The television series Star Trek, which would grow to become immensely popular around the world and spawn a franchise of films and spin-off series, made its low-key debut on US television on this day in 1966.
The show, set mainly on board interstellar space craft the Starship Enterprise somewhere around the 23rd century and following the fortunes of its crew, was created by Gene Roddenberry and commissioned by NBC two years earlier.
Star Trek’s first pilot episode, The Cage, starring Jeffrey Hunter as the ship’s Captain Christopher Pike, was rejected by the station for being ‘too cerebral’ - but they saw enough in the concept to ask for a second pilot with a heavily-revised cast, called Where No Man Has Gone Before.
Only Leonard Nimoy, as Vulcan Science Officer Mr Spock, was retained; Canadian actor William Shatner was selected to play the new captain, James T Kirk. NBC were much happier with the results, and commissioned a series.
The first episode to be aired – though not recorded – was The Man Trap, which featured another character that had been absent from the pilot episodes, Dr Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley), and the crew’s struggle with an alien salt vampire.
Though the episode topped the ratings in its time slot, reviews were mixed; The Philadelphia Inquirer and San Francisco Chronicle liked the new show, but the New York Times was less favourable - and Variety called it “an incredible and dreary mess”.
But as the show developed with the help of some of the leading science fiction writers of the time, its blend of appealing characters, thoughtful approach (at least compared to some of its ‘space opera’ predecessors) and social commentary won plaudits and a dedicated audience.
Never a ratings hit on NBC, the show was cancelled in 1969 after three series, but it would achieve enduring success when broadcast in syndication on local channels and in other countries such as the UK, achieving cult status and proving to be a huge influence on science fiction and popular culture.