So, it’s been 50 years since “The Trouble With Tribbles” first purred and multiplied their way across a TV screen—and no, I was not there to see it.* I was a rerun baby, remember?
It’s remarkable as an outing of original Trek, or any entry of the successors, to show how Star Trek’s classic crew-and-mission format could do comedy (as does “A Piece of the Action” in this same era) —anything but stoic sci-fi. It even leavens out the Klingons! Shows what happens when you give “cardboard villains” some humiliation and a bar fight.
(Also shows how networks used to ignore the “holiday break” and air first-runs clear through the holidays. Take that, bingewatching.)
Aside from the two pilots and Harlan Ellison’s “The City on the Edge of Forever,” it’s also just about the most documented episode of TOS—thanks to David Gerrold‘s classic entire book on his episode from start to finish, and doubling as a gift to early, information-starved fandom about writer-producer Gene L. Coon and backstage vibes.
Ironic it is, then, that while “Tribbles” turns up as a Top Five fave in almost any TOS poll, in hindsight we’ve come to find out it was part of the increasing reason why creator Gene Roddenberry was coming to think his good bud and prolific colleague Coon was allowing just a little too much levity into his stellar futureworld. And among the reasons Coon would depart the show full-time just a few weeks later.
Meanwhile, here’s a rare memory of “Tribbles” onstage ’67 that I collected 30 years after the fact— when onetime Desilu gaffer Ed Cooper for Lucille Ball’s longtime sitcom was actually still working at Paramount and wound up with the tribbles again for DS9‘s “Trials and Tribble-ations,” now another 20 years ago. As heard on Volume 5 of my remastered “Trekland: On Speaker” series, Ed in 1996 shared this great memory:
“I worked on quite a bit of “Trouble With Tribbles”: watched the tribbles, watched the mechanical one run across the bar, watched ’em when they buried Captain Kirk, William Shatner. The tribbles were cute for what they were, little furballs. We had tribbles appear different places all over the studio in different places for a year after the show. They’d be on a table, in a drawer. Finally everybody took ’em home or they threw them away.
“We were doing a Lucy episode, and she was sitting at Gale Gordon’s desk and she had to open up a drawer on the left-hand side. So she pulled and it didn’t open — so she pulled real hard and when she did dozens of tribbles just popped right out, ’cause they were just crammed into the drawer. And she got a kick out of it—she laughed. I think Star Trek was one of her pet shows over there, anyway. So she didn‘t mind too much. They appeared all over the place; the show was a good place to work, people were good.”
Glommers notwithstanding, it’s safe to say those tribbles are still propagating— fans, if not each other too…. just as they were back in 2156 (below). Laugh it up, furballs, and Happy 50th!
*(Of course, the *real* 50th anniversary of their on-screen debut is Tuesday, Aug. 22, 1967, on Day 1 of the six-day shoot, when they first appear on the bridge—rail crawler and all. If not when David Gerrold made his first story pitch to Gene Coon, in June. But, we quibble: It’s like March 11, 1964 and Sept. 8, 1966).