Appendix A, Part VI: Star Trek, The Show That Wouldn't Die
And here we are with the sixth, and final, production appendix for Star Trek. This is the second of two "epilogue" updates with regards to the development, history, and legacy of Star Trek ITTL. (As always, editorial notes and comparison points to OTL will be highlighted in RED and placed in brackets.) This post will chronicle the beginnings of the show's legacy, and the long shadow it will cast over everything that comes thereafter; or, what I like to call the "TV Tropes approach"
"Fans love to argue whether Star Trek is about the Big Three or the Big Four. But I have to say that both groups are wrong. The real command crew behind the many adventures of the Starship Enterprise are four men and one woman the Big Five, if you will. And no, they're not the men and woman you think they are though Nichelle Nichols is a very lovely lady, without question."
David Gerrold, The World of Star Trek, 1973
In 1972, one of the biggest hits on television was Star Trek. This may seem peculiar to the uninitiated, knowing that the show had ended the previous year. But the series had become a smash success in syndication; much like another Desilu production, I Love Lucy, did over a decade earlier, and had remained ever since. It helped that the sale of Star Trek into syndication had coincided with the enactment of the Prime Time Access Rule, which gave the network affiliates one full hour between the national news and the beginning of primetime, to schedule as they saw fit. This hour was the most valuable for the network affiliates, as it had the most viewers of any timeslot under their direct control. (Even IOTL, the present two highest-rated syndicated series "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" air from 7:00 to 8:00.)
Summer reruns of the series had consistently performed very well during the show's original run, with excellent demographic retention, to boot. Starting in the fall of 1971, all 135 syndicated episodes were "stripped" into a 27-week, five-days-a-week rotation. The first-season episodes, never widely seen during their original run, were rediscovered; considered hidden gems, they met with widespread approval, despite their obvious limitations. Ratings were gangbusters, and by the beginning of the 1972-73 season, Star Trek could be seen at 7:00 PM in nearly 200 markets across the United States. (There are 210 media markets in the USA - the largest of which is New York City, and the surrounding area; and the smallest of which is Glendive, a small town in Eastern Montana: population 6,300 in 1970, and even smaller today.) Under the terms of a previous agreement between Desilu and NBC, those stations owned and operated by the Peacock Network were given the first opportunity to buy the syndication rights to Star Trek within their specific markets; many of them would indeed avail themselves of that opportunity. The same agreement forbade stations owned and operated by the other two networks (ABC and CBS) from buying the syndication rights to the series, unless there were no other interested buyers within their market. These two clauses, taken together, resulted in the majority of stations airing Star Trek having an affiliation with NBC. This arrangement had become so prevalent that advertising promoting "Star Trek at 7:00 weeknights on NBC" was produced by the network, and shown nationwide.
Fans of Star Trek were myriad, and were known for their devotion; they had became popularly known as "Trekkies", and would devise many novel ways of celebrating their fandom. (Star Trek fans are more numerous, more diverse, and more mainstream than their OTL counterparts at this time. The atmosphere isn't nearly as conducive to an elitist "hardcore", and therefore the terms "Trekker" or "Trekkist" will never emerge ITTL.) Perhaps the most notorious and certainly the most elaborate of these, were the Star Trek Conventions: massive congregations of fans in a single space, in a short period of time (usually a few days at most), featuring a wide variety of events: these included costume contests, scene re-enactments, script readings, re-watching reels of episodes, and, above all, meeting with the cast and crew. They were already a regular occurrence during the show's original run, with many of the people behind Star Trek actively participating in the larger and more centrally-located events. (The development of Star Trek conventions were more organic ITTL, with promotional events gradually evolving into full-fledged conventions. The early OTL lore of some yahoo deciding to throw something together and receiving thousands of unexpected visitors will not be present here.) Some of them took to these conventions more than others: David Gerrold, himself a fan before joining the writing staff (and who, accordingly, was sometimes described as "the first Trekkie"), found himself serving as the primary liaison between the production team and the fans. (The same position he held IOTL, more or less; though obviously, given his longer and more integral association with the program ITTL, it carries a lot more weight.) Of the cast members, James "Scotty" Doohan embraced the conventions most enthusiastically, always happy to meet with fans, and eager to entertain with song and story. (Just as IOTL.) His rapport with the fandom no doubt contributed to the hotly contested notion of Star Trek as being about the Big Four, rather than the Big Three. (Along with Scotty's more prominent role ITTL, though they obviously don't have that perspective.) From very early on, these congregations would attract people in very large numbers. The most successful of the early conventions, held during the show's original run (though just barely), was the "Summer of Star Trek" Convention, which took place on June 25-27, 1971, just one week prior to the airing of the series finale in July. The entire cast and crew was present at the event in Los Angeles, attended by tens of thousands of people. Among the special guests were Doctor Who actors Jon Pertwee and Connie Booth, whose own series would begin airing stateside in September, in the timeslot being vacated by Star Trek.
