Fasten your seat belts, you can expect a wild ride starting this September and rolling on to the following September as Star Trek fans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the original “Star Trek” television series. The first episode broadcast was on September 8, 1966. It was “The Man Trap,” written by George Clayton Johnson, known for his iconic episodes on “The Twilight Zone.” If you are looking for a true guidebook not only to the Star Trek phenomena, but also to a deeper understanding of the dynamics to the show, then you’ll want to seek out “Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures,” published by Rowman & Littlefield, edited by Douglas Brode and Shea T. Brode.
“Wagon Train,” first aired in 1957, became such a hit on TV that it symbolized the popular Western of the small screen. By 1962, NBC, sensitive to new trends, cancelled the show, still number one in the Nielsen ratings. Gene Roddenberry, a promising new writer, pitched the future to NBC: “Star Trek, a Wagon Train to the stars!” Old frontier meets new frontier! Space cowboys! The Final Frontier! It was the space age ahead: JFK’s promise of a man on the moon before the end of the decade! And so NBC could hardly resist, although Star Trek would endure a bumpy existence during its three season run.
Only in retrospect, would Star Trek gain the recognition it richly deserved. Douglas Brode kicks off the recurring themes in the book in the introduction. Brode dissects the creative connective tissue running throughout Star Trek: 1956’s sci-fi classic movie, “Forbidden Planet” and its connection to The Twilight Zone and so on. Star Trek is forever appealing because of its idealism and optimism. That is clearly demonstrated in this insightful collection of essays. The Wild West gives way to the Space Age while, at the same time, the old frontier is consistently subverted, deconstructed, and used as metaphor.
In H. Bruce Fanklin’s essay, “Of Television in the 1960s,” we follow the evolution of Star Trek’s reaction to the Vietnam War. In two episodes, there are stories that suggest the war could be a necessary evil. However, once the war proves futile, there are two episodes that suggest the fatal consequences of a quagmire. An emboldened anti-war sentiment is clear in the episode, “The Omega Glory” (March 1, 1968). Kirk and his crew observe a planet that has been ravaged by war between the Kohms and the Yangs. Closer observation reveals that the Yangs, now reduced to savages, are actually Yanks, from a parallel Earth, losers in a war with no victors.
In John Wills’s essay, “Wagon Trains to the Stars,” we focus on the fantasy of the Hollywood Western in contrast to reality. In the episode, “Spectre of the Gun” (October 25, 1968), Kirk and his crew will only survive a reenactment of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral once they accept it is artifice. In the episode, “The Paradise Syndrome” (October 4, 1968), we see the problems with stereotypes inherent in the standard Western fantasy. All things considered, one has to wonder if NBC would have gone along with the more ambitious and unconventional content on the show had it known that when the first pitch was made that Star Trek was to be a “Wagon Train to the stars.”
As I say, Star Trek is hitting the Big 5-0. You can expect more about Star Trek coming to you from various directions. CBS is launching a totally new Star Trek television series in January 2017! There will be numerous seminars and celebrations in 2016 and 2017. For example, CBS Consumer Products announced a global Star Trek speaker series in celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary, Trek Talks. Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle has an exhibit, “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds,” on the Star Trek phenomenon, its enduring impact on our culture, and how Star Trek has inspired people to imagine, explore, and create.
“Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures,” is a 236-page hardcover published by Rowman & Littlefield. For more details, go here.