Star Trek & Me: Growing Up in the Final Frontier
I never had the privilege of seeing Star Trek during its original three season run on NBC. The show was already celebrating its 10th anniversary when I was born and its 20th when I became a fan. However, the show would have a profound effect on my childhood.
I think anyone familiar with Star Trek knows of the shows troubled history. A first pilot called “The Cage” was rejected by NBC, for reasons now not entirely clear. However, NBC permitted creator and producer Gene Roddenberry to make a second pilot. This one, called “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, did sell and Star Trek was added to NBC’s fall 1966 schedule.
Every fan also knows how Star Trek was nearly cancelled after its first and second seasons and that only a massive write-in campaign saved the series for a disappointing third season before NBC finally pulled the plug during the spring of 1969.
Of the countless thousands of television series that have aired- even those which were blessed with strong ratings- often become little more than footnotes in television history. Most do not even receive that recognition. Gene Roddenberry and his associates hoped that at the best Star Trek would be remembered by a few die-hard fans.
However, Star Trek was never like most television shows. There are certain series that redefine television and set a new standard for what is to come later. Such landmark shows throughout television history include: I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, All in the family, MASH, Hill Street Blues, Law & Order, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. Star Trek is one such shows. Though in many ways some of the spin-off Trek series, like the hugely popular Star Trek-The Next Generation (Which like the original show became a pop culture phenomenon.), and the serialized and much darker themed Star Trek-Deep Space Nine, are even better, it was the original Star Trek that raised the bar on all that came after it.
Also, ever since it first premiered, Star Trek had a very loyal fan base known as Trekkies (or Trekkers). We live in an era where every other show on television is promoted by the networks as “Must See T.V.”. Star Trek was the original “Must See T.V.”, and fans never missed it.
When Star Trek was put into syndication, instead of being rerun for a couple of years and then becoming a footnote in television history, Star Trek’s popularity only grew bigger. Throughout the seventies, there were Star Trek novels, a short lived animated series and fan run conventions. In 1979, Star Trek-The Motion Picture was released near the end of the year and despite mixed reviews from critics, the film was one of the year’s highest grossing films. The popularity of the film resulted in more books, magazines, comics, action figures and conventions. Oh yeah, there was two more hugely popular films: Star Trek II-The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Star Trek III-The Search for Spock (1984).
In 1986 Star Trek was celebrating its 20th anniversary, which was topped off with the release of Star Trek IV-The Voyage Home that November. Star Trek IV was to become the most profitable film in the franchise until J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot Star Trek. With much of the action of The Voyage Home taking place in 20th Century San Francisco, the film attracted moviegoers who had never previously seen a Star Trek film. In school it was the film to see. So despite never having seen a single Star Trek episode, I wanted to see this movie!
Before finally seeing Star Trek IV, I began watching the reruns and was hooked. The first episode I watched was the season one episode “The Squire of Gothos.” I also spent several weeks’ allowance on Vonda M. McIntyre’s novelization of the new movie. And I was a kid who didn’t read!
When I finally saw Star Trek IV-The Voyage Home in January 1987 at Stratford Square Mall, I was totally blown away by the movie. With this movie and a heavy diet of reruns, a new Star Trek fan was born. Early in 1987 I bought and read my first original Star Trek novel, an excellent book called Deep Domain by Howard Weinstein.
I learned about the history of Star Trek by reading such books as The Star Trek Compendium by Allan Asherman, The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold. Through these book I was introduced to the creative geniuses that make Star Trek so special. People like creator Gene Roddenberry, stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, writes like Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana and producer Robert H. Justman.
As an 11-year-old boy in 1987 I was still too young to understand the messages in most Star Trek episodes or even its idealistic view of the future. For me, Star Trek was just fun. Each time I watched an episode or read a novel, I was transported out of my living room or bedroom in late eighties middle class suburbia and taken on an exciting adventure in space aboard the U.S.S Enterprise with Captain James T. Kirk and his Vulcan first officer, Spock. Beginning in September of 1987, I would also get to explore the galaxy and have amazing adventures on a new Starship Enterprise with Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his first officer, Commander William T. Riker.
Star Trek is now celebrating its 50th anniversary and I’ve been a fan for 30 years of it. Where has all the time gone? Like most people, I believe that a big reason why a low budget and even lower rated science fiction television series from the late sixties has endured is because of its positive portrait of a future where people actually get along and humanity no longer kills each other over skin color, race or sexual orientation. The message of Star Trek is one that is as important now as it was in 1966.
Star Trek at its best also features brilliant writing: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (Star Trek), “The Best of Both Worlds” (Star Trek-The Next Generation), “Far Beyond the Stars” (Star Trek-Deep Space Nine) and, of course, Star Trek II-The Wrath of Khan. The world of Star Trek is also filled with memorable characters like James Kirk, Spock, Jean-Luc Picard, Data and Odo.
Last but certainly not least, Star Trek takes you out of the 21st Century into an exciting future of adventure and imagination.
By Michael Goth