What if Star Trek never went off the air?

Imagine if from the original series through today, there was always a Star Trek show on network TV. Maybe, say, the original series held out and got a huge ratings spike, so NBC kept it running with cast shifting somewhat over the course of decades and then, say, it segued into The Next Generation (or not), and so on.

What would that change? Would Trek be an even bigger part of pop culture? Even with a shifting cast and crew and writers, could a scripted series run that long successfully?

Maybe it would be like doctor who

Its time slots would get shuffled in the schedule, moving from night to night in totally different time slots. It’d be like the final years of MST3K, which ended up airing Saturday mornings (thank you VCRs!)

Well by the end of the run of TNG, that series was running out of storylines, and the characters were already growing stale. If I watched anything from the seventh season at all, it was because I knew it was the last year on air and I expected they might surprise us with some serious twists. Instead, we get the most implausible romance in the history of dramatic TV (Word and Troi), and a virus that turned everybody into devolved animal forms.
Season three of TOS was already showing signs of faltering with stories like “Spock’s Brain”. It’s likely that it would have simply gone downhill even more. Perhaps we were spared original series versions of episodes that verged on “Lost in Space” quality.

It wouldn’t have segued into TNG, as that series is more an offshoot of the film series than a descendant of the original show. It’s likely that the show would have petered out in the mid-1970s as its ideals would have been passé in the eyes of jaded television viewers. Also, most of the main cast probably would have left as the serious actors among them would have tried to use their series fame to obtain film roles or better television roles.

Roddenberry probably would have been out as well. While he was a visionary, he probably would have rubbed the network heads the wrong way and they would have shown him the door. A new show runner may have taken the series in a completely different direction, one which may have not engender the fan adoration that series has had.

Finally, the lucrative film franchise probably wouldn’t have happened. No other sic fi television series ever had its own successful film adaptation in the manner that Star Tre did, nor would it have been likely that they would. Star Trek would have been a long running and dated sic fi series from the 70s which may have been re-booted in the 1990s or later, but not the cultural touchstone which it has become.

Well, let’s say for laughs that DC Fontana becomes head writer and/or executive producer in late 1968, and is able to secure adequate funding and (far less probably) Harlan Ellison was less of a jerk[sup]*[/sup], I can imagine serious science-fiction stories adapted into Trek episodes, though I guess ongoing story arcs (which I figure ensured loyal audiences for soap operas but I don’t know of examples outside that genre at that time) would be too much to hope for.

[sup]*[/sup] heck, if Harlan Ellison wasn’t a jerk, he just wouldn’t be Harlan Ellison

Now, hold on there just a minute. I was a big “LiS” fan as a kid, and I would have to say ST:TOS would’ve had to have been on the air for 715 years to have slid down to Dr. Smith level. :smiley:

Well, that’s nearly 50 years. Unprecedented! But there have been two scripted dramatic shows that lasted 20 years: Gunsmoke, Law & Order (Mothership). The cast of L&O was 100% changed from the original cast, and the tone changed, but it was still recognizable.

If Star Trek ran 20 years, I would think it would resemble L&O. Imagine a continuous show that encompassed TOS, the Animated Series, NextGen in one line. Move the Next Gen stories to the original timeline. it could work. Maybe even DS9 would fit.

By the end they’d have a different captain, different crew, maybe even a different ship. People would debate whether Kirk or Picard was the better captain, just like now. People would say “I hate the Captain Troi years”, while other would not. Others would think First Officer Westley was the most surprising change in the entire run, and they never would have thought his character would be that good.

Well, season three of TOS didn’t have to be average-poor. Budget cuts, the unflattering uniforms, the concentration on the big three. Shatner was starting to mail it in a teeny bit. Scotty’s butt-ugly haircut.

I’d have liked to have seen an ep concentrated on Sulu-Chekov. For two guys who work side by side so much, they hardly ever exchanged a word. I know an episode dealing with McCoy’s daughter was slated, more of his family life would have been nice. The stuff about his dad in ST V is one of the few high points…other than of course, “Please Captain, not in front of the Klingons.”

