Shatner talks ‘Star Trek’s impact, new projects and South Texas Comic Con appearance

DANIEL A. FLORES and DINA ARÉVALO | STAFF WRITERS

Q: When “Star Trek” was pitched at the time, people didn’t necessarily know if it would make it. And Lucille Ball saved it. Do you have any memories of Lucille Ball?

WILLIAM SHATNER: Very little. Their company was called Desilu, Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball. The people they hired to run the company liked the idea that Gene Roddenberry brought to them, a thing called “Star Trek.” There was a western show on, at the time, which was covered wagons going across Texas, actually. They were in the middle of no-man’s land, they didn’t know where they were going or what was in front of them. It was just this little community in separate covered wagons. They were going west into unknown country. Gene Roddenberry brought that idea in a science fiction concept. Somebody at Desilu liked it, and they decided they’d try to sell it to the network. Lucille Ball had to okay it. There was one occasion when I met her in a room somewhere. We chatted for a moment — tall, beautiful red-headed lady who was very powerful.

Q: Speaking of Gene Roddenberry, he was definitely a progressive and social visionary for his time. “Star Trek,” to this day, still speaks to current generations about social justice and political unity. Who would you say is the new Gene Roddenberry for this day?

A: J.J. Abrams is making the big films. He’s extraordinary at giving you a ride with special effects. The stories are not as meaningful as the “Star Trek” stories, but he’s head of the “Star Trek” franchise at the moment at Paramount. And what is coming out of Paramount Studios and CBS … is practically his responsibility. The new “Star Trek: Discovery,” which I haven’t seen, apparently has a great deal of the old legacy of meaningful stories and character interplay the big movies lack somewhat.

Q: Speaking of “Discovery,” the Klingons look radically different than anything we’ve seen before with Klingons. And in your show, the original series, the Klingons looked a lot more human than they did in “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space 9.” What’s the backstory with the Klingons?

A: We used to call it “the omelet” that was placed on their forehead. As technology progressed in both the computer and in the appliance methods, they were able to invent … stuff that was better that they were able to do more cheaply and faster. The technology improved, and with that, the makeups and the special effects improved.

Q: “Star Trek,” and other science fiction shows, have kind of made science fiction into science fact. On “Star Trek,” you have tricorder communication devices and now we have smartphones. There were pad computers, and now we have iPads. What is it like to see the stuff on your show that was fiction now established in our culture as real technology?

A: The thing I remember was standing in an airport many years ago when Motorola bought out a phone — I think it may have been the first little portable phone — they called it StarTAC, if I remember correctly. And now I’m in an airport and I’ve snapped this StarTAC open, which looked like the communicator we used on ‘Star Trek.’ And I’m speaking into this phone, which wasn’t prevalent in the country at the time, and people crowding around me laughing. And I was wondering what they were laughing at.

Q: What projects are you currently working on?

A: I had a Christmas album that was number 2 (on Billboard Heatseekers), a country music album, (and) I just performed a few weeks ago at the Grand Ole Opry. I have a book out called “Live Long and…”, a new show called “Unexplained” out this summer, a blues album I’m working on, and I’ve got a telephone call this afternoon with a network trying to sell them a cop show. I’m very close to that. The list goes on.

Q: Conventions haven’t always been so popular. And you see with Marvel, they’ve made comic books “cool,” where it might have been seen as more nerdy. You can talk about how you’ve seen nerd culture grow over time?

A: The people who started the “Star Trek” conventions had been doing comic book conventions. This was a lot of years ago, and they decided to put on a “Star Trek” convention in New York, and 15,000 people attended. The fire marshal was very busy kicking people out. They got me, very reluctantly, to attend. I’m thinking serious actors don’t go to conventions. And it was an eye-opener — the enthusiasm and the devotion. That’s been going on for all these years. Tens of thousands of people attend them. I don’t know what it will be like in McAllen, but it will be a large audience by comparison. I’ll be there signing autographs and taking photographs, but mostly I’ll be on stage for a while talking and getting questions. And the fun I have is interacting with the audience and hearing what the audience wants to know about. We have a grand time. It’s great fun for the people that go to the convention dressing up, pretending and interacting with each other. It’s great fun for the performers interacting with their fans. That Saturday afternoon, for me, will be joyful.

Q: Do you like meeting cosplayers?

A: Everybody is having fun and I look at it from that point of view. They’re enamored with the characters they’re dressed up as, and they’re in a pretend mode and I honor it. I go with it.

Q: You’ve been involved with “Star Trek” for decades and it’s way longer than audiences have affection for most projects. Do you consider yourself lucky that people of all ages still enjoy it?

A: “Star Trek” is a phenomenon. It’s unique. It started off with the show I did that was semi-popular, lasted three years and was off the air for five or six years, then started to be played in local stations and gained popularity. It got popular enough for Paramount Studios to make movies. Then, there were other iterations of “Star Trek” to this day. It’s never happened before… . Some show today might be as popular and go on for 50 years, none of us will be alive to see that happen. “Star Trek” is an absolute cultural phenomenon of which I’m a part, and you and I are talking because of the fact that I played Captain Kirk all these many years ago. I’ve gone on to do other things, get awards and be artistically satisfied with many things that I’ve done. I never forget that the beginning of the celebrity started with “Star Trek.”

IF YOU GO

SOUTH TEXAS COMIC CON

The sixth annual event brings its largest show yet featuring photo and autograph opportunities, panel discussions, cosplay, screenings, DIY slime, comic activities and face painting. For information, visit southtexascomiccon.com.

WHEN Noon to 8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

WHERE McAllen Convention Center, 700 Convention Center Blvd.

COST Tickets are available at https://purchase.growtix.com/eh/South_Texas_Comic_Con_2019

The is story has been updated with minor errors