Gene Roddenberry, John Jurgenson, Science Fiction, Science Fiction plots, Star Trek, Star Trek 50th Anniversary, Star Trek Series, Trekkies, WSJ Arena
Hard to believe the little sci-fi series that almost didn’t make it, turns 50 on September 8. After a pilot with Jeffery Hunter was rejected in 1965, Gene Roddenberry’s space adventure, Star Trek, got the green light from Desilu Studios. Yes, that’s the “I Love Lucy” studio. A network executive claimed Lucille Ball never actually read the script, she thought it was about movie stars on a trek to entertain U.S. Troops, a mistake that still resonates a half-century later. Thank you, Lucy.
A recent WSJ Arena article by John Jurgenson, Still Boldly Going, recapped a short history of the first Star Trek, or “lowercase fantasia” as rated by Variety at the time. Jurgenson cites William Shatner’s memory of the era, “We were always about to be cancelled, always a sword of Damocles hanging over us.” One actor quoted “No one had any idea that 50 years later, the story would have a heartbeat.”
Did you know Roddenberry’s original Spock character was supposed to be a half-Martian with reddish skin and a pointed tale? Jurgenson cited the words of Herbert Solow, executive producer of the original series, “No network or advertiser was going to buy a show where one of the heroes is the devil.” Holy Childhood’s End (Arthur C. Clarke).
After three seasons of “giv’n her all she’s got captain, an’ I canna give her no more,” the original series ended in 1969. “She’s dead, Jim.”
I discovered Star Trek through reruns like most folks (I didn’t have much in the way of TV viewing rights in the late sixties when it aired on NBC). By today’s standards, the visuals were campy, but any sci-fi aficionado worth their salt had a scale model of the NCC-1701, the original, no bloody A – B – C – or D. I went full-bore maniac binge-watching as a sophomore in college, where a group of us geeks would gather in my dorm room before dinner and watch the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scottie, Sulu, Chekov, and the sexy Uhura.
Star Trek – The Motion Picture rekindled Star Trek mania. Some folks thought the movie spent too much time on visuals, and chided the acting as mediocre. What a bunch of whiners. I saw it twice and bought the VCR (remember what those are?) Of the six movies with the original crew, most agree Wrath of Khan to be the best. The least best for me (I’m a Trekkie, we don’t use the word worse)? Let’s just say I can’t get Dory’s imitation of a whale from Finding Nemo out of my head whenever I think of The Voyage Home.
Four movies and a wonky animated series later, Star Trek – The Next Generation arrived eighteen years after the last episode of the original series. My first daughter was two-years-old, and well, I wasn’t watching much adult TV. Reruns a few years later, allowed me to tape the episodes and binge watch late at night.
The complexity of some episodes blew me away. Finally, networks allowed Roddenberry’s vision to be more cerebral. We got to know intimate details of the Klingon species, a taste of what futuristic psychology might be, and the incredible journey of a cybernetic crewmember who longed to be human. My favorite episode? The Inner Light, in which the Enterprise heads to a distress signal of an isolated satellite drifting in the remnants of a dead star. The satellite kidnapped Captain Picard’s consciousness, and forced him to live another life in alien world, so when he awakened, a long extinct civilization would be remembered.
Next Generation lives on as the most remembered series after the original because they – “Made it so”.
Star Trek – Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek series I watched live – well, at least the first half. I relocated to Singapore in 1997 in what would be a ten-year stint in Asia, and had to complete the series on disc. The two-hour pilot capsulated the wonder of wormholes, an emotional journey of Emissary Captain Sisko still grieving for his lost wife, theocratic entanglements of the Bajoran race near the wormhole, a shape-shifting liquid being, our first encounter with profit-fanatical Ferengis, a symbiotic trill-human with spots, and the continuing adventures of our favorite Klingon.
Three more Star Trek movies devoted to the Next Generation crew hit theaters during Deep Space Nine’s tenure. Maybe it was binge-watching episodes in a hotel room while sipping vodka, but I felt the series drift in later seasons when a weird Cardassian tailor spy and Ferengi shenanigans muddled the story line.
