Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thursday Preview: Columbus of the Stars

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Since I wrote the introduction to this in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, I suppose the sensible thing is just to give myself permission to post it here. Me, you may proceed.

Thank you, me.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

In 1964, a successful writer begins shopping around Hollywod a pitch for a science fiction series of a new kind.

Unlike previous such series, which have tended to be either anthologies, or else cheap daytime fare for children, this is a series for prime time with continuing characters, aimed at an adult audience.

It’s the story of a starship and her crew. Their assignment is to survey for undiscovered planets, to contact alien beings and cultures, to probe into reaches never visited by mankind.

I’m sure you’re ahead of me. The writer is, of course, Ib Melchior, and the series is Columbus of the Stars.

No? Well, that other series pitch did have the advantage of selling. Although its synchronicitous sibling never left the launch pad, it’s interesting to consider that sometimes, an idea may only seem unique in retrospect because it succeeded, while other iterations of the notion did not.
If things had gone a little differently, might this be an issue on Columbus of the Stars, with an article about a forgotten and somewhat similar pitch with the unlikely name Star Trek?

At the time, the safer bet might have been Columbus of the Stars. Ib Melchior had worked in television since 1948, and wrote for the series Men into Space. He was a published science fiction author. He had moved to the big screen, writing and directing The Angry Red Planet. In 1964, he had two films in the pipeline: Robinson Crusoe on Mars, which he wrote, and The Time Travelers, again as writer-director. (Crusoe’s Friday, Vic Lundin, developed Columbus of the Stars with Melchior.)

Gene Roddenberry had impressive television credits, with scores of produced scripts and a Writers Guild award, but his only science fiction was an anthology episode, “The Secret Weapon of 117,” in which a covert alien invasion falls to that little human thing called love. He had recently become a showrunner with The Lieutenant, but did better provoking conflict with the Marine Corps, which withdrew its production support in mid-season, than in drumming up ratings. The network had not picked the show up for a second season.

Imagine yourself a network executive in 1964, and this crosses your desk. Might you have given it a shot?


Me, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, me, that was beautiful.

No, really, me, my modesty! I couldn't have done it without you.

But there's more to "Columbus of the Stars: A Trek Not Taken?" than the introduction and the never-before-published series pitch bible. There's also the story of how it came to the desk of that other guy with that other pitch about a starship crew. Did he go where two men had gone before?

Whoops, look at the time! Guess you'll just have to buy Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, and read all about it.

That was a dirty trick, me.

Hey, me, lay off, I gotta make a living, here.

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