History, Legacy & Showmanship

Still Boldly Going: Celebrating “Star Trek” on its 50th Anniversary

September 7, 2016 - 3:30 pm   |   by
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The Starship Enterprise

Coate: Can you recall when you first saw the show?

Altman: I’m not sure if my first exposure to Star Trek was watching The Animated Series on NBC or watching repeats on WPIX Channel 11 in New York. What I do remember is watching it a lot. And then immersing myself in the James Blish novelizations as well as the Gold Key comic collections surrounded by a lot of Mego toys and my prized set of Franz Joseph Blueprints and the indispensable Technical Manual. Virtually every night and Saturdays, and like many of my generation, tape recording our favorite episodes since VCRs did not yet exist. The other great way to relive a favorite episode was reading the Fotonovels, a long extinct way of telling a story, which was like a comic book made up of frame grabs and word ballots. Those are some of my most cherished Trek collectibles. As a kid, I recall getting Leonard Nimoy’s autograph at Macy’s and I asked him about In Search Of instead of Star Trek since he had just published the infamous I Am Not Spock book. I guess you could say that was the beginning of my career as a journalist.

Bond: I actually remember this vividly — our family was on vacation the week of the moon landing in July, 1969 — I remember watching the moon landing on a television in our room at a little vacation resort an uncle of ours ran. They also had a kind of lodge/bar with a color television mounted up over the bar — for a kid back then it was rare and exciting to see a color TV. I remember being in the bar at night with my dad and seeing Star Trek playing on the TV — I remember seeing the engineering room and I’m pretty sure I remember seeing the Klingon ship so I’ve always thought the episode must have been Elaan of Troyius — it would be interesting to see when the rerun of that episode ran that summer. I was 8 and I had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey and been kind of freaked out by that, and I remember getting a little of the same feeling from Star Trek — thinking it all seemed very strange, bizarre and a little scary. But then within a year or two I was eagerly watching episodes of it in daily syndication.

Burnett: I don’t remember a time when I ever didn’t see it. Although my mother maintains I’ve watched Trek since I was three.

Cushman: It was The Devil in the Dark, when NBC repeated the episode during the summer of 1967. We couldn’t pick up the NBC affiliate out of Portland, Oregon, where I grew up on a farm, except in the summer months when it would fade in and out. All the other kids at school, and the teachers too, had been talking about Star Trek for six months. I was the only kid in my class who couldn’t watch it. And then, finally, Channel 8 out of Portland faded in on the night The Devil in the Dark had its repeat broadcast. The show seemed huge to me and my family; we’d never seen anything like it. And it seemed to be about something — it had feeling, and a message. It challenged us as most TV shows did not back in those days. My parents and sisters and I were immediately hooked! The first episode I saw in color was This Side of Paradise, also during that summer, while visiting a friend and watching it at his house with his family on their brand new RCA color TV. I had never imagined anything so vibrant looking.

Dochterman: My earliest recollections are seeing it on TV while my Grandfather watched it. I had no idea what it was, I was probably around four or five. When The Animated Series hit in ’73, and I was enthralled by it, I began to realize that it existed in a live action show, and that was what he had been watching years earlier. When the live action show was on every weekday in syndication, I couldn’t get enough, and I was recording episodes on my dad’s old reel-to-reel tape recorder. I do recall that I watched it in black-and-white for years and years, until we finally got a color TV around 1977. What a revelation to finally see it in full glorious color.

Fontana: If you are talking about the very first pilot (starring Jeffrey Hunter), I was on the production from the first day Gene Roddenberry began the script. It was shot at Desilu Culver City, and our offices were at Desilu Gower, so I didn’t get a chance to go down to see the shooting. I did see the pilot when it was finished and ready for NBC to see. I liked it overall — though, as we know, NBC ultimately claimed it was “too cerebral” and ordered a new take on it. I was closer to Where No Man Has Gone Before, as we had offices at Desilu Culver that time. (Gene Roddenberry was producing his pilot Police Story and a Western pilot for his friend, Sam Rolfe, in that same summer, so it was easier to have our production offices at the Culver lot.) I was able to go down to the set and to see some dailies and first cut to take notes for Roddenberry. I felt the new pilot moved faster and had more science fiction elements on the screen, but the characters came through well. William Shatner put more energy into our captain, and Mr. Spock had undergone some interesting changes (no more smiles!).  It was a good pilot — and that one convinced NBC we had a viable show. (Police Story and the Western did not sell.)

