44 years ago this week, a group of characters who wouldn’t exist for another couple of centuries, were first born.
To the joy of nerds everywhere (like me), Star Trek made its first appearance on network television on September 8, 1966. The original series followed the crew of the Starship Enterprise of the United Federation of Planets. It was developed by Gene Roddenberry and starred William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, James Doohan as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, George Takai as Sulu, and Walter Koenig as Pavel Checkov.
Roddenberry was able to sell the series as an “outer-space Western,” but he intended the underlying theme of the show to be a forum for progressive political ideals that were rarely touched on in 1960s television. An example of this is the “Prime Directive” – a regulation which prevents Federation officers from interfering in the healthy development of alien cultures – which was a cloaked swipe at the U.S. government, which was involved in a war in Southeast Asia at the time. The multi-racial crew was unheard-of, and the series even featured the first interracial kiss on an American television series between Kirk and Uhura in the 1968 episode entitled “Plato’s Stepchildren.” (To be technical about it, Kirk actually kissed a Vietnamese-French actress earlier that same season who was playing a female alien.)
To say the show was an immediate hit would be a stretch. It was only spared cancellation during its second season by a huge letter-writing campaign that postponed its demise for another year. The show’s “five-year mission” ended after only three seasons in June 1969, just six weeks before the Apollo landing on the moon. It was immediately put into syndication, and quickly became a cult favorite.
Star Trek developed into an entire industry for Paramount Pictures, spawning eleven feature films and five follow-up television series, the largest number of spin-offs in history. The final series, Star Trek: Enterprise, went off the air in 2005. The franchise went briefly into hibernation until being “rebooted” in last year’s Star Trek, a “prequel with a twist,” in which the genesis of the original story was able to be rewritten due to a disruption in the space-time continuum.
No one would have believed it in 1966, but the way things are going, it appears that Star Trek – in one fashion or another – will still be around on March 22, 2228, when James T. Kirk is scheduled to be born in Riverside, Iowa.
Tomorrow we will explore Vasquez Rocks, a frequent location for Star Trek filming.