Friday, February 22, 2008
Bjo Trimble: A Saving Enterprise
Bjo Trimble spearheaded the successful "Save Star Trek" campaign in 1968 and the campaign to name NASA's first space shuttle Enterprise. She is the author of The Star Trek Concordance and On the Good Ship Enterprise and appeared in the "Rec Deck" scene in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
After reading this interview I know she could have made a difference in our Jericho campaign. If you're a member of any fandom and if you want to know how to run a successful campaign then look no further.
Bjo, my deepest thanks to you for this interview. You are a kind and gracious lady. You went boldly into the unknown and you paved the way for fans of all shows.
1. What inspired you to start your effort to save Star Trek?
It wasn’t inspiration, it was anger. There had been several really nice TV shows canceled without giving them a chance to build an audience. It just seemed as if we were being jerked around by a bunch of Empty Suits who neither knew or cared about what the viewing public wanted. We were getting seriously annoyed about this when we heard that Star Trek was in danger of cancellation. John said, “We ought to be able to do something about that!” I agreed, and the rest was history.
2. What are some of the more creative ideas you came up with?
Regarding the Save Star Trek campaign, there really wasn’t a lot more creative things we could do besides write letters. Back before the Internet letters, faxes and phones were our only communication. Personal faxes were not yet common and they cost a lot. Phoning all the time would have been harassment. So letters were our best choice.
Some fans also marched on their local NBC affiliate station, but it was just to let people know what was going on. Cal Tech students marched on the Burbank NBC studio, which got in the newspapers. The Oakland station barricaded themselves inside the building, just in case all those weird people decided to rush in and … do what???
Gene Roddenberry sent a beautiful girl, Wanda Kendall, to New York where she got into the NBC executive parking lot to leave “I grok Spock” bumper stickers on fancy limousines. But that was about the limit of our creativity back then.
3. Did you come up with any that were so creative you decided not to do it? What were those?
Actually, most of the creative ideas that fans came up with, they did. Some of them were so outrageous that we talked them out of it: arriving in a helicopter made to look like the Enterprise on an NBC roof was one wild-hair idea a guy in Texas had. The helicopter company talked him out of it because the aircraft would not fly well with nacelles.
4. What were some of your biggest challenges relating to developing an organizational structure and nurturing leaders? How did you overcome them?
Our campaign wasn’t organized at all. It had no structure of any kind, nor were there any real leaders. Well, except John and me, I guess. We sent out a letter for help, and fans responded in ever-growing numbers. We handled everything from our house, with loads of fans dropping in to help when they could, especially on weekends. Our kids learned to collate, fold, stuff envelopes, and apply labels before Lora was in first grade. I cooked lots of spaghetti sauce, chili, and stew – the cheapest food we could manage for a crowd. Fans who couldn’t come to help would send rolls of stamps or a few dollars to help with copying fees.
There wasn’t much nurturing of anyone, as I recall. It was exhausting work but we tried to make it fun for everyone who came to help. We repaid helpers with the Star Trek film clips I rescued from the editing department trash box at Desilu. That was what gave Gene Roddenberry the idea that there was a market in Trek merchandising. Desilu and then Paramount could not be convinced for a very long time.
5.Would you have handled the Trek Campaign differently if you had had access to the Internet?
Boy, could we have handled it differently! Back in 1967, everything was done by hand, which required many people to do a job which can be done by one person today. I had a Selectric typewriter, not a computer, so there was always a fan typing out mailing addresses with carbon paper in back so we had a mailing list as well. All mail sorting was done by hand since we could not afford to out-source it.
Moving forward, I had a hand in helping to get the Pluto mission on track and it took me less than one day. I wrote an appeal letter, called up all the Trek clubs and space people I knew, hit the button, and reached several thousand people within minutes! What a feeling! Now that is the Power of the People!
6. If you had a show you wanted to save from cancellation today how would you employ the internet?
There are many ways to deal with the Internet, but people are so gullible they believe anything they hear without checking Snopes. That’s why the old send-this-terminally-ill-child-a-postcard trick still works.
First, petitions on the Internet are totally useless. Nobody in charge of anything will pay any attention to them. They are too easy to set up and be run by one person. Anybody could be writing names on a list, not necessarily all those names you see on the petition. So forget Internet petitions.
Second, The Powers That Be will never see your email letter unless you are very, very good at letter-writing. TPTB pay people a lot of money to avoid hearing directly from you. They love getting threatening letters because they can show the news media what kind of NUTS enjoy the show they are planning to cancel. They won’t believe you if you say you’ll buy their product all your life. They won’t believe you if you say you’ll never buy their product as long as you live. Mainly, they just don’t care because there are millions of people Out There who will buy their product whether or not they maintain or cancel any given TV show.
