First, the big news! Star Trek turns 45 today and to honor its legacy, The ‘Tastic will be dedicating an entire section of the blog to individual Star Trek episode reviews, ‘Tastic-style, beginning in November! Stay tuned!
On September 8, 1966, television history was made when Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic vision of a future without war, poverty, or racism, where mankind worked together to solve its problems and better itself, appeared on our television sets and changed the course of television and science fiction history forever. Spawning five live-action series, one critically acclaimed animated series, 11 feature films, thousands of novels, comic books, video games and billions of doallrs in merchandising and a dedicated fandom like no other over the course of almost half of a century, as Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) put it in the Roger Nygard documentary Trekkies, Star Trek truly is our 20th century mythology and now is still going strong into the 21st century.
Part 1 of the Documentary Film, Trekkies.
The franchise has had its ups and downs with audiences and even from before the first episode, The Man Trap, was aired, it faced opposition from television executives whom although enjoyed the original pilot, The Cage, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, thought it was “too cerebral” for a general audience. At this point Star Trek made its first bit of television history being the only show to ever have a second pilot ordered for it. Hunter refused to film a second pilot and the role was subsequently re-written and re-cast with William Shatner playing the role of the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain James Kirk. Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu Studios, produced the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, and the rest is television history.
Part 1 of the first aired episode The Man Trap
As an aside, Jeffrey Hunter sadly passed away in 1969 from a cerebral hemorrhage after suffering two strokes a the age of 42. Imagine how the most recognized television franchise of all time would look today had Hunter not turned down the role in the second pilot.
Star Trek lasted on the air for three seasons and only so because of a massive fan campaign spearheaded by the legendary Bjo Trimble. NBC wanted to cancel it after two but they were inundated with letters and studio protests and they greenlit the show for one more season. Unfortunately, the slot they chose for it was 10:00 p.m. on Friday night which all but assured there would not be a fourth season.
Star Trek found new life again in syndication and if you ask most fans that grew up or went to college during the early to mid-1970’s they’ll most likely tell you that this is how they were exposed to it. What’s unique about the franchise is just how many of the actors and production staff that have been on the subsequent series and in the films over the years that were actually fans going back this far. Star Trek’s success in syndication planted the original seeds for bringing the franchise back in one form or another and eventually led to the critically acclaimed and award-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series in 1973 which featured all of the original cast members with the exclusion of Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).
Star Trek The Animated Series Opening Theme Music:
With the success of the brand in syndication, the continued popularity among the fans who would regularly attend conventions by the thousands year after year, a very popular and well-received animated series, Paramount, in 1975, decided to bring back the Star Trek franchise in the form of a major motion picture. They then switched gears and decided that they not only wanted bring the franchise back on the small screen and update it, but they wanted it to be the flagship for their new fourth network to air in 1978. When the plans for the network folded, all filming and production on Star Trek: Phase II ended but a funny thing happened that kept the franchise alive; a little film you may have heard of called Star Wars.
Following the incredible success of George Lucas’ epic masterpiece, Paramount, like every other studio in Hollywood at the time, wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the science fiction space epic, and realized they could accomplish this with the Star Trek franchise, so the proposed pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, In Thy Image was recommissioned for feature film treatment and in December of 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in theaters. My dad actually took me to see TMP when I was four years-old and I still remember it. Ironically, he’s not a Trek fan and I only became one 18 years later.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture, despite receiving lukewarm critical reception (I still refer to it as Star Trek: The Motionless Picture due to it’s incredibly long and drawn out special effects scenes. It’s great for going to sleep at night to, I’ll tell you that much.) and going extremely over-budget from $15 million to $46 million, was an unqualified success bringing in $139 million at the box office (roughly $412 million in 2011 dollars… put that in your pipe and smoke it, J.J. Abrams!) with fans going back to see the film multiple times.
The original cast of Star Trek would go on to do five more feature films and of course a new Star Trek series set 100 years after the original series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, would debut in 1987, last for seven seasons, become the highest rated syndicated television program in history, have four more major motion pictures made with that cast and spin-off three more television series and in 2009, Roddenberry’s original vision was re-imagined with J.J. Abrams’ blockbuster film Star Trek, the eleventh Star Trek film featuring a whole new cast of young actors reprising the legendary roles of the original cast from the original, iconic series.
