History of Star Trek


I can remember it like it was yesterday, though it was almost 44 years ago now. In the summer of 1966 there was a preview of a coming new Fall TV series with

…a starship the size of a city.

Then, on September 8, 1966 the first episode of Star Trek premiered on NBC. The first episode shown was “Man Trap” aka the “Salt Vampire,” but that was not the first episode recorded.

The first pilot, began on December 12, 1964 at the Desilu Studios. This pilot, “The Cage” starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike was seen 2 years later inside a later, 2-part episode in November of 1966 called “Menagerie.” The pilot also featured a dark haired female Number One played by Majel Barrett, and an excitable pointed-ear “Martian” named Mr. Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy.

The NBC executives asked for some changes and called for a second pilot. This second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” starred William Shatner as Captain James Kirk.

Trivia: in this second pilot you see his middle initial as “R” on his tombstone. Later in the series he calls himself James T. Kirk, and only in a subsequent book is the T expanded to Tiberius, in honor of Roddenberry’s grandfather Samuel’s fascination with the Roman emperor.

The network had said to Gene Roddenberry following the first pilot, “Get rid of the woman and the guy with the pointed ears.” So he married the woman, Majel Barrett, and kept the guy with the pointed ears. Leonard Nimoy is fond of saying that he “would not have had it the other way around.” The woman dyed her hair blond and waited in Gene’s reception office so that when he walked past her even he didn’t recognize her. She became Nurse Christine Chapel. The guy with the pointed ears became less emotional, more logical, and Vulcan green rather than Martian red (which wouldn’t photograph correctly.)

The series lasted for 3 of the “5 year mission” of the United Star Ship Enterprise, a victim of poor ratings. Ironically, the following year, demographics were used and it was discovered that Star Trek was appealing to exactly the kind of audience that advertisers wanted!

The show remained incredibly popular in syndication, spawning 19 years later another TV series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Then there was “ST: Deep Space Nine,” later “ST: Voyager” and eventually a kind of prequel, “Enterprise.” There was even an animated Saturday morning series that ran from 1973-74 with the voices of some of the original show.

There are Trekkies, Trekkers, and Trek junkies. I belong to the later. I’ve personally seen or met all of the cast of “Star Trek Classic” (The Original Show,) and about half of the cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

While an undergrad at Berkeley, the “Federation Trading Post” was a local store that featured Star Trek mementos, and occasionally had the original cast stop by for a visit. There I caught Nichelle Nichols (lovely), William Shatner (virtually undetectable toupee), and George Takei. George is the friendliest and most outgoing of the cast. He had done his lower division studies in architecture there at Cal, then transferred to UCLA to finish in theater. He is happy to discuss almost any subject. I met James Doohan after I was practicing for a fencing show on campus. As I walked out of the theater and saw him sitting on the lawn, I said to my fencing partner “That’s Jimmy Doohan!” “Who is that?” he asked. “Scotty, from Star Trek!” I replied. James was there to do a play on campus and I sat down on the lawn with him and discussed “theater” for over an hour. I was dying to talk about Star Trek, but I didn’t want to seem like a sniveling fan. He admitted that he loved theater, but TV paid the bills.

I chatted with Majel Barrett Rodenberry (stunningly attractive), Wil Wheaton (bright and techie — one of the early bloggers), Marina Sirtis (striking, and with a British accent you don’t hear on the show) and Walter Koenig at various technology shows or Star Trek conventions. And no, I don’t wear “ears.”

Now don’t let anyone tell you it’s a cult, that is not true at all. It’s more like a religion.

This religion requires that I always be there the first day of the movie premiers. On December 7, 1979, a day that will live in infamy, the first full length movie opened, “Star Trek: The Motionless Picture.” Despite a plodding plot, the movie did amazing well, and led to several more films. The second, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” was considered the best by the faithful, featuring a return engagement of a popular opponent from Kirk’s past. When it was leaked that Spock would die, a futile boycott was called. A hasty tag-on was filmed and put on the end of the movie.

