Over 50 years after debuting, the seventh live action series in the franchise, Star Trek: Picard, is now streaming on CBS All Access.
Little did anyone know (myself included) the impact Star Trek would have in pop culture.
Launched on September 8, 1966, the original Star Trek aired on NBC at a time when there were only three broadcast networks, cable and digital streaming were non-existent, as was social media, and the idea of watching television outside of sitting in front of your TV set was…well…pretty out of space.
“I was proud of the work we did on the seven years on the series and the four movies that we made,” said Sir Patrick Stewart at the recent Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena. “The last one maybe had less impact than the others, and that brought the franchise to a close. But the context in which the work was done, the fact that we were then, as we are now, an ensemble, it has been far easier than I expected to make this transition nearly 20 years later.”
“As I look all around our world today, there has never been a more important moment when entertainment and show business can address some of the issues that are potentially damaging our world today,” he added. “I’m not saying we are turning Star Trek into a political show, not remotely. What we are making is entertainment, but that it should reflect perhaps in a subtle and gentle way the world that we are living in, is what ‘Star Trek” has always been.”
The origins of Star Trek
At the time of its debut, the top-rated show in all of primetime was western Bonanza. The regularly scheduled competition Star Trek faced was family friendly sitcoms The Tammy Grimes Show and Bewitched on ABC, and My Three Sons on CBS (leading into a movie). The lead-in program was western Daniel Boone. And the initial words, destined to become a piece of our TV and cultural history:
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
“The same season we premiered there was another new science fiction series, Time Tunnel, and Lost in Space was also fairly recent,” Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock, told me years ago in an interview for Mediaweek magazine. “But what set us apart was the characters, the nature of the positive storytelling and the situations we faced. While we did explore new worlds, there was something very comfortable and relatable in the type of social issues we delved into.”
“I recognized this was a breakthrough role, and series, due to the diversity of the characters, which was really unprecedented at the time” added George Takei, who played Sulu, the chief navigator. “But like anything else that dares to be different, fear of the familiar was not initially beneficial.”
While this initial journey on NBC was two years short of that five-year mission (the network canceled the original Star Trek in 1969), it was standing room only at a panel for both Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard at Comic Con 2019 in New York City. And there was a packed and ecstatic crowd at a theater in Hollywood last week for a preview of the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard.
Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard
At Comic Con in New York City, CBSN anchor and CBS News national correspondent Vladimir Duthiers and Sonequa Martin-Green (Commander Michael Burnham) introduced the season three Star Trek: Discovery trailer, which according to the press release “finds the U.S.S. Discovery crew dropping out of the wormhole and into an unknown future far from the home they once knew. Now living in a time filled with uncertainty, the U.S.S. Discovery crew, along with the help of some new friends, must together fight to regain a hopeful future.”
Featured at the Star Trek: Picard portion was a three-minute preview clip with several familiar Star Trek franchise faces, including Data (Brent Spiner), Picard’s android sidekick who was killed in the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis; Jeri Ryan as ex-Borg Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager; and Picard’s former first officer, William Riker (“Number One”), played by Jonathan Frakes.
Star Trek: Picard centers on the character Jean-Luc Picard at the end of the 24th century, 20 after the events of theatrical Star Trek: Nemesis. Patrick Stewart, of course, debuted in the role in first Star Trek spin-off series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which aired in syndication from 1987 to 1994.
“You know, I did not want to repeat what had already been done with this character,” said Patrick Stewart. “But there is so many stories to tell. And now, right here and at this very moment, I know I made the right decision.”
“I don’t think the fans would have appreciated a homecoming of the characters,” explained executive producer Heather Kadin said about the guest turns of these characters. “Patrick Stewart did not want it to be a ‘Next Generation’ reunion show. We only brought people back if their stories really mattered to the stories we were telling. We didn’t want it to be, ‘Oh, there’s Riker!’”
Star Trek: Picard, which has already been renewed for a second season, will feature 10 episodes in this first season.
Star Trek: Over the Years
Initially described as a combination of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, Star Trek is remembered amongst many other things for its progressive era civil rights stances (including the first interracial kiss on American television between William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk and Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura).
The show made statements, then unprecedented, about topics like sex, religion, the Vietnam War and politics. And it has been cited as an inspiration for several technological inventions (including the cell phone when Captain Kirk used his communicator).
NBC rejected the initial pilot of Star Trek, titled “The Cage,” which it considered too slow and too difficult to follow. But it had enough faith in the project to commission a second pilot called “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which now included William Shatner in his legendary role in place of Jeffrey Hunter as a captain named Christopher Pike.
Nichelle Nichols, who had planned to leave Star Trek after just one season to pursue a career on Broadway, recalled one fan in particular who quickly changed her mind at the 2010 Television Critics Association Press Tour.
