We’re all fascinated with what might have been. If we had just made another choice or events had come to some other conclusion, then everything would be different. Not necessarily better, just strangely different.
For example, in 1983 or ’84, Starlog Magazine Publisher Kerry O’Quinn dropped by the office shared by Editor Howard Zimmerman and me (then Managing Editor). O’Quinn was extremely excited. And he explained why. Starlog was going to be part of the TV series Real People. Don’t remember that pioneering reality show? John Barbour and Sarah Purcell hosted, presenting funny and sentimental human interest stories (on videotape) to a live studio audience. Emmy winner George Schlatter—best known for co-creating Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In—produced it.
O’Quinn had talked to staffers at the series, maybe even Schlatter. This "Starlog People" segment was intended to profile our readers—primarily Star Trek and Star Wars fans—who loved science fiction and who (in O’Quinn’s words) were changing lives by "reaching for the stars." It would, of course, raise the magazine’s visibility and possibly increase Starlog readership. And it might further refute unfortunate stereotypes associated with fangirls, geeks and nerds. Sounds too good to be true, eh?
Yep, it was. Because the deal was to kick in as part of Real People’s next season. So, of course, before the fading former hit could be overhauled and our segment added, NBC cancelled it that season. Farewell, ever unseen, to "Starlog People."
Over the years, I became accustomed to these greatest things that never happened. We learned to avoid broken hearts and injured egos by not getting too attached to promised developments. There were any number of these unrealized prospects: projects that didn’t bear fruit (like the "audiotape magazine" version of Starlog, filled with the sound of interviews), licensed magazines we didn’t end up publishing (Conan the Barbarian, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), covers we tried to do but didn’t (The Princess Bride, The Abyss). It was maddening.
Speaking of that, Starlog actually began back in June 1976 with covers painted by Mad Magazine veteran Jack Rickard in a straight style (Starlog #1, cover-dated August), then comedically (#3). Rickard, incidentally, spoofed the genre with a dancing Kirk and singing Spock (Mad #186’s cover, also in ’76) and Star Wars musical fun (Mad #203 in 1978). After an early run of seriously artistic covers, Starlog Publishers O’Quinn and Norman Jacobs decided to go with photographic covers instead (cheaper and easier to execute, better-selling). Art was out.
Sadly, after I became Editor in 1985, I only ever got to commission art for just one cover—Starlog Yearbook #15, a reprint collection of Babylon 5 and X-Files stories with dual, dueling flipbook covers (a B5 cast photo on one side, flip over to the other for a Mulder & Scully caricaturefest by Mad-influenced Starlog cartoonist Tom Holtkamp). Sigh.
Sometime in 1987-9, we did make an artistic attempt. I had become entranced by the idea of commissioning a Starlog cover from another Mad Magazine vet, the legendary comedic artist Jack Davis. In the 1950s, he drew great, horrifying stories for Tales from the Crypt and other EC Comics as well as early Mad gems. Beginning in the 1960s, he illustrated many caricature-heavy movie posters (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, Viva Max!, Woody Allen’s Bananas, etc.). Davis did countless cartoony covers for TV Guide and Time Magazine in the 1970s and ’80s. His unique trademark: his characters’ thin, spindly legs ended in oversize feet often shod with offbeat shoes or badly laced sneakers.
With true delusions of grandeur tap-dancing in my head, I dreamed of actually landing a cover done just for Starlog by Jack Davis with lanky, loose-limbed caricatures of James T. Kirk (and/or Spock), Luke Skywalker, Ellen Ripley and Jean-Luc Picard. It really looked magnificent in my imagination! Starlog Managing Editor Eddie Berganza (who shortly afterwards joined DC Comics and has served as an editor there ever since) tracked down the artist’s representative and inquired about the realities. Knowing that we didn’t have Time or TV Guide moolah to spend, the agent quoted bargain basement rates—several hundred bucks per figure ($300? $500? I can’t recall), minimum four characters for a cover, background extra $$, six-eight weeks for Davis to fit in doing the piece among work for other, better-paying clients. Alas! Even at charity-for-fanboy discount prices, we couldn’t afford the expense in time or money. And since I hadn’t yet broached the sensitive subject with Publisher Jacobs ("Hey, Norm! I’d like to spend a few extra grand on a cover!"), a Jack Davis Starlog frontispiece never came to be.
Now, there’s not world enough and time, much less memory and space, to list all the interviews we pursued and didn’t get. We were turned down by some Trek guest stars (Madelyn Rhue, Vic Tayback), couldn’t find others (Marianna Hill, Glenn Corbett) and just decided not to chase certain celebs (Joan Collins, Frank Langella). Starlog writer Steve Swires had profiled Collins in 1982 for Mediascene Prevue (my previous employer). So, I had heard the inside dope on the difficulties involved since the actress was then at the pinnacle of her Dynasty superstardom, and everybody knew it. Years later, I had to ponder doing an interview of our own. Did Starlog really want to venture into that maddening arena merely to discuss "The City on the Edge of Forever," Tales from the Crypt (1972), Space: 1999 and Empire of the Ants? All things considered (Dynasty wasn't our realm!), let’s just not do it. So, we didn’t.
