45 years ago — on September 8, 1966 — Star Trek first beamed across the airwaves of American television sets.
On that day, viewers first began to know Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Montgomery Scott, Lieutenant Uhura, and the other regular members of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley became well-known faces and names. Equally important, fans were introduced to the inspiring concept of the United Federation of Planets, with its concepts of brotherhood, and science, and peaceful exploration and coexistence with alien races. The series offered the promise that better days lay ahead, when the human race could move beyond the racial division, strife, and savagery of the 20th century and realize its true potential.
Has any TV show been more influential to our society than Star Trek? Not only did it captivate legions of devoted fans, it created a durable franchise that spawned multiple TV shows and movies that populated various points in the back story and front story of the original series. It also introduced a host of sayings and gestures — “Live long and prosper,” the Vulcan split-fingered greeting, “Beam me up, Scotty,” and the Vulcan neck pinch, among others — that became, and remain, deeply engrained in popular culture. The show’s vision of future vessels and devices also influenced design of military vessels and technological concepts.
For all of its influence and inspiration, Star Trek was, at bottom, a pretty darned good TV show. (OK, some of the episodes stunk, but the good shows were really good.) When 4:30 came on a weekday afternoon on the Ohio State University campus in the late 1970s, you’d find countless students — me and Flameface included — gathered around their TV sets, cold beers in hand, ready to watch once more the familiar, classic exploits of Kirk, Spock, and Bones and revel in being part of their world.