PBS's "Pioneers of Television:" Flashback to My Sci-Fi Childhood (Video)

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Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek

Image Courtesy:  PBS "Pioneers of Television"

For a generation of little black girls in the late sixties, Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) of Star Trek represented a future full of promise where a black woman was able to literally reach for the stars. For me, and a large number of my peers, that was huge.

So much so that when, after meeting her at a cocktail party where Nichelle Nichols told him she was planning on quitting the show, Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to talk her out of it. Lt. Uhura, he said was too important a symbol for the black community. Nichols took his words to heart, stuck around and made history.

Stories like this one are some of the entertaining tidbits in the season 2 premiere of PBS's series Pioneers of Television. Narrated by Kelsey Grammar, this season's four part series kicks off with a fun and informative episode about the pioneers of TV science fiction. 

Where No Man Has Gone Before

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as Captain Kirk and Spock in Star Trek

Image Courtesy PBS "Pioneers of Television"

Fans of Star Trek, Lost in Space and The Twilight Zone will love the revealing anecdotes told by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and Rod Serling. You'll also get a kick out of seeing the Robinson girls from Lost in Space, Angela Cartwright and Marta Kristen, all grown up.  Not to mention the adorable Will Robinson himself, Billy Mumy, now a smart and funny adult.

Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith in Lost in Space

Image Courtesy PBS "Pioneers of Television"

You'll learn which episode of Lost in Space the cast thought was the absolute worst, the creative ways creator Irwin Allen kept production costs down and how Jonathan Harris, the infamous Dr. Zachary Smith -- "Oh, the pain, the pain!" -- turned what was supposed to be a minor role into a classic.

A Fun Childhood Flashback

The whole episode was a  flashback to my sci-fi childhood. I was touched by Mumy's remembrances of Harris, and chuckled at the real reason William Shatner fought for that famous interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura. It was also neat to hear how Cartwright and Kristen visited NASA as adults and had shuttle pilots and engineers tell them how Lost in Space and the Robinson kids inspired them to work for the space program.

Nichelle Nichols

Image Courtesy Nichelle Nichols

The interview clips with The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling provide a unique window into the mind of one of television's greatest writers. He and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had a lot in common, both discovering that the controversial topics of the day concerning race, women's rights, and social upheaval could only be palatable to the network heads and the public if they were dealt with in fanciful worlds of their own. Even then, they both had major battles with the networks to maintain their creative visions.

Watch the full episode. See more Pioneers of Television.

Upcoming episodes of Pioneers of Television will cover westerns, crime dramas and local kids' TV. Pioneers of Television:  Science Fiction airs on January 18th at 8pm EST on PBS.

Related Links:

At Trek Movie, "Nichelle Nichols Talks "Star Trek," MLK and "Pioneers of Television"

Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2011

At Thinking Television:  "Fractured subjectivities in contemporary telefantasy"


Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television/Online Video.. Her other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock and Meg's Rad Reviews.



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