At the heart of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, much as was the case with the original series, is the friendship between Kirk and Spock, which to a large degree has really defined the franchise.
Ironically, when Star Trek began back in the 1960s, it was very much a star vehicle designed for William Shatner, with no one expecting Leonard Nimoy’s Spock to connect with the audience the way that it did. As a result, the series became much more about the enterprising duo, which created tension on the set, as chronicled in this excerpt from Trek Classic: The Unofficial Making of the Original Series:
Writer David Gerrold relates, “During the first season, SATURDAY REVIEW did this article about TREK that Spock was much more interesting than Kirk, and that Spock should be captain. Well, nobody was near Shatner for days. He was furious. You’ve got to look at it from his point of view. He had been hired to be the star of the show. It was ‘Starring William Shatner, with DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy.’ All of a sudden, all the writers are writing all this great stuff for Spock, and Spock, who’s supposed to be a subordinate character, suddenly starts becoming the equal of Kirk. The show that started out about Kirk is now about Kirk and Spock. Bill definitely feels that he was lessened by that. On the other hand, Leonard is a very shrewd businessman, a very smart actor, and recognized that this Spock business was a way to be more important than an ‘also ran,’ and he pushed.”
Science fiction author Norman Spinrad wrote season two’s “The Doomsday Machine.” In that episode, the Enterprise encounters a device that has the capability of wiping out entire star systems. Guest starring is Commodore Decker (William Windom), who commanded a starship recently destroyed by the weapon. Spinrad was surprised by some of the ways that he had to approach the characters and his on-set observations.
“In the original version, Commodore Decker was much stronger,” he explains. “They don’t find him slumped over in the ruined ship. Instead, they find him staring out the view screen and in a very bad mood. There was the feeling that a guest star with that kind of presence would overshadow Captain Kirk, and therefore his character had to be toned down and his lines reduced. Also, some of Spock’s lines had to be given to Kirk.
“Yes, he [Shatner] counted lines. I was on the set during the making of that episode. Marc Daniels was directing and they couldn’t get it to work. The reason for this is that it was a dialogue sequence set up as Kirk, Spock, Kirk, but the intervening Spock line had been taken out in the line count, so there was no reaction line for the next line to work. I took Marc aside and said, ‘Have him grunt or something,’ and I explained that there was a missing line there. But things like that did happen. Observing it depended on how close you were to the production. Here I was watching the director struggle. But not too many people were able to hang around the set. The point is that they have to give their lead characters prominence.”
Frequent director Joseph Pevney considers the notion of the feud, and nods his head in understanding. “If there are rumors about a rivalry,” he begins, “they’re probably true. Now Leonard and Bill are both good actors. They enjoy working with each other. If the script is equally as good to both characters, there’s no problem. It’s when one became a straight man for the other that you have rivalry. That they resent and probably for good reason. Sometimes, story wise, it’s impossible to have both people answer the question, but a good writer can solve that in two seconds. All he’s got to have is a straight man who’s a third character, and let both of the heroes be heroes. It’s not too difficult to do. Roddenberry was always conscious of it, but he lost control of the show because of Bill and Leonard. I’m sure of that.
“I left the show long before it folded, because I couldn’t enjoy working with those two anymore,” Pevney continues. “The whole character of the show had changed for me. The quality of the writing deteriorated, I think primarily because they were scared that whatever they submitted would be torn to shreds by Bill and Leonard. There was a loss of confidence from the top in the material, and if you do that, you’re shaking up something awful. If I had come in with the script for ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’ during the third season, I would have been laughed off the set. They’d say, ‘You can’t do this piece of shit,’ and that would be the end of it. The hero of the show was a little fuzzy animal, and they don’t want that. They want to constantly be the heroes and this is the mark of a spoiled actor. This is a guy who reads his mail and is no longer aware of the need for teamwork.
“When we started the show, teamwork was the key word. Nobody was more important than anybody else…. From the time I made ‘Arena’ to the time I did my last show, there was a hell of a difference. If you run both of them, there was a difference in performance quality, changes which give you a sense of the overbearing captain and Spock. And a kind of challenging between the two of them on screen, which is okay in life and rehearsal, but shouldn’t be there on screen. Then Leonard would say, ‘I’m the second in command, when can I do a story where I’m commanding the ship?’ Well, those stories came to be and, after a while, Bill would say, ‘Wait a second, I’m the captain!’ There you’ve got problems, originating from, I would say, actor to producer, because when they were through with their shows, Leonard, primarily, and Bill would be up in Gene’s fanny, making suggestions as to how the show should go, some good and some horrible. All of them, I think, very selfishly instigated. Now I wasn’t witness to this, I only heard it from Gene Coon and Gene Roddenberry, who was coming to the studio less and less. The whole atmosphere, the feeling of teamwork and whole Star Trek quality disintegrated.”
To find out more about the secrets of the Trek that started it all, order Trek Classic: The Unofficial Making of the Original Series at: