Star Trek (The Original Series) Introduction

In 1964, visionary Gene Roddenberry pitched a new TV series to Desilu Studios.

Gene Roddenberry

Gene Roddenberry

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.

The Cage

The Cage, the original Star Trek pilot

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.


4 thoughts on “Star Trek (The Original Series) Introduction

  1. One minor correction to submit to this, Desilu never balked at the ST pitch. The first studio GR pitched was MGM (his prior show was produced there), and they turned it down. The first network pitched was CBS and they turned it down, becuase they had (ironically) just bought LIS.

    Desilu never balked, they were trying to buy new shows. In fact, ST owes its very existence to Lucille Ball, who was basically the exec in charge of Desilu at the time, and from what I have read, she personally approved the pilot.

    • Heh, blame that one on Wikipedia (that’s pretty much the way they said it happened). I probably could have done a bit deeper digging, but wasn’t trying to go into the full history of the show, mostly provide background.

  2. Now, an actual comment…

    One other interesting aspect of the TV situation at the time, was how less fragmented TV was in those days. There were only three broadcast networks (other than local VHFs and PBS). No cable, no satellite, etc. So you couldn’t expect to attract 1 million viewers and stay on the air. You had to basically grab around a third of the whole TV viewing audience (maybe 20 million or so) every week, just to be commercially viable. You really had to appeal to a broad audience.

    Plus, TV in those days was “appointment viewing.” As you said, with no VCRs, no DVRs, no network websites, if you missed an episode–you missed it. Networks didn’t rebroadcast recent episodes 4 or 5 times during the week like they do now.

    If you missed an episode, you had to wait until the summer reruns, and even then you took a chance, because they often pre-empted summer reruns with other things. In fact, if you missed an ep, it’s quite possible you might not see the episode for years, until the show went into syndication.

    Also, most families only had one TV. It was rare for kids to have a second TV in their bedroom. So families watched TV together, and it was usually what Dad wanted to watch. So if you were a kid, or a teenager, and wanted to watch ST, you had to convince your parents to watch it with you.

    So, it was just a completely different TV world from even what existed when TNG came along in the 80s.

    You have to take this into account when viewing the episodes, thinking about who they had to appeal to each week (and how many). Also, this explains why they never did multi-episode arcs. Even the one 2-parter (The Menagerie) was done just to save money (getting 2 episodes for the cost of 1), and to make use of all that footage from the now-useless first pilot.

    It was just too much to expect audiences to follow each episode in order(not to mention the fact that networks sometimes changed the broadcast order). Stand-alones made this much less of an issue, you could basically watch them in any order and it didn’t matter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s