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Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Stacey Abrams as United Earth President

Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

By Laurie Ulster

Legions of celebrity guests have made their way into one Star Trek series or another. Some were already A-listers, while others made it big later.

Among the well-known actors who have beamed up are Kirsten Dunst, Joel Grey, Kelsey Grammer, Ashley Judd, The Rock, Jason Alexander, Christian Slater, Kim Cattrall, Gabrielle Union, Joan Collins, Dean Stockwell, Michael McKean, Adam Scott, Christopher Plummer, Daniel Dae Kim, Tom Hardy, Vanessa Williams, Ed Begley, Jr., and Starsky and Hutch’s David Soul.

In addition, a number of standouts from other fields have donned a Starfleet uniform or alien makeup for a coveted guest spot on a Star Trek series. Here, in alphabetical order, are some of the most surprising.

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The Prince (now King) of Jordan—Abdullah II

Back when he was merely the Prince of Jordan, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein got his much-wanted cameo during a visit to the U.S. on the set of Star Trek: Voyager. Not being a member of the Screen Actors Guild, he couldn’t have a speaking part, but he did get a uniform and pointy sideburns! Afterwards, he threw a party for the cast and invited them all to visit him in Jordan. Ethan Phillips (Neelix) took him up on it.

Politician, Writer, and Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams in long black robes stands next to Sonequa-Martin Green in a purple uniform.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Stacey Abrams as United Earth President

Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

In a bold move, Star Trek: Discoverywrapped up its fourth season with a visit from the President of United Earth, who showed up to thank Captain Burnham and her crew for saving the entire galaxy, so they hired none other than longtime fan Stacey Abrams to take on the role. Well played.

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos

Bezos begged Paramount for a guest role in a Star Trek movie, offering to put on any amount of makeup as long as he got a speaking role and didn’t end up on the cutting room floor. He finally got an eight-second cameo as an alien Starfleet official in 2016’s Star Trek Beyond. Chris Pine (Kirk) reported that Bezos showed up with nine bodyguards and three limos—and no one in the cast had any idea who he was.

Screenwriter and Director David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg shown from the shoulders up in a black suit jacket with a Star Trek pin.

David Cronenberg as Kovich

Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+ © 2021 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

Alex Kurtzman, the man in charge of the Star Trek franchise, is a Cronenberg fan, and since Star Trek: Discovery is filmed in Toronto, he seized the opportunity to ask the famous Canadian director to make a guest appearance on the show. Cronenberg played Kovich in Discovery’s third and fourth seasons and is likely to show up in the fifth, now that he’s one of the gang. He says part of the appeal for the Trek team is that he’s “cheap” as well as local.

Fleetwood Mac’s Mick Fleetwood

Fleetwood’s very first acting role (in 1987’s The Running Man) saw him speaking the line, “Mr. Spock, you have the conn,” and it was apt: He was a longtime fan who asked the Star Trek: The Next Generationproducers if he could appear on their show. He played an Antedian dignitary in the episode “Manhunt,” which required hours of makeup—he’s unrecognizable inside his fishy prosthetic head—and even shaved off his famous beard to do it.

Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking

A navy blue jumpsuit clad Stephen Hawking floats in Zero Gravity while three people in uniform hold him.

Physicist Stephen Hawking in Zero Gravity NASA

en.wikipedia.org

Hawking has the distinction of being the only person to ever play themselves in an episode of Star Trek. He was a huge fan, famous in Trek lore for saying, “I’m working on that” about the warp core during a tour of TNG’s engineering set. In “Descent,” he played a holodeck version of himself, enjoying a poker game with Data, Albert Einstein, and Sir Isaac Newton.

NASA Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, the First Woman of Color in Space

Mae Jemison wears a black outfit and stands at the podium smiling and making a fist of her right hand to make a point.

Dr. Mae Jemison during the New York Comic-Con 2017 panel for Star Trek: Discovery

Photo Cr: Lisette M. Azar/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Jemison is a huge Star Trek fan who cites The Original Series’ Nichelle Nichols as one of her inspirations for applying for the space program. Nichols visited her on set during the filming of her guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Second Chances.” Other astronauts have turned up in the franchise since, but trailblazer Jemison was the first.

