Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Star Trek Franchise: 1966 to 1979

We appreciate your interest in “Star Trek” and are sorry we have to continue to disappoint you. NBC, however, has no plans for the return of the series.

As reported in recent press stories, our Program Department does have under consideration a two-hour-science fiction film. Several concepts have been proposed for this project – one of which is “Star Trek”. While no decision has been made — nor can we tell you when one will – we are aware of your own high regard for “Star Trek” 

 NBC Audience Services

Title of Star Trek: The Original Series which aired from 1967 to 1969.
This short statement is what those who wrote letters to NBC received in reply to their correspondence. It was written on a post card and was most certainly read by thousands of disappointed fans in the immediate years after the cancellation of the first Star Trek television show. Of course, what came before this is one of sci-fi fandoms best known results a letter writing campaign that saw NBC receive almost 116,000 letters between December 1967 and March 1968 which kept Star Trek from being cancelled after its second season. However, what you might not know is that while Star Trek was on life-support almost as soon as NBC first aired the show on television, there were also licenced and Paramount-owned products that further enriched the fan's overall experience with the franchise, almost from its very beginning. This short piece will look at early Star Trek licenced and spin-off products and hopefully give you a sense of how fans were able to consume Star Trek in the earliest days of this now venerable franchise. 

The crew of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Animated Series.This show featured the voice talents of the Original Series actors but only lasted two seasons.
In 1972 NBC went to Filmation and Norway Productions which working with Desilu Studios who produced the live-action show in the early seasons, and using the same actors who portrayed the original crew produced two seasons, one of 16 episodes and the other of six of Star Trek: The Animated Series which expanded the in-canon universe and filled the void felt by an increasingly vocal fanbase. Since the last airing of an episode in June 1969, the 79 episode show almost immediately went into syndication. Indeed, as its popularity started to grow, fans started to organize and the very first Star Trek convention was organized in 1971 by Elyse Pins, Devra Landsam and Al Schuster and took place on the weekend of January 21-23, 1972 at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in New York City. This event was covered by Variety, the trade publication, and featured sci-fi legend Issac Asimov, along with the king and queen of Star Trek themselves, Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett. 

The cover of the Gold Key Comics' Star Trek #4 (June 1969) with a reprint as Star Trek #35 (November 1975). Written by Dick Wood with art by Alberto Giolitti. Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent images are from Star Trek #4.
Comic book fans will appreciate that Star Trek comics started to appear on the shelves of stores in July 1967, shortly after the first season had completed. They were published by Gold Key Comics, an imprint of Wisconsin-based Western Publishing and interestingly, these books didn't come out with the frequency of other, more established comic publishers. The first was available in July 1967 and called the The Planet of No Return; the second called The Devil's Isle in Space and not available until March 1968. From there The Invasion of the City Builders appeared in December 1968; The Peril of Planet Quick Change in June 1969; The Ghost Planet in September 1969; When Planets Collide in December 1969; The Voodoo Planet in March 1970 and The Youth Trap in September 1970, the latter five issues having been produced after the television show ceased filming in January of 1969. The early comics universally featured a still photo of the television crew (usually Kirk and Spock) on the cover, but the similarities ended there. Have a look: from June 1969's Star Trek #4 The Peril of Planet Quick Change

Sulu beams down the crew to "Metamorpha", a quickly changing planet. Where's the Redshirt?

When you special effects budget is limited to what the mind can imagine, Star Trek can get kinda crazy... 

... and even use heavy machinery which was rarely seen on the television show. In the comics they were common place. How did they beam this tank down?

Splash from Part II of Star Trek #4.The comics were divided into chapters.
Not beholden to budgets or technology, the comics were much more detailed in their depiction of alien life and worlds. And the Enterprise crew always seemed better equipped with tools and rucksacks too. In a similar vein, the comics also make it clear that the artists had very little contact with the television show, with the backgrounds and crew tools being very different from the set designs of the television show.   
Splash from Gold Key's Star Trek #31 (July 1975). The writer of unknown but the art is by Alberto Giolitti.

Star Trek #31 was titled The Final Truth and had a Gamesters of Triskelion feel to it  but with robots! 
First piece of licenced original Star Trek prose fiction was titled Mission to Horatius and was written by author Mack Renolds and published by Whitman Books (which was also owned by Western Publishing). It was the first original piece, as there had been previous Star Trek "novels" but they were actually adaptations of the television series from Bantam Books starting in early 1967. Following Mission to Horatius, Spock Must Die! by James Blish which as the title suggests, was targeted more at adult readers was released in 1970. Interestingly, despite the growing popularity of Star Trek and hints from Gene Roddenberry himself that the show might come back (which were most pronounced in the lead up to the failed launch of Star Trek: Phase II in 1978), the next Star Trek novel was Spock, Messiah! which was released in 1976 and written by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano Jr.  After the second novel, the Star Trek universe took off and novels based on the franchise proliferated. 

Cover of Spock, Messiah! by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano Jr. Published by Bantam Books.
Both Star Trek novels and comic books would bounce from publisher to publisher, in the latter case with Marvel Comics picking up the licence for a short period beginning in 1979 with the comics adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, that will be discussed later in the next installment of this ongoing mission based on the Star Trek Franchise where we will look at the 1980s and 1990s, covering the bulk of the Star Trek feature films as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation. Thanks for reading and have a great day!