget the name of the fellow...
He wrote the original story, which I thought was a very good story, and then I wrote the script.
So why the pseudonym?
Because then the director butchered it.
Because I wanted it to be more playful, more Twilight Zone-ish, more Puck-ish. And they turned it into killer clowns.
I see. So then you exercised your rights to be "Alan Smithee".
Yeah, but I used "Noah Ward". It was like, "C'mon, guys!" And that pissed them off enormously, and I said, "Whoops! You re-wrote my script. I don't feel comfortable with my name on it." I probably won't do that too much in the future, partly because I won't do that much more television. Partly. Because it just pisses people off when you use a pen name. Y'know, everybody says I'm hard to work with. I'm NOT hard to work with. If the script comes out well, I'm happy. If the script comes out badly because someone else re-wrote it, I have the right to take my name off it. And I've done that twice.
What was the other time?
(Trying to remember) Was it Logan's Run? I might have been "Noah Ward" on Logan's Run.
Possible. I saw where you, yourself, at your website, Gerrold.com, mentioned that you had written an episode of Logan's Run, yet I didn't find that at any episode guides like TVTome.com, or at the IMDB.
"Man Out Of Time".
"Man Out Of Time"? Interesting. [Note: TVTome.com verifies this - D. Lambert]
Partly because they gave me so much grief on it. Len Katzman was a delight to work with, but [Ivan] Goff & [Ben] Roberts [Executive Co-Producers of Logan's Run - D. Lambert] kept coming back indicating some change to make on the script that didn't make sense, to solve whatever problem they were having. Gene Roddenberry, at his worst, was the same way. It's like there's no relationship to how things work for the story or in the real world. It's "why don't we just do this." I mean, they just kept suggesting stuff that was so off-the-wall, you wondered, "What the hell are they thinking?" But they weren't science fiction writers. They had credits for successful shows, but they weren't great science fiction shows.
I understand. So you mentioned Gene just then.
Yeah, Gene toward the end, his mental health was failing. He was having trouble staying focused. There are stories coming out of his last days.
Well, back up a second. 'Cause, '87 rolled around, Gene was getting The Next Generation together. Right?
Yeah. I came aboard for about six months.
You were officially a consultant with the show.
Well, actually I was supposed to be a producer, but they kept whittling my duties. And my title. And my pay. And I finally got the very clear message that Gene's lawyer didn't like me. And that whatever Gene promised me, the lawyer was going to take away. And the lawyer was afraid that Gene was going to lose control of the show. So what he was doing was significantly undermining everybody that might be a threat to Gene, so that he could stay in control. And he appointed himself chief of staff. And the result was that we had a lawyer running the show. A lawyer who had no knowledge of how to do television. No knowledge of what Star Trek was supposed to be. And he was re-writing scripts. And I said, "Gee, this is going to be the worst possible situation to be on. How can we do a real Star Trek when we've got a guy here who's thinking only in terms of how much money he can make?" He thought he was protecting Gene, but in his efforts to protect Gene, he was hurting Gene. I was the second or third person to leave, but there were 30 other people who followed me out the door in that first season alone.
And do you mind if I ask; is all of this on the record?
Yeah. Paramount won't acknowledge it, and as far as Paramount is concerned, it never happened. Gene was always in control. But there are so many books published by now, detailing this...
...That it doesn't matter.
Yeah. You know, Gene, at his best, Gene could sit down - this is a story that everyone tells - he could sit down with a bottle of Scotch and a ream of paper. And eight hours later he'd get up and he'd have a finished script and a half-empty bottle of scotch. (Laughs) And, you know, that's an Ernest Hemingway story, too. Writers, when you have your physical health and your mental ability, you can sit and write and write and write and write. I once did 30 or 40 pages in one day. And that was back when I was actually working with real pages, type-written pages. And that's a LOT! But since then I know I've done as many as 5000 words in one day, or more than that.
