Our ongoing look back at many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy television.
What Is It? Not that this show needs an introduction, but this classic space travel series followed the crew of the USS Enterprise on their five year mission to explore new worlds, make contact with alien civilizations, and also patrol the area of the galaxy that is governed by the United Federation of Planets.
When Did It Air? NBC, 1966-69, 3 Seasons Totaling 79 Episodes (Plus the Pilot)
Staring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig
Created By: Gene Roddenberry
Is It Must Watch Sci Fi TV? Absolutely. This show set the bar for intelligent sci fi on television as well as space-based series and other shows are still trying to match up to its quality fifty years later.
The Skinny: As the original Trek debuted fifty years ago today, it only seems appropriate to add this to our ongoing Classic Sci Fi TV series of posts. Gene Roddenberry had high ambitions for Star Trek when it first hit the small screen back in the sixties, and it more than lived up to many of those through its three year run. Taking on a format that borrowed from the earlier juvenile space operas like Captain Video and Space Patrol (more on the latter show at this link) as well as 1956’s Forbidden Planet (seriously, that movie plays just like a classic ep of Trek), it moved sci fi into a more adult realm on television while never losing the sense of wonder that appeals to the kid in all of us. Sure, it seems rather cheesy and even camp at times by today’s standards, but it was actually a pretty impressive production for its day. And Roddenberry along the production staff he assembled placed so much emphasis on telling a good story (in one episode, mind you, not an ongoing arc) that the show manages to transcend its budget limitations and still stand up fairly well to a modern day viewing. Yes, by the Trek‘s third season the quality had slipped notably, but the first two years that the show was on the air delivered some of the best and most influential episodes of any science fiction program that has been on television. The fact that it has since generated five sequel series (including the animated version) with another on the way as well as thirteen feature films attests to that. Plus, the characters from the show have since become icons, not just for the sci fi community, but for pop culture in general. The show’s legacy speaks for itself and, along with other import sixties entries The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, Trek helped the genre grow up on television and established a bar that has been hard to match in the many years since it debuted.
Cancelled Too Soon? Perhaps. If it had been cancelled in its second season, then almost certainly because the syndication market may not have had as much interest in the show and that is where it turned into a phenomenon. But considering the poor quality of much of the show’s third season, would a fourth year have seen it descend into levels of camp absurdity achieved by Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and tarnished its reputation? Many of us long-time fans of the show would love to have more adventures of the original crew, but perhaps this one ended its run at just the right time.
Essential Episodes: I would say that pretty much all of Season 1 and 2 are essential, but Hollywood Reporter put together a decent ranking of the show’s episodes that could act as a guide to new viewers.
Interesting Fact: William Shatner and James Doohan had previously traveled into space together on television as they both appeared on the Canadian kiddie space opera Space Command back in the early fifties. You can read more about that at this link.
Further Reading: Marc Cushman’s excellent series of books These Are the Voyages cover the show episode by episode including tons of behind the scenes information. These are highly recommended for all fans of the original series.
Buy Star Trek on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon.com: