In 1964, visionary Gene Roddenberry pitched a new TV series to Desilu Studios.
OK, let’s back up for a moment. There are a lot of us who either weren’t around or weren’t old enough to understand the significance of this, especially considering what Star Trek was and what it became.
In 1964, America was still reeling from the assassination of JFK. In 1964, the first Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly lines. In 1964, Sean Connery started filming the first James Bond movie, Goldfinger. In 1964, “Louie Louie” was almost banned in the US for suspected obscene lyrics, the Beatles were still deeply immersed in their early pop roots, and the Rolling Stones released their first, eponymous album. And of course, the Civil Rights movement was still one of the hottest buttons you could push.
That’s just a taste of the social environment at the time Roddenberry was developing the Star Trek pilot. TV at the time was a completely different animal from what you find now. Not only was there no cable, the VCR was not available to the average consumer home. TV shows of the time ranged from soap operas to game shows to Westerns and episodic horror shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
And if you think about it, it’s those last couple of items that helped pave the way for Star Trek. You can find many similarities between TOS episodes and Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, and Roddenberry himself stated that he was inspired by Westerns. He even pitched Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the stars” (Wagon Train being a popular Western TV show of the time).
So where was Science Fiction on TV? Aside from a few episodes of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, not really anywhere.
Even Lost In Space didn’t air until 1965. So when Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek in 1964, there really wasn’t anything quite like it. And that’s probably one reason that Desilu Studios balked at the pitch and turned it down.
For most TV shows, especially with only a few networks to go to, that would be the end of it. But that was not to be the case for Star Trek. Though the original pilot was shot down, NBC executives liked the concept and, astoundingly, asked for a second pilot. Roddenberry obliged, and this second pilot was picked up. And so it was that in September of 1966, Star Trek made its debut on American TV.
The rest is history.