So, after Gene passed away, the control of the show ended up mainly with Rick Berman.
Yeah, now Rick Berman was not...Gene didn't like Rick, at all. But Rick was installed on the show by the studio as a way to keep a control on the show. To keep it from getting out of hand. To keep the budgets in line, make sure that the scripts were done. Rick was there to manage the details. To make sure that the scripts got done on time, and that production moved along. Because the studio was a little bit afraid of another debacle like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which had gone way over-budget, way out-of-control, and was a big fat turkey. And the studio knew their problem then had been Gene. And so they put Rick in place to try and make things work. To work around Gene, to make it work. Well, Rick was busy playing studio politics, and he and the lawyer would work together to get rid of everybody who was a threat to their power. And nobody knew from one day to the next who Gene was friends with, because Gene didn't even remember who he was friends with from one day to the next. My attitude was, "I want to do Star Trek; I don't want to get involved in office politics." Because I don't have the strength for office politics; I don't have the temperament for it. I know it's possible to produce television that's not only fun to watch, but fun to produce, because I've been there. Land of the Lost was that kind of a show. Where we had a lot of fun together.
So needless to say, you moved on from Star Trek.
I moved on from Star Trek. My attitude is, and it goes back to Up The Organization: "If you're not having fun, if you're not getting paid enough, and if you're not making an enormous difference, then why are you staying there?" I left Star Trek. I chose to leave, because I was not happy, and I "knew" the show was going to be a big disappointment. And they started spreading rumors; the lawyer started spreading rumors, that I was mentally ill. That I was a troublemaker. My own lawyer gave him a call and said, "We'll meet you in court if you keep that up." And that pretty much put a stop to it.
And you proved how wrong he was with your success afterward.
Actually, it was a very bad year for me to leave Star Trek, because it had meant so much to me. And I finally decided that I must put Star Trek completely and totally behind me. I'll be polite about it, but what I have to do is that. Ten years from now, nobody's gonna remember what the lawyer said about me, but they will notice if I've written any books in that ten years. Ten years from now there won't be any books by Gene Roddenberry on the shelf, or the lawyer on the shelf, or anybody else on the shelf. But there will be ten new books by David Gerrold on the shelf, at the rate of one book a year. So, I said, "I am going to write the ten best books that I can, in the next ten years, and then ten years from now I'll look and see where am I." That was one decision.
The other decision was, "I am going to adopt a little boy and do something in my life that, no matter what else - whether my writing survives or not, if my writing was a waste of time or not - I will have made a difference for one person on the planet. I will have given this little boy a chance at a real life." And I got the worst kid in the system: a kid who had been abused, betrayed, rejected, abandoned, bounced around the system. Even his caseworkers didn't care about him. And I got the kid they were ready to give up on. I said, "I'll take him." And my attitude was that if I did good by this kid, then my life was worth living.
So here it is, fifteen years since Star Trek, and I've got a Hugo and a Nebula and a Locus Readership Poll, they're making a movie of The Martian Child, I've got this really good young adult trilogy that won some awards called The Dingilliad (Jumping Off the Planet, Bouncing Off the Moon, Leaping to the Stars). I got two more books done in The War Against the Chtorr. I got the whole Voyage of the Star Wolf trilogy in print. I've got a lot of books in print. Here it is, fifteen years later, and I'm looking at my bookshelf, there's also my book on writing, Worlds of Wonder. There's The Martian Child full-length book version. So there's all this stuff that wouldn't have been written if I had stayed with Star Trek.
Not to mention a few good scripts along the way!
Yeah, I did some other scripts.
You did a Superboy script. You developed for Land of the Lost '91 version. Babylon 5. Sliders, in the fifth season.
Yeah, I did the Superboy script. I did Babylon 5; I also wrote a Babylon 5 comic book.
And you started to make a Star Wolf TV Series.
We worked on that for a couple of years, and, uh, I don't even want to talk about the Star Wolf TV series right now. We could talk for 3 hours about it. Another time.
