By February 1969, Star Trek was dead. The show had been cancelled and fans around the country were heartbroken. It was a dark time for Star Trek fans. The TV landscape was bare of any decent sci-fi. Land of the Giants was on Sunday nights on ABC. That was pretty much it.
I was 9 when Star Trek was cancelled. I still remember my dad letting me stay up on Friday nights to watch the third season from 10-11 pm. Star Trek, along with other science fiction, was a love we shared and was bonding time for my father and me. I loved the ships and the battles. My father loved the philosophy behind it – that a crew of disparate races could work as one. In Boston, where I grew up, we lived in a neighbourhood that was a pretty good mix of immigrants, but racial tension was still in the air and the Vietnam war only added to the stress. My dad told me that Star Trek gave us hope for a better future.
After the show’s cancellation, it was announced on March 10, 1969, that Star Trek would soon be placed into local syndication. Luckily, Kaiser Broadcasting had purchased the rights to Star Trek back in 1967 during the show’s first season. Even though the show was dead in space, we could still watch it (remember, this was an era way before videotape and on demand – we only had 7 TV stations!). The 1970’s was a golden era for fans. Channel 56, the local Kaiser station, ran weeknight reruns of Lost in Space at 4 and Star Trek at 5. They also gave us reruns of The Outer Limits and Creature Double Feature on Saturday afternoons. Like I said, a golden era.
The reruns gave me a chance to watch the show from the beginning, and memorize the episodes. Star Trek first aired when I was 6 and I vaguely remembered the first season. But I certainly caught up. For my family, dinner was a communal event. We sat at the kitchen table and ate together. We would talk and share events of the day, but, we also had a TV on a credenza in the kitchen, and when 5 pm rolled around, we ate in silence watching Star Trek. Afterwards, my father and I would talk about the episode and what we liked about it.
I wanted more. The episodes were great, but, certainly, there were many more as yet untold adventures for the crew of the Enterprise. Clearly others felt the same way. It was during this era that the first Bantam original Star Trek novels came out. They ran from 1970 to 1981. The first one was Spock Must Die by James Blish in February, 1970. Every Friday afternoon, my dad would pick me up from school and head to the bookstore. I could buy 3-5 books every week. I scooped up the Bantam novels, and everything I could find on Ancient Aliens. I had already devoured the episode adaptations and the novels were a great way to stretch the imagination and continue the voyages, but I wanted so much more.
In March, 1973, the animated series was announced and ran from September 8, 1973 to October 12, 1974. I was excited at the thought of new Star Trek on TV. When it aired, though, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. The show seemed to lack energy and the writing didn’t have the same wit as some of the classic episodes like A Piece of the Action. I found the animation crude at best and the show only ran for half an hour which was infuriating. I would watch My Favorite Martian at 10 on CBS, then switch to Star Trek at 10:30 on NBC, followed by Sigmund and the Sea Monsters at 11. Saturday morning cartoons started at 8 with The Bugs Bunny Show on ABC and ended with Fat Albert at 12:30. You knew the cartoons were over when Soul Train came on. I was grateful for The Outer Limits and Creature Double Feature to fill the afternoons.
Aside from the disappointing animated series, it didn’t seem like Star Trek would ever return to TV. It was also about this time that I discovered the many Star Trek items you could buy from Lincoln Enterprises, a mail order company started by Majel Barrett and Bjo Trimble. Full uniforms weren’t available, but you could buy pins, scripts, IDICs, and bumper stickers.
Because there was no internet, you learned things from magazines like Starlog. Rumours were rife, but you had no real way to confirm them. If you were lucky, you could attend a Star Trek convention. There weren’t any conventions in Boston, but there certainly were in New York. I had just earned my driver’s license and attended my first Convention in February, 1976 at the Commodore Hotel, NY. I drove down by myself and tried to figure out where the hotel was without benefit of GPS or a cell phone. William Shatner, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, Majel Barrett, and David Gerrold were all there. I got as many autographs as I could, even from Isaac Asimov. Gene Roddenberry talked about a movie and some scripts he had. The rumours of a live action film were true!
And then the world changed on May 25, 1977. Star Wars came out. This changed everything. A mega-blockbuster with giant spaceships, battles galore, and the Force. Could Luke and Leia be a part of my life as much Captain Kirk, Bones, and Mr. Spock?
June 18, 1977 announcement in the New York Times that Star Trek will return to television. I honestly don’t remember hearing anything about Star Trek: Phase II, Gene Roddenberry’s planned new series. At 17, I was trying to graduate from high school and prepare for college. I missed out on the swirling maelstrom that was the preparation for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
On March 28, 1978 Star Trek: The Motion Picture was announced. I did hear snippets of issues with signing up the original crew for the new movie. How could you have Star Trek without Spock? Who would McCoy argue with?
In September, 1977, Leonard Nimoy made this startling announcement at Americon. According to Nancy Kippax:
Leonard Nimoy said, “I am here because my heart is broken,” he began, and a sudden hush fell over the huge assembly. He went on to say that he had been receiving hate mail, threats and accusations from the fans that he found inexplicable. One letter had referred to him as “you Benedict Vulcan.” Having always enjoyed a pleasing and satisfactory relationship with his fans and with the fans of Star Trek, he was hurt by this turnaround. He understood that the cause was the rumour about his not wanting to participate in a new film. This, he said, was not the case. As far as he knew, there was no script yet, and no one had ever approached him about being in a film. “If Gene Roddenberry wants me to be in this film, let him come to me and ask.” It was not, he declared, the custom for an actor to approach a studio or a producer. The studio or the producer approached the actor. And he had not been approached. Yet meanwhile, the fans were blaming him. He had come to the convention to set the record straight and to elicit the support of the fans.
It was a cold Friday, December 7, 1979, around 40 degrees. The Sack 57 in downtown Boston was the only theatre in town showing the movie. My dad and I got to the cinema 2 hours before the show and the line was incredibly long. We didn’t get to see the first showing, but we did get tickets to the second show. That gave us time to get dinner in Chinatown.
After 10 years of waiting for Star Trek to return, after reading the novels, watching the somewhat disappointing animated series, attending conventions, and having had Star Wars change our expectations of what a science fiction movie should look and sound like, it was time to watch The Motion Picture. I remember holding my breath in excitement desperately hoping not to be disappointed.
At one point I do remember sitting there thinking, “why is this movie focusing so much on Decker and Ilia?” and “isn’t this just a remake of The Changeling????” It was a very sombre and bloated film with lots of talking and slow ships. Where was the banter? Where was Kirk’s swagger? Where was the humour? As much as I respected Robert Wise, he really didn’t understand Star Trek.
As we left the cinema, my dad and I turned to each other and said, “We waited 10 years for this?”
While my love of Star Trek never wavered, I have to say The Motion Picture did dampen my spirits. It wasn’t until 1982, when Wrath of Khan came out, that my original passion for Star Trek was renewed. It’s been 37 years since I saw The Motion Picture. I’ll probably watch it again on Star Trek Day. I hope to have a better impression of it.