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Starlog 2: Star Trek and Network Television

For the second part of my Star Trek course, I’ve been asked the question: To what extent did the business model of network television enable Star Trek: The Original Series to appeal to such a wide range of audiences? In ways did that same model constrain it?

It’s an interesting question, and certainly not one that I’ve thought of before. I’d recently heard the stories about Lucille Ball at Desilu Productions sticking her neck out to make the show happen. I grew up in the era of The Next Generation, and I just thought Star Trek had always been popular and successful!

I think Star Trek was fortunate to get it’s start on network television, where it was forced to be family-friendly and appeal to a wide audience. It couldn’t be too sexy, too smart, too adult, too childlike, or too much of anything else. It only makes sense that this is part of what has kept it going on for so many years. Those who remember it fondly from their childhood aren’t disappointed when they return to it in their adult years.

That network-imposed need for a broad sense of appeal is exactly what made TOS what we came to know it as. The original pilot, “The Cage,” featured Captain Pike instead of Captain James T. Kirk. It was essentially dubbed as too intellectual, and a new pilot was ordered. Even though it seems odd to deem a show as too smart to appeal to audiences, that decision could very well be the make-or-break point for TOS. If the network hadn’t dismissed “The Cage,” would we still even be talking about Star Trek?

On the other hand, the network may have constrained it from doing anything that might exclude a part of their target demographic. An example of this could be the direction that Star Trek: Discovery has taken considering that it’s only broadcast on a streaming platform. The episodes in the first season are rated either TV-14 or TV-MA depending on which one you watch. To me, this means that they had a chance not only to continue the Star Trek legacy but also to take it in a direction they’d never gone before and perhaps appeal to an entirely new audience.

Even within Star Trek itself, new worlds are still being explored.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keepingand The Graveside Detective.  Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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