The story behind the lost Milton Berle episode of 'Star Trek'
The comedian was almost cast as an important character.
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"Lost episodes" generate a lot of buzz for any classic television series, but when it comes to Star Trek, they create a frenzy.
Acclaimed science fiction writer Norman Spinrad wrote the scripts for two episodes of the original Star Trek series. The first episode he wrote, "The Doomsday Machine," is a favorite among fans and critics alike. The second, however, never made it to air.
After the success of the first episode, series creator Gene Roddenberry commissioned Spinrad to write another teleplay and gave him two conditions. The first was that it had to be filmed on an overgrown back lot in Culver City, California. The second was that comedic legend Milton Berle had to appear in it.
Berle was primed for a comeback in the late 1960s after a string of career missteps, and Star Trek was going to be his way back to the top. Spinrad went ahead and wrote the script, with Berle acting as a God on an alien planet, but things quickly started to unravel.
Spinrad claims producer Gene L. Coon rewrote the dramatic script to suit Berle's comedic talents.
"Basically, Coon rewrote a serious anthropoligical piece of material into something being played for laughs," Coon said. "I was so pissed off that I called up Gene Roddenberry and said, 'Gene, you cannot do this. You have to kill this script.'"
Roddenberry agreed, and the script disappeared along with Berle's chance at a comeback — or so we all thought.
A few years ago, a fan gave Spinard a copy of his lost script. The author quickly published the piece of work and put it on Amazon, only for it to be taken down by CBS, which owns the rights to the original Star Trek series.