09 September 2006


Celebrating Star Trek

Star Trek first aired on NBC 40 years ago this month. Tim Cavanaugh, at Reason, has this appreciation. Also, don't miss convicted congressman Jim Traficant's "Beam Me Up" collection.

I didn't see the first two years of Star Trek. The local NBC affiliate in Nashville, WSM at the time, thought that us local yokels would rather see several hours of country music television programming on Thursday nights instead of hippy-dippy science fiction. I didn't even know the show existed until we visited our cousins in Savannah, Tennessee, on the fringe of both the Nashville and Memphis TV markets. Their family had a TV antenna with a rotor and could pick up signals from either direction at their own choice.

I think that first episode I saw was "Miri," but I'm not absoluely sure. I remember my amazement that the crew could get to the planet's surface through teleportation rather than using a rocket ship. Hell, I remember my amazement at the shape of the starship Enterprise. Where were the fins? Regardless, this was orders of magnitude better than Lost in Space.

That was it. I became obsessed with trying to see Star Trek. Occasionally, I would be able to pick up the NBC affiliate in Paducah, Kentucky, on the rabbit ears on a little black-and-white TV we had. Usually all I could get was the audio. I tried to write a transcription of an episde, "The Immunity Syndrome" (giant amoeba eats the Enterprise), from memory after listening to it on the TV. I bought some book -- The Making of Star Trek maybe -- and read about episodes I'd never seen, as well as the people who made them happen, including Bob Justman and D.C. Fontana and Matt Jeffries (who, I still remain surprised, apparently believed we would be able to develop materials to make those long struts holding the engine nacelles of the original Enterprise be able to withstand the forces of propelling the ship forward). I built Revell styrene models of the Enterprise and of a Klingon battle cruiser.

That third and much-derided season, NBC moved Star Trek to Friday nights, so I watched the opening episode, "Spock's Brain," with anticipation. And maybe I had a modicum of justified disappointment after it was over. But my neighbors Tom Meador and Bill Cherry and I rotated through being Kirk and Spock and McCoy many afternoons thereafter. I didn't really see the complete set of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes until they ran in syndication. (Cavanaugh, in his largely right-on article, misses the importance of that syndication in keeping the Star Trek spirit alive in so many during the dark years.)

I'll not disparage the other Star Trek incarnations. They clearly have their appeal to others, but to me they're largely a collection of bad latex facial appliques. But, the original voyages, boldly going forth, captured this one's imagination. Did they really make a difference in my life? I think so, and I think for the good. I think a world without them would be a world lacking something positive about life and possible futures. Possible futures that are, as Cavanaugh argues, full of government intervention, often for the worse, but still possible futures in which individuals can realize parts of their own better natures.

As long as they're not a red shirt assigned to security detail in a landing party.

Paducah? I'm from Paducah! I can't even imagine Paducah having a show Nashville didn't have, particularly a science fiction show.
Paducah. WSM in Nashville owned the Grand Ole Opry at the time. They had a very vested interest in promoting country music, and they believed that a sci fi show would pull lower ratings than their home-grown country shows. They were also syndicating those shows.
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