In 1987, I edited the Official Masters of the Universe Movie Poster Magazine. That’s the flick where Frank Langella portrayed the live-action rendition of He-Man’s animated frenemy Skeletor. The entire cast talked to my writer Marc Shapiro, who was visiting the set to gather interview material for the magazine. Everybody except Langella. And then in 1993, Langella showed up uncredited as Minister Jaro in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Should we attempt a conversation anew? Normally, we would at least try, but... I had the (perhaps mistaken) impression that Langella didn’t suffer fools gladly and so, scared off by Skeletor, decided not to bother him. But guess what? In 2012, Langella published a candid memoir, Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, devoting chapters to his odd encounters with fellow stars (like his Dracula nemesis, Sir Laurence Olivier, Bette Davis, Roddy McDowall, Elsa Lanchester, Anthony Perkins, Yul Brynner, etc.). I’ve read it: fascinating, droll and often hilarious. If Langella gave quote like this in an interview, maybe we should have tried harder to talk to him.
Then, there’s the matter of ethics. Numerous Treks focus on ethical dilemmas as our hero (whomever) wrestles with the Prime Directive and how/if to intervene. Alien philosophies—with traditions that are very much not our own—are examined and (im)moral choices made. Here’s a half-dozen such Starfleet conundrums: "A Taste of Armageddon," "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield," "A Piece of the Action," "The Enemy," "Shadowplay," "Tuvix." I bet you can easily think of six or 10 or 20 more examples. Perhaps my old Bethany College friend Jeffrey L. Seglin—who wrote "The Right Thing," a regular column on ethics for The New York Times—could do an article for Starlog on ethical problems in Star Trek? Seglin was game but cautioned me that he didn’t know enough about Trek, so we would have to prepare briefs on each ethical case and provide relevant episodes on DVD to him. OK. And how would we illustrate the resulting article(s)—with hard-to-find classic photos or, perhaps, commissioned cartoon art by Tom Holtkamp? This was getting to be a costly, time-consuming prospect. Would readers really prefer pages devoted to episodic ethics instead of more interviews? Probably not! Well, it had been my idea, so, ethically, I did the merciful thing and killed it.
Now on to a medium with a future: Radio! By 2006, Jacobs’ interests in the Starlog Group were being acquired by the NYC-based Creative Group (a firm that specialized in producing and editing videotape/film promos for cable TV networks). They were branching out, trying to make our sister magazine Fangoria (which chronicled "horror in entertainment") into a lifestyle brand and multi-media presence. Creative Group’s greatest triumph was in establishing the live, three-hour, weekly Fangoria Radio, a show on Sirius XM Radio co-hosted by rock musician Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister) and genre movie starlet Debbie Rochon. Every Friday night, they were joined in Sirius XM’s NYC studios by the longtime Editor of Fangoria Anthony Timpone (my protege) and guests (actors, authors, filmmakers, makeup wizards, magazine contributors, etc.) to talk horror.
Its success (on a tight budget) led in 2007 or so to the inevitable: Why not a Sirius satellite radio show based on Fangoria’s older companion magazine, the one with the wider field of coverage (science fiction, fantasy, animation)? So, Fangoria Radio’s Emmy-winning producer Mike (Inside the Actors Studio) Kostel met with Managing Editor Allan Dart and me to discuss possibilities. This potential Starlog program would clone Fangoria’s format (famed co-hosts, magazine editors and writers as resident experts, in-studio and by-phone guest interviews). Maybe we could add on-location SF convention reports. And include weekly updates on the most-loved subjects (Star Trek, Star Wars). It would be produced out of NYC but could have Hollywood-based celebs (or co-hosts) piped in from the California studio. Wow! How extremely exciting! Starlog Radio would, of course, raise the magazine’s visibility and possibly increase readership.
There’s just one thing needed, Kostel told us, to make this a viable project: a host (or two) with big-time name recognition (for Sirius marketing) and SF credibility (for Starlog’s sake). I had about three dozen candidates. John de Lancie was my top choice (an old pal, actual fan of science fiction, with radio expertise due to his Alien Voices work). George Takei also seemed a good bet due to his frequent guest shots on Sirius XM’s biggest radio offering, the Howard Stern show. We also suggested uberfan/comic book buff Wil Wheaton and Jonathan Frakes (though I noted he might be too busy directing to fit in a radio gig).
Naturally, Sirius, according to Kostel, didn’t want anybody with Trek street cred (so we never even discussed this possible job with de Lancie, Takei, Wheaton or Frakes). Theoretically, fangirls, geeks and nerds (and Starlog readers) would tune in no matter who hosted; the much-desired mainstream listeners might best be lured in by someone else. Sigh.
There was only one name on our list of "Starlog People" that apparently excited Sirius. Kostel managed to get a home phone number (not from me, since I didn’t have it) and sounded the idea out. Would this actor have any potential interest in hosting? Sure, his wife said, for $50,000 or so.
That may have killed it right there, though if that was not a per show fee, but a yearly salary, it’s a bargain rate for 44+, two-to-three hour-long celebrity appearances. Around the same time, there were new difficulties with Fangoria Radio (which was already costing too much to produce and would end in 2009). Suddenly, radio silence. No one was talking about doing Starlog on Sirius XM anymore. Farewell, ever unheard, to Starlog Radio. Like so many other things, it was too good to come true.
David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.
Copyright 2014 David McDonnell