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Nichols Salutes Roddenberry as Sci-Fi Pioneer

21 Jan, 2011 By: John Latchem

Nichelle Nichols remembers meeting Gene Roddenberry when she made a guest appearance on his TV series “The Lieutenant” in 1963 and recalls he was more forward-thinking than many TV writers at the time.

Though she wanted to pursue a career in musical theater, Roddenberry sought her out for “Star Trek” for the role of the communications officer, Lt. Uhura, a role she played for the entirety of the 1966-69 series.

“Gene wasn’t a sci-fi writer,” Nichols said. “He just wanted to write about the human condition. They told him he couldn’t portray men and women as equals, so he had to set it in the future. That’s the beauty of it.”

Nichols joins other actors in paying tribute to sci-fi TV of the 1960s in the latest round of the “Pioneers of Television” series. Other episodes focus on Westerns, crime dramas and local kids’ TV. The series is narrated by Kelsey Grammer.

PBS Distribution March 1 (order date Feb. 1) releases Pioneers of Television: Season 2 at $24.99, with the four individual episodes available at $14.99 each

The science-fiction episode focuses on three key series: “The Twilight Zone,” “Lost in Space” and “Star Trek,” with extra focus on the men who created those groundbreaking shows.

But, as Nichols demonstrates, influential figures from other fields would make their impact felt as well.
Nichols was set to leave “Star Trek” after its first season but was persuaded to stay after an encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who told her he was a fan of the show and that her presence in the cast was a huge victory for the cause of racial equality.

“The best advice I ever got was when he told me I couldn’t go,” Nichols said.

However, Nichols is eager to clear up one misconception about why she wanted to leave, stating that it wasn’t about a lack of screen time, but that she was receiving offers to continue her first love, musical theater.

Still, she has no regrets with her decision to stay.

“You take what you are dealt and make a winning hand out of it,” Nichols said.

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