But conventions were far from the only means fans had of expressing their appreciation. Fan literature was ridiculously common, with newsletters and fan magazines very widely disseminated. These would typically contain articles discussing episodes and characters, editorials on the quality and direction of the show (while it was still running), and essays on its legacy, and on the completed story arcs for various characters and events (after it had finished). Fan art was also commonplace, with subjects ranging from head shots of the characters, to re-creations of famous scenes, to more speculative drawings of events mentioned but never explicitly shown on the series. Many of the more talented artists would even hawk their wares, often at Star Trek
conventions; though they would have to be discreet doing so, to avoid flouting copyright laws. Desilu, in turn, did their best to maintain a veneer of plausible deniability.
And then there was fan fiction
. The concept was actually an ancient one (later revisions of The Epic of Gilgamesh
, the oldest surviving work of literature, are in fact fan fiction, loosely speaking), but it was Star Trek
that re-defined the term for the modern, copyright-bound society, finishing the work started by Sherlock Holmes. Fan fiction writers relatively young and disproportionately female (Fan fiction has always been a female-dominated venture, which has informed many popular trends therein. Not that men don't write fan fiction, of course.)
tended to use the device to explore alternative interpretations of their beloved characters, or more notoriously to insert representatives (or avatars) of themselves into the Star Trek universe to share adventures with the Enterprise crew.
These characters, generally speaking, were all of the following: improbably young; female; attractive, often in a very peculiar way; possessed of unbelievable skills or talents; and either related to or the romantic interest of Kirk, Spock, Bones, or Scotty. Their ilk came to be known as "Mary Sues" after a fan fiction author named Paula Smith wrote a satirical story featuring such a character by that name in 1973. (This is the exact origin of the term "Mary Sue" IOTL. I kept the name because Smith no doubt disliked it, and may well have nursed such a grudge against it for some time perhaps even going back before the POD. Note that, IOTL, the "Mary Sue" type can be found in fan fiction of all works, not just Star Trek, and is usually known for traits analogous to the ones described above. In the early 1970s, many "Mary Sue" characters were known for tragic deaths, typically in the form of heroic sacrifices; but this trait is much more rare today.)
Just as controversial as the "Mary Sue" phenomenon was the tendency by many authors to presuppose traits or relationships that were not said to exist in canon. In particular, the notion of a homosexual subtext between Captain James T. Kirk and his First Officer, Mr. Spock, had dogged both characters almost from the very beginning; though discussion about the topic was given the intolerance of such relationships in the era highly guarded. But subscribers to this theory were highly tenacious, and it continued to simmer, finally boiling over once the American Psychiatric Association
removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. Even once it became acceptable to advocate the theory out loud, however, it met with strong opposition; many were insistent that Kirk and Spock were simply good friends. Fiction concerning the relationship between Kirk and Spock thereafter had to be classified as being about the friendship between them, or "Kirk&
Spock", or the romantic love between them, or "Kirk/
Spock". The slash representing this interpretation quickly came to define it, with the word "slash" becoming a shorthand for a depiction, or even interpretation
, of romantic love between them, with adherents becoming known as "slashers". (Yes, IOTL, the term "slash fiction", meaning "contains gay relationships", literally originates from that slash between Kirk and Spock. It demonstrates how profoundly influential Star Trek has been on the core concepts of fandom.)