Read Justman and Solow’s book and you’ll find that Roddenberry had been rubbing the network the wrong way practically from the beginning. That was one reason why NBC’s support for the series waned over the years; by the third season, they didn’t care who was running things behind the scenes, or if the series was renewed. Hence the increasingly worse time slots it was given.

Roddenberry could see the writing on the wall, and his participation in the third season was minimal (I believe Nimoy has said “virtually nonexistent”). He hired Freiberger as third season producer on the basis of his track record, without so much as having him write a sample episode, and Freiberger brought in Singer as his script consultant. Experienced Trek staff like Fontana and Justman were left out in the cold and departed in disgust halfway through the season.

After Paramount acquired Desilu, Solow left because of their creative interference and MBA-style budget cutting. So a whole constellation of forces was arrayed against the series by the end of 1968.

Focusing on serious science fiction wouldn’t necessarily have saved the series. The audience for it has never been that great, which is why TOS was sold as an action–adventure series. The audience for the show was always relatively small but intensely loyal and with desirable demographics; unfortunately, the latter wasn’t a consideration in the '60s. Raw numbers was what TV executives were interested in.

The decline in the quality of TOS episodes over the last season and a half was due more to production pressures and reduced budgets than anything else. Scripts that had been junked in preproduction were dusted off and used in an attempt to meet deadlines. In addition, many of the writers who had contributed to the series earlier had no desire to work with Freiberger and Singer, and Roddenberry was no longer available for rewrites.

TNG, with all of its feel-good touchy-feeley psychobullshit, psocial engineering, emphasis on “relationships,” and incessant moralizing was so much a product of the late '80s (“after MASH***”), I can’t imagine it being made at any other time. I watch it now, and the characters and most of the stories both seem incredibly lame.

It’s a pity the projected Phase II series never got off the ground in the mid-'70s. There would have been much better continuity with TOS (and the animated episodes as well), the original cast would have been given a new chance to shine, and there would have been far less damage caused by foreign influences (among which I count the flood of horrible fan fiction churned out after 1975).

Now that is Science Fiction. :slight_smile:

Nope. It’s Fantasy. :slight_smile:

Well… they projected that far future in “Spock’s Brain.”

Why stop at First Officer? In the non-canon novel Imzadi by Peter David, Wesley (no T!) becomes captain of the U.S.S. Hood in the future timeline.

Well said. The survival of TOS as anything reasonable would have required a lot more support from NBC than they got. Today they would be pleased by the fan support at the end of season two, then NBC seemed mostly pissed off.

However, for 1966 - 1969 ST was as close to serious science fiction as you could find on TV. Today we have a whole generation of filmmakers and execs and critics who grew up on ST and Star Wars, back then they grew up on Captain Video if we were lucky. If you read the reviews of 2001 by the major critics, you’ll see that many of them had no clue about what was going on.
I doubt Roddenberry could have gotten more serious - in fact he might have been a bit over the heads of much of the audience as it stood.

That said, Star Trek fans have always been some of television’s most intelligent and literate viewers. I suspect if you did a survey, they would not only be far above average in terms of IQs and education but with respect to occupation and income as well. (Which is why they’re now such a desirable demographic.) Even so, serious science fiction is something of an acquired taste, and while I do enjoy and appreciate it, I sometimes like a little action on the side too.

Here we go…! :rolleyes:

Since I started watch with The Man Trap in 1966 I can only agree with you. :smiley: Still, serious and action are not mutually contradictory - look at Sturgeon’s Amok Time. However I’m almost finished watching TNG all the way through, and I’m struck by the much smaller percentage of shows with fisticuffs as compared to TOS. And TOS was better than Have Gun Will Travel, which Roddenberry wrote for, which was also often serious but which had someone get shot and usually killed in almost every show. A gun had to be fired even in the ones which were pretty much pure comedies.

He left his hippie commune and re-enrolled at the Academy?!? :confused: :eek: :dubious:

He must’ve, for his uniformed cameo in Nemesis.