"I took 'Star Trek' because I thought it might be a nice adjunct to my resume and I'd get to Broadway faster," said Nichelle "Lt. Uhura" Nichols, during a television press tour panel for the second season of the PBS series "Pioneers of Television," where she sat along with fellow classic TV stars Martin Landau, Robert Conrad, Linda Evans and Mike Conrad.
Nichols had been an up-and-coming stage performer when she was offered the iconic role, and she insisted, "I still think 'Star Trek' interrupted my career and I got stuck there." Nichols told the crowd that she tried to leave the Starship Enterprise after the first season "because I thought it was going nowhere for me."
Producer Gene Roddenberry asked her to reconsider, and the next night she attended an NAACP fundraiser at which she was introduced to a man who claimed to be her "biggest fan."
The Trekkie turned out to be Martin Luther King Jr., who told her that "Star Trek" was the only TV show he and his wife Coretta would allow their three little children to watch, because out in the streets there were African-Americans being hosed for wanting to sit down in a whites-only restaurant; meanwhile, "there I was playing an astronaut of the 23rd century."
When she told King she was leaving the show, "He said what Gene Roddenbery had done was to establish who we were in the 23rd century."
Insisting that she needed to stay on the show, he said, "You are part of history, and it's your responsibility, even though it wasn't your career choice."
The series, which is scheduled for winter 2011, looks at some of the classic moments and genres of early television through the people involved. Nichols appears on the science fiction episode; other installments will cover crime dramas, westerns and local kids TV.