Fifty years ago today, the very first episode of Star Trek was broadcast on the NBC television network. Created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek was an exploratory series described in some circles as “Wagon Train in the stars.”
Star Trek created icons in the characters played by actors including William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley. The show was also one of the first to break many racial barriers, bringing TV’s first interracial kiss and a large role for Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura that was just not done at the time. When Star Trek was over after only three seasons — supposedly the audience was too young (!!) — the series continued to live long and prosper due to a passionate fan base that kept the fandom alive.
In the time between the Star Trek TV series and the movie series, Star Trek: The Animated Series brought a sophistication to Saturday morning fare that was also unheard of at the time that it was on. A Star Trek series was supposed to launch a Paramount Network in the late 1970s; ultimately it was scrapped for a feature film, but one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if a network had launched then. A Star Trek series titled Star Trek: Voyager ultimately did kick off Paramount’s UPN network in 1995.
In addition to movies, the series was revived in 1987 with the syndicated Star Trek: The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart, not yet the icon that he is today, was the Captain of that starship. The Next Generation spun off Deep Space Nine a few years later, and Voyager followed on UPN in 1995, as previously mentioned. Another Star Trek related series, the prequel Enterprise, started on UPN in 2001, and the movie series was rebooted within the last decade. All of these series inspired new innovation: Next Generation gave the world our first bald Captain; Deep Space Nine had our first African-American one in Avery Brooks. Captain Janeway on Voyager (Kate Mulgrew) was female, and Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer of Enterprise was TV’s first “formerly on Quantum Leap” Captain. Enterprise was also the first of the series to have a theme song with Rod Stewart-like vocals. Oh boy.
CBS is betting on Star Trek anchoring their new CBS All Access service next year. Star Trek: Discovery will be coming from noted producer and writer Bryan Fuller and will be taking place a few years before the 1966 show.
Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek pioneered a feeling of hope, peace, and cooperation among people. It showed off technology that we actually do have now. It is a concept that has endured for 50 years, and it will certainly still be around for 50 years.
Happy Anniversary, Star Trek. Below, find a cool look through history courtesy of USA Today.