A far more benign, though just as fiercely debated, pastime among the fans was deciding which of the 135 or so episodes of Star Trek represented the show's very best. Polls were very common throughout the early 1970s, and many yielded similar, or even identical, results. Below is a list of the ten most frequently appearing episodes on "best-of" lists:
(Only the first two of those episodes are made in substantially the same form as IOTL. The next three are superficially similar, though with moderate differences, mostly for the better. All subsequent episodes were not made IOTL, though "Yesteryear" loosely resembles the animated series episode of the same name. Among those episodes that just missed the cut: "Balance of Terror", "Mirror, Mirror", "The Doomsday Machine", "The Tholian Web", and "Bondage and Freedom". Unlike IOTL, "The City on the Edge of Forever" is not widely regarded as the best episode of the series; the greater diversity in subject matter of those most acclaimed episodes hamper any consensus, but "These Were The Voyages", by virtue of being a suitably grand finale, probably gets the overall nod.)
Even a show as beloved as Star Trek was not without flaws. A few episodes were generally considered flawed to the point of having no redeeming qualities, and the five that appeared most often on "worst-of" lists are as follows:
- "The City on the Edge of Forever"
- "Amok Time"
- "The Trouble with Tribbles"
- "Journey to Babel"
- "The Enterprise Incident"
- "The Sleepers of Selene"
- "The Borderland"
- "These Were the Voyages"
(All of the first four episodes were made in substantially the same form as IOTL; the fifth was never made. Note that "The Alternative Factor", in this editor's opinion the only real clunker of the first season, was ruined by miscasting: the original actor for Lazarus did not report for work, and the actress chosen as Lt. Masters was black; thus the planned romance subplot between them was scrapped, with nothing to fill the void. Unlike IOTL with "Spock's Brain" never produced ITTL there is no universally agreed-upon "Worst Episode Ever".)
And then there were the people actively involved with the making of Star Trek, all of whom would spend the rest of their lives dealing with the long shadow that its legacy would cast over them. Some of them would do so with more flair than others, of course. In retrospect, with hindsight being 20/20, many of them would have very different opinions about their lives and their impact on popular culture than they did in the early 1970s, as it suddenly became clear that Star Trek would be much more than a five-year mission for them
- "The Alternative Factor"
- "A Private Little War"
- "The Paradise Syndrome"
- "The Savage Syndrome"
Leonard Nimoy spent most of late 1971 in rehab for his alcoholism, hoping to turn his life around after his tumultuous years on Star Trek. Mr. Spock, who had won him three Emmy awards, was the most iconic on the program, and Nimoy was very ambivalent about his success. Though he admired the ideals of the series, and the depth and appeal of his character, he was not Spock. After his stint in rehab had ended, he sought solace and spiritual guidance in his faith. (As Nimoy has done throughout his life IOTL. It seemed only logical that he would do so ITTL, after having hit rock bottom.) The one temporal activity that had stirred his passions in recent years had been directing, and he opted to continue with that, rather than acting, once he got clean. (Simple cause-and-effect: he gets into directing earlier, he decides to stick with it. His relative youth he is only 40 years old in 1971 combined with this being the height of the New Hollywood Era helps.) He managed to get some assignments on other Desilu shows, thanks to his close association with Solow and Justman; and he soon discovered that he had a real knack for comedy. (As he does IOTL. What does it mean, exact change?)
DeForest Kelley entered into semi-retirement. With great reluctance, due to his personal shyness, he did participate in the convention circuit, largely to pad his nest egg and pay for the additional creature comforts. In contrast to the incredible turmoil facing some of his former castmates, he took great pride in his peaceful and serene life, and was known to brag that he was "alive and well and living in the valley with the very same wife". (He often made this boast IOTL as well he remained married to his beloved wife Carolyn, till death they did part.) As was true during the run of the series, he remained on good terms with the cast and crew of Star Trek, refusing to participate in the rather vicious gossip and rumours clouding the rest of the major players.
James Doohan embraced the convention circuit like none other. His acting career was effectively over with the end of Star Trek, for he, like so many of his castmates, had become profoundly typecast.
