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In the brief history of the original Star Trek, the series was plagued by more than the usual share of real-life drama. Fans of the show were engaged in efforts to save it from cancellation as early as its first season. But why? For a program that attracted so much attention, how could Star Trek have been in such perpetual danger?

NBC routinely cited low ratings as its reason for keeping Star Trek on the chopping block. At the time -- and still today -- networks made programming decisions based on the number of viewers counted by the Nielson TV ratings company. These measurements of audience numbers and demographics then determine the types of advertising that can be sold to accompany the show, as well as the cost of that advertising. Ratings also helped to predict whether a series would achieve the "100 episodes"  threshold for syndication (the sale of broadcast rights to multiple television stations/networks).

 

This is all quite understandable from the network's perspective. Unfortunately, the concern over Star Trek's ratings were mostly false. The show performed quite well in its original Monday time slot, and even its second-season Friday evening spot. It was never the top-rated program in the country, but Star Trek was a ratings mainstay in a competitive market, drawing viewers of every age and high numbers with the most valuable demographic of all -- teenagers. Unfortunately, ratings data were not available to most people in America in this age before the Internet, and so the network's stated concerns were often believed at face value.

The true reason for NBC's persistent desire to cut Star Trek was not the ratings -- it was personal. Put simply, the network wanted to rid itself of Gene Roddenberry, who they viewed as a liability.

 

Gene had angered NBC long before Star Trek went on the air. His first series, The Lieutennant, had angered the network by addressing "taboo" issues, and Roddenberry had done further damage by refusing to back down. This pattern continued into Star Trek's first two years as the creator continued to clash with NBC over censorship, production schedules, time slots and nearly every aspect of the series production.

 

Furthermore, Roddenberry never felt the need to hide his dislike for NBC or the TV Industry. He routinely expressed his frustration in public, often painting NBC as the villian in news interviews and speeches. These things ultimately caught up with Roddenberry when the network needed to choose between Star Trek and Laugh-In for the Monday night time slot. In the end, NBC preferred Laugh-In producer George Schlatter to Gene Roddenberry, thus sentencing Star Trek to death in the Friday 10:00pm time slot.

 

 

Rearranging the Deck Chairs...

Most fans and critics agree that Star Trek's final year represents a decline in writing, direction, and overall quality, with only a handful of strong stories peppered throughout. The main reason for this decline was the departure of the show's most experienced writers and producers.  

 

In advance of Season 3, Roddenberry withdrew into a hands-off Executive Producer role. In public, he cited disappointment with NBC for changing its mind about the Friday late-night time slot. However, Roddenberry had been leading the charge on Star Trek for four years by this point -- most of the time fighting for its survival -- and the series creator was exhausted from his efforts.

 

Series producer, Gene L. Coon had already exited his role as "showrunner," and his hand-picked replacement, John Meredyth Lucas, was now out as well. Trusted writer/script editor, D.C. Fontana, also ended her full-time involvement with the series before Season 3. The void left by these guiding lights was never quite filled. 

 

With new producer Fred Freiberger and script editor Arthur Singer at the helm, and a rapidly decreasing budget to work with, only Robert Justman remained as "co-producer" -- a title that masked the burn of being passed over for show runner despite serving as Assoc. Producer since the series began. Thought Justman attempted to maintain the momentum of the series, the new leadership was never able to recapture the magic fans had come to expect.

Producer Fred Freiberger presided over the final year of Star Trek as series producer.

After years as Assoc. Producer, Bob Justman was passed up for the "showrunner" job in Season 3.

Available Now: Aren't they cute?

Introducing the Limited-Edition

#TrekClass Space Furball™

 

We all know it's a human characteristic to love little animals, especially if they're attractive in some way. And now these adorable creatures are available exclusively to #TrekClass students as a collectable keepsake.

 

Each is hand-made and includes a commemorative embroidered tag featuring the #TrekClass logo. They are available in three colors: Brown, Blonde and Speckled.

 

Online orders are available to U.S. and International Students (Select shipping during checkout).

 

Don't miss your chance to own one of these limited-edition furballs before they're gone! Unlike the TV version, these little guys don't multiply... 

 

By purchasing a #TrekClass Space Furrball™  you will support this course and others like it. This item is hand-made by a local artist and fellow student. 

*All orders filled by the end of the course in December

The following episodes will be screened in #TrekClass LIVE on Monday, Oct. 5, at approx. 7:15pm and 8:30pm EST.

Online students are invited to join us as we "live tweet" using the course hashtag, or to review the tweets afterward by searching #Trekclass on Twitter.

Plato's Stepchildren

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 3

Star Trek frequently produced episodes that made NBC censors squirm, but these stories rarely made the viewers at home as uncomfortable. Plato's Stepchildren is a rare case of both. It includes the historic first interracial kiss on television, which caused great concern at the network, and was included thanks to the efforts and insistence of Freiberger, Roddenberry, Nichols, Shatner and others. However, that moment (which did not offend viewers as predicted) comes in the midst of a story that evokes such embarassment and sympathy for the beloved characters that many fans still feel discomfort watching the episode. For this reason, Plato's Stepchildren is a unique and remarkable hour of Star Trek.

The Tholian Web

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 3

The Tholian Web stands out as a highlight in the oft criticized third season of Star Trek. There is little about this episode that hadn't been done on the series previously. It's not a particularly original story either. But this episode demonstrates how effectively Star Trek had been developed as a concept by the writers, actors, producers and production team by this point. The Tholian Web is memorable because of how well these elements worked together in concert. It's an excellent snapshot of what made the series great, and wonderfully executed even in this troubled final season.

