Remembering that Gene Roddenberry worked as a western writer for several years prior to producing Star Trek, I wondered if there was a direct connection between the two shows. Was this the show that gave Roddenberry the inspiration for Star Trek? I did some research and was surprised by what I found.
- They featured a ship’s Captain as the leading role
- Both had a hard drinking chief engineer among the cast
- Both had a Scotsman as a featured crew member
- On both shows, the crew of the ship is armed
- Both shows featured appearances by Abraham Lincoln
There is a whip fight between Captain Kirk and a tall villain in Gamesters of Triskelion is similar to the whip fight between Riverboat's Captain Holden and a tall villain in Duel on the River. In both episodes the captain nearly strangles the villain.
The Star Trek episode Miri echoes the Riverboat episode 3 Graves. In both episodes a doctor works to determine the cause of a plague which has rendered an area deserted.
The infamous space hippies episode of ST Way to Eden is reminiscent of the Riverboat episode Guns for Empire as in both episodes a group of people are searching for a utopian society.
The ST episode Conscience of the King is similar to Riverboat's Trunk Full of Dreams as both feature a father/daughter acting troupe. In both episodes the father plays the role of MacBeth.
The last episode of Riverboat, Listen to the Nightingale, featured both Jeanne Bal and DeForest Kelley.
The 1st episode of ST, The Man Trap, was a story featuring the same pairing of Bal and Kelley.
Possible Direct Links
In both shows the ship that the crew travels on is called the Enterprise
A number of people worked on both shows including:
- Writer Gene L. Coon
ActorComposer Alexander Courage
- Producer Fred Frieberger
- Composer Gerald Fried
- Elmer Bernstein, who composed the score for Riverboat, also scored 4 episodes of Star Trek
- Wouldn't DeForest Kelley have mentioned the similarity between the two shows during the initial production stages of the show? (especially the name of the ship.)
Here's what I think happened: It seems likely that Roddenberry who was pitching scripts to various westerns at the time would have at least heard about Riverboat, either on his own or through other writers at a local watering hole. I suspect he was taken with the idea of an ensemble show set on a ship and filed it away in the back of his mind. Later when it came time to pitch Trek, he realized that using Riverboat in space wasn't very good because Riverboat was a bit of a failure. (It only lasted two seasons, and never scored very high in the ratings.) Instead he used Wagon Train as his hooky reference when pitching Trek. As time went on and Trek became its own creation, he forgot Riverboat altogether.
One final coincidence (after the fact) - Based on references in the show, a small town in Iowa has declared itself the official birth place of Captain James T. Kirk (with Roddenberry's blessing.)
The name of that town is: Riverside.