So, what is so special about Star Trek that it has not only endured but still continues to find success, generation after generation, despite being written off for dead on more than one occasion? Why is Star Trek so universally loved by such a diverse audience of people, many of whom wouldn’t consider themselves science fiction fans, per se? The easy answer that everyone throws out is always that it gives us “hope” which I believe is clichéd tripe. The concept of “hope” is certainly an element in Trek, as it is in most Science Fiction stories but Star Trek has been so much more than that for so long. Star Trek is about adventure, it’s about looking forward into the unknown and it’s about examining ourselves today and trying to figure where we’re going in the future. But most importantly, Star Trek is about the stories of the characters and how we, as the audience, relate to them. These are timeless concepts in epic storytelling that know no generational bounds.
As I noted, my dad took me to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture when I was four years old and as for myself, I’ve been watching Star Trek with my own kids since the day they were born. My five year-old daughter is very interested in Seven of Nine and the whole concept of the Borg on Star Trek: Voyager. She also loves any episodes involving Naomi Wildman because, even at five, it’s about relating to the characters and she also has always loved Star Trek: The Animated Series to the point where she wouldn’t fall asleep without it between the ages of two and three. My two year-old son who overheard me explaining the characters on Voyager in the most simplest terms of “good guys” and “bad guys” to my daughter, now points to everything related to Star Trek and says, “Good guy!”
Now, I know at the end of the day, that my kids’ interest in Star Trek at this very young age has very little to do with understanding what’s going on in the show and far more to do with just wanting to take in interest in what Daddy likes, but this is something that we’re always going to have. It’s like baseball. It doesn’t matter what happens, at the end of the day we’ll always have our little escape and something to talk about. That is something that you cannot put a price on and as my friend Santos Ellin, Jr. said regarding my son’s interest in Trek, “Never let him lose that magic Shawn, it keeps you young and it’ll do the same for him. Never let his imagination falter,” and that folks is what it’s all about; the magic of Star Trek, and it’s that magic that has inspired so many people over the years. Roddenberry passed away in 1991, but there’s no doubt that his legacy will live on for generations to come.
Think it’s just the nerds that like and have been inspired by Star Trek? Well, yeah… I guess we are a big part of the fandom but here’s an abbreviated list of famous people (mostly non-nerds) who are known to be confirmed Trekkies.
- Angelina Jolie
- Tom Hanks
- Seth MacFarlane (had a cameo on Star Trek: Enterprise)
- Whoopi Goldberg (played Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, lobbied for the role.)
- Eddie Murphy
- Rosario Dawson
- The late former President Ronald Reagan
- President Barack Obama
- Buzz Aldrin (and just about any astronaut)
- Mel Brooks
- General Colin Powell
- Robin Williams
- Ben Stiller
- Dr. Stephen Hawking (had a cameo on TNG)
- Former Vice President Al Gore
- Christian Slater (his mother, Mary Jo Slater was the casting director for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and cast him in a cameo role and he has his personal replica of Kirk’s Captian’s chair in the ofcie set of his show, Breaking In.)
- Mira Sorvino
- Megan Fox
- Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper
- Dr. Marvin Minsky
- George Lucas
- Kelsey Grammer (had a cameo on TNG)
- King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein of Jordan (had a cameo on VOY)
- Jason Alexander (had a featured guest starring role on the episode of VOY, Thinktank)
- Bryan Singer (had a cameo in Star Trek: Nemesis)
- Mila Kunis
- Mick Fleetwood (had a cameo on TNG)
- Quentin Tarantino
- South Park’s Matt Parker and Trey Stone
- Karl Urban (played McCoy in Abrams’ Star Trek, pursued the role when he heard about the film being made.)
- Freema Agyeman of Dr. Who and Torchwood fame
- John Barrowman of Dr. Who and Torchwood fame
- Candace Bergen
- Daniel Craig
- Kevin Sorbo
- Robert Carlyle
- David A. Goodman (Family Guy executive producer. Wrote the Star Trek themed episode of Futurama, four episodes of ENT)
- Tom Morello of (had a cameo on VOY)
- Brad Paisley
- The late Frank Sinatra (claimed he never missed an episode of TNG)
- Jimmy Buffet
- Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- The late Isaac Asimov
- Dr. Daniel J. Levitin
- Chris Jericho
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (had a cameo on VOY)
- The late Dr. Randy Pausch
- The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Tom Bergeron (had two cameos on ENT)
- Sir Richard Branson (named his spaceships the VSS Enterprise and the VSS Voyager)
- Natalie Portman
- Tommy Lee Jones