Why it works, Star Trek the original series

I grew up watching Star Trek, Next Generation with my grandma. It’s pretty mainstream now, but back then Star Trek was a niche show. A nerd show. 

But being a nerd is cool now, so screw that. And now Star Trek’s got so much love it can’t handle it. I could be a bitter hipster about that. I mean, I liked Star Trek before it was cool. Or, I could just appreciate that everyone loves Star Trek. 

Third option. I could revisit Star Trek as a writer and see why it works. I like option three. 

Of course, I couldn’t possibly talk about all things Star Trek in one post. So over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at all of the different Star Trek shows, starting with the original series and ending with Picard.

Today, we’re starting with the original series. Why does it work?

Let’s start with the fact that it probably shouldn’t work. I mean, it was kind of a mess. The budget was garbage, the special effects were terrible, the costumes looked tragic.

But it does work. The series ran from September of 1966 to June of 1969. This means that the whole series started and finished seventeen years before I was born. And yet I can tell you Kirk’s last words.

Oh my. 

No, not the way Sulu says it. 

We’re going to break this down, but I can sum up in three words why Star Trek worked so well. Why it has survived well into the 21st century and will hopefully be around for a lot longer.

It was fearless.

Okay, it could get away with being fearless. No one expected the show to succeed. So it was working with little to no budget and a bunch of actors no one had ever heard of before. So, it could get away with anything. 

There’s a great quote by Lorne Michaels that I live my life by. The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30. 

Well, someone must have told Roddenberry that quote. Because let me tell you, Star Trek went on because it was 11:30. This lead to some hilarious moments. Like the tribble incident. 

On the off chance you don’t know this story, man are you in for a treat.

In the iconic episode, Trouble with Tribbles, there’s a scene where Kirk opens a hatch and is just showered with the fuzzy little things. If you look closely, or hell not that closely, you can see the shadow of a stagehand shoveling the tribbles through the hatch. 

Okay, so what is there to learn from this? Who wants to go into the world with their shirt untucked, so to speak? Why would you want to put work out there when it’s not ready?

Well, is it not ready? Or do you just feel not ready? 

Let me tell you something, from my heart to yours. You are never, ever going to feel ready. Your book, tv show, podcast, movie script, is never going to feel ready. It’s never going to match up with the flawless project in your head because how could anything ever be that perfect?

So, because we have to assume that nothing will ever be ready, we have to go on because it’s time. Because it’s 11:30, or we’ve revised the damn thing so much we’re sick of looking at it, or we’ve had it sitting on our desk for years. Does that mean sometimes we’re going to see hands throwing tribbles out of the hatch? Yeah, of course. But the alternative is never sending anything out. Pick one.

Here’s the other way Star Trek was fearless. And it’s arguably a bigger deal. Star Trek wasn’t afraid of doing things that were taboo at the time. Like having a Russian man and an Asian man as officers. Like having a black woman as an officer. 

Like having the first interracial kiss in American history on television. 

In an episode called Plato’s Stepchildren, Kirk and Uhura share a passionate kiss. Funny story about this kiss, aside from it being the first one of its kind in America. The producers were worried about it, so they wanted to film the scene a few ways. Shatner agreed but then proceeded to intentionally fuck up every single take that didn’t include the kiss until they’d run out of time and had to use the scene as it was written.

That’s right. Shatner decided to be a dick to force social change. Good use of bad behavior. 

Not all the episodes worked, that’s for sure. The ones that missed, missed hard. But the episodes that work, work amazingly well. They work so well that they’re still working to this day. 

See you next week when we’ll be talking about Next Generation.

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