Star Trek has become one of the most iconic and influential science fiction franchises in history. But it almost didn’t happen without the help of an unlikely heroine – comedic actress Lucille Ball. Her role in shaping the future of this science fiction series is a story of vision, determination, and a willingness to take risks.
Lucille Ball’s rise to prominence with “I Love Lucy” allowed her and her then-husband Desi Arnaz to form their own production studio, Desilu Productions. After their divorce, Ball became one of the first female producers to head her own studio, and she used her influence to secure the rights for Star Trek.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry pitched his concept of a sci-fi show set on a spaceship exploring the galaxy. The first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike, received a lukewarm reception from studios when it aired in 1965.
The cerebral plot about Pike being held captive on a planet by powerful telepaths failed to impress executives. Additionally, the expensive pilot, which cost over $600,000, failed to garner interest for a full series.
That’s when Lucille Ball, the star of the hugely popular sitcom I Love Lucy, stepped in. Ball had started her own production company, Desilu Productions, with her husband Desi Arnaz after the success of their sitcom. As an advocate for quality television, Ball saw potential in Roddenberry’s Star Trek despite the lackluster first pilot. So she agreed to finance a second pilot herself, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” at great financial risk.
Despite objections from Desilu’s board members and misunderstandings about the nature of Star Trek (Ball initially thought it was a show about Hollywood stars traveling for USO shows), she stood by Roddenberry’s vision and played a major part in funding the series.
Her willingness to bankroll the project gave Roddenberry the freedom to hire the cast he wanted, including William Shatner and Forest DeKelly.
This time, William Shatner was cast as the new captain, James T. Kirk, along with Leonard Nimoy as the stoic, pointy-eared science officer Spock. The pilot also introduced core elements like the Galactic Barrier and used an action-driven plot revolving around crew members gaining superpowers. NBC picked up Star Trek as a series based on this second pilot, and the rest is sci-fi history.
Lucille Ball’s role in the creation and success of Star Trek is a testament to her vision, courage, and pioneering spirit. She saw potential where others saw failure, and her willingness to take a gamble on a “too cerebral” sci-fi series has left an indelible mark on television history.
Star Trek went on to become a worldwide phenomenon and has led to multiple TV series, novels, movies, and comic books, and it all started with the determination of a woman who was not afraid to go where no one had gone before.