What Would Have Happened?By Fred Shedian
Posted at December 26, 2000 - 3:27 PM GMT
As Star Trek looks to becoming one of the few franchises to make it into the 21st Century (with 2001 actually the dawn of the next century), I have to take a moment to look back almost forty years and ask a question....what could have been? Yes, I say almost forty for a reason, as the early 1960s...not the late 1960s...saw the birth of the Star Trek Franchise. Here is where the U.S.S. Enterprise was first filmed, Spock made his appearance and the communicator made it's debut. What type of show would Captain Christopher Pike and crew have made? How different would our beloved franchise be today?
To start, I am sure there is a section of people reading this asking "What in the heck is he talking about? Captain who? Early 1960s? Star Trek was shown in 1967!" So, for the sake of these, allow me to do some historical catch-up. In 1964, the first pilot for a show the studio told was "a wagon train to the stars" was produced. This featured the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, with Majel Roddenberry as the Second Officer (commonly called "Number One") and an alien science officer called Spock. The episode itself was titled "The Cage," dealing with the Enterprise's investigation of a distress signal by a ship which went missing many years prior.
The studio itself didn't like the pilot. However, in something which to this day has happened only about ten/twenty times, a second pilot was ordered. The translation was this...NBC liked the premise, but not the details. In the end, this new show started production in 1966. Many of the crew seen on the original pilot were not available, minus Leonard Nimoy, or simply would not fit the new character outlines. One of these "new characters" was Captain James T. Kirk. The rest is history...
In later years, even in TOS itself, "Captain Pike" was used as the officer in command of the Enterprise before Kirk. In an attempt to utilize the footage from "The Cage," Gene Roddenberry produced the two part episode "The Menagerie." Yet, looking at the first pilot and TOS itself...you can see how many things failed to change. Want examples?
Despite NBC, the second pilot of Star Trek (and the episode listed as #1) is "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Here you can see many similarities with character makeup, uniforms, ship setup, weapons, etc. But even with these alternations, many have often asked what differences would have existed if William Shatner had been Jeffrey Hunter. The reason is a simple one...the character's setup were very different. Kirk was a "womanizer" more than anything, with Pike appearing more like a "Picard" figure than anything else.
For those fans who have actually seen "The Cage" as a separate episode (as many scenes were omitted during it's showing within "The Menagerie"), I believe many of you can see some striking similarities with The Next Generation...produced some twenty years later. Here we have the "Picard" type Captaincy...even with the "bartender" who gives advice and is a dear friend of the CO. So, in a way, I suppose an easier question (for many younger folks anyway) might be to ask this. What would have happened if we had seen TNG first, with TOS special effects, in 1969?
Honestly, I'm not sure we would still be talking about Star Trek right now if the first pilot had been accepted. Although I'm not completely sure Jeffrey Hunter wouldn't have made a good James T. Kirk for TOS, the setup of the original pilot was to "far out there" for the 1960s. Many of those aspects worked in the late 80's/early 90's because society has a whole had changed. To it's credit, the original pilot did have better ship special effect (aka: outter hull scenes) than TOS itself did. However, one aspect of this I am somewhat saddened by is the fact this "lost beginning" of this franchise is often omitted from many people's memories. It should be noted heavily that "The Cage" and Captain Pike indeed made it possible for Captain Kirk and crew to sale into history. Without this foundation for the franchise, much of what we saw in TOS...and even TNG, may not have been there.
Therefor, as we look to 2001 and the Trek odyssey which will come...do not forget to spend time looking back. If you have never seen "The Cage," I would get it. Although the original color version was destroyed by Paramount in 1965, the black/white version was "colorized" in the early 80s and is available on video. For those who have never seen it, take a look...and see how many "foundations" you can find which grew into TOS and TNG.
Finally, I word of sincere regret. I was planning on producing a "Take On Trek Mailbag" for this edition of the column. However, holiday events prevented me from doing so. I must say I have over forty e-mails to format onto the web. Regretfully, I must state I will not be able to display all of them due to the simple volume. With luck, this feature should make an appearance in January.
If you would like to send in your remarks above the above, I would love to hear from you. With my e-mail system now working, please send a self addressed & stamped e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure to include your name, return e-mail address and what particular column you are referring to.
Until next time...
Fred Shedian writes a weekly 'A Take On Trek' column for the Trek Nation.