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Star Trek ... in the news!

Posted: July 25, 2014 11:24 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.

OK, OK, yes I’m talking Star Trek again, but hang on, this is really more about newspapers than Star Trek. All right, maybe 50-50.

In perusing all things Trek last week, I came across an item actually on the franchise’s official website: the third in a four-part series called “Star Trek and Newspapers.”

(And, no, I don’t literally do things like every waking minute of every day. Every other day, maybe, but not every day.)

Obviously, I was intrigued, so I clicked over, found the first part and started reading.

People usually count Star Trek’s beginning from the airing of the first episode with William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk: “The Man Trap,” aired on Sept. 8, 1966. Technically, that’s all wrong.

The pilot episode of that first season was really “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which didn’t get aired until Sept. 22. Even that not’s the real pilot. “The Cage,” featuring Jeffery Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike, was produced in mid-December 1964, almost two years before Shatner appeared on screen. “The Cage” never aired in its complete form until 1988, parts of it having been used in the original series only two-part episodes called “The Menagerie.”

Anyway, as I began reading sociology professors Marie Jose and John Tenuto’s series on the show’s relationship with newspapers, I came to realize Star Trek is even older than I thought.

I turns out that on in July and December of 1964, TV newspaper columnists began talking about creator Gene Roddenberry’s deal with Desilu (yes, that would that Desi and Lucy) to produce “an hour-long science fiction series, ‘Star Trek.’”

By the time I was four months old, in July 1965, newspapers were beginning to report on how NBC, which had turned down the Hunter pilot, had given the go-ahead for the second pilot starring Shatner.

There were some funny, sort-of related stories, too. Turns out that, just before the show’s premiere, Portage County, Pa., began reporting UFOs. Roddenberry’s take: “Somebody up there must like the show.”

Even Roddenberry got in the column writing act -- a two-part article in TV Week (so, technically, a magazine) in June and July 1966 about how he came up with Star Trek.

Jose and Tenuto point out that a most of the press on Star Trek’s premiere was quite good, with just a smattering of bad press. As the show gained popularity, Roddenberry and the actors began being interviewed. And would you believe hair was one of the prime topics?

Leonard Nimoy -- he who is Spock -- guest-starred on Roddenberry’s one season only show, “The Lieutenant.” (Trivia: most of the Star Trek guest starred on the show.) Roddenberry told Kings Feature Service columnist Charles Witbeck that he thought of casting Nimoy as an alien -- pointed ears and all -- from the moment he saw him. There were lots of ideas about how Spock would look, even bald or, at least, without bangs. Nimoy didn’t like what he saw, so we ended up with Spock’s iconic look.

The other “hairy” matter had to do with DeForest Kelly, who played Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. Older folks might remember that Kelly played villains, mostly in Westerns -- and with long hair. Network executives passed over Kelly for both pilots because they couldn’t see him as a hero.

Here’s what Kelly told the Independent Star News of Pasadena, Calif., about Roddenberry sending him to Hollywood men’s hair stylist Jay Sebring:

“It was expensive. It cost $35, but I had confidence in Roddenberry.”

Jose and Tenuto don’t explain how they got this little nugget because it’s not in the scan of the Independent Star News Article, but Roddenberry apparently asked Sebring to model Kelly’s hair style after none other than President John F. Kennedy (with side by side photos to prove it). Now, how about that?

The authors go on to talk about how -- both at the end of the first and second seasons -- newspapers helped inform viewers of the possibility the show might be cancelled. That lead to the legendary letter-writing campaigns that kept Star Trek on the air for three seasons out of its “five year mission.” A piece of trivia connected to this they uncovered: due to the number of people watching Star Trek, it only cost NBC an average of $4.30 to reach 1,000 homes, while another show on the network, The Telephone Hour, cost $13 per 1,000 homes, due to lower ratings.

Then, of course, there are those fans, and newspapers didn’t treat them quite as well as they did the show itself. Trek went off the air in 1969; soon after, syndication of the show helped keep the fan base alive, and growing, into conventions that have spanned the globe.

But, as Jose and Tenuto depict, the headlines weren’t kind. “Star Trek Freaks Convene Again.” “‘Star Trek’ Cult Keeps Growing.” “Star Trek TV series breeds a cult of space worshippers.” Things got better later on, especially when word got out that fans were inundating NASA with letters to name the test version of the Space Shuttle “Enterprise.” It worked. Even then, though, newspapers struggled to understand why NASA agreed.

Perhaps they forgot that Star Trek inspired many of NASA’s scientists to stay in school, get their degrees and join the agency.

Well, here’s one newspaper man who won’t soon forget.

The fourth part of the series hasn’t been published yet. The authors say they’ll focus on the franchise’s move to movie theaters.

OK, I’ll admit it: I can’t wait.


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