A former “Star Trek” writer, who also happens to be a Caltech physicist, started wondering why. Why the six television series? Why the 11 “Star Trek” movies? Why the video games, conventions and cookbook? Why?
Even non-Trekkies recognize something special about the franchise, acknowledges Leonard Mlodinow, who wrote for the second TV series. But what is it? And how can that help you?
Here’s what he found out:
It wasn’t the creator. The first series was such a flop that its creator, Gene Roddenberry, became a pariah who couldn’t find work. Even during the second TV series, Roddenberry didn’t have much influence. True, writers were ordered to use whatever ideas he gave them, but as a mere consultant, he didn’t have clout.
It wasn’t the cast. The actors, while enjoying a unique chemistry in each series, changed from one to the next. And all the shows used different heroes and villains. So it wasn’t the show’s stars or their roles.
It wasn’t the writers. The series Mlodinow worked on, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” ran through writers like water. The studio fired them at such a clip that the show almost tanked because the studio couldn’t find new writers fast enough, employing 155 writers for 198 episodes.
It wasn’t even the innovation. Warp drive, teleportation, tricorders and holodecks. Palm copied its initial design from control panels on the starship Enterprise. The tricorder is now everywhere in the form of flip phones. Apple’s Steve Wozniak would run home to draw inspiration from reruns. Science recently published an article about real-life teleportation. And brainiac Stephen Hawking says a matter/anti-matter engine might be the key to interstellar travel.
As fun as these imaginings are, Mlodinow says, they don’t define “Star Trek,” but they do offer a clue.
It’s the culture. “Some people invent a machine,” he says. “Others create a machine for invention.” “Star Trek,” he says, is founded on a culture of imagination, same as Bell Labs, Disney and Google. The show’s real legacy is a culture dedicated “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
— Adapted from “Vulcans Never, Ever Smile,” Leonard Mlodinow, Newsweek.