If you were regularly watching The Original Series when it was first being broadcast in the late 1960’s, and you wanted to find out what the upcoming episode was going to be about, you generally had to grab your local newspaper or TV Guide and thumb through it until you found the page that had the entry for Star Trek. Those entries, also called log lines, story lines or program highlights, were short descriptions of the upcoming program – generally only a sentence or two in length– and they were sometimes accompanied by a photo. Those little snippets were usually good enough to convey the essence of the story, but just barely. And at the time, of course, you really had no choice but to rely on those tiny spots for information. They were all you had to judge whether Star Trek, and the upcoming episode, would be worthy of your attention.
Regardless, though, of when or where those little advertisements appeared, they were designed to better connect you to the show and pique your curiosity for the next one.
But did you ever wonder where all the information in those blurbs came from? Well, we did, and here’s the answer we’ve uncovered to that question, in log line form: It came from press releases and press kits. If you’re interested in a longer answer, please keep reading.
Before TOS debuted, no one knew anything about it, so everything was publicized in order to build audience interest: the cast, the characters, the concept, the producer, the stage crew... everything.
Initially, publicity/promotion for TOS was handled by both the NBC Network and the Desilu Studio. While NBC developed and released their own press materials in-house, Desilu hired the firm of McFadden, Strauss, Eddy, and Irwin (MSEI). MSEI had offices in both Los Angeles and New York (and later in London), and they had an established track record. At the time, they handled the publicity for more than 200 celebrities and businesses, including the Quinn Martin Production Company, the Ford Motor Company, Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Vincent Price and many others.
To push the new, upcoming, non-Lost in Space science fiction series, both NBC and MSEI distributed a lot of information about it. NBC sent out a series of one-page press releases that highlighted various aspects of the show and the actors. They also sent out publicity photos with paper tags (also called snipes) attached to their backs that described what the photos showed. Interestingly, sometimes the descriptions on the paper tags correctly described the photos and sometimes they didn’t.
MSEI, on the other hand, did a bit more work and released elaborate press kits (also called media kits) that consisted of biographical information about the stars, the producer and that new spaceship, the Enterprise. The press kits additionally contained publicity photos, and they were typically mailed to the newspapers, magazines, television stations and any other place where they could promote the new series.
(As a special treat for selected individuals, media and stations, the first kits contained a cardboard model of the series’ spaceship that could be assembled and displayed on desks.)
The Series and Syndication
During the first season of TOS, MSEI continued distributing press kits and sent one out for each episode. The kits consisted of a story line page, an “exclusive to you in your city” behind-the-scenes feature and numerous publicity photos. These materials were used by the newspapers and other print media to form the basis of their log lines, advertising and general publicity. (In the below examples, the story line is from “The Naked Time” while the “exclusive to you and your city” is from “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”)
Often, the local newspapers and magazines used the material in the press kits directly to write their log lines and advertisements. Every once in a while, however, they paraphrased the releases and snipes, and, when coupled with photos that showed TOS’ unusual images, their interpretations of the upcoming episodes resulted in odd and/or humorous log lines.
As TOS became better known, and as its ratings declined, the need for the press kits waned. Consequently, MSEI was let go at the end of the first season. From that point on, and until approximately the midpoint of the second season, the publicity was handled by Desilu and NBC. After that, and until the end of the series, it was spearheaded by Paramount and NBC.
Finally, when TOS ended and entered syndication, Paramount repackaged the biographical information, story lines (albeit with a few rewrites on some), and publicity photos and distributed them in their syndication kits. These kits were used until the mid-1980’s, and, interestingly, sometimes, their information pops up today in descriptions of the show and its episodes.
And that’s it from us – that’s our exclusive to you in your city. Until next time...
David Tilotta is a professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC and works in the areas of chemistry and sustainable materials technology. You can email David at firstname.lastname@example.org. Curt McAloney is an accomplished graphic artist with extensive experience in multimedia, Internet and print design. He resides in a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and can be contacted at email@example.com. Together, Curt and David work on startrekhistory.com. Their Star Trek work has appeared in the Star Trek Magazine and Star Trek: The Original Series 365 by Paula M. Block with Terry J. Erdmann.