TCA: PBS and "The Pioneers of Television"

It was PBS’ turn at the mic at the annual TCA Press tour on Thursday, which focused mainly on the second edition of their miniseries Pioneers of Television, whose panel of classic TV stars featured two Chicago natives: Robert Conrad (Wild, Wild West, Black Sheep Squadron) Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek), who hails from southwest suburban Robbins.

The panel also featured Mike Conners (Mannix), Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible), and Linda Evans (The Big Valley, Dyansty).

The second edition of Pioneers of Television is due in the first quarter of 2011.

The first edition of Pioneers of Television generally received poor reviews when the four-part mini-series debuted in January 2008.  Each episode focused on one genre of television: sitcoms, game shows, variety, and late-night television.

The sequel plans to devote an episode each to science fiction; westerns; crime dramas; and local children’s television (and if they were smart, they would include plenty of Chicago material – it wouldn’t be the Pioneers of Television without Bozo, Bill Jackson’s Gigglesnort Hotel. and Garfield Goose.)

But the most interesting part of the panel came when Nichelle Nichols told the story of when she nearly left Star Trek and was persuaded to stay by her “number one fan” (the quote is directly from Marc Berman’s Programming Insider newsletter:)

“It was rather interesting to me to be cast in Star Trek because I came up in musical theater, and somehow I was really on my way to break through and do all of the things that I really wanted to do on Broadway. And I took Star Trek because I thought it would be a nice adjunct to my resume, and I’d get to Broadway quicker and as a star. And I kind of got stuck there.

As a matter of fact, I even tried to leave after the first year, the first season, because I thought, “Oh, this is going nowhere for me.” And I told Gene Roddenberry I was going to leave the show on a Friday evening. And Saturday, that next day, he said, “Please don’t leave. Don’t you see what I’m trying to do here?” And that next evening, as fate would have it, I was being one of the guest celebrities at an NAACP fund raiser. And one of the fund raisers came up to the dais and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s a fan. There’s a person here who says he’s a big, big fan of yours. He’s your biggest fan.” And I thought it was a Trekkie, and so I said, “Sure.” And I stood up, and I looked across the room, and there was Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with this big grin on his face. And he reached out to me and said, “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan.” And he said that — that “Star Trek” was the only show that he and his wife, Coretta, would allow their three little children to stay up and watch, because while they were marching, every night you could see people who looked like me being hosed down with a fire hose and dogs jumping on them because they wanted to eat in a restaurant. And I think it was just an encounter that started out. But the marches began and here I was playing an astronaut in the 23rd century.

So I went back and told Gene Roddenberry on Monday, because he’d asked me to think about it over the weekend, and if I still wanted to leave he — I would have his blessings. And I went back, and I told him about Dr. Martin Luther King. And Gene Roddenberry was a 6-foot-3 guy with muscles. He was a big hack-nosed guy. And he sat there with tears in his eyes. He said, “Thank God that someone knows what I’m trying to do. Thank God for Dr. Martin Luther King.” And I told him if he still wanted me, I would stay. I’ve never looked back. I’m glad I did.”

That was some number one fan. Amazing.

Next up: Cable, including HBO, FX, and BBC America