Last weekend, Star Trek superfan Michael Gummelt took to the internet to announce that he had been invited to officially pitch his idea for a Star Trek TV show to Paramount Pictures. As laid out in exhaustive detail at his site Star Trek Uncharted , his concept would see a newly rebuilt Enterprise setting out on its standard mission (i.e., “To explore strange, new worlds”) but in a new galaxy (Andromeda) which has contacted our galaxy and claimed to be the source of all life in the Milky Way. Paramount became aware of this when they started copyrighting potential titles for next year’s Star Trek 3, and discovered that one potential title, Star Trek Beyond, was being used by Gummelt. He’s since renamed it Star Trek Uncharted.

Of course, CBS actually has the TV rights, not Paramount, and executives for Skydance Productions, which produced Star Trek Into Darkness and are producing Star Trek 3, just told reporters that the legal tangles preventing a new series are “wildly, wildly complicated.” Still, Gummelt is now unique among fans, “As far as I know, this is the first time a fan (not an established industry insider) has been invited to pitch a Star Trek TV series.”

True (probably), but once upon a time any amateur could submit a spec script to a Star Trek TV show and have it end up on the air. Beginning in 1989 when Michael Piller took over as Next Generation’s Head writer, any non-professional, unrepresented writer could submit up to two unsolicited scripts, at which point anything else had to be submitted through an agent. Such freelance work was nothing for TV, but opening it up to anyone outside of the Writers Guild and talent agency pool was unprecedented. The volume of unsolicited script submissions was high (“over 5,000 spec scripts for the final season of Next Generationaccording to script coordinator Lolita Fatjo) but the acceptance rate was remarkably low. As Brannon Braga recently told the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, “Michael Piller always had an eye out to find the next good writer that he could bring on board. So, he was constantly trying out people. Some of them turned out to be great and would join the staff, most would not. Re-writing those scripts would fall to us [on the writing staff

This policy carried over from The Next Generation to Deep Space Nine and Voyager before being suspended for Enterprise, Braga pointing to the piling lawsuits, “It caused also a lot of headaches from people who claimed we stole an idea. Sometimes they would just pay those people out, Paramount would, because it was a hassle. “  But now that Paramount has at least very briefly revived this policy by allowing a non-union, non-industry professional pitch them an idea for a show, who were some of the writers who actually got their start in the industry submitting spec scripts to Star Trek?

René Echevarria

070324141117_93Echevarria actually got his start in the theater, producing multiple plays before submitting a script to TNG which ultimately became the epsiode “The Offspring.”  Which one’s that?  Maybe this will jog your memory:

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Data gets a daughter!

He was subsequently hired as a TNG staff writer, credited for 30 episodes.  He transferred to DS9 where he co-wrote the Original Series homage “Trials and Tribble-ations.”  He subsequently wrote for Dark Angel and Medium and co-created the USA series The 4400 with Scott Peters.  He helped developed MTV’s Teen Wolf, and he served as showrunner for Terra Nova after the original showrunner was fired.

Jane Espenson

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Espensen with a Star Trek fan

We know her as one of Joss Whedon’s go-to writers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, and since then she’s racked up writing credits ranging from Battlestar Galactica to Once Upon a Time to Game of Thrones. She created Warehouse 13, and currently has a web series called Husbands. But it all started with Star Trek, as she explained in an interview quoted by io9, “I was in grad school when I learned you could submit scripts to Star Trek: The Next Generation without having to have an agent as intermediary. I submitted three spec episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and was invited in to pitch episode ideas… I was already a huge fan of the show and of the genre in general. I love metaphorical storytelling, which is at the heart of scifi – this is our world, but looked at through a lens.”

This didn’t lead to a long life as a Star Trek writer. Despite her regular pitches to TNG, the only credit she ever received was for a story contributed to DS9. However, it was off of that experience that she slowly built an impressive career.

Bryan Fuller

img_1276_2Fuller is now known as the deeply dark heart behind Hannibal and the chipper soul responsible for Pushing Daisies, but in the beginning he was just a kid who grew up loving Star Trek: The Original Series, which is the first thing he remembers paying attention to in fetishistic detail. As an adult, he had to drop out of the USC School of Cinematic Arts due to tuition costs and student loans. He had wanted to be a director, but at the age of 25 he was a bit lost in life, working as an office temp, spending some of his spare time watching Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, losing many a date when they saw his various Star Trek toys. As he told Kevin Pollack’s YouTube talk show, “I didn’t even know I wanted to be a writer until I was watching a Deep Space Nine episode and saw the matrix, ‘Oh, this is how you tell a story, and this is where they turn the story.’ So I sat down and I wrote one and submitted it, and then I got invited in to pitch.” But it’s not like they just hired him off of that. That got his foot in the door, but he got hired to staff because of his persistence, “ I would write up pages of pitches, and I would go to the Paramount lot and say that I was a messenger. Then I would find Star Trek offices and slide them under the door. Once I had an in I would prepare these pitch packages and slide them under the door. Every week I would submit 20 pitches before I ever got on staff, and then they said, ‘You should just come on staff.’”

