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Forces of Geek Presents: ‘Star Trek’ 55th Anniversary Roundtable Discussion

Fifty five years ago today, Star Trek premiered, changing popular culture forever.

Created by Gene Roddenberry,Trek introduced the crew of the Starship Enterprise; Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) and James Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan). The Enterprise explored space, the final frontier for three seasons and sixty nine episodes, followed by two seasons and twenty two episodes of animated advenures, and eventually six feature films with the original cast, the mission remained the same, “explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.” In 2009, Paramount recast the crew with younger actors who teamed up for three feature films.

Today, we’re celebrating the legacy of the Original Series with several people who’s life and careers have been influenced by the series.

I’d like to personally tribute today’s discussion to Bjo Trimble, who with her husband, John, were responsible for not only leading the “Save Star Trek” campaign, but also were instrumental in helping establish science fiction fan conventions. Bjo is also the author of the Star Trek Concordance and her memoir, On the Good Ship Enterprise: My 15 Years with Star Trek.

Bjo enthusiastically wanted to be a part of this, but is dealing with some health issues and wasn’t able to participate. Bjo, we wish you could be here; live long and prosper.

I’d like to introduce the participants and the discussion will span over several pages.

Please enjoy and share with fellow Trekkies/Trekkers/sci-fi/pop culture fans!

Meet The Players:

  • Stefan Blitz, editor-in-chief of Forces of Geek; your moderator
  • John Trimble, with wife Bjo, was instrumental in both early science fiction conventions and the original “Save Star Trek Campaign”
  • Ian Spelling: veteran journalist and entertainment writer who has written hundreds, probably thousands of Star Trek – related features for magazines, websites, and newspapers. He served as the editor of StarTrek.com from 2010 to 2019; has moderated panels at numerous Star Trek events; and authored The Making of Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek – The Original Series: A Celebration.
  • Peter Briggs, film and television screenwriter and comic book author, best known for Hellboy (2004) with Guillermo del Toro andhigh-profile unproduced films including The Hunt: Alien vs. Predator, Freddy vs. Jason, Judge Dredd, Panzer 88 (with Aaron Mason), and Silverlance (featured in Josh Hull’s new book “Underexposed: The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made)
  • Jeff Bond, journalist, author of The Art of Star Trek: The Kelvin Timeline and The Music of Star Trek; co-author of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Art and Visual Effects.
  • Rich Handley, writer/editor for a number of genre properties through such publishers as DC Comics, BOOM! Studios, Dark Horse Comics, IDW, Titan Books, Sequart, and ATB Publishing; former reporter and columnist for Star Trek Communicator magazine; served as the editor of Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection (which ran for 150 in total) and still writes a weekly Star Trek column for its HeroCollector website.
  • Larry Young, writer/publisher/columnist; co-publisher of indie comics company AIT/PlanetLar; writer of their flagship title: Astronauts in Trouble. Writer of the MTV Big Picture Special Edition: The Star Trek Logs with Marina Sirtis
  • Bill Cunningham, Publisher, Pulp 2.0 Press
  • John E. Price, PhD, academic and cultural critic. Life-long /Trekkie. Editor at New Directions in Folklore, award-winning researcher on fan studies and popular culture lore.
  • Carol Pinchefsky, freelance writer of geek culture, technology, science, and business. Her book on the business of geek culture will be out in Q1 2022.
  • Steven Thompson, pop culture writer/editor/researcher; author of The Best of Booksteve’s Library and co-author of Run, Holly, Run!: A Memoir by Holly from 1970s TV Classic “Land of the Lost”.
  • Bob Greenberger, writer/editor for various magazines including Starlog, Comics Scene, Famous Monsters and Weekly World News. He also held editorial positions at both Marvel and DC Comics, which inclded an eight year run editing DC’s Star Trek comic. In addition he’s written/edited/contributed to over 100 books, with almost two dozen Trek related books including Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History.
  • John Kirk, Freelance journalist, hosts celebrity panels for FanExpo and regular contributor to Pop Mythology; has written about Trek for 1701news, WhatCulture, GeekFeed and Den of Geek. Contributes to Star Wars Insider and Back Issue Magazine.

 

When was the very first time that you experienced Star Trek?

Image courtesy CBS/Paramount

John Trimble: Gene brought three episodes to the World Science Fiction Con in 1966, so we saw Star Trek before it first aired on TV. Just like the rest of the fans who saw it at that time, we were cautiously optimistic and hoped that it would live up to the promise of serious adult Science Fiction.

Carol Pinchefsky: My father watched reruns when I was a little girl, when I was too young to appreciate it. (I preferred his other favorite, F-Troop. I was 5, people.) One day, when I was 11, I was flipping channels and landed on the episode “The Empath.” I fell in love with the theme of compassion and camaraderie, and the fact that our actions have consequences beyond ourselves. I was instantly, irrevocably hooked.

