TV URBAN LEGEND: Gene Roddenberry was forced to change Star Trek from a 50/50 male/female split to a male-dominate spaceship.
Reader Steve B. wrote in with this one.
A common story about Star Trek (that Gene Roddenberry himself repeated) was that Roddenberry initially wanted the cast on the show to be split 50/50 with men and women, with the theory being that, in the future, men and women would be treated like equals. Here's just an almost randomly chosen site referencing this:
Some find it ironic that this show that promotes diversity and equality has a 23rd-century government dominated by white American males, and the women all have to wear velvet mini-dresses. Roddenberry's original plan called for 50-50 male/female split and more ethnic diversity, and in the original pilot the women wore the same thing the men did. But the network pressured Roddenberry to change to something that viewers would supposedly find more believable and entertaining.
Richard Arnold, who had worked as the Star Trek "archivist" for many years, also told the story in a podcast back in 2014, noting that Roddenberry "wanted it to be half men, half women from the beginning and the network said, ‘No, the audience would think there's too much hanky-panky going on.’ He said, ‘Okay, we'll make it a third women and two-thirds men, because a third healthy women could certainly handle two-thirds men.’ He did whatever he could to try and make it as fair as he could, but again, he was fighting censors, he was fighting [NBC], he was fighting [the] front office, so there wasn't a lot that he could do in the original series, but he did have Uhura in a traditionally male position – communications officer – in today's navy, rarely female. "
However, here's the thing. We actually have a ton of documentation about the history of Star Trek and specifically Roddenberry's interaction with NBC and there doesn't appear to be anything to actually back up this assertion.
To wit, in Roddenberry's original documents about the pitch for Star Trek, there's nothing about a male/female split...
In the early "series Bible" material, there's nothing about the male/female split on the Enterprise.
The first time that the "series Bible" mentioned a male/female split came in 1967, when the third revision noted that the starship "has a crew of 430 persons, approximately one-third of them female."
The great StarTrekFactCheck site also notes that they have found no evidence from Roddenberry to this effect, but notes that there IS a memo from Roddenberry to casting in 1966 stating, "NBC has requested that, for purposes of believability, we use more pretty young females in backgrounds, corridors, and rooms aboard the Enterprise. Can we see that more young women extras are used in these areas?"
So NBC was specifically asking for MORE women on the show. Granted, they were asking for a fairly sexist reason, but still, that sure doesn't seem to support the contention that they were telling Roddenberry that there had to be less women on the show for fear that people would think that there must be a lot "hanky panky" going on on the ship.
So I am going to go with this legend as...
Thanks to StarTrekFactCheck for the great info! And thanks to Steve for the suggestion!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.