By the way, here’s the question that I stumped the Trivia Expert panel with at a Trek Convention years ago in San Francisco. See if you know the answer:

In Star Trek:II, Spock was “buried” in a photon torpedo tube shot into space to land on the Genesis Planet. What was written on that tube?

This movie was followed by the Leonard Nimoy directed “ST III: the Search for Spock,” which was followed by “ST IV: Still Looking for Spock.” Just kidding. “ST IV: The Search For Whales,” I mean “The Voyage Home” was considered the most generally popular and successful of the movies, with plenty of humor and a modern-day San Francisco as a back drop.

Now that Leonard Nimoy had directed his second film, William Shatner wanted a turn. “ST V: What Were They Thinking” came out, as his first and last excursion. The camp-out with the backdrop of Yosemite couldn’t pull this one out of the fire.

“ST VI: Quoting Lines From Hamlet” was the last of the Classic-era movies, and featured Kirk’s last heard line as Captain of the Enterprise, a line I’ve been waiting for him to say for years… It’s a line quoted by another fly-boy hero of mine:

Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

This was followed by “Star Trek Generations,” a mixture of the old Classic-era generation and an extended Next Generation episode. Here we see the changing of the guard as Scotty, Checkov, and Kirk inaugurate the Enterprise NCC 1701-B.

Subsequent movies featured the cast of the Pepsi-Generation series: “First Contact” where we go back in time and meet the inventor of warp drive (faster than light speed travel.) “Insurrection” followed with the Next Generation cast again, directed by ST:TNG First Officer Commander Will Riker, aka Jonathan Frakes, as he had directed “First Contact” and episodes of “ST:TNG,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager.”

“Star Trek X: Nemesis” was release in 2002 — and should have been subtitled “Send in the Clones” — but it was not enough to push the franchise further for several years. In general, the even numbered movies were better than the odd numbered ones.

Indeed, the last TV series, “Enterprise” had a relatively short life, only 4 years, compared with earlier The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, or Voyager.

In a few days on May 8, 2009 we’ll see J.J. Abrams‘ vision of a Star Trek reboot with the debut of the 11th Star Trek feature film and hope rings eternal for Trek junkies like me. Until then, review the various Star Trek logos throughout history below. And watch for my movie review Friday at: culturevulture.billpetro.com


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Trek junkie


  1. Dave Spencer on May 4, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Thanks Bill for a great love letter to the Star Trek series. One of my favorite Trek movie memories was going to see VI opening night at a theater with probably every Trek fan at UMass in attendance (I wasn’t at UMass, mind you, but I lived near there). I had to go see it again so I could hear what I missed over all the cheering and laughing.

    I’m looking forward to having some fun this Friday with some co-workers :).

  2. Bruce on May 7, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Bill, thanks for the walk through my history. (StarTrek was a significant cultural part of it). It was interesting and refreshing.

    One tidbit I did not realize was that Gene met Majel on the set. I was always fascinated at how she was the one constant to show up on the various e;pisodes, from the earliest days; including as an occasional guest on ST:TNG.

  3. Wayne on May 7, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Great stuff Bill.

    You know, an interesting factoid is that I think the 1979 ST-I movie release was hugely motivated by the release of StarWars in 1977; it seems like it must have propelled Roddenberry to get funding for a movie after fans were desperate for a reboot for so long (16 years is a long time to watch reruns when you have a religion going).

    The thing Gene didn’t learn from Lucas was that you could make it “fun”. ST-I had all of the slow elements of the series and very few of the fun elements. It seems like the ST-XI may go the other extreme, from the trailers and comments I have seen.

  4. Nomad on May 10, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    very cool Star Trek title ensemble vid

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  8. william on July 27, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I remember while I was stationed in the Bay Area (Naval Station Alameda). I would make it a point to shop at the Federation Trading Post on Telegraph Ave.

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