Cooking Show Host Padma Lakshmi

Over a decade before she became famous for sending chefs home with the phrase, “Please pack up your knives and go” on Top Chef, Lakshmi appeared on Enterprise as Kaitaama, a princess, in the episode “Precious Cargo”—and yes, she was the cargo.

Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello

A closeup of Tom Morello in a black baseball cap with a gray T shirt and a silver chain around his neck.

Tom Morello

Photo credit: PARAMOUNT+/MTV 2021 Paramount+, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Grammy-winning guitarist and huge Trek fan got his first Star Trek role as a Son’a officer in the movie Star Trek: Insurrection, but since he was almost impossible to spot under the makeup, he was invited to appear as a regular old human on Voyager, where he played Crewman Mitchell in “Good Shepard.” He even got a line to speak this time!

Saturday Night Live’s Joe Piscopo

In one of Next Gen’s most unusual choices, Joe Piscopo turned up in the episode “The Outrageous Okona” as a holographic comedian who tried to teach Data how to tell jokes. The producers’ first choice was Jerry Lewis, but he was unavailable, so in came Piscopo. Despite his best efforts, Data still didn’t learn how to tell jokes, but you can’t blame him for that.

Singer/Songwriter Iggy Pop

Deep Space Nine showrunner Ira Steven Behr is a huge Iggy Pop fan and was determined to get him on the show. After a few failed attempts due to scheduling conflicts (it’s hard to do a guest appearance when you’re on tour), he finally got his wish. Punk rock icon Iggy played a Vorta clone named Yelgrun in the sixth-season episode “The Magnificent Ferengi.”

Writer/Comedian Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman stands in the doorway of a dressing room at The Late Late Show with an open-mouthed expression of surprise as a camera operator films her.

Sarah Silverman

Photo: Terence Patrick/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

In her first dramatic role, Silverman played Rain Robinson, an astronomer who helped Voyager’s crew save the future in the two-parter “Future’s End.” Her character was a hit with the producers, who considered making her a regular. While on set, Silverman stuck around in her off-time just to watch Kate Mulgrew do her Captain Janeway thing. Can you blame her?

NBA All-Star James Worthy

At six feet nine inches tall, Worthy was an obvious choice for a Klingon—so when he met actor Robert O’Reilly (who was playing one on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine) on a flight and told him what a fan he was, O’Reilly convinced him to make a call. Hence his appearance as Koral in Next Gen’s “Gambit, Part II.”

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The stars of Freaks and Geeks

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Talk about gone too soon! The short-lived series Freaks and Geeks lasted only one season, but it became a cult classic—and for good reason. The sitcom captured life in high school in the ’80s with a combination of pathos, laugh-out-loud humor, and absolute authenticity.

The 18-episode dramedy was the brainchild of director/writer/former actor Paul Feig, who convinced Judd Apatow, a friend from the L.A. comedy circuit, to produce it and help direct. “It was the accumulation of many, many years of watching high school shows and movies and just feeling so alienated by them because they always tended to be about the cool kids,” Feig explained in a Washington Post article. “That wasn’t anybody I knew …. we were all nerds, and the only other people we related to were the burnouts, who we called freaks in our high school.”

Whether you’re new to the fictional William McKinley High School in Chippewa, Michigan, or you’re a longtime fan eager to revisit the days of lunch tables and locker rooms, here are a few of the many reasons to love Freaks and Geeks.

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Real Talk

A giph of Sam Weir miming strangling himself with the cord of a dial telephone on the wall behind him.

Sam Weir (John Francis Daley) pretends to be strangled by the phone. Check out that dial and cord!

Giphy

1. It feels real because the writers wove mishaps from their own teen years into the plots.

From the horrors of dodgeball when you’re bad at gym to making a wardrobe choice that turns out to be social suicide in the school hallways to … well, the daily struggle to figure out who you are where you fit in, Freaks and Geeks’ plot lines hit home for millions of viewers.

Part of what made it ring true is that Feig (who went on to direct such hits as Bridesmaids) asked all of his writers fill out a questionnaire about their happiest and most humiliating high school experiences, then wove their memories into the episodes.

“We made it a good dumping ground for all of our good and bad memories of our youth,” Feig told EW. “So you can’t help but connect to it that way.”

