Star Trek passes 50 year mission milestone

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Sally Kellerman (right) never lasted past one of the pilot episodes

“This carefully-written series caters to intellectuals and science-fiction buffs.”

That’s how Star Trek was dismissed when it first came out. TV’s most successful franchise was never a hit in its original run, peaking at No. 52 during it’s first season. Cancelled after two, fans demanded a third and final season.

Sept. 8  marked the 50th anniversary of its network debut. A sixth live action Star Trek series is shooting in Toronto this month and will boldly go onto CBS’s digital platform, as well as Space and CraveTV in Canada, next January.

I have to admit I was not a fan when the series first came out, probably because I was no intellectual. The Enterprise was cool but I couldn’t understand why grown men were wearing pajamas to work. I was in Grade 3 and more into the sillier space opera Lost in Space with its Laurel & Hardy-like combo of the Robot and Mr. Smith.

Even after a zillion reruns I was just not as captivated as several friends, who, to this day, can recite entire episodes pretty much verbatim.

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Spock from the ’70s animated series. Fascinating

The 1966-67 season was not an auspicious time for NBC. Besides Star Trek, The Monkees were introduced that fall but they only lasted two years. NBC launched 12 other shows that fall that nobody remembers now save for, perhaps, The Rat Patrol, Tarzan with Ron Ely and Stephanie Powers in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. NBC just never was able to hammock Star Trek behind a hit the way they might today.

I have a 16mm print of NBC’s fall preview reel that year and it’s interesting to see how the network dropped the ball on promoting the series. The clip shown on the reel is from “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the second pilot NBC shot. Sally Kellerman is featured prominently in the clips but you barely glimpse William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (sporting weird Spock eyebrows).

Sci-fi fantasy was big in ’66, with ABC introducing their big-budget time travel series Time Tunnel the same season. An expensive show created by Irwin Allen (also behind Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), it only lasted one 30-episode season.

Viewers may find they’ve taken the time tunnel later this month when the networks unveil four new shows that flip back and forth in time. With race riots and war protests on the nightly news, viewers were looking to the future in ’66, just as they may want to escape the present as a U.S. election closes out 2016.

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Jeffrey Hunter (left) was replaced after the pilot and Nimoy’s Spock got a new barber. Both Lloyd Bridges and Jack Lord were offered the part of Captain Kirk before Shatner blasted off into TV history

CraveTV is currently streaming all five series (plus the 1973 – 74 animated effort with original cast voices). It all adds up to 30 Seasons, 725 episodes, approximately 543 hours, or almost 23 days in total.  Fans can now boldly binge where they’ve already binged many times before.

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