If U.S. television can be said to have ushered in the birth of a genuine phenomena, then that phenomena bears the title of Star Trek; the brainchild and labour of love of former WWll pilot, LAPD officer and veteran TV scriptwriter Gene Roddenberry.
Roddenberry had originally drafted a treatment of Star Trek in early 1964 drawing heavily on C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, a daring seaman who displays both courage and intelligence, for the character of Robert April, captain of the interstellar spacecraft S.S. Yorktown. Other influences on Roddenberry, a freeelance writer who had penned scripts for primetime US shows such as Highway Patrol and Have Gun-Will Travel, was the Western series Gunsmoke and, in particular, Wagon Train which showed the pioneering spirit of the Old West as a series of regular cast members make their way across America, exploring new territories, making new discoveries and pushing back boundaries.
Following further development, some name and format changes, Roddenberry presented his draft for the series along with a pilot episode to Desilu Productions, the leading independent television production company co-owned by husband and wife Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. The series pilot The Cage, which featured high profile motion picture actor Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, was rejected by wary network executives at NBC as being too cerebral. However, the NBC execs were still impressed enough and such was Roddenberry's and Lucille Ball's belief in the concept that all opposition was swept aside, resulting in the network's (at that time) unprecedented green lighting for production of a second pilot. With Hunter bowing out of the project and such well known and viewer-friendly names as Lloyd Bridges and Jack Lord passing on the role of the revamped central character of the Starship Enterprise, the mantel ultimately settled on the shoulders of young respected Canadian actor William Shatner as the embodiment of Starfleet's finest officer; the charismatic Captain James Tiberius Kirk.
Where No Man Has Gone Before was deemed a success. And with the airing of the first episode of the series proper, The Man Trap, the core triumvirate of Kirk, his loyal and eminently logical Vulcan first officer, Mister Spock, and crusty chief medical officer Doctor Leonard 'Bones' McCoy ably supported by a ground-breaking, multi-racial gender mixed crew of 432, the viewing audience were introduced to a genuinely polished and thought provoking range of stories, laying the foundations of a televisual legend. A legend which more than fifty years, numerous spin-off television series, motion pictures, and a multi-billion dollar merchandising juggernaut later, shows no evidence of losing its warp drive fuelled momentum.
Its original 'five year mission' long since surpassed, Star Trek in all its myriad forms remains true to its founding credo: 'To boldly go where no man has gone before,' and in the process it has touched the lives of millions.
Published on February 4th, 2019. Written by SRH & Laurence Marcus (1999 & 2019) for Television Heaven.