 
 

Spock's Brain

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 3

There is no other episode of Star Trek so universally disliked as Spock's Brain.

But we're not going to tell you why...

 

Whether you've seen Spock's Brain or not, it's time to watch the episode with fresh eyes and tricorders at the ready. Attempt to see the episode through the eyes of a viewer in 1969, and then through your own. Can you identify what it is about Spock's Brain that rubs so many people the wrong way?

Why does Spock's Brain top nearly every list of "worst episodes" in Star Trek history? 

Turnabout Intruder

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 3

Star Trek's final episode, Turnabout Intruder, received the lowest ratings in the series' history. It is considered one of the worst episodes of Star Trek. Let's explore the story to uncover why, and the lessons we can still learn from it....

Turnabout Intruder (1969) was an unusual episode for Star Trek. On the surface, the story contains some rather ordinary science-fiction elements. The main premise -- Captain Kirk has been taken over by an enemy -- had been explored before, and similar alternate personality scenarios had resulted in some very popular episodes.

 

But Turnabout Intruder stood out in one clear way -- the episode came across as sexist to viewers who had come to expect a more enlightened approach from the series. In this story, Captain Kirk's body is taken over by  a human woman, Dr. Janice Lester, who intends to have her own starship command by masquerading as the male captain of the Enterprise. Unlike earlier episodes that presented this type of character changing "possession" as transporter accidents or other alien circumastances, Turnabout Intruder shows us a future where discrimination against women still exists -- or is at least still perceived -- and this has driven at least one woman to commit a terrible crime.

 

Dr. Lester is a woman after power, and that desire is seen as insane. Of course, this is a stereotype of ambitious women in the 1960s as feminist movements gained traction. Similar misjudgements are still present today. Remarkably, and disappointingly, that same view is part of Star Trek's 23rd Century. In control of Kirk's body, Lester (as acted by William Shatner) is portrayed as highly emotional, erratic, and stereotypically feminine. And then there's an even bigger issue: Women can't command Starfleet ships?

 

Gene Roddenberry provided the story idea for this episode, but for the rest of his life maintained that his concept did not call for a sexist depiction of Dr. Lester and was not intended to make a statement about women in the workforce. However, the episode remains a black mark on his progressive series, and many point to it as evidence of Roddenberry's own troubled view of women.

 

Despite its flaws, Turnabout Intruder plays differently today. Though we have not eliminated bias and bigotry in our world, we have made some progress toward that goal. Our own advancements in virtual reality have allowed for real-world experiments in gender swapping, and these experiences can contribute to a deeper understanding between men and women who are able to experience the perspective of the opposite sex for the first time.

CAUTION: The above video contains nudity and may not be appropriate for children or safe for viewing at work.

For more about the virtual gender-swapping experiment seen in the video, read the full artilce here.

As you explore Turnabout Intruder, consider the difference in perspective from which we can approach this story today. How does the application of 21st Century thinking impact issues of gender identity and understanding? How does this differ from the "future" scenario crafted through the lens of 1969? While this discussion may not remove the smudge on Turnabout Intruder, it can perhaps restore some relevance to this frequently criticized episode.

Star Trek: The Animated Series

In this Away Mission you will explore several episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) that highlight some of its important contributions to the Star Trek universe. After viewing these short episodes, and any other you wish, consider the questions below.

Beyond the Farthest Star

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Gene Roddenberry may not have been very interested in Animation, but he trusted Filmation and D.C. Fontana to translate his vision for Saturday Morning. The premiere episode, Beyond the Farthest Star, was penned by Sam Peeple, author of the successful Trek pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before.

The Practical Joker

Star Trek: The Animated Series

In The Practical Joker, the Animated Series introduces a new technology aboard the Enterprise: The "Rec Room." This concept will seem very familiar to those who have seen later Star Trek series. 

Yesteryear

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Yesteryear explores the difficult childhood of Spock, growing up half-human on planet Vulcan. The two sides of Mr. Spock had been referenced in The Original Series, of course, but this animated story reveals more about Spock's family life and Vulcan culture in more detail than ever before.

The Counter-Clock Incident

Star Trek: The Animated Series

The final episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series caused a stir with some fans by boldly expanding on the series' history. Capt. Robert April -- the first commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise -- appears in The Counter-Clock Incident. You will recall the name of Capt. April from Roddenberry's early drafts of Star Trek.

After viewing these episodes, and any other you choose, what are your impressions of Star Trek: The Animated Series? Was it an appropriate adaptation of Roddenberry's concept? Was D.C. Fontana successful in continuing the five-year mission? What elements -- good or bad -- does animation add to the mix?

Fans have argued for years about whether TAS should be considered "canon" (official history) of the series, but over time this discussion has faded as future Star Trek series included story elements seen here. Why do you think so many pieces of The Animated Series have since been included in more modern versions of Star Trek?

After completing Mission 03, don't forget to share your thoughts and research with the class in our online community.

 

You may choose to complete some or all of this unit, but we want to hear your insights on the questions above, or anything else you've noticed in the episodes assigned.

 

If you've viewed other episodes not included in the Mission, please feel free to discuss those as well.

 

Tip: Try sharing your question responses individually, rather than responding to the entire unit in one post. We've found this makes for easier discussion.