Deep Space Nine never gained the popularity of Next Generation, but I will always love the premise of an advanced sentient species using wormholes to reach distant points of the galaxy, a Captain who led with his heart, and a killer opening music score I never tired of hearing.
“Today is a good day to die,” Worf oft quoted.
Quark said better in his last line of the series. “It’s like I said. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Star Trek Voyager launched from the Deep Space Nine wormhole and both series ran concurrent for four years. Like the last half of Deep Space, I binged it on DVD, since it wasn’t available on TV in Asia (along with just about everything else U.S. based). A Robinson Crusoe story line and docket of unique characters blossomed under the confident command of Captain Janeway, who had to take renegade miscreants with a price on their heads, and utilize a holographic medical officer to supplement a starship crew when stranded 70,000 light-years from home. Add a Vulcan to remind us of the venerable Spock, and a rehabilitated Borg in season four, it sealed the series as my favorite of the Star Trek collection.
Favorite episode? Holy adjudicate. I had to do a little list searching to jog the memory, knowing I liked way too many episodes to settle on one. Knew it the second I read the episode title, Scorpion, the Part-1 cliffhanger conclusion of season three, followed by season four’s Part-2 opener, where Seven of Nine makes her appearance.
The final episode, “Endgame”, concluded my Voyager binge with Captain Janeway’s parting words. “Set a course … for home.”
Alas, I did not stay with the last series to air, Star Trek – Enterprise, which came on the heels of Voyagers final episode. Still in Asia, the DVD’s came out at a time when I went through a state of flux, centered on moving the family to Taiwan, and begining a ritual of logging miles on international travel. I never picked up the string thereafter, and as I write this, am reconsidering that oversight.
No shortage of reports as to why Enterprise never made it past four seasons, Rick Berman, long-term producer, who co-wrote many of the best episodes in TNG/DS9/Voyager, was reluctant to create the series, claiming franchise fatigue. In a 2012 article, Why Star Trek: Enterprise Failed and How It Nearly Worked, Josh Tyler had this to say. “In the process Hollywood lost faith in the entire franchise, sending longtime steward Rick Berman to the unemployment line and Star Trek into the high-octane, style over substance hands of JJ Abrams. Thanks to Enterprise, Rodenberry’s vision will never be the same again.”
Sounds an awful lot like the demise of another short-lived series I connected with, Firefly.
So ended a beloved television franchise, with the final monologue, “Where no man has gone before”, recited by three Star Trek captains to pilot the helm.
Twelve-years since the networks jumped overboard with Enterprise, the franchise will get rebooted in January 2017 with Star Trek – Discovery, airing on the new CBS All Access cable channel (which you’ll have to pay for – of course). Thankfully, it will be available on Netflix within 24 hours of episode premiere. We don’t know much about where they’re going to go, or who the characters will be, but it’s set for a timeline after the movie Star Trek – Undiscovered Country, but before the series Star Trek – Next Generation.
According to Everything We Know About the New TV Series on CheatSheet, the new Star Trek will be in the “Prime Universe”, not the J.J. Abrams rebooted universe, and no more seven-year stints to threaten franchise fatigue.
I’m good with that.
If you’re interested, Space.com posted a nostalgic look at the Evolution of Star Trek with an extended version of the following infographic.
In case you haven’t picked up on it, Next Generation, Deep Space, and Voyager all ran for seven seasons, a streak broken by Enterprise. Seven Star Trek movies involving the original crew numbered seven if you include Star Trek – Generations. And since we’re mentioning the auspicious number, if we consider including the movie “Generations” as a the bridge to a new era, to date, we’ve had seven additional movies.
Hey, don’t laugh, it’s the kind of thing us geeks look at.
If you’re interested in watching William Shatner, Jeri Ryan, Scott Bakula, Michael Dorn and Brent Spiner at the Star Trek Anniversary Panel at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year, you can check it out at StarTrek.com.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Star Trek. Thank you Captains Courageous for the great ride.
From: Treknews.net 2012
Live long and prosper.
From: Creative Commons – ©Boris Lechaftois – DeviantArt
James Pailly said:
I really hope Discovery is good. I need some new Star Trek in my life.
Heard that, my friend. Fingers crossed.