By the mid ’80s, the Star Trek franchise had long since proven itself profitable for Paramount. After three seasons of the original 1966 series, the show had found new life in syndication, becoming a television phenomenon spinning off a series of feature films. In 1986, Paramount announced that Gene Roddenberry would returning to TV to executive produce a new chapter in the world he created, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which celebrates its 28th anniversary this week.
In assembling a team to helm the new series, Roddenberry hired writer David Gerrold. Gerrold had previously written “The Trouble With Tribbles” for the second season of the original series, an episode regarded by Star Trek fans as being one of its best. Shortly after the new series was announced, Gerrold and Roddenberry attended a Q&A session at a Star Trek convention, where someone asked if there would be any representation of gay characters on the show.
So now Gene and I appeared at a Star Trek convention in November of 1986 and somebody asked “Will there be gay people aboard the Enterprise?” And Gene – to give him credit for knowing the right thing to say at the right time – said “Yes, it is time, we should show gay people on board the Enterprise.” This got a lot of applause. So then he repeated it in a staff meeting and balled out one of the producers and said “No, it’s time.”
Gerrold cited Roddenberry’s enthusiasm for portraying gay characters — as well as a note from producer Rick Berman that suggested tackling the subject of AIDS — as he began crafting his first script for the series, titled “Blood and Fire.” At this time in the ’80s, AIDS became a focal point for homophobia and hysteria. Widespread misunderstandings about how the disease spread also became a factor. Blood donations in New York., for instance, dropped out of fear of accidentally acquiring the disease. Gerrold sought to cut into those fears with his Star Trek script.
“Blood and Fire” concerned the team of the Enterprise encountering a vessel whose crew is infected with Regulan bloodworms. Starfleet Command is so petrified of the pathogen that it’s issued orders to eliminate any vessel deemed a carrier. In order to defeat the disease, those infected by it need a blood transfusion. The show is an obvious allegory dealing with the fear of AIDS, and a call for people to donate blood at a time when baseless terror had stemmed its flow. There is also a casual reference to a gay couple in the episode, during this exchange between two characters:
HODEL: … So how long have you and Freeman been together?
EAKINS: Is it that obvious?
HODEL: Yeah, it’s obvious.
EAKINS: Since the Academy. Two years.
To stress the importance of the episode’s message, Gerrold wanted to place a message at the end of “Blood and Fire.”
I wanted to do a story that involved blood donorship and the whole story was structured that we would need blood donors from the Enterprise to show that the crew members were not afraid of donating blood. I even wanted us to put a card at the end of the episode saying you can donate blood, contact your local Red Cross. I figured if blood donorship went up after the episode it would get news. It would not only demonstrate how big the audience was and be good PR for the show, but also raise blood donorship.
The episode became divisive among the staff. Gerrold claims that Berman didn’t want to air it for fear of “mommies” disagreeing with its content. Roddenberry’s lawyer, Leonard Maizlish — who had apparently taken it upon himself to assume a position as Roddenberry’s mouthpiece as his health failed — also disputed the episode. In a later confrontation, Gerrold claims that Maizlish called him “an AIDS-infected c*cksucker. A f*cking f*ggot.” Maizlish’s power-trip on the show was also noted by Berman is this 2013 tweet:
In the midst of the debate over the script, the episode was canned, and in response, Gerrold quit the series without ever having one of his scripts aired. Not everyone on the TNG staff agrees that it was the material that got Gerrold’s script nixed. Richard Arnold, a research consultant on The Next Generation, claims that it was shoddy writing that got the episode shelved.
I knew Gerrold from 1972, and I’d read all his books up to that point. “Blood and Fire” was not his best work. I was almost offended by the stereotypes. The scene I remember particularly was when the gay couple was having a sort of lover’s dispute. The one we could call the wife was expressing concern to the other about getting into dangerous situations. He was saying stuff like “You know how much I worry about you when you’re away.” I mean, come on. This was absolutely ridiculous — for Starfleet officers or for gay men.
In 1989, Gerrold sold autographed copies of the script for $35 each, donating the proceeds to an AIDS foundation. Gerrold eventually did find a way to get “Blood and Fire” filmed. In 2008, a fan series called Star Trek: Phase II (an imagined fourth season of the original series) used Gerrold’s updated version of the script — which included stronger gay themes — in a webisode that Gerrold directed himself. (You can watch it below.) Refusing to let his vision die, Gerrold also used the script as material for his Star Wolf book series.