SEPTEMBER 8, 2016 | 05:00AM PT
When “Star Trek” premiered 50 years ago today, its reception was colder than the weather outside the Klingon penal colony on Rura Penthe.
“And away we go to another planet for the sci-fi buffs to lick the plate clean,” Variety‘s Sept. 8, 1966 review of the premiere episode, “The Man Trap,” declared. “But there had better be a hefty cargo of them or the Nielsen samplers may come up short.” Predicting doom, it continued, “The opener won’t open up many new frequencies after this sampler.” So not exactly boffo.
The review was typical of the initial response to Gene Roddenberry’s science fiction drama. After a troubled development that saw the initial pilot scrapped and a new one with mostly new characters — the only holdover being Leonard Nimoy’s Spock — created from scratch, “Star Trek” hung on for a short while, renewed for a second, then a third season before being cancelled.
The run was just long enough to create a library that would catch fire years later in syndication, finding a popularity it never achieved in its first window. A TV show that had at best been a moderate success for NBC would spawn four live-action spinoff series — soon to be five with the addition of CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery” — 13 movies, one animated series, comic books, postage stamps, documentaries, tell-all books, conventions and untold units of prosthetic ears sold. When Nimoy died last year, the White House issued a lengthy statement from President Obama in which he wrote, “I loved Spock.”
The “Star Trek” universe extends far beyond the 79 episodes that aired on NBC from 1966 to 1969. But that series’ impact is still being felt today. For its 50th anniversary, Variety asked several of the stars, writers and fans of “Star Trek” and its offshoots to name their favorite episodes of the original series.