Star Maker

james franco GIFGiphy

2. It’s got a star-studded cast who were all unknowns when it aired.

Watching Freaks and Geeks now, it’s hard to believe the actors were no-namers when they signed on for the series. The ensemble cast starred Linda Cardellini (Lindsay), Seth Rogan (Ken), Jason Segal (Nick), James Franco (Daniel), Busy Phillips (Kim), Martin Starr (Bill), John Francis Daley (Sam), and Samm Levine (Neal).

Cardellini’s Lindsay Weir is a high school junior who goes from being a mathlete “brain” to a “burnout” after her grandmother’s death. “Lindsay was the only character in the show I created completely out of my own head. Everybody else was based on someone I knew, or an amalgamation,” Feig has said. “Lindsay is all about the sister I never had. When I was writing it, I had this image of a girl in my head. When Linda walked in, it was like, that’s the exact person.”

Apatow and Feig let the actors’ personalities and their dynamics on set shape the characters and their stories. “We would improvise and play off each other’s real chemistry,” recalled John Frances Daly, who played Lindsay’s geeky younger brother, Sam Weir. “We were either the best of friends or the worst of enemies over the course of even a day, because we were all these young, hormonal teen boys. It was something the creators tapped into.”

Rock Blocks

A giph of Sam clutching his denim jumpsuit and dancing in his bedroom in front of a WC Fields poster.

Sam dances in his room with the jumpsuit that will soon make him a social pariah.

Giphy

3. It used real rock music—a bold choice at the time.

From Styx’s power ballad “Lady” to the Grateful Dead’s country-folk B-side “Ripple,” Freaks and Geeks tapped into the tunes of the times. That might not seem novel now, but in 1999, it was a fresh approach. And for those who grew up in the ’80s, the soundtrack bolstered the show’s authenticity. (The creators devoted much of the budget to music—more than 120 songs in all.)

“When the show started, nobody used rock music as their score,” Apatow recalled. “… And as soon as we realized that, we freaked out and thought, Oh my God, this is wide open!Every great classic rock song has never been burnt out on 10 other shows. So every week we’d be like, Oh my God, The Who said we could use their music! Oh my God, we’re allowed to use any Van Halen song we want! Since then it’s become very popular, but at the time it was thrilling.”

The show also captured how much rock—and knowing about it—mattered to teens in that era:

Lindsay: God, how could I be so awful to actually suggest that you play an entire song correctly all the way through! God knows Zeppelin only play half of “Stairway To Heaven” and The Who never even practices “Teenage Wasteland.”

Ken: “Baba O'Riley.”

Lindsay: What?

Ken: The name of the song is “Baba O’Riley.” It’s on Who’s Next.

Not-So-Happy Stories

A giph of Bill wearing a blonde wig and a pink blazer as the Bionic Woman for Halloween.

Bill (Martin Starr) dressed as the Bionic Woman for Halloween

Photo credit: Giphy

4. The “real” feel backfired when it came to renewing the series.

Today’s TV viewers are used to not-so-happy-endings, but when Freaks and Geeks first aired in 1999, they made executives squirm.

Take the “Tricks and Treats” episode, when Sam, Neal, and Bill fear they’re too old to trick-or-treat but decide to go for the fun—and free candy—one last time. First, a surly neighbor asks, “Aren’t you guys a little old for this?” Then the trio gets laughed at by hot girls, robbed of their candy by bullies, and finally egged by Lindsay and her “freak” friends. Welcome to teen life, boys.

“We didn’t really fit in, and part of why we didn't fit in was parts of the show were very realistic; some of it was sad and melancholy,” Apatow told EW. “Now people love that and they respond to very emotional programming, but back then, most of it was escapism. So talking about the sadness of a young, nerdish person was not what most people were seeing on their screens in those days.”

Woulda, Coulda

Judd Apatow shown from the shoulders up wearing a black and white plaid shirt over a black T shirt.

Freaks and Geeks producer/director Judd Apatow

commons.wikimedia.org

5. Apatow and Feig turned down an offer for a second season.

For diehard fans, it will always be the one that got away—the season that might have been. After Freaks and Geeks was canceled by NBC, MTV offered to pick up the series, but the proposed budget was so low that Apatow and Feig feared it would destroy the magic.

“We had agreed that we were never going to do anything that might ruin the show,” Apatow told EW. “The idea of having it return in some substandard way was too scary. We were always aware that what was happening was a little bit of a creative miracle. We didn’t really even understand why things were falling into place so well, but we were also aware that if we made any wrong moves, it would all crumble. So that’s why we have never done more episodes.”

