PBS Recalls The Pioneers Of Television
Martin Luther King Changed The Course Of Star Trek?
The TCA or Television Critics Association is an interesting group to pay attention to during its twice-yearly Press Tour, which is held in Los Angeles each January and July. The TCA Press Tour gives TV networks a chance to present their upcoming programs through panels and interviews with the 200 American and Canadian journalists and columnists who cover television programming. Each network (including major networks, cable networks, and public television networks) is assigned a time slot during which it can showcase its programming for a large group of press writers from different outlets. This year, PBS showed off the second season of its documentary series entitled “Pioneers of Television” which is slated for winter 2011. The series looks at classic moments of early television and offers the perspective of those involved with the production of classic series.
PBS presented a panel of notable guests from the show, including Martin Landau, Robert Conrad, Linda Evans, Mike Conrad, and Star Trek star Nichelle Nichols (a classic photo of whom has been scanned to digital above), who played the character Lt. Uhura on the popular science fiction show. Nichols will appear on the sci-fi episode of “Pioneers of Television”; there will also be installments covering westerns, children’s programming, crime dramas, and other genres.
During the panel discussion, Nichols told TCA writers an interesting story about how a conversation she once had with Martin Luther King, Jr. affected her decision to continue portraying her famous role. Nichols said that she had only taken the Star Trek role as a “nice adjunct” to her resume. As an up-and-coming stage performer, she was hoping that a notable TV role would get her on the fast-track to Broadway. After the first season of the show was over, Nichols wanted out. Producer Gene Roddenberry asked her to reconsider, The following evening, Nichols attended a NAACP fundraiser, where she met Dr. King, who claimed to be her biggest fan. Dr. King told Nichols that her role as a 23rd century black astronaut provided an unprecedented role model for his three little children. He said, “”You are part of history, and it’s your responsibility, even though it wasn’t your career choice.”
Indeed, Nichols’s role as the Starship Enterprise’s communications officer inspired many. As one of the first characters of African descent to be featured on an American television series, Lt. Uhura challenged stereotypes about women and about African Americans. Whoopi Goldberg, who later played the role of Guinan on “Star Trek: The Next Generation, described Uhura as a role model. According to Goldberg, the first time she saw Star Trek, she exclaimed to her family: “I just saw a black woman on television; and she ain’t no maid!” NASA later employed Nichols in a campaign to encourage African Americans to join the program. Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to fly aboard the Space Shuttle, said that Star Trek influenced her decision to join the service.
To find out more about the Pioneers of Television, and to see more classic TV photos that have been scanned to digital, visit http://www.pbs.org/pioneersoftelevision/.