Star Trek first aired on this date, September 8, 1966. That makes one of the best loved franchises in the world 49 years old.
NBC selected Man Trap, by George Clayton Johnson, as the first episode to be aired, because it best lived up to the thematic “strange new worlds” concept that would define the show for the next three years. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelly, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nicholes and Walter Koenig as the crew of the starship Enterprise, the landmark show defined science fiction in media for generations to come. The scripts were frequently written by significant science fiction writers, or writers who became significant in part due to their participation in Star Trek. The history of Trek is decorated with the names of people like David Gerrold, Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison, and Jerome Bixby.
Here are some of the promos NBC broadcast for the original series that ran from 1966 through 1967. As always, make sure you pause the Krypton Radio stream using the handy controller in the upper right before hitting play. This will take care of that annoying “dueling soundtracks” problem. You can resume the stream playback once you’re finished watching the video.
The popularity of the show has been as much a problem for Paramount Pictures and CBS Television as it has been a boon. While it remains one of the most powerful revenue streams either organization has, when something like Star Trek becomes this popular it begins to take on a life of its own. The fans have such a strong emotional buy-in that they become impatient for the studios to create new television series or movies, so they create their own.
Paramount tried squashing Star Trek web sites in the 90’s in an effort to regain complete control over the franchise, but instead of success, they discovered they were playing a very expensive game of whack-a-mole, with the fans creating new sites faster than they could order existing ones closed. This seriously damaged their relationship with the fan base that had made the Star Trek franchise great in the first place, so they had to back away from the idea of attacking the fans for being fans and doing fannish things. They watch productions like Star Trek Continues, Star Trek: Renegades and Axanar very carefully, to make sure none of these productions is making a profit using trademarks the various fan productions don’t actually own, but at a certain point it becomes problematic. When the original actors, writers and technicians from the original series themselves become involved, the dividing line between amateur and professional production becomes blurred, and Paramount and CBS are at risk of losing creative control over their own properties.
Rescued in its third year by a massive grass roots write-in campaign led by John & Bjo Trimble, Star Trek was the inspiration to tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, writers, motion picture effects artists, and millions of fans all over the world. It showed a future defined not by dystopia, but by hope. It also provided a template for inventors in dozens of fields, giving them a sort of guidebook on how to invent the future. We reap the benefits of that inspiration today in the form of tablet computers, cell phones, medical technology, artificial intelligence and robotics research, machine-aided language translation and many other amazing creations. Many of the devices spawned real world technologies which, quixotically, enabled the creation of fully functional Star Trek props and devices in the real world.
Next year is the big one: the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek. To commemorate it, Paramount is working on a new film called Star Trek: Beyond, meant for a July 8 release in 2016. Everything is still in flux, of course, but Simon Pegg, who is co-writing the script, has promised us that the newest film in the series of reboots that began in 2009 will be a heartfelt homage to the spirit and soul of the original series.
Gene Roddenberry would be pleased to learn of the lasting legacy he had created. Star Trek endures as a central, defining concept in science fiction media, and quite literally changed the world for the better.