Fifty years ago, Star Trek first appeared on American television. It is an example of successful brand management and historic timing. What most people do not know is what had to happen to make that possible. It started with one man.
First, Gene Roddenberry’s parents moved from Texas to Los Angeles in the 1920s. It put him in the neighborhood of the entertainment industry, but there was also a New Deal education program to teach people how to fly. Roddenberry graduated as a pilot and wound up fighting in the Pacific during WWII. The US Navy had a policy that personnel should not to disrupt local culture. I wonder if native peoples being caught up in a war between advanced civilizations stuck in his mind as the Prime Directive.
After the war he became a commercial pilot and had adventures around the world, including a plane crash in Iraq. That bit of excitement helped him decide to become a Los Angeles cop. Jack Webb hired him as a consultant and then writer for the TV show Dragnet. From there he cranked out scripts about cops, cowboys and soldiers. Tiring of this, he thought of a science fiction show about a naval vessel and its diverse crew in the future.
The second thing that needed to happen was a Cuban refugee named Desi Arnez. He arrived in Hollywood and married Lucille Ball in the 1940s. They sold CBS a television show about a diverse married couple that became one of the most successful shows in history. Selling Star Trek to NBC was one more diverse show, like Mission Impossible to CBS. They hired experienced actors. Oh, and they filmed it in color.
Third, they hired real science fiction writers like Harlan Ellison. As ridiculous as the show seemed, it was not a silly as Irwin Allen’s show Lost In Space. (Harlan wrote for both shows, but you do not see Dr. Smith in the City Of The Edge Of Forever, do you?)
Fourth, even as NBC cancelled the show, Paramount put it in syndication so many people could see it many times. It developed a wider audience than when it was on network television. This led to more TV shows, movies and merchandising. You know a brand is successful when they name a space shuttle after it.
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