Star Trek and American Television

Star Trek and American Television

ROBERTA PEARSON
MÁIRE MESSENGER DAVIES
With a foreword by Patrick Stewart
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt6wqbf9
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Star Trek and American Television
    Book Description:

    At the heart of one of the most successful transmedia franchises of all time,Star Trek, lies an initially unsuccessful 1960s television production,Star Trek: The Original Series. InStar Trek and American Television, Pearson and Messenger Davies, take their cue from the words of the program's first captain, William Shatner, in an interview with the authors: "It's a television show." In focusing onStar Trekas a television show, the authors argue that the program has to be seen in the context of the changing economic conditions of American television throughout the more than four decades ofStar Trek's existence as a transmedia phenomenon that includes several films as well as the various television series. The book is organized into three sections, dealing with firstly, the context of production, the history and economics ofStar Trekfrom the original series (1966-1969) to its final television incarnation inEnterprise(2002-2005). Secondly, it focuses on the interrelationships between different levels of production and production workers, drawing on uniquely original material, including interviews with star captains William Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart, and with production workers ranging from set-builders to executive producers, to examine the tensions between commercial constraints and creative autonomy. These interviews were primarily carried out in Hollywood during the making of the filmNemesis(2002) and the first series ofStar Trek: Enterprise. Thirdly, the authors employ textual analysis to study the narrative "storyworld" of theStar Trektelevision corpus and also to discuss the concept and importance of character in television drama. The book is a deft historical and critical study that is bound to appeal to television and media studies scholars, students, andStar Trekfans the world over. With a foreword by Sir Patrick Stewart, Captain Jean-Luc Picard inStar Trek: The Next Generation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95920-0
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Patrick Stewart

    At Paramount Studios, around 1:30 a.m. on an April morning twenty years ago, Adele Simmons, the Assistant Director onStar Trek: The Next Generation, announced to the weary crew and actors, ʺAnd thatʹs a wrap, folks.ʺ

    Yes, it was. A wrap on seven yearsʹ work and 178 episodes of a hugely successful TV show. There was little celebration, no champagne, no ʺAuld Lang Syneʺ—just warm hugs and kisses and ʺSee you soon, get some restʺ and ʺHome safely.ʺ It was a touch disappointing that nobody showed up to cheer and mark the conclusion of all that work, fun, and...

  6. Introduction: ʺItʹs a Television Showʺ
    (pp. 1-16)

    Star Trekhas become common cultural currency in its almost five decades of existence. Itʹs a well-known reference point that permeates popular culture, frequently invoked on television programs such asThe Simpsons(Fox, 1989–present) andThe Big Bang Theory(CBS, 2007–present) and in catchphrases such as ʺbeam me up,ʺ ʺthe final frontier,ʺ ʺto boldly go,ʺ and ʺresistance is futile.ʺStar Trekis also an intellectual property at the heart of a vast global franchise consisting of television series, films, books, merchandise, websites, and games—all contributing significantly to the bottom line of its corporate owners and their numerous...

  7. 1. Star Trek and American Television History
    (pp. 17-54)

    In 1966, the originalStar Trekseries was just another television show, as subject to the established institutional practices of the television industry as all the other shows made by Desilu Productions and broadcast by the NBC network. By 2005, whenStar Trek: Enterpriseceased production,Star Trekand its spin-off series had become an unprecedented television phenomenon and a major asset for Paramount and its United Paramount Network (UPN). This chapter tells the story of howStar Trekwent from failure during the classic network era to astonishing success in the multichannel era. We begin by arguing that, despite...

  8. 2. Art, Commerce, and Creative Autonomy
    (pp. 55-85)

    The previous chapter discussedStar Trekas a product emerging from what Susan Christopherson terms the ʺcompetitive strategiesʺ¹ of the firm—or, inStar Trekʹs case, the multiple firms of Desilu, Paramount, and NBC. It showed howStar Trekʹs role in these firmsʹ competitive strategies changed over the four decades of production, as the American television industry gradually transformed from the classic network era to the multichannel era. We hypothesized these competitive strategies as structural determinants of television production and distribution, but also showed that without individual agency—that is, without Herb Solow and Gene Roddenberry—there would have been...

  9. 3. The Craft-Workshop Mode of Production
    (pp. 86-105)

    The previous chapter investigated the constraints on and enablers of creative autonomy for individuals at all levels of theStar Trekproduction hierarchy. This chapter investigates the interdependence between these individuals as they worked together to create the final product, focusing particularly on the pre- and postproduction stages for which we have the most evidence of collaboration among the workers. The first section discusses theStar Trekʺfamily,ʺ a team of people who had been working together for so long that they had developed what showrunner Rick Berman described as a ʺcreative shorthandʺ that facilitated their interactions.¹ The second section...

  10. 4. Actors: The Public Face of Star Trek
    (pp. 106-125)

    ʺFew Hollywood franchises can claim the popularity and durability ofStar Trek. From the launch of the first television series in 1966, its various TV and movie incarnations have entertained millions around the world, made pop culture icons of characters like Capt. James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock and Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and turned actors such as William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Patrick Stewart into stars.ʺ¹

    So states theLos Angeles Timesweb guide to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where not only Patrick Stewart (Picard inTNG), William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy (Kirk and Mr. Spock,TOS) but also LeVar...

  11. 5. World Building
    (pp. 126-148)

    ʺWe build planets, we build spaceships, we build everything,ʺ construction coordinator Tom Arp told us.¹ Arp meant this literally: the construction crews built planets from wood, plaster, and paint, but only after the writers had first built those planets in words. The writers built not only planets but a narrative world encompassing several centuries, four ʺquadrantsʺ of the galaxy, and alternate universes and timelines. Jeffrey Sconce notes the importance of world building to contemporary American television:

    U.S. television has devoted increased attention in the past two decades to crafting and maintaining ever more complex narrative universes, a form of ʺworld...

  12. 6. Character Building
    (pp. 149-184)

    Recurring and familiar characters have dominated American television drama since the three networks abandoned the anthology format in favor of the episodic-series format in the mid-1950s. Chapter 1 quoted RoddenberryʹsTOSpitch, which, among other reassurances to NBC as to the programʹs commercial viability, promised thatStar Trekwould offer characters with whom viewers could readily engage: ʺStar Trek… stays within a mass audience frame of reference … by … concentrating on problem and peril met by our very human and identifiable characters.ʺ¹ Years later, in an interview shortly before his death, Roddenberry repeated the point that character was...

  13. Conclusion: ʺItʹs Not a Television Showʺ
    (pp. 185-192)

    Despite this bookʹs continued insistence thatStar Trekmust be considered as a television show,Star Trekhas not been a television show, or at least a television show producing original weekly episodes, sinceEnterpriseʹscrash landing in 2005. But as we argue in the bookʹs introduction,Star Trekprovides an excellent case study for illuminating the American television industryʹs past—its modes of production and narrative conventions during the classic network and multichannel eras. In the present, CBS monetizes theStar Treklibrary and intellectual property in conformity with the characteristic practices of the postnetwork era. And there may...

  14. APPENDIX: List of Interviewees Quoted
    (pp. 193-194)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 195-220)
  16. References
    (pp. 221-230)
  17. Index
    (pp. 231-239)