On Sept. 8, 1966, an American science fiction icon was born. The “Star Trek” television show lasted only three seasons, but spawned a lasting legacy that has stretched across decades and led to four spinoff live-action shows, a cartoon series and a dozen feature films.
Gene Roddenberry and his team set their show aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, a sophisticated starship with a competent crew of professional astronauts.
A pilot episode starring Jeffrey Hunter was rejected by the NBC TV network as “too cerebral” for a general audience. The show was retooled with William Shatner in the starring role of Captain James T. Kirk. Leonard Nimoy was featured as the alien officer Spock.
After its cancellation in 1969, the show grew even more popular, appearing several times per week (or even daily) in syndication.
The Star Wars phenomenon of 1977 led Roddenberry to consider bringing the show back to television. Soon the plan changed, and “Star Trek the Motion Picture” appeared in 1979 to lukewarm reviews. Not wanting to waste their investment, the studio replaced Roddenberry at the helm and made several sequel films with much lower budgets.
In 1987, Roddenberry created a new TV show from the ground up with an entirely new cast led by Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. “Star Trek the Next Generation” debuted directly into syndication, not appearing on any of the major TV networks. Its popularity grew slowly but eventually it became successful enough to spawn its own set of feature films.
Three more TV series would follow: “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” and “Enterprise.” When the latter went off the air in 2005, an unbroken run of 18 years of Star Trek on television was ended.
By 2009 Star Trek had faded from pop culture prominence, but a reboot movie, called simply “Star Trek,” changed all that. Director J.J. Abrams reimagined the original TV series, casting Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in the lead roles of Kirk and Spock. The film became the highest-grossing of the franchise.
In 2013, Abrams’ sequel “Star Trek into Darkness” features Benedict Cumberbatch as a terrorist villain.