In 1996, director Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr. William Riker) helmed the movie celebrating Star Trek's 30th anniversary. Co-starring Alice Krige as the seductive Borg Queen and Alfre Woodard as the resourceful Lilly, First Contact was a big box office hit and a favorite with both audiences and critics. Although that particular film Starship Enterprise was commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and had Data, an android science officer, instead of a Vulcan, the spirit of Star Trek was alive and well. Now, fans celebrate of 50 years of content that has not lost its relevance or, thanks to a new generation of Star Trek writers and creators, its style.
“And you people… you’re all astronauts… on some kind of Star Trek.” - Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact
Years of star trekking and this unique entertainment franchise and pop culture cornerstone born of a cancelled TV series is more than relevant - it's cutting edge. How many TV shows can boast such influence? From new movies in theaters, to the show's video games, exhibitions and more, Star Trek still warps strong and captures the imagination of the world.
Before the Binge Watch
I started watching Star Trek - The Original Series at four years old. Yup, just a wee tyke, and I watched on the family black and white television. Back then, I didn’t know the difference between a phaser, laser or taser, but I knew there was something special about Gene Roddenberry’s Wagon Train To The Stars. It’s more accurate to say I stumbled onto the show. Back in the day, you just switched on the old boob tube (not YouTube) and whatever was on, you watched. You were lucky if you got more than 3 channels - maybe a PBS station or UHF to boot.
Over the years, as TV grew more sophisticated - both in technology and programming - I came to watch Captain Kirk's crew on a regular or even daily basis. The original series was an early staple of syndicated television, which my generation grew up watching. Show such as I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Twilight Zone, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch became beloved favorites - shows which were routinely broadcast.
You could catch episodes of I Love Lucy in the morning, and Bewitched or I Dream Of Jeannie in early evening around dinner. Today’s Netflix binge watching is really not new. Sure, it’s assisted by on demand tech, but binging on Star Trek was actually possible just by watching broadcast TV. WPIX in NYC would often broadcast episodes in early evening, say around 6 and 7pm, then show several more after 11pm.
Confession #1: I couldn’t escape Star Trek if I had a starship with transwarp.
I was raised by TV. Not a wholly unique upbringing for my generation, or even for kids today, but my identifying with the HBO show, Dream On, where the lead thinks and plans his life in strict TV terms, isn’t far off from my early reality. TV played a big part in everyone’s life back then. For me, it’s where I came to know the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
After discovering the show as an awestruck toddler, I tried to catch it all I could thereafter. Sharing TV time with family is something most under a certain age can’t imagine today. Video consumption is now on PC’s and phones. Options are so plentiful, waiting around for a Space: 1999 rerun just isn’t necessary. Load HULU and watch Moonbase Alpha get invaded by bug eyed aliens again, no sweat. Speaking of, watching Maya and Alan Carter do just that are fond memories.
Here’s the important takeaway: Broadcast TV offered just so many viewing choices. No disrespect to John Boy or actor Richard Thomas, who played him, but I had no desire in sharing time up on Walton Mountain. I wanted the thrilling landscapes of sci-fi, horror and adventure! With Star Trek, you got that, and pretty much everything else.
It’s a show to enjoy on many levels. As a kid, I loved its adventure aspects and visuals. Say what you will about those old school models and filmed optical effects; Trek cultivated an effective, thrilling ambiance utilizing movie quality cinematography, lighting, sound FX and music. All that flashy fun was supported by strong writing. Even weaker episodes still attempt a serious look into the speculative realm. And like any good show, Trek’s starship family became your own - you were welcome aboard Enterprise anytime. Before you left, you shed a few tears, shared some chuckles and usually were in awe. Kirk’s promise of ‘... where no man has gone before’ nearly always fulfilled.
Confession #2: I love cartoons.
Saturday Morning Cartoons! Watching Superfriends and Scooby-Do or Thundarr The Barbarian. Animation or Anime? Whatever - I love cartoons!
