For years, the cast and crew behind the high-production (at least from fan standards) “Star Trek: Phase II” released episodes of Jim Kirk and the USS Enterprise, all while CBS Television — which owns the rights to Star Trek — turned its head.
But that ended late last month when “Phase II” executive producer and star James Cawley received a cease and desist letter from CBS Television, telling him they could not move forward with a “lost” script from writer Norman Spinrad.
“We fully appreciate and respect the passion and creativity of the Star Trek fan and creative communities,” CBS said in a statement, according to The New York Times. “This is simply a case of protecting our copyrighted material, and the situation has been amicably resolved.”
Cawley, who says he has worked hard to respect the copyrights and trademarks of both CBS Television and Paramount Pictures, both of which own rights to the Star Trek franchise, isn’t fighting CBS on its demand, and has already stopped pre-production on the Spinrad script. However, some Trek fans are unhappy, calling the move by CBS heavy-handed.
One of those fans is another popular original “Star Trek” writer, David Gerrold, who penned “The Trouble With Tribbles” for the original series. Gerrold pointed out that an unproduced script of his for “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which would’ve dealt with the AIDS epidemic, was later used by Cawley and his “Phase II” production without a single call from a lawyer.
“I don’t understand CBS’s thinking on this at all,” Gerrold said. “They didn’t care then. Why do they care now?”
Part of it might be the fact that the “lost” script is drawing some considerable fan interest, and CBS Television sees potential ways to profit from the work. The script, “He Walked Among Us,” was designed to be a potential spinoff for comedian Milton Berle written by “Doomsday Machine” scribe Spinrad. The script, heavily dramatic and a bit dark, was later re-written by late producer Gene L. Coon into something Spinrad described as “an unfunny comedy,” and the episode was never made.
Spinrad, however, was still paid the $5,000 fee for the script by Desilu Productions, thus the story and the script remain the property of CBS Television, which retains the rights from the Desilu shows.
The script was believed lost, but was uncovered at a convention last year by a fan who asked Spinrad to autograph it. Spinrad asked if he could have a copy of the script, and he himself started offering the script to fans for a small fee. CBS also asked Spinrad to stop selling the script online.
CBS Television has not said what it would do with the story, if anything at all. “Phase II,” which launched in 2003 as “Star Trek: New Voyages,” and has since produced seven episodes, did not announce a replacement episode for the fall.
“I and CBS have agreed to resolve our disputes concerning the ownership of the work,” Spinrad said on his website. “As part of the settlement between the parties, the parties have [agreed] that there will be no further comment, and CBS is considering opportunities to offer licensed copies” of the script.