Gene Roddenberry’s pop culture phenomenon “Star Trek” first aired on NBC on Thursday, Sept. 8, 1966. For those of you bad in math, that means the beloved space serial is 50 today.
Happy birthday, “Star Trek.”
The show is so popular that it spawned an animated series that was literally the show animated and five spin-offs, including “Discovery,” which will stream on CBS in 2017.
The original series followed the crew of the Starship Enterprise — Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Mr. Spock, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, Dr. Bones McCoy, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, Twiki and Cylon.
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Wait. That’s not right. It was Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Bones, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura.
Where no TV show had gone before
Think what you want about “Star Trek,” but here’s why it’s important. It was one of the first shows, if not the first show, that featured a progressive cast. It had a macho captain, a black female lead — it was a multicultural cast, which was highly unusual for the time. This was only a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, making it even more groundbreaking that it featured a Russian character in Chekhov.
Although I am a fan of OG “Star Trek,” there was something about “The Next Generation” that I really enjoyed.
When I worked at WCBI in Columbus, Mississippi, which is now owned by the company that owns WXXV. When I worked master control on the weekends, I learned exactly how passionate “TNG” fans where. WCBI showed “TNG” every Saturday at 6 p.m. Sometimes things would happen, like college football games and they would run over it to the “TNG” slot. The phone would ring off the wall as one person after the other called to tell me how much they hated me and how badly I stunk because “Star Trek” was running later. Thank goodness I only get that ire and hatred on social media these days.
More human than humans
One of the main similarities between the original show and “TNG” was Leonard Nimoy’s “Spock” and Brent Spiner's “Data.” They were both non-human characters.
Spock was, of course, a Vulcan and Data was an android.
They both spent a lot of time being perplexed by human behavior. They didn’t feel anger or resentment or hate or joy or love or any human emotions. They were there to remind us of both how wonderful and how awful humans can be.
When I was 11 or 12, a huge moment in “Star Trek” history happened with the release of the second film in the franchise “The Wrath of Khan.”
After the long, and yes, boring, film that was “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “The Wrath of Khan” revitalized the franchise. It was an action-packed great sequel.
It also featured one of the saddest moments in film history when Spock died. Scotty played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and they sent his coffin into space. It was a real tear-jerker.
So happy birthday to a little space show that made us feel all kinds of feelings and showed us how frail our humanity actually is.