Get ready, Trekkies, the Smithsonian Channel debuts The Real Story: Star Trek on Sunday, June 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. An entertaining and informative look at the classic original science fiction series that spawned numerous television series and 12 feature films, The Real Story: Star Trek traces the beginnings of the show, and the life of its creator, Gene Roddenberry. The episode features interviews with Leonard Nimoy, who has played the iconic character Mr. Spock on both the small and big screen; Rod Roddenberry, Gene’s son; Herb Solow, the show’s producer; original members of the Star Trek fan club; and scientists and historians who also happen to be long-time fans of the series.
Many fans of the series may not know that Gene Roddenberry was a cop, as well as a huge television fan. When he was off-duty he wrote TV scripts that he eventually saw produced on shows like Highway Patrol and Have Gun – Will Travel. He soon was making so much money from his writing that he quit the police force and devoted himself to a career in television. When he got the idea for a science fiction series, he brought it to producer Herb Solow and the two were able to convince NBC to take a chance on the show. It was always a rocky relationship with the network, however, as NBC continually threatened cancellation. One of the network’s first concerns was that Spock’s pointy ears might alienate television viewers in the Bible Belt who might think that he appeared too “devilish.”
The Star Trek pilot featured actor Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike, who bowed out after filming, as he considered himself a movie, not a television star. The show was recast, with Nimoy the only actor continuing from the pilot. William Shatner came on as Captain Kirk; the show premiered in 1966, and the rest was history. Eventually. NBC always had the show on the chopping block, so Roddenberry worked non-stop on growing and mobilizing Star Trek’s fan base while cancellation loomed. Public pressure got NBC to renew the show for a third season, but the implication of many interviews in The Real Story: Star Trek is that Roddenberry was concentrating more on the show’s survival than its scripts. The show was finally cancelled in 1969, but it went into syndication soon after. Star Trek conventions started in 1972, and a cult was born.
There are some interesting, if not flattering, insights into Roddenberry’s driven character, as Nimoy finds it amusing that he insisted on being called “creator” (as opposed to producer) of the show. But what viewers may find most interesting is the real science behind Star Trek. Roddenberry insisted on the show’s science fiction being believable, and our modern day lives show many examples of what ’60s audiences may have thought of as fantasy, becoming reality:
Warp speed and anti-matter – Space can be warped and anti-matter does exist
Communicators – Cell phones
Regeneration – 3D printers can make human organs and body parts
Transporter – Science is experimenting with teleportation
Androids – Computers with artificial intelligence
The Real Story: Star Trek may make even long-time fans of the most well-known science fiction franchise think differently about their favorite show. As Mr. Spock was fond of saying, “fascinating.”