Okay. Still, you've had enormous success.
No, I've had success that I can feel proud of. I think the word "enormous" is misused, okay? I've had better success than a lot of people who write. And I'm proud of what I've written. A lot of what I've written has been good stuff. Memorable stuff; the readers come back to me and talk about it. They ask, "Are you going to do another one of these?" "Can we have more of that?" So, I'm satisfied with the reader reaction that I'm getting the job done.
Going back to the intervening time in the '90s: you did have another association with Star Trek. You had mentioned The Motion Picture; you appeared in it briefly as a crewman standing on the deck. That was before. But you also appeared later as a crewman on an episode of Deep Space Nine.
Yeah, that was in the "Trials and Tribble-ations" episode of Deep Space Nine.
And this was the 30-years-later tribute to your wonderful classic episode.
I thought that was particularly ironic: for the 30-year anniversary celebration of Star Trek, they do a remake of "The Trouble With Tribbles". And they kept denying that they were doing it! Every time I called and asked for details: "Oh no, David, we're not doing it! We'll tell you if we're doing it!" Finally, when the reporter from the L.A. Times called and says, "What do you think about it?," I called Rick Berman and said, "Gee, Rick. When I call the reporter back from the L.A. Times, should I say 'Nobody at Paramount has talked to me' or should I say 'Well, they're going to have me be a crewmember on it'?"
Rick said, "David, you're right." So I said, "Look, Rick: there's enormous publicity here. I can be useful to you." He got it. But apparently they thought I was at war with Star Trek over there. I'm not. I don't care. Give me a break; life is too short for bullshit. You can quote me on that!
Okay! So, you ended up appearing as a crewman.
I'm in one of the corridor shots, bending down and petting a tribble.
That's right. I haven't actually purchased the DVD set for that yet.
I haven't gotten it yet, either. Eventually I'll do that, but not until after I win the lotto or something!
(Laughs) Well, if you have to spend money getting every DVD season set that contains your episodes, you're gonna be spending a lot of money here in the near future. Let me run down a quick list of some of the things that are out, or coming out, that you've worked on: You worked on "The Trouble With Tribbles", and I believe you worked on "I, Mudd"?
I did an uncredited re-write for "I, Mudd"; they needed to shorten the first two acts into one and expand the rest.
So those were both during Season 2 of Star Trek: The Original Series, which is due out on DVD November 2nd. And you also worked on "The Cloud Minders" in Season 3.
That came from an original story by me.
Yes, and that's due out December 7th of this year. Of course, Land of the Lost - Season 1 arrived on June 29th. The New Twilight Zone - Season 1 arrives on December 28th; the Tuesday after Christmas.
That's bad timing; they should do that before Christmas.
Well, that's according to a USA Today report, and I haven't verified that with Image Entertainment, the distributors, but previously I had understood they wanted to bring it out before Halloween. But the USA Today article said that there was a new date for both it and Season 1 of The Original Twilight Zone (remastered), and I sent an e-mail to the people making the DVDs and I haven't had a response.
But back to releases: of course your own website (Gerrold.com) reports that either late this year or early next year the animated series of Star Trek is coming out.
They haven't even done their interviews yet [A planned recording session was postponed]. But I expect they'll be getting to them soon. They have a "go" from Columbia House.
From Columbia House?
So is this going to be only for subscription?
I have no idea. I'm sure that Columbia House will make it available to the stores.
Well, Columbia House doesn't put anything in stores, but a number of things Paramount has put out on DVD in-stores started at Columbia House first. I Love Lucy, for example.
Then that's probably where it's started. I'm sure that this is going to end up in stores. It's too big a property for it not to. I mean, Paramount has to know that The Animated Series will sell. "Oh, look! Here's a whole area of Star Trek we haven't merchandised yet!"
Well, sure. So, you've got a number of things that you're working on. There are other things that our readers are interested in DVDs of. I know some of our readers are interested in DVDs of The Real Ghostbusters.
