Star Trek — the original science fiction series (TOS) — debuted on NBC on September 8, 1966. It ran for 79 episodes and three seasons, through June 3, 1969. But its influence would dwarf that modest beginning.
Star Trek would live on through four spin-off series (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Tret: Enterprise), an animated series, 13 feature films, and the phenomena of fan conventions (“Cons”).
Before there were Cons, there was fandom. And fanzines.
I was a fan.
One of those fans.
The ones who wrote letters protesting its rumored cancellation during the second season.
The network got over 100,000 pieces of mail, over 1 million signatures — and many signatures NBC could not disregard. (Roddenberry, 1968)
Unknown to me (or at least gone from my memory) were college student protests. Nor can I tell you how I learned about the cancellation and the address to mail a protest letter.
I will go to my grave remembering that I wrote a letter, however. And that early lesson in relying on sweeping generalizations to make an argument.
You see, I was writing my protest letter in study hall. I was not “studying”. Suddenly, I noticed that our teacher was headed my way, checking our work. He took my letter from my desk and began reading it out loud …
All of my friends watch Star Trek …
“I don’t watch Star Trek,” his voice boomed across the room.
“Am I not your friend?”
[Of course not, you bullying twit! I didn’t say that or even think it. I was simply mortified to be singled out in such a way.]
Gene Roddenberry used his screenwriting experience to position Star Trek as a western transported to the 23rd century. The production firm? Desilu, owned by husband and wife Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. CBS turned it down in favor of Lost In Space. (Irony alert: today CBS owns the Desilu library.)
The pilot, “The Cage“, was filmed in late 1964. NBC executives thought it was too cerebral and commissioned a second pilot starring William Shatner, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, before giving it a green light.
After season 1, NBC moved the one-hour show from Thursday nights to Friday nights, a move that Roddenberry protested. For season three, the network shifted the time from 8:30 pm to 10:00 pm on Friday nights: certainly a death knell for younger fans (bedtime curfew, even on weekends) and a series conflict with date night for college students.
Paramount Studios bought the series from Desilu and put Star Trek TOS into syndication. Reruns began fall 1969; by the late 1970s, the series aired in more than 100 domestic and 55 international markets. Syndication is what kept the series alive and helped it become a popular culture phenomena.
Even in 1972, fan letters continued to pour in — an average of 500 a week for a show in syndication!
Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), 1966 – 1969
Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), 1987 – 1994
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), 1993-1999
Star Trek: Voyager, 1995-2001
Star Trek: Enterprise, 2001-2005
Of course, there is an official YouTube channel.
And a Star Trek v Star Wars battle among fans. Some are quite talented!
Happy birthday, Star Trek! And thank you, Mr. Roddenberry.