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By Marc Berman

When you think of Norman Lear, one television series probably comes to mind first: All in the Family. But then there’s Sanford and Son. And Maude. And Good Times, The Jeffersons, and One Day at a Time. No other producer in television history, past or present, has dominated the comedy genre like he has.

At a time when comedies like Here’s Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, Family Affair, and Mayberry R.F.D. and TV families like the Bradys and the Partridges were the norm, Lear stepped in and created a place where American culture and social issues were brought to the forefront. And he did it through the voices of his classic characters: Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur), George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley), Florida (Esther Rolle) and James Evans Sr. (John Amos), Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin), and countless others.

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Holding Up a Mirror to Society

A photo collage including a movie still of Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds; Norman Lear holding a microphone on a TV set; and a movie still of Dick Van Dyke standing with his arms raised.

From L-R: Debbie Reynolds and Van Dyke in a scene from Divorce American Style; Norman Lear on the set of All in the Family; Dick Van Dyke in 1971’s Cold Turkey.

Photo credits: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images; CBS/Courtesy Everett Collection; Courtesy Everett Collection

Minus the traditional rose-colored sitcom glasses, Lear “held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it,” noted President Bill Clinton when presenting Lear with the National Medal of Arts in 1999. “His departure from traditional, two-dimensional television characters was risky. It showed the enormous respect he has for the judgment, the sense, and the heart of the American people.”

Unlike the then-innocence of sitcom storytelling, where a happy ending was a prerequisite for an episode of any comedy, Lear built a TV world reflective of the real world. He brought taboo subjects into American homes, provoking conversation and thought. And what you saw in a Norman Lear sitcom was often what you, the viewer, were experiencing and could relate to. It felt real.

Big Screen Segue

A photo collage including Norman Lear holding a pencil and a stack of papers; the lead actors of Sanford and Son; and the four main actors of Hot L Baltimore.

From L-R: Lear photographed in New York in 1975; Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson of Sanford and Son; From left: Al Freeman Jr., James Cromwell, Richard Masur, and Conchata Ferrell of Hot L Baltimore.

Photo credits: Brian Hamill/Getty Images; NBCUniversal via Getty Images; ABC via Getty Images

Lear began his television career in the 1950s, writing sketches for the TV appearances of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, among others. He produced episodic television for personalities like Martha Raye, Henry Fonda, Andy Williams, Celeste Holm, and Tennessee Ernie Ford. He and then partner Bud Yorkin created Tandem Productions in the 1950s. He segued onto the big screen as the writer and producer for entries like Divorce American Style in 1967 (which resulted in an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay) and Cold Turkey in 1971, both starring Dick Van Dyke.

While Lear in the late 1960s began preparations for a sitcom featuring a blue collar family, it took three years (and two failed pilots for ABC) to get All in the Family on the air on CBS. And it took three Emmy Awards in that first season (including Outstanding Comedy Series) to get noticed.

A Few Misses and Some Cult Classics

A photo collage of Sammy Davis Jr. laughing with Carroll O'Connor; the cast of Palmerstown posing together; Bea Arthur with her arms slung over Paul Rodriguez and Norman Lear.

From L to R: Sammy Davis Jr. and Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) on All in the Family; the cast of Palmerstown, U.S.A.; Paul Rodriguez, Bea Arthur, and Lear behind the scenes of a.k.a. Pablo.

Photo credits: Bettmann Archive; CBS via Getty Images; ABC via Getty Images

Naturally, Lear had some misses along the way, including comedies All’s Fair, Apple Pie, Hot L Baltimore, a.k.a. Pablo, and Sunday Dinner, and family drama Palmerstown, U.S.A. But he also developed the cult favorite Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman for late-night syndication. (TBS has greenlighted an upcoming reboot with Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire as the modern-day version of Mary Hartman.)

Additionally, Netflix has ordered an animated reboot of Good Times. Lear’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience specials with Jimmy Kimmel (including recreations, to date, of episodes from All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, The Facts of Life, and Diff’rent Strokes) won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special (Live) in 2019 and 2020. And the recent reboot of One Day at a Time on Netflix, with three generations of a Cuban American family at the center, further accentuated the value and the importance of the topical style of Norman Lear comedy storytelling.

