Just a few weeks ago, we Trek fans were rejoicing at the news that Norman Spinrad’s long-lost original series script “He Walked Among Us” would find new life on the acclaimed web series Star Trek Phase II. Sadly, we’re now hearing the project may be lost forever thanks to that unshakeable buzzkill: A network cease and desist letter.
Spinrad, a Hugo and Nebula-winning sci-fi writer who also scripted the 1967 Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine,” was paid about $5,000 for the “He Walked Among Us” script, but asked series creator Gene Roddenberry to kill the episode after producer Gene Coon “rewrote it into an unfunny comedy.”
After the original series was canceled, Spinrad donated his only copy of the script to the archives at California State University, Fullerton, where it lay dormant for decades. It wasn’t until a fan walked up to Spinrad at a convention last fall with another copy that interest in the story was renewed. Spinrad starting making digital copies of the script available online and struck a deal with Phase II producer and star James Cawley to finally film the story after four and a half decades.
Then, the lawyers came barging in. Cawley was contacted by CBS, who owns all television and online rights to Star Trek, and asked to cease and desist with production on the episode. Spinrad, who’d also planned to direct “He Walked Among Us,” was also contacted by the network and asked to pull the script from web distribution. Their claim is that they still own the script, which seems reasonable since Spinrad was already paid for his work decades ago.
“We fully appreciate and respect the passion and creativity of the Star Trek fan and creative communities,” CBS said in a statement. “This is simply a case of protecting our copyrighted material and the situation has been amicably resolved.” The network also noted that they are “considering opportunities to offer licensed copies of the work.”
Historically, Phase II has been largely left alone by CBS, in part because the web series has never been produced for profit. Cawley even notes the network has been quite helpful in answering his questions in the past about what the show can and can’t do, and for that reason he’s not going to get hostile about the “He Walked Among Us” script.
“I’m not going to do anything that might be questionable,” he said. “I have such a good relationship with CBS that I can call them anytime and ask, ‘Is this a problem?’ ”
As for Spinrad, he released a very brief statement about the matter via his blog.
“I and CBS have agreed to resolve our disputes concerning the ownership of the Work; as part of the settlement between the Parties, the Parties have agree that there will be no further comment; and CBS is considering opportunities to offer licensed copies of the Work,” he wrote. “Because of the above, I can no longer comment on the ‘He Walked Among Us’ screenplay myself. But I can still respond to general questions about screenwriting and so forth on this page.”
So, it seems all the parties directly involved in the issue have come to a reasonable understanding, but that doesn’t mean the fans can’t get riled up about it. After all, the network has let at least one “lost” script get filmed already. David Gerrold, who wrote the 1967 classic “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode, also gave an unproduced script to Phase II for production. “Blood and Fire” was a script he’d written in 1987 for Star Trek: The Next Generation that was eventually shelved by producers. In 2007, he directed it for Phase II without ever hearing a peep from CBS.
“I don’t understand CBS’s thinking on this at all,” Gerrold said. “They didn’t care then. Why do they care now?”
Surely, CBS has their own reasons for what they do and don’t go after in the realm of Trek fandom, but Gerrold notes they should be careful, because those Trekkies can be a dangerous folk.
“Star Trek fans,” he said, “are not a sleeping dragon that you want to poke.”