To celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Star Trek," which first aired on Sept. 8, 1966, and has continued to boldly go forward as one of the most enduring, influential and visionary television creations of all time, Moviefone is offering a week-long look at five decades of the futuristic franchise.
No television series has enjoyed such a unique and unlikely path to becoming a cultural phenomenon as "Star Trek." Creator Gene Roddenberry's pioneering vision for an adult, ambitious and allegorical science fiction series featuring explorers aboard the starship Enterprise experienced rocky beginnings as a failed pilot deemed "too intellectual" by NBC.
But the network gave the premise a second chance and, with the addition of more action and an appealing triumvirate of new leads Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy, fueled by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Deforest Kelley's delightful chemistry, the forward-thinking series got a second chance at life, airing for the first time 50 years ago today, on Sept. 8, 1966.
What followed has become legendary in the creation of what would become a full-fledged franchise, including the highly-rated syndicated series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and its subsequent shared-universe series; the box office-dominating films that rebooted the "Star Trek" originals with new actors; tie-in novels and comic books; and a massive merchandising empire.
But, at its core, "Star Trek" has always been a story about humanity, both on screen and behind the scenes. And to that effect, Moviefone has spent the last several months of the sci-fi phenom's golden anniversary in the company of many of the key creative people at the heart of its various incarnations, gathering their takes on what it's meant to them to occupy a place within the singular sensation called "Star Trek."William Shatner (actor, Capt. James T. Kirk, "Star Trek: The Original Series," "Star Trek" theatrical films I-VI, "Star Trek: Generations"): We've invented, through science fiction, a mythology, and "Star Trek" is a huge part of that. So many great science fiction writers had ideas for "Star Trek," even if they didn't write exactly for "Star Trek," so it was 50 years as a mere television show, and through various iterations expanded to affect a great deal of our culture, far beyond anything we know.
I mean, I wrote a book called "I'm Working on That" based on Stephen Hawking's statement, when he walked into the set of "Star Trek" and saw these cheesy boards painted to look like ... what's the stuff we use for energy? ... dilithium crystals. That's how we were able to go so fast to cover the vast distances of space. Stephen Hawking said "I'm working on that." It goes out in waves, and it seems somewhat innocuous, because it's a television show, but in this case, this phenomenon has lasted 50 years.Brent Spiner (actor, Lt. Commander Data, "Star Trek: The Next Generation"): "Star Trek" is the most amazing phenomenon. I think it's the great American narrative. Because anything that has gone for 50 years you have to take seriously. There were a lot of people who think "Star Trek" is practically a religion. There are other people who think it's absolutely silly. It's somehow all of those things combined, and that's what makes it wonderful.
Even if you think it's completely ridiculous, you have to kind of say, "What is this that's gone for 50 years? I've got to at least check it out." There's something going on here, and it's affected a lot of people. We've all had people come to us and say, "It's because of your show, it's because of you, that I am now a doctor or a scientist or ..." So there's something more going on there than meets the eye. There's a wonderful action-adventure show, but there's also something deeper and more profound.
Dorothy "D. C." Fontana (writer and story editor, "Star Trek: The Original Series," "Star Trek: The Animated Series," "Star Trek: The Next Generation"): We told good stories, I think. I've said this over and over: we were telling stories about things that were going on in our world, under the guise of science fiction. We were telling stories about racism, and sexism, and political things that were going on in our country, and in the world. We were doing stories about, well, just about anything -- the Vietnam War, that was a big one. Nobody else could mention the Vietnam War, or even that we were in it, but we could, under the guise of science fiction.
We reached out to people. We tapped them on the head and say, "Hey, are you paying attention?" But we were doing it in the guise of interesting science fiction stories. We had some great science fiction writers on the show, especially in the first year, who brought that wonderful element of exploring topical themes under the guise of science fiction.Chris Pine (actor, Captain James T. Kirk, "Star Trek," "Star Trek Into Darkness," "Star Trek Beyond"): It's fun playing a leader when sometimes you don't always necessarily feel like a leader yourself. So you learn what that's like because on set naturally then you're saying stuff that sounds leader-ish. So then you sometimes assume the part. There's some learning lessons there. I suppose my reluctance in that regard kind of maybe reflects in the character himself, because I think we all have times where we either want to be front seat or backseat drivers.