To his surprise, though, he was
offered work in his native Canada; the CBC had invited him
to host an informative series about space exploration (Think Cosmos, but on a lower budget, and with a much stronger emphasis on present and potential future means of space travel. Moonshot Lunacy in action.)
, and even offered him a flexible schedule to maintain his US residence and continue his convention rounds. This was not enough, however, to prevent the breakdown of his second marriage, which ended in divorce in 1973. (It ended in 1972 IOTL I'm going to allow that being Mrs. Scotty had more allure ITTL.)
Doohan was also able to sway the court of public opinion against William Shatner; with his vividly-told horror stories, he served as something of a star witness for the prosecution. The feud between the two Canadians became the stuff of legend.
Nichelle Nichols, a double minority black and female was contacted by NASA, up to that point a white man's club. They invited her to participate in minority recruitment efforts, a task she handled with aplomb. (She also served in this role IOTL. We'll see the fruits of her labour soon enough.) She served on several committees promoting diversity and racial integration, optimistic that she could, in some small way, work to continue the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man she had known personally, and deeply admired. (He had convinced her to remain on Star Trek, IOTL and ITTL.) Her awareness of her position as a role model for young black women precluded several of the opportunities presented to her: Playboy had published nudes of Nichols, taken earlier in her career, and had even invited her to return; though she quickly rebuffed this obvious publicity stunt. (Yes, Nichols really did pose for nudes in the early-to-mid-1960s, which can easily be found on the internet.) She also declined the offer to star in many Blaxploitation films, as she personally found the genre abhorrent.
George Takei was perhaps the most successful of the entire cast in the early 1970s with the proviso that his achievements were in a very different occupation from the one for which he was known. It was fitting, given that his career trajectory matched that of the Governor of California, former B-movie actor Ronald Reagan. Takei served as a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention, re-nominating the incumbent President and Vice-President on that partys ticket. (Takei was chosen as an alternate delegate IOTL; his greater fame serves as a more robust springboard for his political advocacy, and it also helps that the Democrats hold the White House.) He also campaigned vigorously for Hubert H. Humphrey, helping him to (narrowly) win the Golden State in the election that year. Intensely interested in civic planning, Takei decided to run for the Los Angeles City Council, winning the 10th District seat in a landslide in the election of 1973, at the age of 36. (He came in second IOTL, losing the vacant seat to David S. Cunningham, Jr., by about 1,600 votes. He never sought elected office again.) His campaign was not without controversy, though not for any of the typical reasons; KNBC, the LA-area station which aired syndicated reruns of Star Trek in that market, suspended all airings of episodes featuring Takei for the duration of the campaign in accordance with the FCC Equal-Time Rule. (Something similar happened IOTL; the animated Star Trek series, airing in first-run at the time, had to reschedule an episode which featured his character because of it.) Mr. Sulu was absent from only 29 out of 135 shows, which would become immortalized as the "Campaign Episodes". (About half of those episodes are from the second season, during which, as IOTL, Takei was on leave, filming The Green Berets with John Wayne.)
Walter Koenig had three children with his wife Judy Levitt: two sons, both born during his run on Star Trek, in 1968 and 1970; and a daughter, born in 1973. (Only the first son, Andrew later known as Boner on "Growing Pains" and the daughter, Danielle, was born IOTL. The couple's stronger financial security and the increased optimism of the early 1970s result in the decision to have one more child.) Koenig gamely attempted to continue his television career after Star Trek, with predictably limited success; he increasingly spent his time acting on stage, along with writing, which began as a mere hobby. (Koenig wrote the animated series episode "The Infinite Vulcan" IOTL, among other things. His more comfortable lifestyle ITTL avails him the opportunity to try his hand at writing as a semi-professional early on.)
Oddly enough, perhaps the only actor whose stint on Star Trek had little net effect on his overall career trajectory was John Winston, whose character of Mr. Kyle was far and away the most shallowly defined of the regulars. Winston himself, a regular on the convention circuit, was known to remark that the character was "little more than a job description". (More or less what Winston thinks of Kyle IOTL. It was work, he liked the people not much else to say about it, in his mind.) He made many appearances on television, both stateside and across the pond, in subsequent years, with viewers experiencing the familiar "Hey! It's That Guy!" reaction whenever they would see him.
