Part 2 of my memories of Gene Roddenberry
When the studio announced that Star Trek had been canceled after its second year, I took the news philosophically. I had more or less stopped watching it, and Gene Roddenberry had already taken me to previews of a couple of other science-fiction shows he was developing. (None of them actually did much.)
Gene, however, was not so easily defeated A few weeks after the announcement I got a letter from him asking if I would be willing to sign a letter asking the network to reverse itself and give Star Trek at least one more season to show its legs. Gene was not very specific about just what sort of letter it would be. I supposed it would be some sort of group letter signed by a bunch of old sf codgers. I had no objection to that, or indeed to any imaginable kind of letter he might have in mind. I could not think of any serious trouble such a thing might cause me, and I was quite willing to do Gene a favor.
I then forgot about it for a few weeks, until one day I got a letter from an eleven-year-old in some place like Albuquerque, New Mexico, and addressed to “Frederik Pohl, editor of Galaxy, If and Analog.” Its burden was a heartfelt plea for me to change my mind about canceling Star Trek and put it back on the air for at least one more year.
That was a rather puzzling letter. How did he get my home address? What made him believe I had anything to do with canceling the program? Most of all, what made anyone think that I was the editor of Analog, a post that had belonged to John Campbell since the Early Silurian?
It was not a great concern, though, and it had receded to the shadowy recesses of my consciousness when. A couple of days later I got a similar letter from a nine-year-old in a place like Freehold. New Jersey … and then more, many more, from youngsters all over the country, and all displaying the same errors concerning my control over Star Trek‘s fortunes and what magazines I happened to edit..
So I got in touch with Gene to ask, just as a matter of interest, what he knew about those letters.
I already had figured out the basic structure of what was going on. TV shows get a heavy dose of fan mail — in the case of Star Trek largely from young boys — and somebody connected with the show had saved all those return addresses on the envelopes and converted them into a mailing list. (I knew all about such lists. Dirk Wylie and I had got his literary agency started by mailing an invitation to a list of the same kind, although much smaller, this one taken from the return addresses on manuscripts submitted to Popular Publications’ pulp magazines.)
In his reply Gene admitted that they had written a letter to all those thousands of fans, suggesting they write letters to get the program extended — but phrased a little confusingly, which is no doubt how come so many of them thought I was the executioner. He hoped I wasn’t mad because, in the heat of the action, they had sent out the letter — bearing my signature — without showing it to me. I wasn’t mad, and wrote back to tell him so.
I wasn’t the only string to Gene’s bow. As I learned later, Harlan Ellison was trying to whip up pressure from the TV professionals, and Bjo Trimble and her husband were attempting to do the same among fan groups.
How well they did, I don’t know, but how well that letter under my name did was very. I have a statement from a person actually on the scene at the network that the executives were astonished and in no small degree worried at the volume and vigor of (correctly addressed) mail it produced.
And, in fact, the network did suddenly announce that they’d thought it over and, after all, they would let Star Trek stay on the air for one more season.