Oh, I would love to see that! There were so many funny episodes of The Real Ghostbusters, and it was such a fun show to write for! That was Joe Straczynski's, before he did Babylon 5.
And I forget who introduced me to him, or how that got set up. I don't remember that much about how it happened, but I went in, I pitched the story, he said, "Sure, go on and write it." I came back with the outline, he approved it, I went home and couldn't write the script for 3 days. I couldn't get into it! So I pulled out the Laserdisc of the movie, and started watching the movie, and after about 30 minutes I had started - I could hear Bill Murray's voice in my head. Once I had that voice in my head, I knew how to write it. So I sat down and started writing, with the Bill Murray voice, and the Danny Aykroyd character fell into place, and everybody else...okay, I got it. So I wrote it around the Bill Murray voice, and I turned the script in. And Joe comes back to me with, "So, how long were you imprisoned?" "Excuse me?" "No SANE person writes like this! This is bizarre!" I said, "Oh. All right!" And he says, "And I'm going to shoot it exactly as you wrote it." I think he changed one line of dialogue, because a joke was a little too coy or something. And the same thing happened; I did a sequel. Well, not a sequel, I did a second one. And again he shot that exactly as written, taking out one little joke from the script that he felt was a little too over-the-top.
And those episodes were "Adventures in Time and Space"...
"Adventures in SLIME and Space"
SLIME and Space; sorry.
And "The Hole In the Wall Gang"
And "Whole" was spelled with a "W" as I recall.
No? Just "Hole" normally?
Well, my mistake.
Yeah. Not every title has to have a pun!
Oh, but they're fun that way! And then another one that readers would dearly like to see on DVD is, of course, well, everything Superman-related is hot today, so...
The Superboy script! My agent sent me to meet with this guy, they were shooting the show in Florida; he didn't even have an office here in California. I met him at his apartment, I think; I don't remember. But he bought it. And I asked, "What are the chances of me directing it?" All of a sudden there's silence. Apparently they already had a director, like, for the whole series or something. So. But, basically for that I went back to the essential Superboy from the comics. I grew up with the Superboy comics. It was, like, Superboy gets tested, a lot. And I thought wouldn't it be funny if we tested Superboy, and if they thought that he was representative of all Earth people. And so that was the story. And that Superboy doesn't recognize it until halfway through their testing of him. And he figures it out that they think that he's a typical Earth boy. And so that's what saves the Earth.
And have you heard about any authorized DVD releases of Superboy?
No, I haven't heard anything. I doubt that they do much more than put the episodes in a can and release it, if and when they ever do. But no, I haven't heard of anything.
Okay. Have you heard anything about Real Ghostbusters?
Darn. Of course, Logan's Run and Tales from the Darkside would be the other two major ones you were involved with that aren't on DVD yet. I take it no word on those yet, either?
I haven't heard anything. I'm probably the last person who will get told about any of this.
Okay. Well, if I hear anything I'll pass it on to you, okay?
Let me close this up with one final question. You have written a lot of scripts over the years. At your website, Gerrold.com, in your "Coming Soon" books list, you mention a title called The Ones That Got Away. It's described as a collection of TV Scripts.
Yeah, I'm still gathering, going through my files. I'm in the process of trying to convert to a more paperless office. Everything that I can get into the computer that doesn't need to be in paper, I'm going to do that. So, as I find my old copies of old scripts, I have a couple dozen that I think will work. I'm re-reading, to see which ones belong in the book. That will be a collection of scripts that I would like people to have a chance to read. Like the original draft of the Logan's Run script I did, because I think that was a pretty good script.
I would love to read that. You had mentioned before how you had left Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so would that book include your unused script?
Anyone who wants to read "Blood And Fire" can buy a copy of it off of my website.
Will that be one of the scripts included in the book, though?
And I have a copy of that. I thought it was a VERY good script, and should have aired.