Gerani: I was there when the Salt Vampire started killing crewmen right and left.

Gerrold: 8:30 pm, September 8th, 1966.

Gross: It was during the second season in 1967. I was a little kid of seven in Brooklyn, New York, and my friends and I used to “play” Star Trek. I was Bones, and I specifically remember having a tiger water gun as my phaser and a binocular case as my tricorder.

Kraft: When Star Trek debuted in 1966, science fiction was a bit alien to me. I paid but causal attention to its potential as a vehicle for ideas and its allegorical and metaphorical implications. It was after I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 that I went back to fill in the gaps. The 1:00 am repeats on channel 5 in Bismarck, North Dakota, brought heavy eyelids with rich rewards. I really didn’t begin to grasp it all until the early 1980s.

Pilato: I am of the fortunate original watchers of the series when it initially aired on NBC, if when in its third and final season, when it was broadcast on Friday nights at 10:00 pm. But I remember it well… one episode from that season in particular. It was titled The Savage Curtain, in which Kirk and Spock meet up with Abraham Lincoln; or at least the alien illusion of what was presented as Lincoln. It was a fascinating episode to me, as Spock might say… because, for one, Lee Bergere was so perfect as Lincoln. This episode also did so well what Star Trek also did well with overall: the show always presented a tapestry of different worlds, even dimensions, connecting, through different perspectives, and yet somehow allowed the viewer to relate on a very real, and mainstream and unifying level.   

Snodgrass: First night the first episode aired. It was the one about the salt monster. When that ship sailed across our color TV (the first one on our block) I was lost. This is the world I had been dreaming about my entire life.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry

Coate: Where do you think Star Trek ranks among the all-time great TV shows?

Altman: The original Star Trek series is the best of the Star Trek shows which doesn’t negate the colossal achievement of The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, which are both remarkable television shows in their own right, but The Original Series is the DNA on which everything else was built and was so far and beyond any other series being produced in the era that you can’t not recognize the magnitude of its achievement. In the annals of television, it ranks right alongside such shows as The Twilight Zone, The Wire, Breaking Bad, The West Wing and Hill Street Blues as one of the best television shows ever made. 

Bond: I think the original series ranks among the best TV series of all time and I think the original series is the only one that was really on the cutting edge of quality television at the time. The other shows all had their strengths and I particularly enjoyed Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation, and both of those had some very strong seasons and episodes, but I think if you rank them against the best TV shows on the air when they were running, they were not quite up to the level of the best shows, but you could definitely put the best of the original series up against any dramatic TV show of the late 1960s. I think that gets lost in the fact that the original show was very much of its time and does some things you couldn’t get away with today from a cultural standpoint. It was both ahead of its time and at the same time somewhat hobbled by where society was in terms of sexism, etc., so now it’s common for people to look back on the original show as very primitive and kind of goofy because of the style, but you have to rank it against what was being done at the time.

Burnett: Television has finally surpassed the cinema in terms of a storytelling experience... but the original Star Trek changed the television medium forever... and I’d consider it just below The Twilight Zone as the most important television show of the 1960s. Where it ranks in terms of all television shows? With The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Walking Dead and Breaking Bad... who knows what history will say?

Cushman: I truly believe the original Star Trek is among the Top 10 best series ever made for television. We cannot, and should not, expect it to match the scope and production values of shows made today, with their greater budgets and the availability of CGI. Looked at in its time, Star Trek was state of the art and cutting edge in all ways. The thing that makes it timeless, and allows it to outrank so many series that have come along since, is the writing. The themes of those classic 79 episodes gave that series importance. Many series today merely attempt to entertain. Star Trek entertained us as well as enlightened us…. As far as the other Star Trek series are concerned, the first remains the best. From a writing perspective, those characters on the first series were far more interesting because they were flawed. All the best characters are. Spock’s inner-conflict alone outdoes all the others to come along since. And those flaws make the original series the best of all the Treks.

