While Gene Roddenberry is the man most associated with the creation of Star Trek (He is affectionately known as The Great Bird of the Galaxy), he was not a one-man creative team. Today we have writer/creator driven shows, such as the works of Aaron Sorkin, who wrote every single episode of The Newsroom or J. Michael Straczynski who created and wrote the vast majority of episodes of Babylon 5.
Star Trek’s development and success was due to a team of writers all dedicated to making that first television series as good as it could possibly be. Roddenberry was the series’ executive producer, but the day-to-day operation of the show was too much for him to take on as well. During the first season, Roddenberry brought in Gene Coon to serve as showrunner, and Coon’s influence on the show and the overall Star Trek universe is possibly as important as even The Great Bird himself.
As well as serving as showrunner, Coon wrote many scripts for the series. His episodes mark the introduction of the United Federation of Planet, the Klingons, Khan Noonian Singh, and Zefram Cochrane (the inventor of warp drive). One of his episodes introduced the Prime Directive, the idea that Starfleet officers should not interfere in the development of other worlds. All of these elements have become major elements of the later shows and films.
He also helped shepherd along other scripts, working with the writers of those episodes or even rewritten scripts that weren’t working from scratch. David Gerrold, writer of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” credits Coon with helping in the development of that famous episode. Coon was also willing to allow humor into Star Trek, something that Roddenberry, for reasons I cannot fathom, was against.
Coon stepped down as showrunner in the second season but continued to contribute scripts under a pseudonym into the third season because he was under contract to another studio.
Coon died in 1973 at the age of 49 of throat and lung cancer brought on by years of chain smoking. Unfortunately, his contributions to Star Trek are often overlooked, but fans owe a lot of what they love about the franchise to him.
- Alan Decker
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