Seeing Spock, Bones and Kirk become cartoons!? Yeah, the animation wasn’t the best - even by the era’s standards - still, Filmation delivered a quality show, complete with all actors reprising their roles, save for Walter Koenig as Chekov. I watch the show in HD on Netflix, and though Gene Roddenberry didn’t consider the program canon or official Trek lore, it can be considered a fourth season by most fans. It even won an Emmy Award for “How Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth” - something its live action progenitor never did.
Confession #3: I did all I could do to get a 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' Happy Meal from McDonald’s.
I never got it. I am still traumatized.
Going to McDonald’s as a kid - or Burger King or KFC, that’s all we really had - wasn’t a daily or weekly thing. Okay, maybe weekly - maybe - but it’s not like today. Many families do fast food every day, and the whole allure of the included toy or Happy Meal is now transformed. Pressure on nutritional guidelines or flack about inducing kids into fast food places with promises of toys has made the whole concept of Happy Meals not as happy.
I guess since I was still in grammar school and knew going to The Motion Picture at the movie theater on my own probably wouldn’t be possible, I really needed that Happy Meal. Alas, no amount of cajoling or whining succeeded, so I had to be content with meeting Deforest Kelley (Bones) and George Takei (Sulu) in person at a local Toys R Us. Come to think of it, that’s one hell of a consolation prize!
It wasn’t until First Contact that I saw a Trek feature in a theater. My interest in Trek had waned, and it wasn’t until Picard’s era that my dilithium crystals became fully recharged.
Confession #4: Captain Picard’s baldness and his flattened starship turned me off.
Initially, I had no interest in Next Generation.
Reading a newspaper article on a new Star Trek series in syndication headed to the airwaves left me cold. A PR crew shot and Enterprise D alongside them did nothing to interest me. In fact, seeing an older, bald Captain next to his flattened Enterprise left me cold. What the hell? This is the new Captain Kirk? He’s French? They flattened the damn Enterprise? WTF? Yeah. Not fun.
I completely ignored it for the first season. Later, during the summer of 1988, a friend lent me the first season on VHS and I binge watched at his urging. By introduction of Q, I was hooked. Patrick Stewart wasn’t simply British or bald, he was Shakespearean. Trek is often compared to or even loosely structured as a play or theater. How perfect to have a commander who was seasoned, yet still dynamic and even fatherly without being an old fuddy duddy. Thank you, Patrick Stewart, for inviting me to join the Trek family.
By the time I had signed the contracts for my Next Generation episode, I had been more than won over as a fan. I realized producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller took what Gene Roddenberry had created and truly brought it to Next Generation in every way.
Confession #5: I never ever tame my inner fanboy.
No matter if I was writing a teleplay for Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, or preparing a pitch for the production staff on Voyager, the fact I’m a devoted fan has always served me. It’s not just the comprehensive knowledge that a well versed fan brings to a subject they love, but it’s the passion which fuels the process from beginning to end.
Doing research for my book, Star Trek Sex: Analyzing The Most Sexually Charged Episodes of The Original Series, went off without a hitch, because I never hesitate when it comes to knowing more about the intricacies and subtleties of Star Trek. Going over quotes from creator Gene Roddenberry and others was fun and eye opening. If only every research project of mine could be completed with such a level of pure fan enjoyment.
I recall my first TV pitch with Executive Producer Jeri Taylor on Star Trek: Voyager, at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. Before meeting her, I remember hearing Jeri had to watch all the Next Gen episodes prior to her coming on as a staff writer/producer to get a feel for the narrative rhythm of the show. Being a fan from the get go, means this is an unnecessary or painless step. So, yeah, that title is all wrong. Don’t curtail your inner fanboy or fangirl. Write, create and make more of what you love, and things will go a whole lot better for everyone.
Live Long & Prosper - Never Tame Your Inner Fan!