Comedy in Common

A photo collage of the cast of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Norman Lear receiving the National Medal of Arts; Rita Moreno smilling and giving Lear a hug.

From L to R: The cast of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton award Lear the 1999 National Medal of Arts; Rita Moreno and Lear

Photo credits: Courtesy Everett Collection; Stephen Jaffe/AFP via Getty Images; Rachel Luna/Getty Images

“I emphasize the common humanity. To laugh at them and live with them for a half hour is to share in their humanity,” he said in 2017. Issues change over the decades, too, but humor remains a shared response, even in difficult situations, “because the foolishness of the human condition is a constant. It doesn’t go away.”

As Lear hits the grand 100-year mark, we celebrate a man who dared to be different.

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MTV’s Video Music Awards

MTV

By Carrie Berk

It might be tough to pick the winners, but one thing is sure when it comes to the MTV Video Music Awards: They are always memorable. After all, the VMAs are far more than an awards ceremony. They set the stage for iconic live performances, tearful tributes, and groundbreaking collaborations.

Among the many highlights from the 2022 event (broadcast live from New Jersey’s Prudential Center on August 28th on MTV and Paramount+) were: a greatest hits medley by Nicki Minaj, who won a Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award; Global Icon Award winners Red Hot Chili Peppers paying tribute to late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins; Kane Brown beaming in from a concert to become the first male country solo artist ever to perform at the VMAs; Eminem and Snoop Dog performing as cartoon avatars; and Lil Nas X showing off a feather-fabulous Harris Reed skirt and hat for the red carpet.

They join a long list of mike-dropping—and jaw-dropping—moments that have unfolded since the show first aired in 1984. Here’s a look back at some of the best.

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Raising the Steaks

Lady Gaga donned a dress and headpiece made entirely of meat for the 2010 VMAs to protest a controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell“ policy that prohibited members of the military from revealing that they were homosexual or bisexual. Like others who opposed the rule, Gaga saw it as restricting gay rights by keeping military members from coming out.

“If we don’t stand up for what we believe in, if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones,” Gaga said in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres.

LGBTQ+ fans were grateful, but animal rights activists saw red.

Animal Instinct

Britney Spears took the stage with a live python in 2001 to perform her hit single “Slave 4 U.” The daring performance made headlines, not just for Spears’ vocals and body-baring attire but for the giant snake slithering around her shoulders.

Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift

Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video in 2009 to express his disapproval. The rapper claimed Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” should have won. He was immediately removed from the venue.

She’s Expecting!

At the end of her 2011 VMAs performance of “Love On Top,” Beyoncé unbuttoned her blazer to reveal a growing baby belly. She didn’t say anything—rubbing her belly was enough to announce that she was expecting a child.

Miley Gone Wild

During a controversial 2013 performance, Miley Cyrus twerked with Robin Thicke during a medley of “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines.” The provocative display was a shocking departure from Cyrus’ Disney Channel persona—and a very public declaration that the former child star was no longer a Disney ingenue.

Fourth Harmony

Ally Brooke, Normani, Dinah Jane, and Lauren Jauregui threw shade at ex-group member Camila Cabello at the 2017 VMAs. As their performance began, an unidentifiable fifth member intentionally fell backwards, and the four girls continued without her.

Madonna Takes the Floor

Madonna started her performance demurely, wearing a wedding dress and veil atop a giant cake as she sang “Like A Virgin,” but the performance took a seductive turn when she began to crawl on the floor. She ended the song on her back, with her dress above her head.

Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley’s Lip Lock

Three months after getting secretly married, Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley showed off their romance with a kiss on the VMA stage in 1994. The PDA silenced fans and members of the press who doubted their union was authentic.

Loveeeeeee Song

Drake publicly admitted his love for Rihanna on stage at the 2016 VMAs. He fawned over the singer while presenting her with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, admitting that she was “someone [he’d] been in love with since [he] was 22 years old.”

Lizzo’s Cheeky Performance

A large inflatable derriere dominated the stage during Lizzo’s 2019 VMA performance of “Truth Hurts.” The bum jiggled from side to side as backup dancers bopped to the beat.

Preserving MJ’s Legacy

Janet Jackson performed a moving tribute to her brother Michael at the 2009 VMAs, just months after his death. She sang their duet “Scream” in front of a large screen that projected a video of the King of Pop performing, giving the audience the impression that the siblings were together on the stage.

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