As Star Trek fans, we luv us some anniversaries.
Of course, the immortal date of Sept. 8, 1966, has long been accepted and used as “the” anniversary of all things Trek—since that’s the airdate of the premiere, the first episode viewable by the public over the NBC network. It’s pretty much etched in stone as Star Trek’s birthday—even though one could make other arguments. There’s Gene Roddenberry’s first draft series pitch memo (March 11, 1964), or even the beginning or end of filming on “The Cage” first pilot (Nov. 29 or Dec. 18, 1964). Or even the February 1996 day that NBC agreed to “buy” Star Trek from Desilu’s Herb Solow and put it on the fall schedule.
But 9/8/66 it is… and for the past few cycles the celebrations have been ever bigger and more marketed as the rest of the franchise boomed — peaking perhaps with the dual homage episodes on both Deep Space Nine and Voyager in 1996 for the 30th anniversary, “Trials and Tribble-ations” and “Flashback.” Unfortunately, Enterprise didn’t make it to a fourth or fifth season for the 40th anniversary in 2006—who KNOWS what ratings-grabbing stunt the prequel series would have pulled off to honor TOS? Could Archer and Kirk have somehow met then, even before William Shatner had Scott Bakula on his Raw Nerve series, or The Shat’s upcoming documentary on the actors behind his fellow lead captains? Gives you pause, now, huh?
As time goes by, those major Trek anniversaries come round faster and faster—especially when TV series are out of production and the movie news is slim. Sorry, but the big news for 2011 is not that this is already the 45th anniversary year —but that the 50th anniversary is right around the corner in 2016! FIFTY! Are you kiddin’ me? I literally had to sit down and let that wash over me when the thought occurred. (And, being at a con in the middle of my slideshow, I thought it was a good idea at the time.)
All the Trek series, of course, have their own birthdays as well, always pegged to each one’s debut date—and made only a little fuzzy by the fact that the syndicated Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation actually had a week-long “premiere night,” market by market; at the same time, I think most finale farewells are worthy of marking as well. Toss in each theatrical movie, and we are just swimming in birthdays. We also now mark 1994 as the busiest, craziest Star Trek year ever—with TNG ending, Voyager beginning, DS9 ramping up for a third year and Generations‘ ballyhooed meeting of Kirk and Picard occurring on the big screen.
But there’s one year that’s pivotal in oh so many ways—and since it also falls as Star Trek’s 20th anniversary it tends to get covered up in the routine hoopla. I’m taking about the chain reaction of events that occurred in 1986—and the overlooked impact it all had on what we think of today as “the franchise.”
Do you remember 1986? Yes, it was the 20th anniversary of Star Trek—just about the time fans were being joined by the suits and accountants for all the celebrations. By happenstance, it was also the year of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: the Leonard Nimoy-directed, Nick Meyer-touched script now legendary as—until J.J. Abrams’s 2009 extravaganza—the Trek movie with the biggest crossover audience. Thanks to the ever-climbing box office success of “the whales one,” and the natural festivities of the 20th anniversary, Newsweek plastered the image of Spock on its weekly cover with the headline: “The Enduring Power of Star Trek.” For over a decade, local stations had been clamoring for “new” TV Star Trek as well, past those endless 79 reruns shown over and over with nary a dip in their ratings.
So who knows? Credit the huge ST IV box office, its crossover appeal, the TV affiliates’ clamor, or Newsweek … or even the attention gained nationwide by the star-studded 20th birthday party for Star Trek, held on the studio lot. For whatever reason, 1986 was the year that Paramount TV came back to Gene Roddenberry and said, “Hey Gene, baby—maybe it’s time to do TV again—whatta ya say?” Gene called in Bob Justman to start conferring… the ball got rolling on what became The Next Generation, bowing a year later … and ALL the rest, as they say, is (future) history.
By the way, J.J.’s little film sparked another Newsweek cover in 2009. Could history be about to repeat itself?
Larry Nemecek, author of The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Star Trek Magazine columnist and longtime editor of Star Trek Communicator, most recently appeared in Biography Channel’s The Captains of the Final Frontier two-hour special. Larry shares his years as Star Trek author, historian, consultant and insider online at conventions and on larrynemecek.com. Check out his commentary, and original video chats with all your favorite Treklanders at his own Treklandblog.com.