Star Trek Meets Mel's Diner
The classic sitcom Alice ran on CBS from 1976 to 1985, making it one of the few television shows to air for an amazing 9 years. Like Star Trek, the program is credited with being willing to tackle the social issues of its time. On the surface, other than the socially minded natures of both television programs, there does not appear to be much in common between a sitcom about a widowed single mom trying to make it on her own in Phoenix and the adventures of 23rd-century explorers traveling the galaxy. However, if we peek behind the scenes, there are some very fun Trek connections between Mel’s Diner and the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Marc Daniels directed 14 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, including the first to air, “The Man Trap,” and favorites such as “The Menagerie, Parts 1 and 2,” “Space Seed,” and “Mirror, Mirror.” Daniels would also make a cameo, his picture being used as “Jackson Roykirk,” in the episode “The Changeling” which he directed. Not only was his work on Trek honored with 4 Hugo nominations and a win for “The Menagerie, Part 1,” which he shared with Gene Roddenberry, but the involvement of Daniels at the start of the series resulted in the director having a tremendous influence on character design and development. Interestingly, Daniels was also a writer, and he penned the episode “One of Our Planets is Missing” during the first season of Star Trek: The Animated Series.
Daniels is tied with Joseph Pevney for the distinction of being the person who directed the most TOS episodes at 14 -- and technically, Daniels wins if we count “The Menagerie” as two episodes. However, there is no contest when it comes to who directed the most episodes of Alice. Are you ready? Out of the 202 episodes of the show, Daniels directed 86 of them, nearly 3 times his closest competitor, and he would also direct 10 additional episodes of the Alice spinoff, Flo.
In the Daniels-directed episode “Alice Sees the Light” (1983), Alice thinks she sees a UFO. This provides many moments for science-fiction in-jokes. For example, fellow waitress Vera adds a required “the final frontier” to another character’s comment that what Alice saw may have originated in space. When an arrogant news reporter condescends to Alice that perhaps it is time for Captain Kirk to beam her up, Vera corrects him that it was “Scotty” who beamed people up to put the reporter in his place. Scotty to the rescue again! It had to be fun for Daniels to direct moments that directly called back to his Star Trek days. It is also important to note that Daniels worked for Desilu before Trek, on the classic sitcom I Love Lucy, directing 39 episode of that show, including its premiere episode. There, he pioneered the use of the “three camera” approach to sitcoms that defined many shows that followed.
There were also many past and future Star Trek actors who had roles on Alice. Chief among them is Vic Tayback, who played Mel Sharples, owner of Mel’s Diner and boss/friend to Alice, a role that earned him two Golden Globe Awards and an Emmy nomination. Tayback had also appeared in the dramatic movie that inspired the TV show, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. And, of course, Star Trek fans know Tayback for his memorable turn as the gangster Krako in “A Piece of the Action.”
While Tayback was a guest star on Star Trek and a regular on Alice, two of Star Trek’s regulars were visitors to Mel’s Diner. Armin Shimerman’s Quark was known to hold an auction or two during his days on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and his guest role in the 1985 Alice episode “Kiss the Grill Goodbye” foreshadows this aspect of his Ferengi character with Shimerman playing a bidder at an auction. From 1982 until 1984, Robert Picardo, the EMH Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, played the recurring guest character of Officer Maxwell in 8 episodes of Alice, most memorably in the show where Vera gets married, an episode directed by... Marc Daniels. Future Voyager guest star Joel Grey appeared as himself in two Alice installments, both directed by... Marc Daniels. And the list of actors who overlapped Star Trek and Alice continues with Kenneth Mars, James Cromwell, Clyde Kusatsu, Richard Libertini, Ted Gehring, Dick Miller and others.
It is a surprise when watching retro television shows to notice connections between the show we are watching and Star Trek. Seeing the names of behind-the-scenes Trek artists in the credits of other shows (who doesn’t love seeing art director Herman Zimmerman’s name in the credits of Cheers?) or recognizing favorite actors from Trek on other programs makes for a fun time. While Mel’s Diner and Starfleet are separated by 10 years of real television production time and 300 years of fictional time, there are connections.
Just don’t mention those connections to Tom Paris… He knew a different kind of Alice!