Well, it was office politics. You know, I'll tell you there was a story that was told: when the script showed up on the soundstage, the actors read it and they were delighted. "Oh, boy: this is the kind of show...this is why we signed on for Star Trek. Because we wanted to do stories like this." And they were all excited. And then one of the producers said to them, "Well, don't get excited yet, Gene hasn't done his re-write on it." And their faces fell. So, very early on, the crew began to understand that the show had problems, and that the problem was at the very top. I heard that story, and it was momentarily gratifying, but that still doesn't get the script filmed.
Did anything ever change?
No. And as far as I was concerned, it was like, "You know, I've fought this battle, I don't particularly like fighting it any more. Because I can't win. Because if I fight it, all that's gonna happen is I get them angrier. The angrier they get, the harder their positions. The less likely they are to film it." And because they'd already decided not to film it, there was nothing I could say or do to get them to change their mind. And the reason they're not going to film it is, very simply, that Leonard Maizlish, scumbag lawyer, wanted to hurt me. He bragged about it.
Was there a particular reason he didn't like you?
Yeah. Because I dared to ask questions that you weren't supposed to ask.
Ahhhh. See? Tsk, tsk, tsk. I'm sorry for that, though.
Well, he saw me as a threat to his power. He saw everybody as a threat to his power.
So how come Rick Berman ended up in charge instead of him?
Because Berman knew how to play studio politics, and Maizlish didn't.
What do you think should happen with Star Trek today? What would be best for the fans, and for the legacy of Star Trek?
Star Trek, at its best, is when it remembers that it is about taking on the big challenge of considering the question, "What does it mean to be a human being?" At its very best, Star Trek episodes have always been about that. Even the funny episodes have an underlying core of seriousness that demands that you question. Even "The Trouble With Tribbles" is about ecology.
I had always noticed that. I actually had that written into a question here: Despite all the technology, aliens, and scientific concepts in your writing, you always seem to be basically talking about humanity, or the human condition. It's been said that you wrote "Tribbles" as a metaphor for ecological disaster due to over-population.
The word "ecology" hadn't even been invented yet. But I was already thinking in terms of "We as a species have to be in relationship with the universe we live in. We can't NOT be." And I had come to terms with all of that in my own head. I had worked it out. But I had a vague feeling - and "The Trouble With Tribbles" was the first step in that direction, the War Against the Chtorr is a much-more fully realized exploration - everything is connected to everything else. And if we don't recognize that, if we don't live like that, then we're doomed to deal with the consequences of our ignorance and stupidity.
Very well said. And I think that's a good place to bring this to a close.
So, for War Against the Chtorr fans like myself, when is the next book, A Method For Madness, due out?
The fifth one. I am SO close to finishing it, and haven't had a chance to do all the polishing, tweaks, revisions it still needs, that it's enormously frustrating.
I hope so. Actually, I'm hoping to finish it before October, but there's so much other stuff on my desk that has to be finished - promises that I've made to this person or that person. Where I'm at now is that I'm just managing to make all the other deadlines at the last minute.
Well, promise me that when you're done with A Method For Madness, that you'll give me the heads-up.
If you're on my newsletter list, you'll be among the first to know.
I'll do that. In the meantime, David Gerrold, you have a number of DVDs out with your TV show scripts on them: Land of the Lost out today, and of course all the influence you had on the original season of it. Babylon 5 - Season 1 you had a script "The Believers". Deep Space Nine - Season 5's "Trials and Tribble-ations", we can actually see you briefly. And the original episodes of Star Trek: Season 2 will be out November 2nd. Season 3, with "The Cloud Minders", will be out December 7th. And Twilight Zone before the end of the year, and The Animated Series next year probably.
Yeah, I'm finally going to be able to ditch all of my videotapes and have some high-resolution copies!
It'll be wonderful for all of us! I can't wait myself.
I'm kind of excited.
Thanks for your time.
Thank you, Dave.