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5 Star Trek facts to boldly know

5 Star Trek facts to boldly know

BY Tom Salinsky

8th Mar 2024 Film & TV

4 min read

Tom Salinsky knows Star Trek so well he's written a book about every episode of the different TV series and films. Here are five fascinating Star Trek facts you might not know
At the beginning of 2022 I set myself the task of watching Star Trek at the rate of one episode a day.
Beginning with the original series in January, I was quickly on to the short-lived animated series in March, The Next Generation in April, Deep Space Nine in September, and on through Voyager and Enterprise, where the project stopped on Christmas day 2023.
I also wrote a book reviewing every episode. Here are five things that this exercise taught me.

1. Lucille Ball got Star Trek on the air

Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy in the 1950s
In 1965, up-and-coming TV writer Gene Roddenberry was pitching his new space show around town and Lucille Ball, queen of American TV thanks to the enormous success of her sitcom I Love Lucy, was trying to diversify the company she’d started with her husband and co-star Desi Arnaz. But Star Trek was a hard sell to say the least.
No-one had ever attempted a show of this complexity. It took two pilots to get it right, with Leonard Nimoy as the only regular cast member who survived from the first to the second (Roddenberry’s girlfriend Majel Barrett was snuck in as a recurring character in a different wig), but it finally got on the air in September 1966.

2. Star Trek was cancelled in 1967. And 1968. And 1969

The show was very expensive, was constantly trying to put things on the air that the network disapproved of (heaven forbid that impressionable teenagers saw such horrors as an “open-mouthed kiss”) and Roddenberry was earning himself a reputation as a trouble-maker.
"After 29 episodes, NBC canned it, but were unprepared for a deluge of fan letters urging them to keep it on the air"
After 29 episodes, NBC canned it, but were unprepared for a deluge of fan letters urging them to keep it on the air. Stunned, they ordered a second season, but ratings were no better and once again, the plug was pulled. An even bigger torrent of letters followed, but by now even Lucille Ball had sold the rights to Paramount. Determined not to be caught out again, NBC put the third series in a “graveyard” timeslot and then satisfied that by now, almost no one was watching it, they finally got rid of it after 79 episodes in June 1969.

3. Star Trek The Motion Picture made more money than any of the better-regarded films which came later

Star Trek the Motion Picture film poster
After the success of Star Wars, Paramount wanted a Star Trek film. The 1979 production was once again masterminded by Gene Roddenberry, and to many fans it seemed like a drab, humourless, rather pompous version of the TV show they’d loved. It had also cost a fortune—Disney’s The Black Hole, released the same year, cost half as much and it was their most expensive movie ever.
Looking at the largely negative reaction from fans and general audiences alike, Paramount quickly hired TV producer Harve Bennett, who confidently told them he could make five Star Trek films for what they’d spent on the first one. His first attempt was Star Trek The Wrath of Khan, widely regarded as the best in the series, and four more followed, with only Star Trek V, directed by Captain Kirk himself William Shatner, being less than warmly-embraced by the fans.
Despite this uptick in acclaim, however, nothing could match the hype of seeing the crew of the Enterprise reunited after ten years away. The Motion Picture’s worldwide gross wouldn’t be beaten until Star Trek First Contact in 1996, and that’s without allowing for inflation.

4. No network wanted Star Trek when it came back in the 1980s

Having been turfed out of the big chair on the movies, Roddenberry went back to TV and devised a whole new setting. Star Trek The Next Generation took place decades after the original show, on a larger, sleeker ship and with an entirely new crew headed by Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart. Re-runs of the old show were still guaranteed ratings winners for local TV stations, and many thought that the idea of Star Trek without Kirk and Spock was insane. None of the big networks wanted it.
"Many thought that the idea of 'Star Trek' without Kirk and Spock was insane. None of the big networks wanted 'The Next Generation'"
Incredibly, Paramount was able to stitch together the equivalent of a national network by doing more than 170 individual syndication deals. This “first run syndication” approach was almost unheard of for a prestigious new series, but Paramount had a big bargaining chip to bring to the table: take the new Star Trek if you want to keep rerunning the old Star Trek. They also didn’t charge anything upfront, agreeing to be paid only a share of the ad revenue.
It worked, and in 1987 The Next Generation debuted on screens across America—and it ran for seven years. For the first time in its history, Star Trek was a genuine hit.

5. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Klingon is the world’s most widely-spoken fictional language

Three men dressed as Klingons at WonderCon in 2011
Developed by linguist Marc Okrand for the movie Star Trek III, the Klingon language has various eccentric features including an object-verb-subject word order and no verb “to be”—which was fine until the sixth film, in which the screenwriter had Chancellor Gorkon reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy “in the original Klingon”. But Okrand had already learned to roll with the punches.
"Novels, poems and plays have been translated into Klingon, and thousands of speakers exist worldwide"
As the first actors got to grips with his carefully-constructed gibberish, he rapidly realised that if anyone ever asked him after a take “how was the Klingon?” the only appropriate answer was “great”. But if in fact, an actor had misspoken, he would then have to go back and amend his dictionaries to accommodate the error. Far from being dismayed, Okrand was delighted to realise that his fictional language was growing and developing as a result of being spoken, in the exact same way that real languages do.
Today, any number of novels, poems and plays have been translated into Klingon, thousands of speakers exist worldwide, and you can even take university courses in it. Qapla’!
That’s it for now. For more such insights, find the first part of my journey wherever books are sold.
star trek book
Star Trek: Discovering the TV Series will be released on March 30. Pre-order your copy today
Banner photo: Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Captain Jame T Kirk (William Shatner) in the original Star Trek TV show in 1968 (credit: NBC Television)
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