Captain’s Log, Stardate 090891: The Enterprise has assumed orbit around a Class M planet inhabited by the oddest race of creatures we’ve ever encountered. They call themselves ”Trekkies” — some insist on the word ”Trekkers” — and their entire civilization seems to be based on an ancient TV show about a band of space-age pioneers. They worship in hives called ”conventions,” where they don silly velour uniforms and plastic pointy ears. Mr. Spock says these strange beings are harmless, but I’m not so sure. Something about them seems disturbingly familiar.
Of all the worlds the starship Enterprise has visited since its launch 25 years ago this month — Rigel 7, Janus VI, Omicron Ceti III, and others — the most hospitable has always been its home planet, Earth. We Terrons can’t get enough of Star Trek: The original series is still broadcast in the U.S. more than 200 times a day. It has been translated into 47 languages, including Hebrew, Portuguese, Dutch, and Swedish. Its sequel series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, is one of the most popular syndicated shows in the country, seen by more than 17 million a week. The five Trek movies — the sixth is due Dec. 13 — have been among the most successful science fiction films ever made, earning a total of $398 million. When you add in 25 years’ worth of Trek toys, posters, and lunch boxes, you’re talking about one of the most profitable cult franchises in entertainment history.
The irony is that Star Trek was a flop when it first aired on NBC (Sept. 8, 1966, to June 3, 1969), never climbing above 50th in the Nielsens and lagging behind such powerhouse programming as Mr. Terrific and The Tammy Grimes Show. Three times NBC tried to cancel it, each time triggering an avalanche of fan letters. In 1968 alone, the network received more than a million — including ones from New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and sci-fi author Isaac Asimov.
Over the past 25 years, fans have multiplied faster than those furry little fuzzballs called Tribbles. Today there are more than 200 Star Trek clubs nationwide, hundreds of annual Trek conventions, and more than 500 Trek fanzines. For thousands of Americans, Star Trek isn’t just a TV show — it’s a way of life-on-other-planets. To those fans — and to anybody else who’s ever tuned in — we devote these pages. Herewith, Entertainment Weekly‘s bold look back at 25 years of warp-speed TV.
Sept. 8, 1966
8:30 p.m. Star Trek premieres with ”The Man Trap,” about a deadly alien that sucks the salt from bodies. McCoy first utters the words ”He’s dead, Jim.” Few TV viewers notice.
Sept. 14, 1966
The critics weigh in. Says Variety: ”An incredible and dreary mess. The interplanetary spaceship trudged on for a long hour with hardly any relief from violence, killings, hypnotic stuff, and a distasteful, ugly monster.”
Trek is nominated for five Emmy awards, including Best Dramatic Series and Best Special Effects, but wins none. Ratings remain anemic, and NBC moves the show from Thursday to Friday.
Gold Key Comics publishes the first Star Trek comic book, titled, appropriately enough, Star Trek. Current market value: $200-$250 for a near-mint-quality copy.
NBC hints that Trek may soon be canceled. Fans deluge the network with a record 16,000 protest letters in a single month, including a 1,764-signature petition from students of the Andrews School for Girls in Willoughby, Ohio. The legend is born.
March 1, 1968
After the episode ”The Omega Glory,” NBC airs an unprecedented announcement: ”We are pleased to tell you that Star Trek will continue to be seen on NBC Television. We know you will be looking forward to seeing the weekly adventure in space on Star Trek.”
NBC, backsliding, drops another cancellation hint. More than 500 Cal Tech Trekkies hold a protest rally at NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif.
NBC cancels Star Trek.
June 3, 1969
NBC broadcasts the last episode, ”Turnabout Intruder.” Kirk’s body is temporarily hijacked by Dr. Janice Lester, an old flame who wants command of her own starship.
The first Star Trek convention is held in New York’s Statler Hilton Hotel. Thousands attend, including Trek producer Gene Roddenberry.
NBC launches Star Trek—The Animated Series, a Saturday-morning cartoon version of the show, with most of the original cast contributing voices. It lasts two seasons and wins an Emmy. (It will be back this fall in reruns; look for it on cable’s new Sci-Fi Channel.)
The U.S. space shuttle Constitution is renamed the Enterprise after Trekkies launch a letter-writing campaign to President Ford.
Paramount releases the first Trek feature film, Star Trek—The Motion Picture, with the original TV cast. The Enterprise saves Earth from an ancient space probe. Box office take: a whopping $82 million.
The fringe rock group Spizz Energi releases ”Where’s Captain Kirk?,” one of the few Star Trek singles not sung by a member of the cast. It’s big on college stations.
Paramount releases Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The Enterprise saves Earth from Ricardo Montalban. Box office: $79 million.
Paramount releases Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The Enterprise saves Spock in Nimoy’s directorial debut. Box office: $76 million.
Another theatrical release — Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The Enterprise saves the whales. Nimoy directs again. Box office: $109 million.
Oct. 5, 1987
Star Trek: The Next Generation, a syndicated series, premieres on more than 100 U.S. TV stations.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier comes out in theaters. The Enterprise meets God sort of…in William Shatner’s directorial debut. Box office: $52 million.
Classical magazine reports that the New York City Opera will soon produce the first Star Trek-inspired opera. The project never takes off.
The inhabitants of Vulcan, Canada (population 1,400), turn their town into the world’s first Star Trek theme park, complete with parades, window displays, and a statue of the Enterprise.
Star Trek: The Next Generation films its 100th episode — 21 more than the original series.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Supposedly the last Trek film. Right. And if you believe that, we know a nifty bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying.