Not My Job: Journalist Lesley Stahl Gets Quizzed On 'Star Trek'

Apr 30, 2016

This year is the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek, so mark the occasion, we're going to play a game called "To boldly go where no man has gone before!" We'll ask pioneering journalist Lesley Stahl three questions about the original Star Trek, taken from a new oral history called The Fifty-Year Mission. Stahl covered the Watergate scandal in the 1970s and has been a 60 Minutes correspondent for 25 years.

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And now the game where important people are asked about unimportant things. So Lesley Stahl was hired by CBS News back in 1973 as part of an affirmative action program of a kind. But because she was just a girl, they gave her something unimportant to do, like covering Watergate. She has been a correspondent for "60 Minutes" for 25 years. She's won multiple Emmys and many other rewards. We are so pleased to have her with us. Lesley Stahl, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON’T TELL ME.

LESLEY STAHL: Oh, thank you. Thank you.


SAGAL: So I don't want to cast aspersions, Lesley, but you've said that you were hired by CBS as sort of a diversity outreach thing. Is that true?

STAHL: Well, it is true. And they always wanted to prove that they had hired women and minorities. And I was one of the early ones, so I was always thrust out forward. And you're right, they gave me Watergate.

SAGAL: Did they say you, Lesley, Watergate, you do that.

STAHL: Well, actually, what they said was Watergate is not a big story. It's not a big deal. It's just a local break-in, so we'll give it to the new girl.

SAGAL: Really?

STAHL: That's exactly what they said, yeah.

FAITH SALIE: A star was born.

SAGAL: Did you have any difficulty, especially back in the '70s, sort of breaking into the old-boys club that was journalism at the time?

STAHL: There was one - I was going to anchor on election night very early in my career 'cause they wanted to show there was a woman around.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAHL: And the president of CBS News brought me up to the set just before they painted it to show me that I had no reason to be nervous. It was a big drum, and he said Walter's going to sit there. And of course, it said Cronkite right in front of the seat. And he said Roger will sit there. It said Mudd. Dan will sit there. It said Rather. And he said you'll sit there, and it said female.


STAHL: But the president of CBS was so horrified and apologetic, I just laughed it off. What can you do, right?

SAGAL: Right. You've written a book. It's about grandparenting.


SAGAL: And do you have - how many grandchildren do you have currently have?

STAHL: I have two.

SAGAL: Right. And did you - when you first became a grandparent, did you go after them with the same zeal that you do on "60 Minutes?" Where is that binky?


STAHL: (Laughter) I didn't. I was actually completely transformed by it. And I say that in all seriousness. I don't think that any of us ever love the way we love a grandchild. It just takes us over. If we were strict parents, we become mushballs.


STAHL: We are - we seem to have the word no disabled. We cannot say it. Whatever they want - our own children don't recognize us. And we...

SAGAL: Is this true of you? Do you find yourself to be a nicer grandparent than you were a parent?

STAHL: Infinitely, infinitely.

SAGAL: Really? Do your kids assume - I'm just going to take your word for it that you're a nicer grandparent than a parent - do your kids - i.e. the parents of your grandchildren - do they ever look at you and go, like, you were never this nice to me?

STAHL: Oh, always.

SAGAL: Really?

STAHL: Oh, yes.

SAGAL: And what do you say? Do you think well, you weren't this adorable? Oh, look at your little face.


STAHL: Well, there are a lot of jokes about how parents - I mean, grandparents and children - and the grandchildren have a common enemy in the parents.


STAHL: But I don't buy that.

SAGAL: The old joke is the great thing about being a grandparent is you can play with your kids - the grandkids that is - you can have fun with them; you can do whatever you want. And then when you're done, you hand them back to the parent and you walk away.

STAHL: Well, there's a little of that.

SAGAL: Really?

STAHL: But I'll - yeah.

SAGAL: So you can...

STAHL: But I'll give you a better joke .

SAGAL: Please.

STAHL: ...OK? If God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his grandson...

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAHL: ...He would have said no way.

SAGAL: Oh, I see.

STAHL: Not on Earth.

SAGAL: My lousy, good-for-nothing son, you can have. But my little grandson...

SALIE: It seems like being a grandparent is the only time in your life you're allowed to choose what you're called. So what are you called as a grandma, Lesley?

STAHL: OK, well, I'm going to tell you, it's a little - you know, it's a little icky-sweet. But I'm Lolly...

SAGAL: Awww...

STAHL: ...And my husband is Pop.

SAGAL: Awww...

ADAM BURKE: It could've been so much worse. They could've just called her female.

SAGAL: Yeah, it's true.


SALIE: That's good.


SAGAL: What is the most ridiculous thing that you have done besides spoil one of your grandchildren?

STAHL: Oh, my goodness, ridiculous.


STAHL: Oh, it's - none of it's ridiculous. You know, we were down on the floor talking baby talk and Googling...

SAGAL: I want to hear about presents here. I want to hear about presents.

