Trekking Along

josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | may 2016

Space, the final frontier, these are the voyages of more than the starship Enterprise...

“Star Trek” premiered on NBC on September 8, 1966. Fifty years ago, a pioneering idea hit the airwaves, and unbeknownst at the time, would begin a revolution in television.

“Star Trek” was never a hit in its original run and yet became the benchmark that networks would chase for the next five decades. Spawning six television series with a sevent imminent, 13 movies, innumerable video games, comic books, novels, toys and memorabilia, “Star Trek” was something no one saw coming. Not to mention all of the knock-offs that came in its wake.

“'Wagon Train' to the stars" was the simplistic way Trek was said to have been pitched to the network, and in an era where the western was king, this was a smart move. Science fiction on television was long the stable of kid shows and goofy action serials, but in the literary world, science fiction was treated far more seriously and that is what series creator Gene Roddenberry wanted to bring to television — science fiction for adults. Literary masters the likes of Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, David Gerrold, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad and Theodore Sturgeon, all worked on the show at some point. This was hardly kids' stuff. Obviously, this was uncharted territory for notoriously skittish networks, and in reality, they were kind of right to be weary of this ideal as the ratings for the original ““Star Trek”” between 1966 and 1969 were not there to justify their faith. Perhaps the audience in 1966 was not ready to have something more than a western thrust onto them, or perhaps the network sabotaged themselves by giving Trek a bad timeslot (a sure indicator of their lack of faith in the project). No matter the reason, a cultural milestone was reached nonetheless.

“Star Trek” was a marvelously subversive show in that television was very much in the stranglehold of a conservative FCC at the time and speaking out about the changes America was facing would not fly. You were not allowed to discuss the growing drug problem, feminism, race relations or even the ever-growing dissent for the war in Vietnam. These things were staples of the evening news but completely verboten in a fictional program — ironic considering far more people watched the fiction of prime time than the reality of news time. Gene Roddenberry once stated: "[By creating] a new world with new rules, I could make statements about sex, religion, Vietnam, politics, and intercontinental missiles. Indeed, we did make them on 'Star Trek': we were sending messages and fortunately they all got by the network." By wrapping his messages in science fiction and saying these things through aliens and god-beings, the network suits missed the message completely, but audiences did not.

Despite being a ratings disappointment in its time, “Star Trek” was selling quite a bit of merchandise, so it entered into syndication and even spawned a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon. Once Trek was syndicated, everything went nuts; this was where “Star Trek” hit the pop culture sweet spot. No longer held fast to the rigid network schedule, local stations could program the show where they saw fit and they knew their local audience. “Star Trek” went from being something only geeks remembered to something that EVERYONE watched. It did not matter who you were, you watched Trek. I was even born to a “Star Trek” episode in the background of the delivery room on that fateful day in 1975; the doctor was watching it while my mother was in labor.

By 1979, “Star Wars” made it clear that a new Trek series would not take place on television, but in the movie theater, and in 1987, a new crew would take over the reigns of the franchise. Through it all, the phenomenon only proceeded to grow. “Star Trek” crossed gender lines, age lines, racial lines and economic lines. Trek became a show that bonded people together and this was illustrated this month at the Resch Center in Green Bay.

“Star Trek”: The Ultimate Experience is a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the flagship series. A full orchestra played classic themes live, along with fantastic sets, lights and iconic scenes from all of the TV series and movies (except for the animated series for some reason, no love there I guess). Expertly executed and brought to life in an energetic and enigmatic manner this was a great show if you are a fan of Trek or not.


A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.

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