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To Boldly Go: A Short History of Star Trek on TV

The Star Trek series is one of the longest-running stories on TV, with quite a few major jaunts to the silver screen as well. Let's see the numbers: if we don't count the "rebooted" J. J. Abrams timeline, Star Trek has produced five live-action series, one animated serial, and ten feature films, and has created one of the most extensive and devoted fandoms in movie history. A total of more than 700 episodes of various Star Trek series have aired in more than 30 seasons between 1966 and 2005. This makes Star Trek the longest-running science fiction show in history, even if we don't count Star Trek: Discovery. So, let us take a walk down memory lane and look at the ups and downs in the series' history.

1966 - To boldly go

Gene Roddenberry first pitched the idea of Star Trek to Desilu Productions in early 1964, describing it as a series similar to "Wagon Train" but set in space. The idea turned into the pilot episode "The Cage" for the NBC, featuring Jeffrey Hunter as Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike. While the episode was rejected, the NBC was impressed by the idea and ordered a second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", was produced. It was the first episode to feature the well-known crew of the Enterprise: William Shatner as James T. Kirk, James Doohan as Scotty, and George Takei as Hikaru Sulu (the ship's physicist, later "advanced" to the post of a helmsman). This second pilot introduced the classic opening voice-over, too.

NBC accepted the second pilot in February 1966 and aired it on September 22, 1966. The series debuted with "The Man Trap", the first regular episode of the series, on September 8, 1966, ran for 79 episodes before being suspended three years later. Reruns of the show were constantly on air between the fall of 1969, due to the growing interest in sci-fi thanks to the Moon landing, and aired in more than 210 markets until the late 1970s.

1973 - Trek animated

The interest in Star Trek was limited during its original run but the series developed a cult following later, leading to the first Star Trek convention in 1972. Seeing the interest in the series growing, Paramount, along with Filmation, produced the first continuation to the series in an animated form. Star Trek: The Animated Series ran for two seasons, airing a total of 22 half-hour episodes, winning an Emmy for being "The Best Series".

At the same time, Paramount Pictures and Gene Roddenberry started to work on a new series known as "Star Trek: Phase Two", part of which became the basis for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979. The success of the feature film spawned a three-part sequel (The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home) before the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

1987 - Trek Reborn

Star Trek: The Next Generation starts 100 years after the start of the five-year mission mentioned at the beginning of the original series, and takes place on board the fifth starship bearing the Enterprise name (NCC-1701-D). During its seven-year run, the series collected 19 Emmy Awards, two Hugo Awards, five Saturn Awards, a Peabody Award, and a nomination for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. It spawned two spinoffs (Deep Space Nine, 1993-1999, and Voyager, 1995-2001) and two prequels, Enterprise (2001-2005) and this year's Discovery. Besides, it served as a basis for four feature films before the franchise going silent in 2005.

2009 - A different history

In 2009, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman together with director J. J. Abrams released a brand new feature film, rebooting the series with a brand new timeline. This time, the events in the Star Trek universe took a different turn compared to the "canon" timeline due to the involvement of a time-traveling Romulan spacecraft that destroys planet Vulcan. The film was nominated for four Oscars, winning Best Makeup - the first Oscar won by a Star Trek movie. It was followed by two sequels so far.

Star Trek: Discovery, the brand new series from the Trek universe, takes place about a decade prior to the events in The Original Series. The style of the series was updated but its spirit has remained the same.


© David Nusair