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Why Star Trek Should Not Have Survived... and Why It Did!

Written by Daniel M. Wolpe

January 26, 2024

I have a little fantasy that I know my fellow Trek fans will understand. I sometimes think about what it would be like to travel back to 1964, approach Leonard Nimoy (of blessed memory) while he is on a break from shooting The Cage, and say to him, “The role you are playing in this pilot will not only make you famous, it will define your career in such a way and touch so many people’s lives, that you will still be playing it in 2009.” And then take a mental snapshot of his face as he calls studio security to take this nutcase away.

For a show that spoke so much about logic, and indeed, whose most popular character (of the original series, at least) was defined by logic, Star Trek defied logic in its very survival. First, there was a rejected pilot. Should have died right there. But then, as we all know, there was a second pilot. Fine. Series sold. Congratulations—except that the series was on the brink of cancellation in its first year and was cancelled after its second year. Should have died right there. But a letter writing campaign gave it one more year of life. After which, it should have been a distant memory.

Then, during the seventies, the conventions started. And Star Trek, against all logic, survived. Several starts and stops finally led to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was critically panned and to most fans at the time, a serious disappointment. Need I say it? Should have died right there.

Then there were more movies. And then, in what the history of television would have indicated was a profoundly illogical move (after all, these things never work!), they decided to bring Star Trek back with a whole new cast. Surely, this insane idea called Star Trek: The Next Generation, would be the death of Star Trek. Instead, it led to a huge increase in the love of both TOS and the concept of Star Trek in general.

How did this happen? With all due respect to Spock, whom I love and who was brilliantly portrayed by Mr. Nimoy, it had nothing to do with logic. Star Trek affected us emotionally, on so many different levels. Few if any of us refer to our intellectual commitment to Star Trek, but to our love of Star Trek. Whether it was Star Trek’s messages, the sense of family, the action/adventure, the science, or a combination of many different ingredients, Star Trek touched us on a deeply emotional level.

When I was eight years old, David Gerrold came out with his book The World of Star Trek. I was stunned-STUNNED, I say—that he thought there were actually things that were wrong with Star Trek. I summoned all of my eight year old self-righteousness and wrote him a letter where I lambasted him for criticizing Star Trek. He wrote me back a wonderful letter where he explained to me that his criticisms were out of love for the show. “Star Trek wasn’t perfect, and I wanted it to be perfect,” he wrote. Even those who wrote for Star Trek wrote, not out of logic, but out of passion.

So, rationally, should Star Trek have survived? No. But as Spock learns during the course of his evolution, “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, not the end.”

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