It’s one of the reasons I still love Star Trek to this day: It makes me think and feel.

Steven Thompson: I first discovered Star Trek during its original run but I didn’t really experience it until the early ‘70s reruns. Season two was on opposite Gomer Pyle, USMC on CBS and we never missed Gomer at our house. But Gomer was only a half hour so we’d sometimes catch the end of Star Trek over on NBC. I can’t recall any specific episodes. By the third season it was in a different time slot and we actually were watching it sometimes. The two episodes I specifically recall seeing then were the infamous “Spock’s Brain” and the very last episode, “Turnabout Intruder.” I was 10 years old when it went off the air.

I was already a book nut, though, and one day a couple years later I spotted a book called The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold and bought it. It intrigued me to watch more episodes. STAR TREK was then being rerun locally overnight on Saturdays, alternating episodes with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I would try to stay up. I usually caught the first episode but dozed off during the second. It was enough to get me hooked, though.

Soon enough, the reruns popped up on weeknights at a more convenient time. My friend and I joined a Star Trek club at a local college. Magazines we read like The Monster Times were covering the series long after its demise. I bought the still available Viewmaster reels! It wasn’t long before I found myself at my first Star Trek con, in my homemade medical uniform shirt with its sewn-on emblem, standing right next to DeForest Kelley as he was being interviewed on television! Never said a word to the man but just basked in his coolness.

So yeah, I discovered Star Trek in 1967. I first experienced Star Trek around 1973.

Peter Briggs: I had one of those Viewmaster reels – “The Omega Glory.” It wasn’t one of my favourite episodes at the time (I like it more now), but seeing the Enterprise bridge in 3D was amazing!

John Kirk: Though I was born in 1969, I wouldn’t see a TOS episode until I was seven and by then, residing in my third country. This would be a common thing in my childhood: I’d move around a lot but Star Trek was one of the few consistent features I could come to rely upon. That the main character had the same last name as me (and I would later learn that my name was going to actually be James T. Kirk) made an immediate impression on me and I was hooked.

My first episode was “The Corbomite Maneuver”. Balok’s alter ego terrified me and it became a personal challenge for me to stay to the end of the credits and will myself to stare down his enlarged cranium that appeared behind the Desilu Studios logo at the finish of not just that episode but everyone afterwards. It became a test of courage of sorts.

I think I was too young to grasp the subtle character themes of the episode but I remember enjoying the bravado of Kirk’s bluff in the face of a seemingly stronger adversary. It was a tactic I copied in a bullying incident! It was an inspired story and obviously one that affected me personally.

I think that was what really attracted me to Star Trek. As I said, I moved a lot as a kid. I was always the new student and had to adapt to four different countries, cultures and friends and if the crew of the USS Enterprise could “explore strange new worlds” and “boldly go where no man had gone before”, then so could I. Captain Kirk became the figurehead of this experience for me and I naturally adopted him as my first pop culture hero.

Jeff Bond: Just to tragically date myself, I’m pretty sure I saw a bit of Star Trek at the tail end of its original run, during the summer reruns of its final season in 1969. I was on a vacation with my family and I remember watching the moon landing that same week. The place we were vacationing had a lodge with a bar and a color TV set–a rare treat at the time–and I’m pretty sure it was running “Elaan of Troyius” because I remember a scene in engineering and the Klingon ship. At the age I was at the show seemed weird and a little scary–I remember having the same reaction when my dad took me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. But within a year or two I was watching the syndicated reruns every day.

Rich Handley: When the original show was still on the air, I was a toddler. The show was born in 1966 and I was born in 1968, and when it ended it was a few weeks before my first birthday. So I just missed being a first-generation fan. However, my mother was an avid fan and watched every new episode as it aired. We lived in a small apartment at the time and my playpen and toys were in the living room–so I can truthfully say I was exposed to the third season during its initial run, even though I was crawling around on the floor at the time and understood none of what I was seeing, if I was even paying attention.

When TOS went into syndicated reruns in the early 1970s, my mom started rewatching them, and she brought me into the fold. By then, I was four or five years old–not old enough to comprehend any of the messages (or, likely, the plots) but old enough to be dazzled by it. My mother told me I would sit and watch it with her, so I must have been interested. By the mid-1970s, I was still watching it. Where we lived at the time, it was shown every day in constant rotation, both after school and at night, so I watched it over and over and over again for years, to the extent that I could eventually identify an episode within a few seconds of its opening scene.

