Thursday 31 January 2013

Star Trek: Part One - The Sci Fi Classic


When one thinks of Science fiction, Star Trek is perhaps the most widely recognised show defining the genre. People who like Sci Fi usually love Star Trek, while those who don't like Sci Fi usually view the old series as being representative of the reasons why they don't like Sci Fi. But I'm not here to discuss them (lol) so lets get a few facts straight then into why I feel Star Trek is a Sci Fi Classic and the model representative of the genre.

Created by Gene Roddenberry in the mid 60s, Star Trek is the epitome of American science fiction entertainment franchise which began in 1966 with the television series Star Trek. Apparently (perhaps obviously) Gene Roddenberry was inspired by Westerns such as Wagon Train as well as the novel Gulliver's Travels when he created the first Star Trek. Craftily, while publicly marketing it as a Western in outer space (a so-called "Wagon Train to the Stars") allegedly he  told friends privately that he was modelling it on Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (intending each episode to act as a suspenseful adventure story and a morality tale.

What made Star Trek so ground breaking was the fact The Original Series addressed issues of the 1960s such as civil and women's rights, with the main ideology being that humanity had entered an age where material gain was no longer the driving force compelling the human race.

As a result, most of the common diseases and social ills plaguing humanity had been eliminated, and it's the idea we can as a species grow beyond our current tribulations and have a brighter future that made the show so popular (even if most of the younger viewers like myself in the 70s was drawn into it by the Western-esque elements and the ultimate cool guy ladies man... Captain Kirk)

Regardless, the themes of the show had an impact on our young minds (if even subconsciously) piquing our interest in science, engendering a better than average ability to grasp concepts like quantum physics, quantum mechanics, the space/time (or time/space) continuum, causality loops and parallel universes or alternate reality paradoxes. Such concepts that usually have non Science/Sci Fi audience members or Norms (nerd terminology for normal, non Nerd/Geek/Dork/Dweeb or genre loving people... fitting or no?) scratching their heads in mild confusion is generally easy for Sci Fi lovers (Star Trek fans in particular) to comprehend and in some/most cases foresee.

Regarding his creation, Roddenberry said "By creating a new world with new rules, he could make statements about race, sex, religion, war (Vietnam) politics, and intercontinental (nuclear) missiles. He also said "we were sending messages and fortunately they all got by the network." Gotta love Gene.

Locked In THE CAGE Of Network Control

Although he was not fully forthcoming to the networks, he intended the show to have a highly progressive political agenda that was reflective of the emerging counter-culture of the youth movement (maybe the reason the show got cancelled is because they finally caught on that he wanted Star Trek to show what humanity it might develop into, if only we could only learn from the lessons of the past) he created an extreme example in the Vulcans (the alien species with the closest relationship with humanity) who had overcome their own violent past by embracing logic and learning to control their emotions.

Being most specific about ending violence, Roddenberry gave Star Trek an anti-war message and depicted the United Federation of Planets as an ideal, optimistic version of the United Nations (his efforts were opposed because of concerns over marketability??? opposing Roddenberry's insistence that the Enterprise have a racially diverse crew)

The network rejected the show's first pilot, "The Cage", starring Jeffrey Hunter as Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike, but TV executives, still impressed with the Western in Space concept made the unusual decision to commission a second pilot: "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (the show's main theme) starring William Shatner as Captain James Tiberius Kirk (couldn't resist)

While the regular show initially enjoyed high ratings, the average rating of the show at the end of its first season dropped to 52nd (out of 94 programs) When the Network threatened to cancel the show during its second season, the show's fan base conducted an unprecedented letter-writing campaign, petitioning the network to keep the show on the air. The show was renewed (with a substantially reduced budget) and was moved from prime time to what's still regarded as the "Friday night death slot" (ie. Fringe)

In protest Roddenberry resigned from his role as producer and reduced his direct involvement in the molding process of Star Trek. Roddenberry did co-author two scripts of the third and final season, but despite the protests in the form of a renewed letter-writing campaign, the series was cancelled.


Paramount Studios smartly bought Desilu Productions (the company co-owned by husband and wife Desi Arnaz and Lucille Bal, holders of  Star Trek's production rights) who sold the syndication rights to Star Trek to help recoup the original series' production losses. The primary reason we fans have for the series' continued evolution? Reruns.

In the fall of 1969 and by the late 1970s the series aired in over 150 domestic and 60 international markets which helped Star Trek develop a cult following greater than its popularity during its original run. The series' new found success led to rumours of reviving the franchise.

Although short lived, the first post original series show Star Trek: The Animated Series was produced, It running for twenty-two, half-hour episodes over two seasons on Saturday mornings from 1973 to 1974. Roddenberry began developing a new series, Star Trek: Phase II, in May 1975 in response to the franchise's new found popularity, unfortunately work on the series ended when the proposed Paramount Television Service folded.


Following the success of the science fiction movies Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Paramount adapted the planned pilot episode of Phase II into the feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The film opened in North America on December 7, 1979, with mixed reviews from critics. Despite that fact, the motion picture revitalised the franchise with it's special effects (far better than the under budgeted TV series) and the reunion of the cast and the continued development of the well loved characters (Admiral Kirk, Spock's return to Star Fleet following a sojourn on Vulcan and a young new Captain of the Enterprise) Obviously, a feature film was what the fans craved.

The film earned $139 million worldwide (below expectations but enough for Paramount to create a sequel, which fans loved) Gene Roddenberry was forced to relinquish creative control of future sequels. The success of the critically acclaimed sequel, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (grossed less than the first movie) reversed the fortunes of the franchise with lower production costs making it net more profit.

Paramount produced six Star Trek feature films based on the original series, and in response to their popularity, the franchise returned to television with Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) in 1987, choosing to distribute it as a first-run syndication show rather than a network show. This post ended up being longer than anticipated, so in Part Two we'll take a look at the four spin offs, four TNG movies and the Star Trek movies for the 21st Century generation.

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