Editor’s note: The first episode of “Star Trek” premiered today (Sept. 8) on NBC in 1966. The L.A. Times was there 50 years ago on the bridge of the Enterprise interviewing show creator Gene Roddenberry and taking in the “spectacular” set.
Not sure what to make of this highly ambitious sci-fi series, L.A. Times staff writer Don Page seemed impressed with the look but skeptical of the series’ potential longevity, writing: “If the show happens to fail on television, they could easily turn the set into a tourist attraction.”
Below we’ve republished Page’s article, originally titled “Star Trek is Costly Sci Fi Epic,” from Sept. 21, 1966. It’s a quick behind-the-scenes glimpse of a series that would live on and inspire television spinoffs for decades.
In the semi-darkness of a massive sound stage on the Desilu-Gower lot, strange creatures dart about through web covered catacombs.
In a far off section, where it gleams eerily, grotesque screams penetrate the air. Above it, a rather sarcastic and unmistakable human voice shouts, “Hold it! Let’s take it again…”
This is the set of NBC’s “Star Trek,” one of the most expensive and elaborate productions in the history of television. The color series stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and a cast of hundreds (mostly weirdos).
The executive producer and architect of “Star Trek” is Gene Roddenberry, former Los Angeles policeman, who served his apprenticeship as one of the medium’s foremost writers.
Briefly, “Star Trek” involved the expeditions of the USS Enterprise, an interplanetary cruiser that investigates new worlds and makes diplomatic calls on alien civilizations.
Roddenberry had the idea for the series six years ago, but as he explains it, “At that time television had no interest in science fiction.”
Gene’s main obstacle was being slightly ahead of his time.
“Science fiction became a dirty word because of cheap B movies,” he said. “But the real science fiction movies were things like ‘On the Beach’ and ‘Seven Days in May.’”
Roddenberry is attempting to combine the quality of the A movie with the science fiction concept, no easy task. Building a solid foundation, Roddenberry has employed a formidable force of Hollywood’s outstanding writers.
“Science fiction,” he continued, “is very popular now because of our space program and moon rockets. Everything we do is based on fact. We’ve consulted with aeronautical engineers and the Rand Corp.”
The only Hollywood ingredient added is imagination, which even the Rand people utilize.
Walking through the spectacular set, Roddenberry pointed at some significant advances in production techniques, including a plastic spray machine that can formulate a tremendous stone in minutes, of mountainous caverns in a few hours. Heretofore it would take days to build similar structures.
A truly impressive prop was the bridge of the Enterprise, an expansive control area boiling with multicolored lights. At that moment, if someone said it was going to blast off, you would have asked for oxygen.
If the show happens to fail on television, they could easily turn the set into a tourist attraction.
For the Record
Sept. 8, 7:25 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that “Star Trek” premiered on CBS. It premiered on NBC.