The Pilots of Star Trek

The Cage
Where No Man Has Gone Before
Encounter at Farpoint
Emissary
The Caretaker
Broken Bow
The Vulcan Hello

Trying to compare and contrast these pilot episodes is like trying to compare and contrast apples and oranges. They are all pilots, but they are as different as can be. Why? Because they are all a product of their times. The only two that can even come close are the two TOS pilots, The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before, but even those two were extremely different. The second was created in response to network executives believing that Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future was “too cerebral” and too tolerant of diversity and not enough sexist. A female second in command? Never! Make her a nurse instead and put her in a mini-skirt!

TNG’s pilot sat in judgment of the human race, should we be allowed to infect the universe as we had infected our home planet or should we be condemned out of existence? Emissary showed us we’d be exploring the intersection between science and myth, reality and religion. The Caretaker introduced us to a female captain who would lead and nurture her family through unknown perils. Broken Bow was more interested in solidifying Star Trek mythos than storytelling and The Vulcan Hello comes after nearly two decades of non-stop warfare and incongruously asserts that the Vulcan way is to smack first and ask questions later.

A sign of the times.

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Star Trek’s Business Model

To what extent did the business model of network television enable Star Trek: The Original Series to appeal to such a wide range of audiences? In what ways did that same model constrain it?

By the mid-sixties, television was no longer a novelty or a toy for the rich. Nearly every home had at least a black and white TV and more and more middle-class families were enjoying their favorite shows in color. The phrase “in living color!” was becoming common and Star Trek took advantage of this new prosperity to feature color to enhance their storytelling. Bright uniforms, alien skin-tones and remote planetary landscapes became the norm.

Audiences were used to black and white sci-fi programming. Shows such as The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space and My Favorite Martian were popular, but when Star Trek hit the scene it had an immediate appeal simply because it looked different! It was bright. It was bold. The mere visuals told the audience it was something special and they needed to watch it.

Conversely, in the end, it was that attention to detail that ultimately caused the show to be cancelled. Star Trek was, simply put, too expensive to make. Studio executives could not justify spending so much of their budget on special effects when other, equally popular in their view, programs such as Batman, could be made for much less. These short sighted executives had no way of knowing the worldwide phenomenon that Star Trek would become.

Lifelong Fan

I was three years old when Star Trek premiered in 1966 and I can strongly say that I have been a fan as long as that. My mother was the oldest of four children with three younger brothers and I was the oldest grandchild who spent every weekend and summers at my grandparents house. As such, my uncles who still lived at home were often called upon to babysit me and since my uncles would spend their evenings watching TV in the basement I would naturally be there with them. What did they watch? All the most popular shows of the mid-sixties…Mission: Impossible, Dragnet, The Untouchables, Batman and of course, Star Trek. There is not a time in my life I cannot remember when Star Trek was not a part of it. It has been one of the strongest, if not THE strongest, influence in my life.

 

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