I appreciate in this latest installment playing a character that was a bit more existentially indecisive and lost and seeking some sort of new guidance, or new propulsion, or new energy behind what he was going to do, because sometimes things change when you're a little bit older.Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"): Initially, when I watched the show in the '60s, it meant what everybody talks about as that inclusion of different characters, different races, and hope for the future -- all the kind of stuff that we know about. And then, when I was in college, it was about great fun and getting your mind off of your school work and everything just for an hour, just to not really concentrate on other things, having a good time.
Then later on when I got the show, it was about, "Wow, great! It's a great character. I'm going to do a really great job. I'm really happy about this. I'm a working actor again." And then it became the people I worked with. That was the most exciting part.
David Gerrold (writer, "The Trouble with The Tribbles," associate producer, "Star Trek; The Next Generation"): Gene Roddenberry gave us "Star Trek" [and] he was passionate about "Star Trek." And if it hadn't been for him, we'd have never had the show. So we have this incredibly iconic thing that is going to change our culture for generations to come, because it's about the possibilities of the future, it's about a future where we're all thriving and doing well and all have opportunities and we're all included.
it's a very positive view of the future, and I give Gene enormous credit for that, because I don't think anybody else has been able to create that kind of a vision of a future that works for all of us, with no one and nothing left out.Star Trek: Voyager"): It's an optimistic, hopeful view of what we could possibly achieve in the future as humanity. If we can get it together. That's what Gene was so brilliant at with the original series, in the very beginning, was showing in the height of the Cold War, a Russian officer on the bridge. Not that long after World War II, a Japanese officer on the bridge. Blacks, whites, women, everybody. And everyone was together and everyone worked together.
I think it's so important for us to see that now as a society. Not just in America, although really specifically here, but the whole world. We need to not be afraid of everyone who's different. We've got to embrace our differences and realize that we're stronger together, and we're all inherently the same when it gets down to it.John Cho (actor, Hikaru Sulu, "Star Trek," "Star Trek Into Darkness," "Star Trek Beyond"): In the "Star Trek" setup, you're going into space and seeing so many different kinds of species, it does become comically apparent when you look around the planet Earth that we live on that we do have so much more in common than we don't. You know? So the little things that seem to divide us here in our present time seem even more exaggeratedly small after seeing an episode of "Star Trek."Simon Pegg (actor, Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, "Star Trek," "Star Trek Into Darkness," writer, "Star Trek Beyond"): The first thing I saw was the animated series, funny enough, which ran I think from like '72 to '74, I think, which had the original cast. And as a very young child, I was like three or four, it caught my eye. Then I found out there was actually a live action version that pre-dated it, and I started watching that. I found that scary at first. I found that "The Corbomite Maneuver" and the terrifying Balok was the figurehead of my childhood nightmares.
But it was still like something I had to watch. And that grew into a love of its kind of intelligence. As I got older, I started to understand just how much weight it carried, allegorically. It's meant different things to me over the years. And obviously, now, it kind of means the world to me.Karl Urban (actor, Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, "Star Trek," "Star Trek Into Darkness," "Star Trek Beyond"): I remember watching "Star Trek" when I was a kid with my dad, and then I watched "Star Trek" with my kids. There's something about "Star Trek" that just has this enduring appeal. It's a hopeful, positive, optimistic vision of the future, and it was a fun show.Zachary Quinto (actor, Mr. Spock, "Star Trek," "Star Trek Into Darkness," "Star Trek Beyond"): I think Leonard Nimoy would be really proud of what we accomplished ... I take it seriously, and I feel like this is one of the most beloved characters in popular culture. He made it so. I see my responsibility as carry on his legacy and honoring the work that he put into this character, and the love that he lived with it for so long.Scott Bakula (actor, Capt. Jonathan Archer, "Star Trek: Enterprise"): I fell in love with it, really, in re-runs when I was in college, because it was on every night, followed by Tom Snyder. So everything stopped, and we would watch "Star Trek." I lived in a fraternity house: "Star Trek," Tom Snyder every night. And I loved the camaraderie of the show. They had the brotherly kind of love that I just thought was great. I hadn't really seen it on television at that point.
