Welcome, as always, to ‘Final Frontier Friday’! We’re back with more of our ongoing look at the franchise’s pilot episodes as we count down to the September premiere of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. This week, we’re taking our first steps beyond the original series as we examine the premiere episode of ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’ (or ‘The Animated Adventures of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek’, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing).
In 1969, ‘Star Trek’ was cancelled after three seasons of ratings struggles and network mismanagement. Despite this and despite the series’ seventy-nine episode run falling well short of the “magic number”, the show was nonetheless sold into syndication. It was here, in reruns in the early 1970s, that it really started to build its audience. It wasn’t long before the powers that be began to take notice, and a revival soon followed, bringing ‘Star Trek’ back to screens the world over.
To a more casual fan, the story I just told was of ‘Star Trek’ making the jump from television to the cinema. And in the broad strokes, that’s absolutely the case. But it wasn’t exactly a straight line from the small screen to the silver. Paramount (who had purchased Desilu in 1967) knew they wanted more ‘Star Trek’, but for most of the seventies they just didn’t quite know how to go about getting it. Indeed, while there’s a gap of about a decade between the cancellation of ‘Star Trek’ and the premiere of ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, that was largely due to the project getting trapped in development hell, as the studio heads constantly flipped back and forth between any number of options, from feature films to movies of the week to a full blown television revival (which very nearly materialized as ‘Star Trek: Phase II’) before finally settling on a theatrical feature after the success of ‘Star Wars’.
But before all of the televised revivals that almost were, ‘Star Trek’ had already returned to the airwaves, this time as a Saturday morning cartoon. Produced by Filmation and airing between September 1973 and October 1974, the series is something of an oddity as ‘Trek’ shows go. While it is unmistakably a Filmation production of the period (with all the rotoscoping and gratuitous use of stock footage that implies), it’s also unmistakably ‘Star Trek’. Not only did nearly the entire cast return to voice their characters (the sole exception -Walter Koenig –…