Without a doubt, the biggest reality check was written out to the star, William Shatner, who found himself utterly unable to find work after Star Trek had ended. His reputation as a bloated, narcissistic egotist perhaps the biggest working in television, which was certainly saying something preceded him. His third and final album of spoken-word "music", The Enterprising Man, bombed upon release, with even die-hard Trekkies avoiding it like the plague. For all the veneration bestowed upon his iconic character of Captain James T. Kirk, it did not extend to him personally. Even his one supposedly unimpeachable virtue his status as a family man and beloved father was challenged when his wife, Gloria Rand, took him to the cleaners in a very messy, and very public, divorce, toward the end of the show's run. (Shatner and Rand divorced in 1969 IOTL his greater success has postponed the inevitable. But as IOTL, once it becomes clear that Star Trek is finished, Rand wants out. What changes is that the divorce goes from the mere footnote of OTL to a major story in the supermarket tabloids ITTL.) Before too long, he was reduced to shilling for margarine and grocery store chains.
Most of the "Big Five" did their best to move on, as many of them had wanted to do for several years already, by the time the show came to an end. Gene Roddenberry almost immediately set to work developing the series that eventually emerged as Re-Genesis, which would begin airing in September 1973; Gene Coon retired from the hectic life of active production and started a consulting business; D.C. Fontana found herself awash with offers from employees eager to hire a woman with ample experience in science-fiction; her most interesting offer came from the producers of Doctor Who. Herb Solow, of course, continued to work for Desilu, having become known within the industry as "Lucille Ball's secret weapon" (a term which That Wacky Redhead herself often uses ITTL); he hired Justman to serve as his lieutenant in order to better pinch the studio's pennies, the better to counter the spendthrift nature of Ball's husband, Gary Morton.
David Gerrold, after the end of Star Trek, went primarily into writing books both fiction and non-fiction. His duties as chronicler culminated in the 1973 tome, The World of Star Trek, considered the definitive reference book on the series. (The Star Trek Concordance, written by Bjo Trimble, served this function in the early years of OTL. However, ITTL, Trimble does not get her springboard into fandom infamy the OTL letter-writing campaign to renew the show for a third season and remains obscure.) Gerrold was able to pull a few strings and get Desilu to officially authorize the book, in exchange for a cut of the profits. It was another classic example of the studio showing their responsiveness to fan interest, without losing sight of their bottom line. (The ever-frugal Justman suggested "authorizing" the book.) Gerrold also made it his mission to write "revised" editions of many existing episode novelizations, which were made using obsolete scripts; Desilu again allowed this, knowing that certain fans would happily purchase both versions of each book. Merchandising revenue from Star Trek was already the studio's life-blood. (As IOTL the difference being that Desilu actually cares about Star Trek.)
The glory days of the "Big Five" would not last, sadly, with the first major casualty to hit Star Trek striking in late 1973; Gene Coon, a lifelong chain-smoker, died of terminal lung cancer. He was 49. (Coon died on July 8th of that year IOTL; because of his success with Star Trek, he's able to live out the last two years of his life in greater comfort, and he dies on October 24th ITTL.) A close friend to all four other members of the Big Five, and a mentor figure to Gerrold, his death hit all of them very hard. Star Trek would never be the same without his incalculable guiding influence. All future editions of The World of Star Trek would be dedicated to his memory.
Thus ends our in-depth coverage of Star Trek, and my longest update, to boot! Thank you all for reading; I hope that wasn't too much of an ordeal. Now you know the complete story of Star Trek ITTL, and my interpretation of the best it can be, while also resembling, as strongly as possible, the Star Trek of OTL. To answer this question, posed to me over four months ago:
Originally Posted by Orville_third
How will Star Trek change?
is your answer. That
is how. There you go
And, following in the footsteps of my fictional interpretation of a (still living!) historical figure, who may yet discover this thread and completely contradict everything that has been said: I hereby dedicate the entirety of Appendix A to the memory of Gene L. Coon. I hope that this timeline has helped, in some small way, to ensure that he is no longer "the forgotten Gene", now or
in the future.
Last edited by Brainbin; March 26th, 2012 at 09:00 PM..