What Is the Story of Captain Kirk?
On the evening of September 8, 1966, people all around the United States tuned in to the NBC network. They were about to experience a historic moment in TV history: the very first episode of the new science fiction series, Star Trek
. It was called “The Man Trap.”
Viewers saw a spaceship orbiting a red planet. Then they heard a commanding voice say: “Captain’s log, Stardate 1513.1. Our position: orbiting Planet M--113 . . .”
The voice they heard belonged to Captain James Tiberius Kirk.
Captain Kirk and viewers alike were soon thrown into a space mystery. A species that can look like anyone impersonated one of the spaceship’s crewmen, and, hungry for salt, sucked the life out of some of the crewmembers!
In order to protect his crew, Captain Kirk had to put the pieces together, solve the mystery, destroy the invader, and save the ship from doom—-all before the episode ended.
The show was packed with action.Unfortunately, though, reviews of the first Star Trek
episode weren’t great. Some said that the sets, costumes, and even the acting seemed fake. But some viewers were drawn to the characters, especially Captain Kirk! He was tough and smart. He wasn’t afraid to show his emotions. He was in charge, but he knew when to ask for help. He was a space explorer who was still very human. He and the rest of the Star Trek
crew instantly connected with viewers at home.
Because of that connection, Star Trek
would soon become one of the most popular science fiction television series of all time. And Captain Kirk would become one of the most famous characters of any television series.
But did you know Kirk wasn’t even the show’s first captain? And that the Star Trek
series almost didn’t happen?
This is the story of how Captain Kirk was created and touched the lives of millions of fans around the globe through television, movies, and more. Chapter 1: Adventure in the Stars
During World War II, Gene Roddenberry was a bomber pilot who flew the B--17 Flying Fortress. After the war, he continued his career as a pilot. But on June 18, 1947, the engines of Pan American World Airways Flight 121 caught fire over Syria. The plane crash--landed, and the pilot died. Gene was the third pilot on that flight. He broke two ribs, but was still able to save a few passengers onboard before the whole plane burst into flames.
After that crash, Gene wondered if he should even be a pilot anymore. So in May 1948, at the age of twenty--six, he decided to pursue a new career: writing.
Gene had always dreamed of being a writer. He thought he could make money writing poetry. That was his dream—-until his friend bought a new (and very expensive) piece of technology—-a television set! In 1948, very few people could afford a television. Television stations were just getting up and running. There were only four hours of shows a night! But Gene saw something special on his friend’s television, and it wasn’t long before his dream changed again: He wanted to be a television writer.
He started writing scripts for different television shows, including police dramas like Highway Patrol
, one of the most popular television shows of the 1950s. Many of the television episodes he wrote were Westerns, for shows like Have Gun—-Will Travel
. Westerns told stories about the experiences of pioneers in the Old West of the United States.
By the end of the 1950s, televisions were in almost every home—-some of them now in color! Gene had become a well--respected, award--winning writer.
And now Gene had a new dream: He wanted to create his very own television show!
In 1963, he created a television series called The Lieutenant.
The show followed the career of marine officer Second Lieutenant William Rice. Gene used his own military experience, through which he had achieved the rank of captain, to write a realistic show.
Unfortunately, The Lieutenant
was canceled after a year. Gene had plenty of other ideas, though. In fact, he was working on something big! He planned to take what he had learned about writing adventure, justice, military, and drama stories and giving it all a science fiction twist.
Gene’s new television series idea was simple but groundbreaking at the time—-a ship would explore space in the twenty--third century. His show would be filled with a diverse crew on a space mission. He would call his series Star Trek.
Having a diverse crew was very important to Gene. At the time, television shows only hired white actors for starring roles. He believed in a future in which all cultures worked together and wanted to show that possibility on TV screens across America.
But first, Gene needed to sell the show to the network executives—-the people in charge of television stations. In his pitch, he described Star Trek
using a popular TV show, Wagon Train
, as an example: Wagon Train to the Stars
. The crew of Star Trek
, like the pioneers who first explored the American West, would make space discoveries while facing danger along the way.
Television network NBC was interested in Gene’s Star Trek
idea and asked for a television pilot. A television pilot is an episode that is created for the network to decide if they want to add a new series to their channel.
In 1965, Gene created the pilot and called it “The Cage.” It told a space story starring the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise
, Christopher Pike. He was trapped by strange life forms known as the Talosians on their planet, Talos IV. The crew had to save their captain!
NBC liked the pilot. The science and technology were like nothing they had ever seen: transporters to beam people down to a planet’s surface, force fields used to trap the captain, and aliens who could speak with their minds. But the network worried that the show didn’t have enough action for the audience,
so they rejected “The Cage” and asked Gene to give them another
pilot, one with amazing science and technology, but even more action and interesting characters. They needed a show that would attract both viewers and the advertisers that helped pay for the show.
Gene had to figure out how to make Star Trek
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