The main thing to do in a letter campaign is to not stop with the studio and network executives. Make a list of local and nationwide sponsors while you watch the show. Ask your Library Information Service where to find the corporate addresses for those sponsors. Many sponsors are paying for a time slot and often have no idea what they are sponsoring. They will be shocked and upset to get a complaint letter that a favorite show is being canceled. Sponsors hate to have unhappy potential customers! They will do much of your job for you by directly phoning the network TPTB and finding out why a show with this many fans is being canceled.
The network, and subsequently the studio, will now be faced by an irate sponsor rather than a bunch of anxious fans. This is a far stronger appeal! Hit ‘em in the pocketbook, and people pay attention.
The thing to do is to send an appealing email that is so interesting or so cute (don’t go overboard on this!) that it gets passed around the office. Maybe TPTB will never see it, but – and here’s the strength of email – a whole lot of other people in that company will see it. And some of them will think, “Gee, I have a friend who is a fan of this show and I bet he/she would enjoy this letter.” So since it’s not strictly a business letter, they send it out of the company, and it gets picked up and sent to a whole lot of other fans. Those fans pick it up and send it on to other fans…. And so on and so on and so on. Why would this work? Because the letter is reaching a whole lot of people who will be inspired to write their own letter, and the circle continues.
The lovely thing about the Internet is that all this can be done in an afternoon by each individual instead of raising a major in-home letter campaign that will take weeks and weeks to get off the ground. So fans of a show have no excuse whatsoever for just bitching about cancellation when they can actually do something about it!
7. You have been quoted as saying,"The instantaneous way we can reach even corporate heads via the Internet should make the same basic idea work today. However, most of the time, nowadays, the campaign isn't done right...things move faster today and by the time failure is obvious to the fans, it is far too late to do anything to help."
There is a human tendency to talk something to death instead of getting into gear. There is also a fatal tendency to sit on one’s fat apathy and complain about “why isn’t anyone doing something?” Which totally ignores the fact that YOU are the “anyone” in question.
Individual letters should be piling up in a network and sponsor’s e-mailbox the minute a rumor of cancellation goes out. There is so little time between that rumor and the fact that all the sets have been destroyed and the cancellation is final.
Fans want to get together on lists, blogs, chats and wherever else they can gather to talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. This is not what to do. Talk later. Act now.
Action is the key to saving a show because by the time the public gets the first inkling that something is going pear-shaped, it is almost too late. There is no time to form a Save The Show fan club and campaign and discuss details on how to run a letter (or email) campaign. There is no time to discuss it exhaustively with everyone on the Internet. Get your letters written NOW, then ask everyone on your email list to write a letter.
In 1967, we used the Rule of Ten: write your letters, then ask 10 people to write letters. Only today (hooray!) each of us can reach many hundreds of people in a day rather than just ten. Go for it!
What do you see as the most common mistake in fan campaigns today?
I think I just answered that one!
8. Since almost every fanbase tries to save shows now, how do think these fans are faring in their save-the-show efforts? What advice might you give them?
I just answered this one, too.
9.Do you keep up with current fan campaigns? How effective do you think they are?
I don’t keep an eye on all the fan campaigns, but many of the organizers are kind enough to tell me about their efforts. Some even ask me for advice, and they get pretty much what I said in my answer to question 7. Some fans come up with very creative ideas, but you’ll have to ask the successful campaigners what they did to succeed. We know which campaigns are effective, because the shows lasted a bit longer than they would have had the networks had their choice. That is good.
10. How do you think today's viewers are different in terms of their attachment and ownership of a show?
If anything, I think fans are far more possessive of their shows today. They know more details, they have an intensity that in “the old days” would have been considered fanatic, and they have the Internet to talk about it all over the world. We were limited by snail-mail, which is not the most effective way to share a love of Star Trek with someone in the Czech Republic or Malaysia. Now we can, indeed, discuss Trek or any other show, with fans all over the world. I think that’s grand!
About being a fanatic. Well, things change. Some things that were over the top 40 years ago are considered pretty boring today. Consider the growth in ComicCon, for instance. OK, a bunch of fanatic comicbook fans decide they want to put on a convention. Fast-forward several decades, and we have the San Diego Convention Center adding extra space because ComicCon has outgrown the largest convention center in California! That’s what a good fanatic can do; put a bunch of them together and stand back.
Do you think that today's fans are taking more ownership of television?
If you mean fans of every kind of show, yes. Soap opera fans pretty much cause script changes when they don’t like what’s going on. Science fiction fans have already proven they can save a good SF show, several times.
