What If The Original Star Trek Had Debuted on Friday Nights?
By Maria Jose and John Tenuto - April 30, 2014
One of the joys we have while researching the archives of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and writer/director Nicholas Meyer is uncovering small details and trivia we did not know before. The other joy is sharing that information with fellow fans and with our sociology students who like Star Trek. This article, we get share one of those small details that could have made a big difference.
Star Trek famously premiered on Thursday, September 8, 1966, at 8:30 p.m. The change to Fridays during season three of The Original Series is often cited as one of the reasons for Star Trek’s eventual cancellation. In the era before DVRs, the argument goes that many of those from the demographic group watching Star Trek were out on Friday evenings, not home watching TV, and hence, the cancellation. Whether that is true or not, the perception had been that Friday nights were a bad night for science fiction programs to air (V: The Series suffered the same Friday night experience in 1984 and was cancelled after only one year).
One of the items in the University of California, Los Angeles’ Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection which caught our eye was a Western Union telegram sent by Roddenberry on March 6, 1966, informing the show's actors of Star Trek being picked up by NBC as a series. Roddenberry wrote: “GOOD NEWS OFFICIAL PICKUP TODAY OUR FIVE YEAR MISSION 830 EVERY FRIDAY NIGHT BEST REGARDS GENE RODDENBERRY.”
Note the night: Friday! Considering the infamy that a Friday night time slot has in Star Trek production history, it is almost chilling to think about the permutations had NBC decided to stay with Friday nights during Trek’s first season as Roddenberry’s telegram reveals. Obviously, the network changed their minds and launched Star Trek on Thursdays. However, if the arguments about the third-season switch from Thursdays to Fridays correlating to Trek’s cancellation are valid, then it is possible that a Friday night first season would have further impaired the show's already concerning ratings. A Friday first season could very well have meant worse ratings, no second season, no syndication, no revival and no Trek history as we know it, not to mention no StarTrek.com and no articles like the one you're reading now.
Little details like Star Trek almost being on Fridays may seem trivial, but as many Star Trek episodes, and real life teaches us, small details affect big ones. Regardless, it is fun (or rather, terrifying) to think about the possible outcomes of Friday Trek, and always fun to learn about the details of Trek history.
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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