Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Strange New World Just Ahead, or: How to Make a Vulcan Feel at Home (Part 7 of 15)

7. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night


About six months later, something else came to an end.

Though the original Star Trek began and ended its three-year run in the 1960s, in some ways it was just as much a show of the 1970s. As the reruns were now in syndication, that's when most people saw it for the first time. In fact, that's when it finally became a hit.

Now, that in itself was not so unusual. After all, Gilligan's Island was another 1960s show that got mediocre ratings during its original run, only to go on to great success in 1970s syndication. However, the seven stranded castaways...

...never got their own convention. The first one on record for Star Trek took place in January, 1972 at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York City. Organizers expected 500 people. 3000 showed up. Soon, there were Trek conventions everywhere.

Though he appeared at many of those conventions, Leonard Nimoy was somewhat ambivalent about the show's new found success, as witnessed by this book he came out with in the mid-'70s.

Nevertheless, Nimoy lent his voice to the Saturday morning cartoon version, as did all of the original cast members except Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Rand, who didn't even survive the original live-action series first season) and Walter Koenig (Chekov, cut for budgetary reasons.) This new version was produced by Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana (via the Filmations animation studio) and original series writers such as David Gerrold contributed scripts. Thus, story-wise, the show was highly sophisticated for a Saturday morning cartoon (and for a few prime-time live-action series as well), which won it a Daytime Emmy but perhaps went over the heads of kids used to Scoopy Do, Where Are You? It lasted just two seasons, but--wouldn't you know?--now has a cult following all its own.

Undaunted, and well aware how well the reruns were doing in syndication--by now they were the most successful reruns in history--Gene Roddenberry went to the studio that now owned the show he created with a proposal for a new series called Star Trek: Phase Two, with all the original actors, except for Nimoy, who really did want to put the character behind him. He was at this time  host of In Search of, a weekly documentary that examined such subjects as Bigfoot, the Loch Nech Monster, and the Bermuda Triangle. How logical Spock would have found belief in such things is hard to say, but Nimoy's authoritative, commanding presence certainly made it seem like it was hard science you were watching. The show did very well in syndication, so maybe that was the logic. Since this new series, in its own way, was also about exploring the unknown, I'm not sure Nimoy was really putting his Vulcan past behind him. Indeed, this new series was trading off his old character's and Trek's very strangeness (Rod Serling, of the equally strange The Twilight Zone, was slated to host In Search of but died before it went into production.) Good for Nimoy, but, c'mon, Star Trek without Spock? All the Paramount execs knew was that the old show was popular, and a new one could be, too. They gave Roddenberry the go-ahead.

Then 20th Century Fox came along and proved, much to everyone's surprise at the time (including the studio itself) that there were an awful lot of moviegoers out there who would plunk down money for a big screen science fiction space adventure. And so rival Paramount asked itself: why limit our own science fiction space property, er, adventure, to the small screen?

Next: Lights! Camera! Existentialism!


  1. Wonderful series !
    Sorry I don't have anything clever to say today.
    Not that I am usually clever.
    But I am enjoying reading your posts.

    cheers, parsnip

    1. That comment was clever enough, parsnip. Thanks for stopping by.


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