I loved the humor of it, but, mostly, at the end of the day, I just loved that relationship on that bridge. That's why I wanted to do it and try and build something similar -- you can't repeat it, but similar on our show.
Star Trek: Discovery"): I fell in love with "Star Trek" before even seeing "Star Trek." And when I was a small child, too young to go to church, my brother had built a model of the Klingon cruiser and put a battery in it and turned off all the lights in the house and was flying it though.
And I saw this ship, the silhouette of this ship, and my mind was lit on fire because I wanted to know who that ship belonged to, what they were like, where did they come from? And I started asking those questions and then I got to see "Star Trek" and I got to see an even bigger world than I imagined.
Justin Lin (director, "Star Trek Beyond"): My family immigrated to the States when I was eight. They had a little fish and chips shop, and they would close at 9 and we'd have dinner at 10. At 11, "Star Trek" came on Channel 13, so my brothers and I would talk our way into just hanging out with them. So, from 8 to 18, that was our level of engagement and our family time.
I remember moving to a new country felt like it was just the five of us. But watching "Star Trek," it instilled in me that family is not just by blood. It's through shared experience. That's what "Star Trek" gave me. Our engagement was through re-runs, but every night, it was a new adventure with new obstacles and new challenges. That sense of discovery and exploration was a big part of growing up. My friends all had the little "Star Wars" figures, but we didn't have any of that: we had "Star Trek."J.J Abrams (director, "Star Trek," "Star Trek Into Darkness," producer "Star Trek Beyond"): I'm a late adopter, to be totally honest. I was not a "Star Trek" fan as a kid, and I realized what I missed out on, because I got to fall in love with it watching the shows when I started working on the films.
Michael Giacchino (music score, "Star Trek" (2009), "Star Trek Into Darkness," "Star Trek Beyond"): I grew up in the early '70s, so that's how I watched it -- I didn't see it when it first aired. But I remember the first time I saw it thinking, "What is this? What on Earth is this show?" And I just kept watching it and watching it. And then I was asking about, "Can I have the action figures? Can I have the play set? The Enterprise play set?" Which I still have all that stuff. I still have it!
It was sort of my first science fiction love. That show introduced me to science fiction, and then all of a sudden I was in love with "2001," and I just kept going from there. But it was my gateway drug into sci-fi. [The original series music is] so iconic, because we've all watched those things so many times. And Alexander Courage's theme is the greatest.
Karl Urban: If it wasn't for the fans, we wouldn't be here. This show would have been cancelled in the second season.
Simon Pegg: You've got to remember that it's because it comes out of love and it comes out of a great sort of affection for something, which you can't help but feel positive about. I get it. We all have our own feelings about "Star Trek." It means something to all of us in different ways. What we tried to do with "Star Trek Beyond" was kind of try and embrace everybody that has come before, and everyone that hasn't come yet.
It's almost like you can cross an episode of the original show with what you get from a modern blockbuster: "This is the hybrid -- it's year one and year 50 together." That was our dream.Adam Savage ("Mythbusters" host, "Star Trek" fan): I grew up with the original series airing on television in the early '70s. I watched every episode a million times. Science fiction has always had these two pulls, but one of them was about real social commentary, and that's where "Star Trek's" strengths are. I grew up inculcated with a sort of lovely liberal, diverse ethic that "Star Trek" baked right into the show, and that came right from Roddenberry.
I will say, as a fan, every single human I've ever met within the "Star Trek" franchise is awesome. It's like, this is a franchise born out of a cohesive work unit, and it really shows in the movies that they make.
Michael Dorn: I still don't know what "Star Trek" means -- I really don't! ... CHiPs." I didn't know this until we had this conversation: Bob said, "You know, Michael, you created a character that's an icon. That this guy is not just some guy, I mean, this is a guy that's going to last, and it's rare. You're in the top .001% of actors who have done anything like that." And at that point, that's when I went, "My God, you're right." That's when it kind of hit me.
Jeri Ryan: It's amazing the doors this has opened for us to get to meet people that are actually doing what we pretended to be doing on the show is really cool.
Scott Bakula: I talked to a guy on the International Space Station with NASA. We sent up DVDs of our show, and he was watching it in space. We talked until Earth moved enough so we couldn't talk anymore. We talked and talked and he said, "I'm going to lose you, sir." He kept circling the planet. That was pretty cool. He made a video and sent it to us of them floating around up there and hanging out. It was combining all of it, it was completely surreal.
