In the 50 years since it was first created, Star Trek has inspired a loving and loyal fan base. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a future in which humanity had set aside its differences and set out to explore the galaxy was an inspiration to audiences all over the world and in the decades that followed, it’s safe to say that many of those fans now practically live and breathe Star Trek on a daily basis.
But for Rod Roddenberry and Trevor North, that’s statement could almost be taken literally. Roddenberry is the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and is now the President/CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment. Trevor Roth is Roddenberry Entertainment’s Head of Development. Together they work to promote the vision of Star Trek to the world through various programs, conventions and philanthropic endeavors, and together they are both executive producers of Bryan Fuller’s new television series Star Trek: Discovery.
I sat down with Rod Roddenberry and Trevor North this week, shortly before the title Star Trek: Discovery had even been announced, to learn more about their involvement with the project and what it’s like to work on Star Trek for a living. I also learned what the gatekeepers of Star Trek think are the best – and the worst – Star Trek movies. Their answers might surprise you.
Crave: I can’t even imagine how many Comic-Cons you’ve been to over the years. If you were to estimate, what are you looking at?
Rod Roddenberry: Comic-Cons or conventions?
Let’s say conventions, because I feel like Star Trek kind of invented those, right?
Rod Roddenberry: I used to go as a kid. My mother would take me when I was just a wee little lad.
Trevor Roth: He beats me, for sure.
Rod Roddenberry: So… in the hundreds? I don’t know if it’s more than 200 or… maybe a hundred.
Trevor Roth: Wow.
Do you remember the first convention you went to, when everyone was wearing the stuff Gene Roddenberry invented?
Rod Roddenberry: When I was a little kid this was a costume party. When I would go to it it would be usually at the Disney hotel, and I’d get to go to Disneyland, but there I would always want to stay at the convention because they had cool things and they had everyone dressed in costume. So, god, you know? Probably only a hundred. I was thinking a hundred’s a lot.
A hundred is quite a few.
Rod Roddenberry: Yeah, so probably under a hundred.
We just ran an editorial about why we need Star Trek more than ever. It seems like we live in a very cynical time right now.
Rod Roddenberry: Did I read that?
You might have. On Crave?
Rod Roddenberry: I have an aggregator so I don’t know…
That’s fine. But I wonder if you think that’s true, or if you think it just always feels that way?
Trevor Roth: That’s a good question. I mean, I think that it’s always true in the sense that we always need something like Star Trek to have that positive impact, that positive outlook, and I think that it’s very easy for science-fiction, especially, to go dystopian and kind of pessimistic. When I look at Star Trek, at least in the environments in which it was created and the way it went and blew up, and you look at the philosophical and ideological issues of the day, I think we’re in a very similar time. I look at when Gene created it in the ‘60s and I feel like there was a lot of debates and arguments and issues and activism of that time, and I definitely look at today and feel like we are again at a crossroads in many, many ways with technology, with globalization, with smaller things like politics and humanity in general. So I think definitely, it’s something that is absolutely needed today. But I think your point is well taken. It might be needed all the time, we just always think within the moment we’re in.
Rod Roddenberry: He said it best.
What is your day-to-day job regarding Star Trek? What is your typical Star Trek-workin’ day?
Rod Roddenberry: I’m going to let him take that again.
Trevor Roth: Look, it’s funny, when people come to work with us, we oftentimes are easily pegged as a production company. But in truth I find that we’re a brand company more than anything, and that means that our day-to-day has everything to do with entertainment, to conventions, to websites…
Rod Roddenberry: Philanthropy…
Trevor Roth: …to philanthropy, to fans! And because of that I think that we do, day-to-day, really is best encapsulated by the idea of upholding what Roddenberry represents to the best of our ability in that given day, with whatever’s in front of us.
Rod Roddenberry: It’s funny, I thought you meant just Star Trek, the new TV show…
Trevor Roth: Oh, I’m sorry…
No, I actually did just mean Star Trek in general. We could segue though…
Rod Roddenbbery: No! No!
Trevor Roth: We’re not allowed to talk too much about that.
Rod Roddenberry: That’s why I was like, “He can take it.” [Laughs.]
I realize you can’t give me any spoilers or anything, but what is your active involvement in that [Star Trek: Discovery] for example? Are you helping guide them or are you directly involved in a creative way?
Rod Roddenberry: I’d say helping guide them.
Trevor Roth: Bryan Fuller is definitely the man leading the charge, so he and Alex Kurtzman of course, who co-created where we’re going, and the fantastic team they’ve put together which includes Heather Kadin and Loretta Ramos and even Nic Meyers, you know what I mean? A fantastic group of people. There’s a writer’s room that’s great. We just actually added David Semel who’s going to be the pilot director. I think that was announced today… if it wasn’t, ha! Sorry. No, I’m pretty sure it was announced today, and he too will also help executive produce. So we’ve just got a fantastic [team]. I think that our role in it of course is that we are the old guard in many ways, and because of that our ability to look at it from that perspective is probably our largest asset to the team as a whole. But definitely all credit to Bryan and Alex who are really the people getting out there and making sure that this comes to fruition in a really special way.
Rod Roddenberry: And they get it. They know what Star Trek is.
Well, Bryan Fuller worked on it originally, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Rod Roddenberry: Yeah.
A long time ago, Gene Roddenberry put together a document and among it was the rules of Star Trek. This is Star Trek, this would not be Star Trek.
Rod Roddenberry: Are you referring to the bible…?
I am referring to the bible, yeah. I’m wondering if over the years, as Star Trek has had to evolve to meet the needs of new media and new audiences, has it been difficult to keep enforcing that at some times?
