Embarking on a mission to “boldly go where no man has gone before,” NBC introduced America to the crew of the USS Enterprise with the premiere of Star Trek on this day in 1966.
Created by Gene Roddenberry, the science fiction series captivated audiences.
Set in the 23rd century, Star Trek followed the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) and his crew of 430 men and women aboard the starship USS Enterprise as they embarked on a five-year mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” In each episode, the crew of the Enterprise battled new foes, from aliens and evil computers, to time paradoxes, murderers, even Genghis Khan.
Star Trek’s main protagonists, Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelly) quickly became three of television’s most familiar and most loved characters in television history.
Progressive in more ways than one, the show was unique in that it boldly tackled social issues of the time in a futuristic context. Among the issues Star Trek explored were sexism, racism, nationalism, and global war. Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), the Enterprise’s Communications Officer, was the first African-American woman to hold such an important role in an American TV series. Star Trek was the first American television show to feature an interracial kiss between fictional characters (between Capt. Kirk and Lt. Uhura), although the kiss was only mimed. Roddenberry was able to explore such controversial social themes by disguising them in a futuristic setting.
In spite of its innovative plot and bold exploration of contemporary social issues, the show failed to attract large audiences and NBC pulled it from the air after only 3 seasons, or 79 episodes. (In fact, it would have been pulled after only 2 seasons but for an impassioned letter writing campaign in which tens of thousands of viewers wrote in to save the program.)
Although it was cancelled, Star Trek went on to become one of the most celebrated and financially lucrative franchises in television history, quickly becoming a cult classic and spawning a media empire, including five additional television series, 11 theatrical films, and numerous books, games, and other products.
Star Trek has also generated a massive fan base known as “trekkies,” known for their extreme devotion to and encyclopedic knowledge of the show. They organise Star Trek conventions, buy Star Trek comic books and merchandise, and have pushed for more TV shows, movies, and books, which have been steadily released to wild popularity. In this way, Star Trek quickly made its way into the larger lexicon of popular culture.
Credit: © AF archive / Alamy
Caption: Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain James T. Kirk.