Star Trek Part 1: The History

Star Trek, the uplifting, sometimes dark universe of humanity’s future, turns 45 this year. Through five live action series, an animated series, and eleven, soon twelve, movies totaling approximately 715 hours over 726 television episodes in 29 television seasons (or 30 if you count Deep Space Nine and Voyager’s half seasons as full), 20 hours to date on the big screen and hundreds of book and comic book adaptations, Star Trek has held the imaginations of several generations of American and international audiences.

The story of Star Trek starts in 1964 when Gene Roddenberry pitched an idea for a television series billed as “a Wagon Train to the stars” to Desilu Studios. A pilot, “The Cage",” was commissioned and presented to NBC. The network turned down the show as “too cerebral.” Desilu and NBC then commissioned a second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” that was picked up by the network. Star Trek, thus, began its first broadcast run on September 8, 1966 and introduce us to Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhuru, Chekov, Sulu, Klingons, Romulans, and tribbles. This first series would run for three years and 79 episodes including a two part episode, “The Menagerie,” produced from parts of the first pilot, interspersed and bookended by the characters and situations of the then current incarnation. The first series ended with the episode, “Turnabout Intruder", on June 3, 1969 and introduced such phrases as “Beam me up.” and “I’m a doctor, not a….(insert another profession here)” into the social lexicon.

In 1970 the series went into syndication in an attempt to recoup losses incurred by Desilu and Paramount in the original production. This had the effect of reenergizing and expanding the fan base, resulting in the creation and airing of Star Trek: The Animated Series beginning on September 8, 1973 with “Beyond the Farthest Star” and ending with “The Counter-Clock Incident” on October 12, 1974 totaling 22 episodes. Though not considered official canon by Paramount, several elements of the series have been included in subsequent series and movies including: Spock’s mother’s maiden name, Captain Kirk’s middle name, the kahs-wan ritual Spock endures as a child and references to the Edosians in Star Trek: Enterprise. Regarding the canon issue, David Gerrold, who contributed two stories to the series, has said:

“Arguments about "canon" are silly. I always felt that Star Trek Animated was part of Star Trek because Gene Roddenberry accepted the paycheck for it and put his name on the credits. And DC Fontana—and all the other writers involved—busted their butts to make it the best Star Trek they could. But this whole business of "canon" really originated with Gene’s errand boy. Gene liked giving people titles instead of raises, so the errand boy got named "archivist" and apparently it went to his head. Gene handed him the responsibility of answering all fan questions, silly or otherwise, and he apparently let that go to his head.”

It would be five more years before another installment of Star Trek would appear. During that time Paramount and Roddenberry would begin work on a new series tentatively titled Star Trek: Phase II. Also during this lull, NASA had completed the first reusable space vehicle and had decided to name it Constitution, but due to a letter writing campaign by fans of the series to then President Gerald Ford, he overrode NASA officials and renamed the orbiter Enterprise. Several books were also released detailing continuing adventures of the crew during this time.

Due to the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Paramount asked Roddenberry to rework the concept of Star Trek: Phase II into a feature length motion picture. This reworking became what is now known as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While not immensely profitable, this movie spawned 6 sequels based on the original crew: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The last two of these films being released during the run of the second live action series. It was around the release of The Voyage Home that studio executives began referring to Star Trek as “the Franchise” owing to its longevity and continued popularity.

In late 1986 it was announced that a new series would air in the fall of 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show was set 100 years later than the original Star Trek. The first of 178 episodes, “Encounter at Farpoint” aired in syndication on September 28, 1987 to high ratings. The series concluded with a two hour finale, “All Good Things…” on May 23, 1994. During it’s run The Next Generation was consistently one of the highest rated or the #1 rated syndicated program, besting even Wheel of Fortune, Cheers, and L.A. Law.

Conceived shortly before Roddenberry’s death on October 24, 1991, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered on January 3, 1993 with the episode “The Emissary, Part I”. Set on an abandoned Cardassian space station, known as Terok Nor, the first season ran concurrently with Star Trek: The Next Generation. The series concluded on June 2, 1999 with the episode “What You Leave Behind” and spanned a total of 176 episodes.

During the run of Deep Space Nine Paramount produced three movies based on The Next Generation: Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, and Star Trek: Insurrection. During this time numbering of the films came to an end and became consistent with the series’ names. Star Trek: Nemesis was released in 2002 during the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

In 1995 Paramount launched the United Paramount Network.  Its flagship and second longest running show, Star Trek: Voyager, premiered on January 16, 1995 with the episode “Caretaker.” Voyager was the first show to air on the network and continued for a total of 172 episodes concluding in a 2 hour finale, “Endgame,” on May 23, 2001.  The series ran 4 years concurrently with Deep Space Nine.

On September 26, 2001, Enterprise premiered with the episode “Broken Bow.”  Enterprise was a prequel to the previous series and movies, providing a backstory for the creation of the United Federation of Planets and Starfleet.  The series never achieved the stellar (no pun intended) ratings that some of the previous series had and was cancelled by UPN on February 2, 2005.  The final episode, “These are the Voyages…” aired on May 13, 2005 ending an 18 year continuous run of Star Trek related series being broadcast on television.

In 2005, efforts were underway to produce an 11th Star Trek film, but it would be 4 years before this was a reality.  On May 9, 2009 the film Star Trek hit movies screens in the United States. The movie is a complete reboot of the franchise with an alternate timeline that allows a retelling of the story of the Enterprise and its crew.  After it’s run the film is the highest grossing film in franchise history and has spawned at least one sequel to be released in 2012.

The Star Trek franchise has been a profitable one for Paramount over the years.  In adjusted 2011 dollars, the films have earned a whopping $1.4 billion and a 2006 estimate by CNBC pegged the franchise value at $4 billion which includes merchandising, book tie-ins, etc.’s 10 Biggest Franchises says it best:

“In a lot of ways, Star Trek should be number one on this list. 11 movies is impressive enough, but add four (sic 5) TV series, an animated cartoon and God knows how many novels and comics to the list, and it stands in a class by itself. Only Batman can match it for sheer pop culture output, and with the JJ Abrams reboot, it shows no sign of stopping. Quality is a bit more of mixed bag, but when Trek hits its stride, it’s truly a thing of beauty.”

This alone says a lot. 

Who would have thought in 1965 that what appeared to be just another science fiction series would turn out to be a multi-billion dollar operation that continues to inspire millions and make money? Maybe Lucille Ball who greenlighted the project at Desilu, maybe Roddenberry himself, but probably no one else.  We may never know the answer to that question, but the fact is that Star Trek endures and continues to confound the naysayers.

This series continues in Star Trek Part 2: Cultural and Technological Influences.


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