We met a lot of the astronauts, who would come to the set, and to actually speak to somebody who was doing it up there was just something you wouldn't expect you'd ever get to do in your life.
Michael Dorn: I was a big airplane buff when I was growing up -- I loved airplanes and I loved test pilots and I loved my cereal boxes, the boxtops with Friendship 7, John Glenn's capsule. Those are the guys that I had a chance to meet that really kind of fueled my youth. That was amazing, because you're talking about -- they went to the moon! I mean, come on! Those are the guys that I just loved.
Jeri Ryan: Specifically, for the character that I played, I heard from a lot of people on the autism spectrum who could relate to her, and said that this really helped them to see someone on TV, who kind of acted the way they did, and wasn't sure of what they were doing, and was trying to figure things out socially, and that's how they felt. And it was so touching for me, and I love that that was something that people could feel
Scott Bakula: I was at the Griffith Park Observatory with my whole family, and a gal there came up and said "Hi, I work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I sort of started working there because of 'Star Trek.'" "Oh, that's very nice. What do you do?" "You know the little thing that just landed on Mars?" she said, "Well, I kind of built that."
I said, "Are you kidding?" "Yeah, and I'm actually running it around Mars." I was like, "Wow!" Yeah, and she's like, "I'm such a fan of your show." I said, "Forget about my show! How about you? You're unbelievable!"
William Shatner: For me, I love talking to people and finding the story and the character of who this person is and how they lived up to this point, and I've done shows in that way. I've just come back from Vancouver, where I was talking to the great geneticist from Amherst College, Dr. David Suzuki.
It's meeting people like Dr. Suzuki, astronaut Chris Hadfield, who I just interviewed a couple days ago at JPL -- all of JPL subscribes to "Star Trek." As does NASA. I'm doing a show for NASA, and all of NASA is enamored of "Star Trek." I went to the doctor and he said "I became a doctor because of 'Star Trek.' Now spread your legs."
Brent Spiner: I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Hawking because he did an episode of the show. We met all of the Mercury astronauts, they were all still with us at the 30th anniversary of Alan Shepard's first flight. It was overwhelming, and at that event was also Bob Hope and Walter Cronkite, and we were there, as pretend heroes.
But for me, the most rewarding experience has been meeting all of these people: all of the family of "Star Trek" that have been in all of these episodes and films. The great creative people that I've got to rub shoulders with has been amazing. It's a huge family at this point.
Zachary Quinto: Hands down, my favorite part of filming these movies is getting to spend all my time with these people who are incredible. It keeps being brought up that we've been doing this for almost ten years, which is kind of unfathomable, but it was 2007 when we made the first movie. We are truly a family to one another. Even though we only get to work together every few years, we stay in touch and we stay connected. These are people that will be in my life for the rest of it. That to me is easily the best part about the experience.
Justin Lin: I remember stepping into the hallways of Enterprise. The lights aren't on and it's still [being painted] and stuff. Just walking in there and feeling like, "Wow, I'm now part of this."
Karl Urban: Anytime you're on the bridge of the Enterprise, and there's 50 million buttons, you cannot help but go and push every single one of them. Just to see if something's going to happen.
J.J. Abrams: To be talking about the 50th anniversary is insane! I was born the same year that "Star Trek" was, and I know how old I feel. So the idea that this thing endures is incredible, and a real honor to be part of.
Simon Pegg: I love that the universe is a boundless place and there's so many adventures to be had. And as long as we have this idea that we might not just all kill ourselves and die in a big fire, we might actually become slightly more enlightened, slightly more tolerant beings and go off into space -- THAT is a lovely idea that I think secretly the vast majority of us want to achieve, you know? "Star Trek" will live forever.
Rod Roddenberry (son of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry; executive producer, "Star Trek: Discovery"): You probably can't put this, but I think my dad would say, "Holy sh*t, this is amazing!" You know, he used to do something pretty funny. He would get on stage, and he would fold his arms and kind of look at the audience and say, "Yep, just the way I planned it!" in a joking sort of way. But I know he'd be honored and thrilled, and he'd want to give so much credit to the fans. I think he'd be blown away by it, absolutely.