Trent Christopher Ganino

yent153-600x458Unlike the other writers on this list, Stark Trek did not represent Ganino getting his foot in Hollywood’s door. Instead, it’s simply the only door he was ever allowed to enter. His IMDB page still lists his sole writing credit as The Next Generation episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” which you might remember as the one where Tasha Yar was brought back in an alternate reality. However, Ganino’s original script didn’t feature her at all. Instead, he simply exploited a loophole in the instructions for spec scripts disallowing the usage of any of the Original Series characters. He really wanted to write a time travel story about the Original Series crew meeting the Next Generation crew, but since that wasn’t allowed he created an entirely new crew for the Enterprise-C and wrote about them “accidentally traveling twenty-two years into the future, arriving in the current timeline of USS Enterprise-D.” Over time, this was merged with another storyline idea, as extensively chronicled in the book The Making of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and the script was ultimately re-written by Ganino and script coordinator Eric Stillwell and then by five of the show’s staff writers.

Ronald D. Moore

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Ronald D. Moore with the women of Battlestar Galactica

He currently has Outlander on Starz. He used to have Battlestar Galactica. Before that he was a staff writer for Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, credited for 30 episodes of the latter. But if you go back far enough he was just a Star Trek fan. According to io9, “Legend has it Moore first infiltrated the TNG set when he was dating a someone in the production crew. During a tour of the set, he managed to slip the producers a written script that eventually became the TNG episode ‘The Bonding.’ He was hired a staff writer and eventually co-wrote the Next Gen movies Generations and First Contact. Sadly, he parted with Star Trek on bad terms after a very brief time with Voyager, transferring many of the things he felt Voyager should have been doing to his Battlestar Galactica reboot.

Robert Hewitt Wolfe

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René Echevarria, Ira Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Ronald D. Moore

He developed Andromeda from an idea left behind by Gene Rodenberry. He wrote for The Dead Zon, the Twilight Zone revival and co-produced the first season of The 4400. He developed the fantastic, yet short-lived SyFy series The Dresden Files. However, when he was fresh out of UCLA with a Master of Fines in Screenwriting Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s first big break was selling the script “A Fistful of Datas” (the holodeck western episode pitting Worf against a bunch of Datas) to Next Generation. The landed him a position on the Deep Space Nine writing staff where he stayed until leaving after the fifth season. During his tenure on the show, he often collaborated with producer-writer Ira Steven Behr, and the two later re-teamed on Alphas, which, similar to The Dresden Files, was an excellent, though short-lived SyFy series.

Sources: io9, Nerdist Writers Panel

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

8 Comments

  1. 2 out of 6 have gone on to do really amazing stuff.

    I never got into The 4400 or Warehouse 13. I wanted to like Warehouse but was never impressed. Besides, it’s concept was basically the same as Friday the 13th the Series.

    Reply

    1. I really wanted to like Warehouse 13 as well. It had Donnie from Frasier! And Tricia Helfer was in the show’s second episode! And Edie McClintock is apparently the world’s nicest guy at conventions. However, the show is just too, for lack of a better word, flimsy for me.

      Reply

  2. Also i am surprised that the estate of Philip K Dick hasn’t sued more (and Moore):
    Specifically over the concepts from his short story “Second Variety “. There was one particular Voyager episode “Prototype” that was submitted by an experienced freelance writer that seems to borrow liberally for the backstory.

    Also there is this accusation about Moore/BSG:
    http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/84116/has-ronald-moore-ever-commented-on-similarities-between-bsg-and-pkds-second-va

    Reply

  3. Great read! It’s comforting to know that successful people were in the slush pile too.

    Reply

    1. I was particularly inspired by Bryan Fuller’s story, although when he told Kevin Pollack about sneaking into the Paramount lot to sneak pitches under the Star Trek office doors Pollack was quick to point out that you’d never be able to pull that off today because security is so much better on studio lots. So, can’t exactly repeat that trick.

      Reply

  4. […] you’ve never heard the story of how he owes his career to Star Trek, I told it in an earlier article, summarized […]

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  5. […] admiration of Michael Piller, a showrunner of Star Trek: The Next Generation, who had an open submission policy while there. “One of the things that Jose and I talk about on our podcast [Children of […]

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  6. […] still, the optics here don’t look good. Fuller’s one of us, a lifelong Star Trek fan, except unlike us he gained access to the Next Generation set, slid his spec scripts under the doors …Cut to today and he’s a superstar showrunner with a loyal fanbase who’ll follow him from […]

    Reply

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