When it first premiered in the mid-1960s, Star Trek: The Original Series was a revolutionary television show. The writers and producers had a knack for juxtaposition and exposition that allowed the show to explore space, relationships, and contemporary society in ways that other shows at the time weren’t.
Some of the most interesting episodes in the show’s three-season run were the ones in which the crew of the Enterprise encountered human societies on other planets. These societies often modeled themselves on a point in American history, which gave the show the platform to comment on historical events, perspectives, and politics.
One of those episodes, “A Piece of the Action,” featured an alternate version of Earth in the 1920s, and almost starred the famous gangster Al Capone as President.
Gene Roddenberry’s “President Capone” Pitch
When Gene Roddenberry first pitched Star Trek to Paramount in 1964, he included six pitches for different types of episodes that Star Trek would include. Though the primary genre of the show was science fiction, Roddenberry envisioned a series that would explore different genres by having its characters encounter different worlds. His original pitches included classic science fiction episodes, a Western episode, a horror episode, and two episodes that put his primary cast on worlds that resembled different points in human history.
One of the pitches in which the crew encountered an Earth history scenario was entitled “President Capone.” The simple, one-sentence pitch suggested that the crew would visit “a parallel world” in which Al Capone ruled with “gangland statutes.”
Roddenberry never developed his original “President Capone” pitch, but he did keep the idea of a gangland, 1920s world in mind.
Two Other Stories Were Based on the Pitch
In the introduction to “Piece of the Action” that was recorded for the VHS release, Walter Koenig, who played Ensign Chekov, detailed how the script for the episode was developed. He revealed that two other scripts were based on Roddenberry’s original “President Capone” pitch.
During the first season of the show, Roddenberry brainstormed with writer George Clayton Johnson about a mobster episode for the series. Johnson suggested a story based on sci-fi writer C.M. Kornbluth’s novel “The Syndic.” Roddenberry loved the idea and asked him to write a summary of the proposed episode.
Jonhson wrote a treatment entitled “Chicago II.” However, before the treatment got a thorough review, he was asked to write the episode “The Man Trap.” So, his “Chicago II” idea was pushed aside.
Later, writer Gene Coon found the treatment for “Chicago II” and began developing his own script based on the idea with fellow writer David Harmon. According to Orion Press, their work became a script entitled “Mission Into Chaos.” Though the script was still based on the discovery of a planet run by 1920s style mobsters, their script also involved the Romulans.
That first draft of the script underwent several revisions, though Coon and Harmon remained the primary writers of the teleplay. In The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years, Harmon explained that the core of the story was a world that had built their entire society from a book about Capone’s life. The Romulans were removed from the final draft to clarify that premise.
The final draft of that script was “A Piece of the Action,” which has become a fan-favorite episode.