the premiere of Star Trek on NBC in September 1966, few could
have imagined that this ambitious yet often uneven science-fiction
series would go on to become one of the most actively celebrated
and financially lucrative narrative franchises in television history.
Although the original series enjoyed only a modest run of three
season and 79 episodes, the story world created by that series eventually
led to a library of popular novelizations and comic books, a cycle
of motion-pictures, an international fan community, and a number
of spin-off series that made the Star Trek universe a bedrock
property for Paramount Studios in the 1980s and 1990s.
Trek followed the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise,
a flagship in a 23rd-Century interplanetary alliance known as "the
Federation." The ship's five year mission was "to seek out new life
and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before,"
a mandate that series creator and philosophical wellspring Gene
Roddenberry described as "Wagon Train in space." Each episode
brought the crew of the Enterprise in contact with new alien races
or baffling wonders of the universe. When not exploring the galaxy,
the crew of the Enterprise often scrapped with the two main threats
to the Federation's benevolent democratization of space, the Hun-like
Klingons and the more cerebral yet equally menacing Romulans.
program's main protagonists, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner),
Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelly)
remain three of the most familiar (and most parodied) characters
in television memory. As commander of the Enterprise, the
hyper-masculine Kirk engaged in equal amounts of fisticuffs and
intergalactic romance, and was known for his nerves of steel in
negotiating the difficulties and dangers presented by the ship's
mission. McCoy was the ship's cantankerous chief medical officer
who, when not saving patients, gave the other two leads frequent
personal and professional advice. Perhaps most complex and popular
of the characters was Spock. Half-human and half-Vulcan, Spock struggled
to maintain the absolute emotional control demanded by his Vulcan
heritage, and yet occasionally fell prey to the foibles of a more
human existence. In addition to the three leads, Star Trek featured
a stable of secondary characters who also became central to the
show's identity. These included the ship's chief engineer, Scotty
(James Doohan), and an ethnically diverse supporting cast featuring
Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Chekov (Walter Koening), Sulu (George
Takei), Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney), and Nurse Chapel (Majel
for the original series varied greatly in quality, ranging from
the literate time-travel tragedy of Harlan Ellison's "City on the
Edge of Forever" and the Sophoclean conflict of Theodore Sturgeon's
"Amok Time," to less inspired stock adventure plots, such as Kirk's
battle to the death with a giant lizard creature in "Arena." With
varying degree of success, many episodes addressed the social and
political climate of late-sixties America, including the Vietnam
allegory, "A Private Little War," a rather heavy-handed treatment
of racism in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," an even an encounter
with space hippies in "The Way to Eden."
threatened to cancel Star Trek after its second season, but persuaded
in some degree by a large letter-writing campaign by fans to save
the show, the network picked up the series for a third and final
year. Canceled in 1969, Star Trek went on to a new life in
syndication where it found an even larger audience and quickly became
a major phenomenon within popular culture. Beginning with a network
of memorabilia collectors, fans of the show became increasingly
organized, gathering at Star Trek conventions to trade merchandise,
meet stars from the show, and watch old episodes. Such fans came
to be known as "trekkies," and were noted (and often ridiculed)
for their extreme devotion to the show and their encyclopedic knowledge
of every episode. Through this explosion of interest, many elements
of the Star Trek universe made their way into the larger
lexicon of popular culture, including the oft heard line, "Beam
me up, Scotty" (a reference to the ship's teleportation device),
as well as Spock's signature commentary on the "illogic" of human
culture. Along with Spock's distinctively pointed ears, other aspects
of Vulcan culture also became widely popularized as television lore,
including the Vulcan "mind-meld" and the Vulcan salute, "live long
As "trekkie" culture continued to grow around the show during the
seventies, a central topic of conversation among fans concerned
rumors that the series might one day return to the airwaves. There
was talk that the series might return with the original cast, with
a new cast, or in a new sequel format. Such rumors were often fueled
by a general sense among fans that the show had been unjustly canceled
in the first place, and thus deserved a second run. Initially, Paramount
did not seem convinced of the commercial potential of resurrecting
the story world in any form, but by the late seventies, the studio
announced that a motion picture version of the series featuring
the original cast was under development. Star Trek: The Motion
Picture premiered in 1979, and though it was a very clumsy translation
of the series into the language of big-budget, big-screen science-fiction,
it proved to be such a hit that Paramount developed a chain of sequels,
including Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), Star
Trek III: The Search of Spock (1984), and Star Trek IV: The
Voyage Home (1986).
By the mid-1980s, the Star Trek mythos had proven so commercially
viable that Paramount announced plans for a new Star Trek series
for television. Once again supervised by Roddenberry, Star Trek:
The Next Generation debuted in first-run syndication in 1987
and went on to become one of the highest rated syndicated shows
in history. Set in the 24th century, this series followed the adventures
of a new crew on a new Enterprise (earlier versions of the ship
having been destroyed in the movie series). The series was extremely
successful at establishing a new story world that still maintained
a continuity with the premise, spirit, and history of the original
series. On the new Enterprise, the command functions were
divided between a more cultured Captain, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick
Stewart), and his younger, more headstrong "number one," Commander
William Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Spock's character functions were
distributed across a number of new crew members, including ship's
counselor and Betazoid telepath, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), the
highly advanced android, Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), who
provided the show with "logical" commentary as ironic counter-point
to the peculiarities of human culture, and finally, Lieutenant Worf
(Michael Dorn), a Klingon raised by a human family who struggled
to reconcile his warrior heritage with the demands of the Federation.
