Happy 45th birthday to the best split infinitive ever!

September 8, 2011

On September 8, 1966, Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train To The Stars” premiered on NBC.  It had a difficult birth and sputtered out after a kind of embarrassing third season and should have disappeared into TV oblivion…but it didn’t. Star Trek became the great syndication TV success story of all time, spawning four spinoff series, an animated series, eleven feature films, several web-originated spinoff or extension series, games video games, and the Great Bird of the Galaxy only knows how many books and other print materials. Even  those who have never been science fiction fans at all in their lives have probably said a catchphrase from one of the shows, like “Beam me up, Scotty.” (Which Captain Kirk never said, actually.)

The debut episode was “The Man Trap,” after some problems with the network not liking the original pilot. There’s a great story in that. There are great stories in a lot of things having to do with Trek. One of the best, of course, is David Gerrold’s journey into writing the episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” I think it, far more than his subsequent work as a science fiction writer, made him known to a wide audience and a success as a writer. Even though it’s out of print it’s apparently still available from a number of vendors. If you are interested in TOS (The Original Series) Star Trek at all, you should read it. It’s a great story of a young writer and his first big break.

See lady in image above. Yep. Same chick.

I could go on and on and on, and many people have. All I’m going to say is Happy Birthday to Star Trek, and may it boldly go on another 45 years!

Like the changes made by George Lucas in the upcoming Blu-Ray versions of the Star Wars movies, the original special effects have been enhanced in some current versions of the original series episodes. Netflix has those enhanced episodes available for streaming. Unlike Lucas’ work, however, the modifications have been subtle, and if you never saw the originals you would never know there was anything done to them. It was done  to clean up the messiness of early TV EFX, not some kind of revisionist history! And the CGI-enhanced Enterprise looks very much like the original effects crew would have wanted her to look, if they could, in my opinion.

Enhanced Original Enterprise

(The episodes are also available on DVD.)

It’s amazing how this little idea grew into such a huge shared universe. Gene Roddenberry wasn’t even that much of a science fiction fan, if I recall correctly. He did have definite ideas about the direction the series was to go, and he had some fights with the network – and particularly with the network censors. Things that seem tame today were groundbreaking in the late 1960s. Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura shared the first interracial kiss on network television. The costume designer, William Ware Theiss, tried to get some pretty racy (for the time) outfits past the censors, and usually succeeded. There were many veiled and some not-so-veiled parallels to current events, particularly the Vietnam War and the fight against Soviet Communism.

I think few television programs from the same time period would hold up nearly as well as Original Trek today. And of course, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner became huge stars because of the show – to the point that, to a degree, they found it difficult to get other work. Today, I think Nimoy is considered practically a national treasure. Shat, well…Bill Shatner is a legend. The guy got a freakin’ Emmy, fer Crissake!


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