“I was told someone wanted to meet me, so I assumed it was just another fan,” remembered Nichols. “And there he was…Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who referred to himself as the biggest ‘Trekkie’ of them all and asked if I understood what God had given me. You have the first important non-stereotypical role for a woman of color on television and you will open the doors, he said. You are changing the minds of people because, through you, we see ourselves and what can be. And you owe it to the community to stay on this show.”
Nichols, of course, did not exit. And, following Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation came Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise (initially just called Enterprise), Star Trek: Discovery and now Star Trek: Picard; 13 feature films; one animated series, museum exhibits, books, comic books, games, toys, DVDs, websites and jam-packed conventions.
Additionally, upcoming animated comedy series Lower Decks on CBS All Access will follow the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships” in 2380; and a new (and still untitled) animated Star Trek children’s series will air on Nickelodeon. The non-adult themed half-hour will follow a group of lawless teens that discover a derelict Starfleet ship and use it to search for adventure, meaning and salvation.
Just how big a fan of Star Trek are you?
Like any beloved television series, there are endless discussions of things you may or may not already know about the original series. Just to name a few…
1. The original Star Trek series never ranked higher than No. 52 for the season in primetime, according to the Nielsen ratings.
2. NBC moved Star Trek from Thursday to Friday (from 8:30-9:30 p.m. ET) in season two, but Jim Nabors as that bumbling competing private in The Andy Griffith Show spin-off Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. on CBS was the third highest rated series in that 1967-68 TV season. Not even Dr. Spock could compete with Gomer Pyle. Shazam!
3. Many of the outdoors sets from the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina on The Andy Griffith Show were used on Star Trek. For example, you can see Floyd’s Barber Shop in the background of scenes where Captain Kirk is walking along with guest star Joan Collins as Edith Keeler.
4. And, in a truly odd comparison to The Andy Griffith Show, the first choice to play Mr. Spock was, according to Leonard Nimoy, was George Lindsay (Goober). Lindsay joined the cast of The Andy Griffith Show in season four in 1964 and segued into spin-off Mayberry R.F.D. in 1968. Goober as Mr. Spock???
5. Three years after walking away from the role of Captain Christopher Pike on Star Trek, Jeffrey Hunter approached The Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz to play family patriarch Mike Brady, but Schwartz felt Hunter was too handsome to play a down-to-earth architect. Although Hunter was originally scheduled to appear in the second Star Trek pilot, he was more interested in pursuing movie roles and his asking price was too high. Sadly, Hunter passed away in 1969 at the age of 42.
6. Lloyd Bridges was originally approached to play Captain Pike, but he feared a science fiction series would hurt his career. Years earlier, from 1958 to 1961, Bridges headlined syndicated action adventure Sea Hunt as former United States Navy frogman Mike Nelson
7. Star Trek: The Animated Series, which aired on NBC Saturday mornings from 1973 to 1975 (and debuted on the same day as animated I Dream of Jeannie spinoff Jeannie), is technically the first Star Trek series to win an Emmy award. The episode titled “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” snagged the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Series in 1975. Parent Star Trek was nominated for 13 Emmys, but went home empty handed.
8. Star Trek: The Next Generation, which became the first show in syndication to ever be nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, had two offers to air on a broadcast network. CBS wanted to test the waters as a miniseries that would segue into a regularly scheduled series if popular enough. And Fox was interested in it to help launch the network, but it wanted TNG by March 1987 (Star Trek: TNG debuted on Sept. 28, 1987). Plus, the offer was only for 13 episodes (versus 26 that was guaranteed in syndication).
9. Terry Farrell is remembered for playing beloved Jadzia Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But also in contention for the role was Mariska Hargitay, who is now in season 21 as Detective Olivia Benson on NBC’s Law & Order: SVU (which has surpassed both Gunsmoke and parent Law & Order as the longest running regularly scheduled scripted drama in television history).
10. Star Trek: Voyager, the fourth of the now seven regularly scheduled Star Trek series, was featured in a two-hour debut on the first night of long-defunct broadcast network UPN. It roared out of the gate with 21.3 million viewers, which was both the most-watched episode for the seven-season series and, by far, the most-viewed entry of any series to ever air on UPN.
More than 50 years later, at a time of great uncertainty in broadcasting, where the rise of digital streaming is becoming more prominent each season, the one certain is Star Trek. “We understood that this was something special,” William Shatner told me. “Star Trek was — and is — an escape and an adventure…the unknown. There is a community spirit. And I imagine another 50 years from now Star Trek at 100 will have many more revivals under its belt. It will outlive us all!”
“There was actually nothing that strange to be stepping into Star Trek: Picard, because he’s never actually left me. He has always been there, and it’s a relationship that I am happy to continue with,” said Sir Patrick Stewart.
Marc Berman is the founder and Editor-in-Chief for Programming Insider. He also covers the broadcasting landscape, at present, for Forbes.com, Watch!, Newspro and C21 Media in London. His work has appeared in Campaign US, The New York Daily News, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times and Emmy Magazine, among other outlets.