Rod Roddenberry: Well it’s never really been our job to “enforce” it…
Okay, poor choice of words…
Rod Roddenberry: No, no… and it’s specific so I do want to speak that. It’s typical when someone sells a show to a studio or network, they sell the rights and they retain creative control to some degree and they get paid for that. When my father died, creative control of Star Trek died with him. So since he’s passed away the Roddenberry family hasn’t had any control of Star Trek. It has been CBS and Paramount. So we haven’t been enforcing but any opportunity that we have to either create our own products or share with people the philosophy of Star Trek, we share the guidelines in that document, essentially. We share this idea of it’s got to be believable. It can’t just be sci-fi for the sake of sci-fi. So I mean, in some respects we enforce it where we can! [Laughs.] And “enforce” again is the wrong word, but…
Trevor Roth: We “inform” on it.
Rod Roddenberry: That’s actually well said.
Trevor Roth: We inform on it.
So if you’re not necessarily involved, by the rule of law or the letter of a contract, is your participation in the [movie and TV series] sort of ceremonial? Do you ever worry that you might get removed from it altogether?
Rod Roddenberry: Absolutely! I’ve absolutely worried in the past about that. But CBS and Paramount – but CBS specifically on this new series – have brought us into it, brought us on board, and as Trevor said the team has been very inviting and very receptive and very accepting, so it’s been a nice opportunity to take a little bit of a part in it.
Trevor North: Obviously Star Trek is very near and dear to our hearts. His probably even more than mine, of course, and I think because of that our ability to participate and be part of a team, with the understanding that there are objectives and it is commercial… and at the same time it is special and it is beyond just entertainment for the audiences out there. You know, all of that combined creates a maze and it’s difficult to navigate, but as much as we can and whenever we can to be participating in that, as we are with the new series, we’re very, very excited and we’re going to do our part in it.
I know you can’t tell me what it is, but what was your initial reaction to Bryan Fuller’s pitch? Besides “I like it,” did you think it was an evolution…?
Rod Roddenberry: Let me step in on this. It is careful, I’ve got to be a little bit careful how I say things, but I’ll be as honest as I can. I knew a bit of Bryan’s work and I knew he had worked on Star Trek, but it’s been a… you said that document, I am a little bit of the old guard, as Trevor said. You know? I believe in sort of the traditional Star Trek, making sure it has ethics and morals and those sorts of things. I really focus in on the philosophy more than I do the science-fiction. But the landscape of television has changed. You need people on board who can actually work within that landscape and create content for that. And my first reading of it was… I had to take a moment and really kind of consider, this is a new day. You can’t do the same Star Trek! I wouldn’t even do the same Star Trek. So it’s taken me a moment really sort of get on board, not because of any bad writing, it’s because it’s sort of a different way of doing television. I’m now on board and I get it and I couldn’t be more happy that they put the team together and that Bryan’s running it. But I’ll tell you, I’m getting older, and when you get older sometimes and you love something for so long, it’s hard to accept change.
Would you have reacted that way to any pitch on Star Trek?
Rod Roddenberry: I think I would have.
Okay, so it’s not necessarily even that dramatic a change…
Rod Roddenberry: No, I think even if someone had pitched another Star Trek like the original series, where you’ve got a ship and a bridge and these things, if it was the same thing I probably would have been shocked by that too.
Trevor Roth: I think, I mean, if you look at the history of Star Trek and the fact that Gene so ingeniously evolved it with every incarnation, or at least started that process with TNG [Star Trek: The Next Generation], I think the ability to recognize our own fallibility as human beings, saying we are resistant to change in some ways… I think, looking now at what we’re doing and what Bryan and Alex are doing, with us as well… I mean, we’re very excited and we look forward to the idea of this new telling of this great universe. I think that everybody, including audiences out there, because they don’t know what to expect and yet are excited, hopefully, about what is coming… you have to sort of go into everything with open arms and kind of say, look, it’s not always about exactly the structure of what was. Bryan absolutely has said to many, many reporters as well as us, we have to make sure we’re taking a step forward. We have to make sure we’re doing this in a new way. To go back to the old loyalties of everything isn’t going to work. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t Star Trek in this, by the way, of course, but I think that making sure that we’re doing this in a new fashion – for a new platform even – is going to be important.
What is your favorite Star Trek movie?
Rod Roddenberry: For me it used to be First Contact. It’s getting close. I just saw Beyond and it’s definitely one of my favorites. I’m not a Khan guy. I’m not a Star Trek II guy. I think it was great but it’s not my favorite. So I think First Contact is probably my favorite. Beyond might be my second favorite.
Trevor Roth: I just came off of watching Beyond twice so I’m super excited about it. It’s the easiest answer.
But let’s say that hasn’t happened yet. You’re too close to it right now.
Trevor Roth: Yeah, fair enough. I like Beyond. There’s a part of me that always has a soft spot for Generations just because I like the meeting of the worlds in some ways.
Interesting choice… interesting choice…
Trevor Roth: Yeah, but look, they all bring something. I have so many favorites. They all bring something different. I liked talking about God [in Star Trek V], I liked talking about whales [in Star Trek IV]. Sorry, bad answer. Bad answer!
My last question… We all know they’re not created equal. What’s your least favorite Star Trek movie?
Rod Roddenberry: Final Frontier. The God one. I love the idea of it but I thought it was…
Trevor Roth: I give a lot of credit to people for ideas, not necessarily the execution sometimes. But I think Nemesis might be my least [favorite]. I just… I remember being so excited about the poster and maybe my expectations were high. I just, that was the one that almost, the discrepancy between my hopes and what it was… I don’t know…
Rod Roddenberry: I was just bored in Final Frontier.
Top Photo: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.