Other important characters included Lt. Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton),
the ship's blind engineer whose "vision" was processed by a high-tech
visor, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), the ship's medical
officer and implicit romantic foil for Picard, and Wesley Crusher
(Wil Wheaton), the doctor's precocious son.
for 178 episodes, Star Trek: The Next Generation was able
to develop its characters and storylines in much more detail than
the original series. As with many other hour-long dramas its era,
the series abandoned a wholly episodic format in favor of more serialized
narratives that better showcased the expanded ensemble cast. Continuing
over the run of the series were recurring encounters with Q, a seemingly
omnipotent yet extremely petulant entity, the Borg, a menacing race
of mechanized beings, and Lars, Data's "evil" android brother. Other
continuing stories included intrigue and civil war in the Klingon
empire, Data's ongoing quest to become more fully human, and often
volatile political difficulties with the Romulans. This change in
the narrative structure of the series from wholly episodic to a
more serialized form can be attributed in some part to the activities
of the original series' enormous fan following. A central part of
fan culture in the 1970s and 1980s involved fans writing their own
Star Trek based stories, often filling in blanks left by
the original series and elaborating incidents only briefly mentioned
in a given episode. Star Trek: The Next Generation greatly
expanded the potential for such creative elaboration by presenting
a more complex storyworld, one that actively encouraged the audience
to think of the series as a foundation for imagining a larger textual
Star Trek: The Next Generation
the show's continuing success, Paramount canceled Star Trek:
The Next Generation after seven seasons to turn the series into
a film property and make room for new television spin-offs, thus
beginning a careful orchestration of the studio's Star Trek
interests in both film and television. The cast of the original
series returned to the theater for Star Treks 5 and 6,
leading finally to Star Trek: Generations, in which the original
cast turned over the cinematic baton to the crew of Next Generation.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered in January of 1993 as
the eventual replacement for Next Generation on television.
In contrast to the usually optimistic and highly mobile structure
of the first two series, Deep Space Nine was a much more
claustrophobic reading of the Star Trek universe. Set aboard
an aging space-station in orbit around a recently liberated planet,
Bajor, the series generated its storylines from the aftermath of
the war over Bajor and from a nearby "wormhole" that brought diverse
travelers to the station from across the galaxy.
to compete with Fox and Warner Brothers in creating new broadcast
networks, Paramount developed a fourth Star Trek series as
the anchor for their United Paramount Network. Star Trek: Voyager
inaugurated UPN in January 1995, serving as he network's first
broadcast. Responding perhaps to the stagebound qualities and tepid
reception of Deep Space Nine, Voyager opted for a
premise that maximized the crew's ability to travel and encounter
new adventures. Stranded in a distant part of the galaxy after a
freak plasma storm, the U.S.S. Voyager finds itself seventy-five
years away from earth and faced with the arduous mission of returning
Deep Space Nine and Voyager attracted the core fans
of Star Trek, as expected, but neither series was as popular
with the public at large as the programs they were designed to replace.
Despite this, at century's end, there would seem to be every indication
that the world of Star Trek will survive into the new millennium.
Captain James T. Kirk ...........................William
Mr. Spock.............................................. Leonard
Dr. Leonard McCoy ...............................DeForest
Yeoman Janice Rand (1966-1967)..... Grace Lee Whitney
Engineer Montgomery Scott..................... James Doohan
Nurse Christine Chapel............................... Majel
Ensign Pavel Chekov (1967-1969)............. Walter Koenig
Gene Roddenberry, John Meredyth Lucas, Gene L. Coon, Fred Freiberger
HISTORY 79 Episodes
September 1966-August 1967 Thursday
September 1967-August 1968 Friday
September 1968-April 1969 Friday
June 1969-September 1969
David, and Ray Bradbury. Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography
of Gene Roddenberry. New York: Roc, 1994.
Allan. The Star Trek Compendium. New York: Pocket, 1989.
J. M., and Susan Sackett. Star Trek, Where No One Has Gone Before:
A History in Pictures. New York: Pocket, 1994.
David. The World of Star Trek. New York, Ballantine, 1974.
Susan R. Star Trek: An Annotated Guide to Resources On The Development,
The Phenomenon, The People, The Television Series, The Films, The
Novels, and The Recordings. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland,
Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture.
New York: Routledge, 1992.
Larry. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion. New
York: Pocket, 1992.
Michael, Denise Okuda, Debbie Mirek, and Doug Drexler. The Star
Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to The Future. New York:
William, with Chris Kreski. Star Trek Memories. New York:
Harper Collins, 1993.
Bjo. The Star Trek Concordance. New York: Ballantine, 1976.
John, and Jenkins, Henry. Science Fiction Audiences: Watching
Doctor Who and Star Trek. London; New York: Routledge, 1995.
Hise, James, and Hal Schuster. Trek, The Unauthorized Story Of
The Movies. Las Vegas, Nevada: Pioneer Books, 1995.
Stephen E., and Gene Roddenberry. The Making Of Star Trek.
New York, Ballantine, 1968.