The rest is history, and by the time The Motion Picture came out, my mom and I couldn’t wait to head to the theater. Star Trek was something we did together, and it remained that way until her passing two years ago. She never got to see Lower Decks or Picard, and she never saw Discovery beyond its first season, but I know she would have loved them all.

Peter Briggs: I’m British, and got the double-whammy of being both a child of the late 60s and the BBC, as that was the channel TOS aired originally (interestingly, Britain only began it’s initial airing the show within a few months of its cancellation in the U.S…maybe the BBC purchased a syndication package deal.) Not only didn’t Star Trek air in the UK with commercial breaks, but the Beeb also did the curious thing of editing the running order of the titles, moving them forward to come before the cold open. Star Trek was a very popular programme in Britain: one of the few US sci-fi shows to get a consistent airing and prime-time reruns over many years. (All the Irwin Allen shows seemed to get shunted around the schedules into graveyard slots, so while I was aware of most of them, my viewing regularity of them was spotty.)

I guess book Annuals (hardback yearbooks which usually came out around Christmas, with articles and puzzles and comic strips) are/were a British thing, but it helpfully time-dates when I was watching Trek, as not only did I have the 1969 Star Trek Annual (and only missed a couple of them in the subsequent years), but I can also vividly recall desperately hoping a “Star Trek Captain” badge would be inside my next packet of the 1969 Kellogs Sugar Smacks promotion (I snagged some of the other badges, but never that elusive one.)

I grew up synchronously with Trek and all the Gerry Anderson shows, even before Doctor Who. In fact, the BBC cannibalised the Saturday Doctor Who slot for Trek’s First Season, but from Season Two (of Four!) moved Trek to 7pm weekdays, where I remember enjoying it with my dad after he came back from work. (I must have also inherited that Saturday afternoon spot after Trek vacated it, because my first recollection of watching Doctor Who was exactly coincidental with Pertwee’s run beginning in 1970.) I can still hear my dad’s hearty belly-laughs loving the McCoy/Spock banter.

Bill Cunningham: I was born in 1963 so I missed the first go-round with Star Trek and didn’t pick it up until around 1974 or so when it was hip-deep in syndication. I was the perfect age for it as I hadn’t had all of my sense of wonder knocked out of me, but was beginning my phase of more critical thinking, and becoming selective in what I watched, read, or listened to…

My parents didn’t particularly like me watching the show but they did allow it, as I was always reading (comics, magazines, books, The Harvard Library) and thus my brain wasn’t “all rot.”

Larry Young: Our family moved from Dallas, Texas to rural Vermont in the summer of 1973. I was ten years old and spent Saturdays inside killing a box of Fruity Pebbles with my sister watching cartoons and Star Trek was my favorite.

Image courtesy CBS/Paramount

One of my dad’s friends heard me talking about it and said, “Hey, you know that cartoon’s based on a real show with real guys” and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Ian Spelling: WPIX Channel 11 in NY aired repeats at 6 and 11 pm. That’s when and where I discovered Trek. Don’t remember anyone turning me onto it. My mom used to let me — occasionally — eat dinner in my room, and I’d watch the show on my old 13-inch black-and-white TV. My next door neighbor was realllly into it. Down in his basement he’d use his dad’s lounge chair as the Captain’s chair, drawing buttons and lights on pieces of paper and taping them to the chair so that he could play Captain Kirk.

Bob Greenberger: I distinctly recall coming downstairs for a drink or something and saw into the family room where my parents were watching something on the brand new color TV. There were colorful people sparkling out of existence and that captured my imagination. I next encountered this show when my parents let me and my brother stay up late the following year and we watched “A Piece of the Action”. Even at eight or nine I got the humor and was hooked.

When the series landed on WPIX, it became a weekday staple during dinner and I was devouring what I could. I recall buying Star Trek 3 by James Blish on the elementary school book mobile and issues of Castle of Frankenstein with Star Trek on the cover. And then, in 1972, I attended the first con. All of the above makes me a first gen fan and I am proud of that.

John E. Price: Growing up, my father seemingly always had Star Trek on in the background – well, Star Trek or golf. In that respect, Star Trek was there for me from the beginning, and I had the somewhat unique experience of learning life’s lessons from Kirk, Picard, and my father simultaneously.

One of the first episodes that I remember watching was “The Omega Glory.” Now, as an adult, it’s easy to write off the ham-fisted allegories and problematic caricatures, but at the time, as a child, the heavy-handed message worked. I understood the episode, I understood the lesson, I understood why Ron Tracey was wrong and Kirk was right, and the metaphor of the Yangs – incoherent barbarians needing to look to the past to remember who they are and where they came from – is possibly why I became a cultural historian. Ok, maybe not, but it certainly resonated with my little boy brain and Star Trek had cemented itself for me as a show of substance.

(Continue Reading)

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