As for taking more ownership, the possibility has always been there. When my children were little and watched kiddie shows, a horrific movie trailer showed up on one show. I called the station manager and got kissed off royally. So I wrote to all the sponsors of the show, none of whom knew about the trailer except the perpetrator, and then I got an apologetic phone call from the station manager. He asked me if I had any more complaints, would I please tell him first? Ha!
Did I write to the movie company that produced the trailer? You bet! I started at the top of Universal’s Black Box (their business building) and read them all a riot-act about their insensitivity. I got apologies and promises that it would never happen again. That is the Power of One. Think about it.
11.Have you heard about the campaign to save Jericho? If so, do you have any thoughts about the campaign and CBS' response?
I know the show, but I was not informed about a campaign to save it. Good luck on that.
12. Fan groups sometimes survive long after the shows and sometimes take on lives of their own. Does it surprise you that Trekkies are still active today?
I am not surprised about any fandom living long after their main subject of interest is no longer available. Fans are searchers – they are looking for something. Some needed community, and found it in Trekdom. Some needed creative feedback and found it in Trekdom. Some needed a family and found it in Trekdom. This happens in other fandoms. Whatever you are interested in, if it can be discussed, it can be a fandom. That getting together does not usually stop when the show does. Your browser may not support display of this image.
13. Startrek.com posted a message in December that says,"CBS Interactive, which oversees StarTrek.com, is reorganizing the way it does business to align the division's workforce with its new vision that focuses on building communities online."
What does this statement say to you?
It says “I’ve learned a lot of new words and I’m going to put them all in one sentence in hopes that you will be dazzled by my double-talk.” They could have said what they wanted to say in a lot less verbiage, but this is supposed to impress the heck out of you. Does it? If it does, then you are very gullible and will believe that the little man behind the curtain is not really manipulating the giant Oz face. What the heck DO they mean by it?
14. How did you feel about your appearance in the first feature length Star Trek movie? Any fond memories of the experience?
I have very fond memories of that appearance. John could not participate because he couldn’t get off work, which he regrets very much. There are too many things to tell about the experience. Invite John and me to a local convention and we’ll sit up all night telling you stories about our years with TOS and all the actors and the fans and fun things that happened.
15. What was Gene Roddenberry like as a person?
He was just about everything that people have written about, give or take the author’s personal agenda in liking or not liking the man. He was extremely creative, he was crafty, funny, sexy, generous to friends, but he didn’t walk on water. He had his failings: women, treating people he didn’t respect with dangerous carelessness (in Hollywood this can be suicide) and he didn’t always share credit when he should have. He had an unusual talent that seen in only a few people. Like Walt Disney, he could make people – not necessarily just actors - who hated each other’s guts work together to produce an unusual and memorable TV show. John and I liked him very much.
16. Is there anything else you'd like to share that I didn't ask?
Fans often think that if they could visit our home, they would find it decorated inside like the USS Enterprise bridge. They are very surprised to discover that there are no Trek items on view in all of our living area except my office.
My office is really the breakfast room of a small 1923 Craftsman-style California bungalow. I have two original Michael Goodwin Star Trek cartoons on the wall, plus autographed photos of Odo, Garak, and Dr. Smith with Robbie the Robot. I have a small autographed photo of daughter Kathryn and me with Marc Aliamo taken at a convention.
There is a multi-picture frame with an autographed photo of Astronaut Mario Runco in jumpsuit, the whole Endeavor crew in space suits - autographed, and the Endeavor crew in Star Trek uniforms with Mario as a Vulcan.
I also have 2 Scheeman illustrations from Astounding Science Fiction magazine, a George Barr illo from a long defunct film convention we used to run, a Paul Lehr cover painting, and our single Disney stock certificate.
Plus, of course, taped-up photos abound: John and Aussie friend Jennie Dick Smith with a koala, foster daughter Jenn in the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disneyland, the Treehouse Museum in Ogden, Utah, a 9-legged turtle Kathryn drew for me years ago, a photo of murex shells (they are a historical dye source), a quilt pattern I’m designing, messages pertaining to our home business, Griffin Dyeworks & Fiber Arts, and cartoons that tickle me.
The quote on my computer is: “Aim high and consider yourself capable of great things.” I wish I knew who said that! There are post-it notes all around my computer, reminding me to call someone about an SCA demo, the Latin name for the pink ivory tree, a website to look up: earthwatch .com, the name of an amazing pig breed that a friend sent me: Mangalitza. Look it up. earthwatch
What do they tell you? I hope this tells you that I’m not only a Trek fan, but an eclectic person with many other interests and tastes.