A new Trek? Roddenberry's failed TV pilots (video)

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

This week Warner Home Video's on-demand DVD program, Warner Archives, released not one but two different TV pilots by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Both 1973's Genesis II and 1974's Planet Earth have never before been released in any home entertainment format and are presented uncut in their original versions.

As grateful as we are for this treasure trove of vintage Roddenberry material, how many other unreleased or forgotten pilots did he create? What don't we know we are missing?

Roddenberry's first pilot was entitled APO 923, and not much is known about it (not even the mighty Wikipedia offers any details) except that it's able to be viewed at the Paley Center for Media in New York City.

His second full-fledged series was a military drama called The Lieutenant, the first episode of which starred none other than Star Trek's Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, and later episodes featured a number of famous guest stars, including Leonard Nimoy playing a flamboyant actor. This series lasted 29 episodes before it was canceled by NBC.

Following the cancellation of Star Trek in 1969, Roddenberry turned briefly to feature filmmaking, writing and producing. Pretty Maids All in a Row was a sexploitation comedy that was directed by Barbarella filmmaker Roger Vadim. Sadly, this has also never been released on DVD.

Genesis II was his follow-up to Pretty Maids and starred Alex Cord as Dylan Hunt, a scientist who awakens after 154 years of suspended animation to discover that the world has become a fractured dystopia. After members of a group called PAX resuscitate his body, Hunt is forced to choose whether to stay with them or join the Tyranians, a race of mutants who seek to enlist his help to use 20th-century technology to wage war against PAX.

Check out this clip from Genesis II:

Genesis II was not picked up as a series, but within the next year Roddenberry conceived two other shows: The Questor Tapes and Planet Earth.

Questor followed the adventures of a superhuman android in search of his creator, an eccentric scientist named Dr. Emil Vaslovik, and it was actually picked up by NBC; however, Roddenberry canceled the series himself after the network demanded too many changes to his original concept and then scheduled the show on Friday nights at the same timeslot that earned Star Trek its lowest ratings.

Subsequently, he developed Planet Earth, which borrowed not only many of its ideas from Genesis II, but also character names (including that of the main character, Dylan Hunt) and even some of the props and sets.

Check out a clip from Planet Earth:

Interestingly, although Planet Earth was also never picked up for series development, it can be seen as a sequel of sorts to Genesis II, given its identical protagonist (albeit played by John Saxon in the latter) and continuity of ideas. Even Earth's central concept of a matriarchal society is alluded to in the dialogue of its predecessor.

A production company tried a third time to bring Roddenberry's dystopian vision to the small screen in 1975's Strange New World, although the main character's name and other details were changed when he decided not to associate himself with the production. Meanwhile, Dylan Hunt would live again as the main character in the 2000 television series Andromeda, starring Kevin Sorbo, which was based on Roddenberry's original notes.

With the promise of Star Trek Phase II looming on the horizon, Roddenberry mostly turned his gaze back to Trek for the years leading up to his death in 1991. But in 1977, he co-wrote and executive-produced Spectre, a made-for-TV movie intended to be a pilot for a new television series. The film marked a significant departure from many of the ideas explored in his earlier pilots—Spectre was not a science-fiction adventure program, but an occult detective show—but some of its relationships recalled the adversarial chemistry between Spock and Bones on the original Trek.

Oddly, Spectre was later released in theaters in the United Kingdom, with additional footage inserted (which includes nudity!), but that also suggests that one day fans might see a DVD or Blu-ray version of that as well, at least before some of these other failed shows see the light of day.

What's most remarkable about the releases of Genesis II and Planet Earth is the fact that, despite their technical shortcomings, storytelling failures or even just lack of commercial success, these pilots can still provoke as much thought and feeling as any of Roddenberry's successes—which makes them must-see material for both his fans and any folks in search of science-fiction inspiration.