STAHL: Anything - oh, OK. Well, I just - I just sent them a piano.

SAGAL: Ho-ho...


ALONZO BODDEN: Nice. Now, how...

STAHL: My daughter - my daughter wouldn't practice the piano.

SAGAL: Yeah.

STAHL: And I'm trying again.

BODDEN: How old are your grandchildren?

STAHL: Two and 5.


SAGAL: Well, Lesley Stahl, it is a delight to talk to you.

STAHL: Well, thanks.

SAGAL: But we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before.


SAGAL: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the original series "Star Trek," meaning that since its debut in September 1966, entire generations of fans have grown up and even died without ever losing their virginity.


SAGAL: So we're going to ask you three questions about "Star Trek" taken from a new oral history of the show called the "50 Year Voyage. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's will sing Damn't Jim on their voicemail.


SAGAL: Bill, who with Lesley Stahl playing for?

KURTIS: Shawn Wilson of Denver, Colo.

SAGAL: All right, are you ready to do this?


SAGAL: All right, "Star Trek" owed its existence to an unlikely celebrity of that time, the 1960s. Who was it? Was it A, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, B, comedienne Lucille Ball, or C, Flipper the dolphin.


STAHL: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Edgar Bergen...

SAGAL: You're going to go with Edgar Bergen.

STAHL: Why not?

SAGAL: Well, it was actually Lucille Ball...


SAGAL: ...Because Lucille Ball had been divorced - just been divorced from her now former husband Desi Arnaz. She had gotten their production company, Desilu, and she needed something to produce. So she green-lit "Star Trek."

STAHL: On no, I never knew - oh, wonderful.

SAGAL: I know.

STAHL: But I'm losing.

SAGAL: Not yet.



SALIE: Stay in the game, Lolly.

SAGAL: Stay in the game. Stay in the game.

STAHL: I'm in, I'm in.


SAGAL: All right, I have a question for you - and it's something that I've noticed about my parents rather being grandparents of my children - when you play a game with your grandchildren, do you let them win?

STAHL: Of course.


SAGAL: OK, does it hurt a little bit?

STAHL: It hurts a lot (laughter).

SAGAL: All right.

STAHL: All right.

SAGAL: All right, so here's your next question. You still have two more chances. Despite its early success, "Star Trek" almost didn't make it to its second season because of what crisis? A, the entire cast broke out into hives from being allergic to the italic-looking costumes, B, the studio wanted to add a sexy space alien in a bikini named Tina XP4, or C, the two stars - William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy - were having an insane diva catfight?

STAHL: (Laughter) I have to go with number three.

SAGAL: You're exactly right, of course.


STAHL: Great.

SAGAL: Watch that show for a minute...

STAHL: Great.


STAHL: I'm back in the game.

SAGAL: It began with an early review saying hey, this Mr. Spock character played by Nimoy, he's the real star of the show. This made Bill Shatner, who played Kirk, incredibly upset. They started arguing, trying to steal lines from each other on the set. And the creator of the show told them if they didn't stop it, they could both be replaced. All right, here's your last question. If you get this right, you win.



SAGAL: Leonard Nimoy was cast as the Vulcan Mr. Spock because why? Because A, Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, had to pay off a huge poker bet to him, B, as Roddenberry said, he had no emotional range as an actor so we cast him as a character with no emotion...

STAHL: Oh, my God.


SAGAL: ...Or C, he already looked so much like an alien that they could save money on special effects.


STAHL: Oh, my goodness. OK, let me go with number two.

SAGAL: You're going to go with number two?


SAGAL: That Leonard Nimoy had no emotional range as an actor?

STAHL: (Laughter) Are you try to get me off this answer?

SAGAL: Who me?


STAHL: I'm staying there, yeah.

SAGAL: All right, I tried.


SAGAL: The answer was C, actually. Roddenberry says he met Nimoy producing another show. And he said to himself, quote, "if I ever do a science-fiction thing, he would make a great alien.



SAGAL: Oh, Bill, how did Ms. Stahl do?

KURTIS: Well...

STAHL: No...

KURTIS: ...Lesley got two wrong, one right. She's going to have to answer to a 2-year-old.


STAHL: Oh, thank you.

SAGAL: You're welcome.

STAHL: By the way...


SAGAL: By the way...

STAHL: By the way...


STAHL: ...Can I just say one thing?

SAGAL: You may.

STAHL: In closing...

SAGAL: Please.

STAHL: That the name of the book is "Becoming Grandma," and it's a wonderful Mother's Day present.



STAHL: I'm plugging. I'm plugging.

SAGAL: You can go ahead and plug. You know what?

STAHL: Thank you.

SAGAL: I'll do it again. Lesley Stahl's new book is called "Becoming Grandma," and it's a wonderful Mother's Day gift.

STAHL: Thank you.

SAGAL: Lesley Stahl, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON’T TELL ME.

STAHL: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


SAGAL: In just a minute, your dog would like to have a word with you in our Listener Limerick challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON’T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.