Dochterman: There is no question (or comparison for that matter) that Star Trek is one of the most widely known and honored shows in a crowd of widely known and honored shows. In terms of worldwide familiarity, instant recognition, and number of people who know who Kirk and Spock are, it’s at the top. I enjoy all of the spin off shows and movies to some extent. Certainly not equally, though. But for Trek in its purist form, un-diluted, not distracted by the need to have unrestricted mass appeal, there is only The Original Series. It is honest. It doesn’t try to be anything else but what it is: an entertainment rooted in cowboy shows, thrust into a hopeful future where people are still people, and the characters are worthy of emulating. These are people we could aspire to be like. They were the best at what they did, and no one thought that they needed to be made “more accessible” to people. They raised expectations. People were successful in Star Fleet because they earned it, not because they were lucky. (We saw at least a couple examples of poor unready characters who weren’t good enough to make the grade — Ben Finney in Court Martial or Robert Merrick in Bread and Circuses — they were not capable of achieving greatness, and they were pitied because of it.) This created more drama and gave viewers the feeling that you could do anything if you followed the lead of the main characters.

Fontana: In my opinion, Star Trek is in the top ten of all-time great TV shows. While it is a different kind of show (anthology/half hour/contemporary and futuristic in its episodes), Twilight Zone would probably be ranked up there too and possibly top the list for science fiction on TV. But for character strength and audience attraction, storytelling in a powerful continuing universe, and audience recognition — it has to be Star Trek.

Gerani: My four biggies are The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and The Prisoner. Although Star Trek: The Next Generation was more sophisticated than its predecessor, those original characters remain fresher and stronger. It was almost like Mister Roberts in space, but with action-adventure thrown in.

Gerrold: I think The Original Series has to be considered as important as I Love Lucy, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, and The West Wing — because watching those shows, you ended up feeling good about people. At our silliest, at our most courageous, even at our worst, we all have possibilities. Great entertainment transforms the audience — that’s what makes it great.

Gross: Maybe I’m biased because of my life-long love of Trek, but it’s pretty high up there, mostly because when the scripts work, they still manage to transcend time and illuminate who we are as a people. And the actors, led by Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley, absolutely sold the situations they found themselves in. I’d have to rank The Original Series at the top of the various series, with Deep Space Nine a close second.

Kraft: I would rank Star Trek among the top five best TV shows and The Original Series first among the Star Trek canon. Your first love is the one that makes the greatest impact because it introduces you to something new. The original series was my first love. Even though you feel great affection for the loves that follow, it can never be quite the same. It’s like a parent being asked which is his/her favorite child. You love them all, but maybe not in the same way. Star Trek: The Next Generation might be more complex in some ways and ranks a close second. Because of the Kirk, Spock and Bones dynamic, however, and the wonderful interplay among those three, I’d give the original series the edge.

Pilato: To me, Star Trek is definitely in the top of all-time favorite shows, joining series like The Twilight ZoneBewitchedKung FuFather Knows BestPerry MasonAll in the FamilyThe Andy Griffith ShowDr. KildareRoute 66, and The Defenders. I enjoy all the sequels, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation… and the first season of The Next Generation, in particular… because in many ways that first season was very similar to The Original Series in execution. I also enjoy Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That said, like all true Trekkers… who are concerned with the show’s philosophies, and Trekkies… who are into the costumes and make-up, etc… are looking forward to the new Star Trek: Discovery series, which hopefully will create new Trek-isms like the “Triad of Stability,” represented by William Shatner’s Captain Kirk; “Logic,” represented by Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock; and “Emotion,” represented by DeForest Kelley’s Dr. McCoy. The Discovery show will be a hit because of the key creative force behind the scenes, including Gene Roddenberry’s son, Rod Roddenberry, and Nicholas Meyer, who directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the best of the feature films. The Animated Series was a wonderful sequel to the original show, as it featured a reunion of the original cast, if only via voiceover. The Animated Series lasted only two seasons on NBC, the original network for the first series, which lasted three years. So, with those two shows combined, the initial “five year mission” of the original Enterprise crew was ultimately completed.

Snodgrass: I prefer the original show to all the rest of the shows and the movies. There were some dreadful episodes, but there were also brilliant thought provoking episodes.

The Guardian of Forever

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