March 23, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s screen project, Genesis II—the less-remembered sibling of Star Trek. But even those people who think they know Genesis II’s place in Sci-Fi’s history and Roddenberry’s oeuvre— could be surprised to learn the full extent of Genesis II’s development, both in terms of the progression of Star Trek’s canon and the television projects that aired after Roddenberry’s 1991 death. The storyline for Genesis II came about in the early 1970s when nobody thought Star Trek would return from the abyss of cancellation. However, the CBS network encouraged Roddenberry to try his hand again at creating a new popular science fiction series with the same “pull” for audiences as Star Trek. Could Roddenberry make lightning strike twice!!? For his part, Roddenberry saw an opportunity to further ponder how mankind would survive societal shifts of modernity and societal change – without loss of resources, wars, and other stumbling blocks on the path to becoming a mature civilization. In that respect, Genesis II, though differently presented, was just as much the post-apocalyptic narrative that Star Trek had been. Many viewers of Genesis II and its sequel, Planet Earth (1974) are of the mindset that it was a single-shot, failed effort, relegated to the history of prime-time 70s television; that it had mixed success with its casting, quirky speculation on uni-sex ideals of the time, and Roddenberry’s penchant for shaking up sexual morality. All of the competing perspectives may be true to an extent. But, in retrospect, there was never really just one possible version of Genesis II. In reality, there was the “proto” Genesis II — I.e. the Genesis II that Roddenberry initially drafted, and then there was the “re-budgeted” production schedule necessitated by the network before principal shooting started. Then, only partially proven, there was the sequel in which the settings for the PAX community were updated and uniforms created for PAX teams. Then, even in death, having not been adopted as a series by any of the big three networks, several of the proposed episode summaries found their way into later work on Star Trek – and other Roddenberry projects. Now, fifty years after its initial airing, it’s time to take stock and enumerate those contributions.
In a January 1973 interview with United Press International, Roddenberry related that early conversations with CBS had led him to believe he’d have over a million dollars for production, casting, and airing of the film and three months to work on it. It was enough to inspire Roddenberry to draft a full season of episode summaries. However, when CBS actually green-lit the project at the end of October 1972, the amount was clearly limited to only $475,000 to cover production, the initial airing, and two follow-up repeat airings in June and September of that year. The Associate Producer, Paul Rapp, had to scramble for ways to keep set and production costs down. The influences on casting and costuming for Genesis II’s post-apocalyptic narrative also drew on Roddenberry’s appreciation for the performances of past actors and actresses and design staff he had worked with on Star Trek. One of the few newcomers was Alex Cord, playing the lead role of Dylan Hunt. But other casts, including Mariette Hartley, Percy Rodriguez, Majel Barrett, and Ted Cassidy had all been Star Trek alums from the late 1960s. Trek technical designers, William Ware Theis, and Mathew Jeffries also joined Star Trek. The resulting film embodied an odd combination of the imaginativeness of Roddenberry’s writing, the theme of a renewed Earth, clever special effects with a hodgepodge of capable actors and actresses, and some exotic settings and costuming.
The film was well promoted, drawing much-advanced interest because of Roddenberry’s involvement and the fact that, at least on television, there was not much in the way of science fiction episodic programming from 1972-73. The pilot for ABC’s The Six Million Dollar Man had not aired until early March 1973- scant weeks before Genesis II would first air. The real problem for science fiction on television at the time was that theatrical films throughout the 1960’s took years to get approved for broadcast on television. But beginning in the 1970s this began to change and the latency or gap between the cinematic release and television broadcast was shrinking. The Planet of the Apes (1968) film was actually broadcast on CBS in early September 1973, just ahead of CBS’s need to make a decision on investing in Genesis II as a series. While Genesis II’s Nielson ratings in March were high for its initial airing, the ratings for the POTA film as broadcast that following September were even higher. Viewers hungered for the opportunity to see Planet of the Apes on their TV sets, appreciating cinematic production values, sci-if special effects, and a film that evinced the “grittiness” of the existential movies of the 60’s. Whatever Genesis II’s selling points might be, based on Roddenberry’s Star Trek- the contemporary resources for TV production couldn’t stand up to the broadcast of a world-renowned theatrical blockbuster such as Planet of the Apes! Fred Silverman, head of CBS programming read the tea leaves with the mistaken interpretation that a Planet of the Apes episodic TV series could sustain such viewership. In the end, after a short season, the studio ape costuming and television censored ideas did not solve many of the plot problems that the network endured by green-lighting the Planet Of The Apes TV series in place of Genesis II.
Just as with the first failure of Star Trek, Roddenberry tried again for Genesis II, with a second pilot, Planet Earth (1974) broadcast on ABC. Roddenberry adapted the script of one of the proposed series Genesis II episodes, “The Poodle Shop” as the basis for the Planet Earth The cast was changed, and the PAX setting moved above ground to be perhaps less claustrophobic- but in the end, it was not picked up for a series either. But, flotsam and jetsam from Genesis II and Planet Earth continued to pop up over the years across television and film. Actor Percy Rodriguez, who may have gone on to reprise the role of Primus Kimbridge in a Genesis II TV series, wound up with a guest-starring role as “Aboro” in one of the last telecast episodes of the POTA TV series entitled, “The Tyrant”. A PAX uniform from Planet Earth wound up being employed as a prop in a 1977 episode of the sci-fi TV series, Fantastic Journey entitled, “Riddles”. Another proposed Genesis II series episode, “The Apartment”, was rewritten by Larry Alexander into a script for the never realized Star Trek: Phase II project of the late 1970s. The episode became, “Tomorrow and the Stars”. Also, the Genesis II proposed episode, “Robots Return” wound up being incorporated into the first Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Then, between 2000 and 2005, two separate efforts were made to resurrect Dylan Hunt. Television sci-fi saw the broadcast of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda which cast actor Kevin Sorbo as a new futuristic version of Dylan Hunt as Captain of the Andromeda Ascendant starship in a Star-spanning narrative. During that same period, writer Theodore Rickles attempted to extend the original stories of Dylan Hunt and PAX in the form of a graphic novel. Despite the strength of Genesis II’s foundations and its various iterations and contributions over the years, we may not yet have seen its full potential and heard all the stories it has yet to tell. (For more discussion of Genesis II, see Rickles’ book, Catching Lameds: Reflections on an Unconventional Life, 2022).