“Beam me up, Scotty”, perhaps the most famous line in Star Trek, was never actually uttered by Captain Kirk. The closest he ever got was in one of the movies, when he said “Scotty, beam me up!”. The most prophetic phrase in Star Trek, however, is “live long, and prosper”. Star Trek has certainly done that.
September 8, 1966 saw the premier of a new science fiction television show on NBC. After lackluster ratings in it’s first two seasons, it almost didn’t make it to a third. A letter writing campaign by fans convinced NBC to renew it for another season, but in what might seem to some to be a fit of spite, it was moved from it’s Thursday night time slot, to Friday nights at 10 pm. Most of it’s young audience was out enjoying the beginning of the weekend, and ratings predictably fell. Star Trek was not renewed for a fourth season. For most television productions, that would have been the end of the story. Maybe a rerun now and again, but otherwise, obscurity. Not so with Star Trek. It was the series that wouldn’t die.
I don’t recall being aware of the show when it was on prime time. I’m sure that’s probably because my father would have been watching Bonanza or Gunsmoke or something similar on our one black and white television. (Yes, Virginia, people used to have only one television. Back To The Future wasn’t kidding) By 1971, however, something happened that would deeply affect me, and become part of the fabric of my life. Channel 26 began broadcasting from a studio on Mooney Blvd. in Visalia.
In it’s daily lineup, KMPH played Star Trek. I’d rush home from school and plop down in front of our TV (still only one in the house, but we had a color set by then) and watch the adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al (Dad wasn’t home from work yet). I have no idea how many times I’ve seen each of the original episodes, but I doubt I’ve gone more than a few days in a row since then without some version of Star Trek making an appearance. It’s had a profound effect on my life.
Of course, Spock was the character that spoke to me the most. The different one who could stand apart and observe, and use science and logic to succeed. To a skinny, awkward bookworm, Spock was the example that formed much of my self-image in junior high and high school. If I went ‘all Spock’, the bullying that I experienced (or imagined – I’m sure my insecurities made it seem worse than it actually was) was easier to endure. I could pretend to myself that it didn’t matter to me, that I could only be hurt if I let my emotions run unchecked. Spock’s stoicism became my example, and my way of thinking. I still reflect many of those personality traits today. (and I can do a mean eyebrow raise)
You’d think Kirk would be more appealing to a teenage boy. Heroic, forceful, strong, humorous at times, and, perhaps most importantly to that age bracket, always getting the girl. Of course, it was much later before I figured out why that last trait was never going to work out for me. Being a southern gentleman like McCoy was a bit easier to incorporate into one’s habits, though, even if his emotions were in opposition to Spock’s cool demeanor. Being Kirk was out of the question, and Bones had traits that could be in the mix, but it was Spock who was my rock.
I know I’m not alone in that. I just saw the movie “For The Love of Spock” at Fresno’s Tower Theater (One of only eight theaters in the USA showing the film on Sept. 8). Intended as a 50th anniversary tribute to Star Trek, after the death in 2015 of actor Leonard Nimoy it instead became a tribute to Spock. Made by his son Adam, the film chronicles the role, Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock, and the effect it’s had on his fans. Many of them said similar things – that Spock was a role model to them. You know a character, and a show, has had a serious impact on society when astronauts and scientists credit it as the catalyst to their interest in science and space, or when a sitting President has no qualms about being photographed giving the Vulcan salute. A pretty heady thing for a campy space opera! (or, as creator Gene Roddenberry pitched it to network executives, a “Wagon Train to the stars”)
Four television series, thirteen movies, uncounted paperback novels, a firm place in popular culture, idioms that permeate society, Star Trek even serves as source material for University courses. No other television show has come close.
I don’t know what my life would have been like without Star Trek, but I doubt it would have turned out as well as it has. Perhaps things would have worked out just fine, but I know I would have missed out on a lot of wonderful entertainment along the way, at the very least.
Fifty years, and still going strong. “Live Long, and Prosper”, Star Trek. And Thank You.