Was the cancellation a blessing in disguise?

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by awiltz2, Apr 16, 2012.

  1. awiltz2

    awiltz2 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

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    I've been thinking about it, and I feel that the initial cancellation of Star Trek was what saved it.

    Say, Star Trek was never moved to the Friday death slot (Friday at 10pm), and was in fact moved to Monday at 7pm where it would be in the best place for its core audience. In addition, it would have also been given proper funding.

    It would have probably initially lasted 5 seasons from 67-72.

    Something tells me, however, that given the limitations of special effects technology at the time, and given the gradual decline in quality that was presumably unrelated to time-slot, I feel that after 5 seasons they would have slowly run out of original stories, interest in the show would have slowly plummeted, and it would have simply died with a 2-hour finale.

    Since the series did end prematurely, it left the world wanting more. "Where did Kirk go? Spock? They aren't done with their mission!"

    I also think the nature of the show by the 5th season would have changed considerably. I think it would have involved more music, more hot lady aliens, more helpless damsels in distress, more romance, more fight scenes, and it would have taken away from the substance of the show. It probably would have been commercialized to hell.

    If it didn't have that 10-year pause before the first movie, and Battlestar Galactica in 1978 to incite interest in Sci-Fi, I don't think Star Trek could have become what it has become today.

    Or they would have started Star Trek: Phase II in 1972-73 and it would have been amazing. All speculation.
     
  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    If it hadn't been moved to Friday nights, Roddenberry probably wouldn't have given up on it, so the quality of the writing wouldn't have suffered so much. Some of the best writers like Gene L. Coon and maybe John Meredyth Lucas would've moved on, but at least their replacements would've had Roddenberry's guidance as showrunner to adapt to the characters and the voice of the show and be able to continue writing it more consistently.

    And don't think for a minute that they would've ended the show after five years if the ratings had stayed strong enough for a sixth. After all, continuity in '60s/early-'70s shows was tenuous at best, with little acknowledgment of earlier episodes and little attention paid to the passage of time. Run for Your Life was a '60s series about a man who was diagnosed with at most 18 months left to live when the show began, yet it ran for three seasons. Hogan's Heroes ran for 6 seasons even though US involvement in WWII in Europe lasted less than three and a half years -- and M*A*S*H stretched out a 3-year war to 11 seasons. So a longer-running Star Trek could've easily drawn out its "five-year mission" to six or seven years if the ratings had been there. And they probably wouldn't have made any mention of reaching the end of the 5-year span and starting another mission, because that's just not the way TV shows worked back then. At most, they would've just redubbed the opening narration at the start of season 6 and not bothered to explain it beyond that. They might not even have done that, in which case fans today would be burning up the Internet with arguments about how to fit six or seven seasons' worth of episodes into the stated five years.

    By the same token, most shows back then didn't have series finales per se; they just kept going until they stopped. The Fugitive had a famous series finale, but that only happened because the series lead chose to quit the show, and part of the reason it was such a big event is that it was so unprecedented. On the whole, we didn't start seeing series finales in American television until the '80s. So if TOS had run a few seasons longer, it wouldn't have had any kind of endpoint. Like most every other show of the era, the last episode would've just been one more adventure and the heroes would've gone on to their next assignment. So if the show had run longer, it wouldn't have had any effect on viewers' interest in seeing more.

    If anything, a longer run might've made the show even more successful in syndication, because there would've been more episodes to syndicate. Indeed, it could've begun rerunning in syndication while it was still airing new episodes on NBC, which could've bolstered its ratings.

    I'm not sure what you mean by having "more music" as it went on, unless you mean songs like in "The Way to Eden," and I'm not sure why you'd think that would've happened. Incidental music costs money, and shows usually get their budgets cut from one year to the next. If you look at ST's sister production Mission: Impossible, which ran for seven years, it started out as a very rich show musically, but the amount of original scoring commissioned per season decreased over time, to the point that season 7 had hardly any original scoring and was almost entirely tracked with stock music from earlier seasons.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2012
  3. PvtKtara

    PvtKtara Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    There is something to be said, though, about the motivational power of feeling that there's unfinished business, as well as having someone to blame for it all, namely Paramount and NBC. Just ask Saul Alinksy, it works like a charm.

    Otherwise, yeah, if CBS had managed to snag the show for the 1969-1970 season (like they wanted to), with the promise of a bigger budget and better timeslot, Roddenberry could've been coaxed back to take a more active role, which might've brought back Coon, Justman, Fontana, et al, with the next few seasons being spectacular. The Star Trek Phenomenon might very well have still happened, but probably not with the same level of furor.
     
  4. CoveTom

    CoveTom Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    With all the reading I've done about Trek's history over the years, I'd never heard about CBS wanting to pick up the series for the 1969-1970 season. I know I've read about NBC having second thoughts further down the road, but deciding against revisiting the series since all the sets, props, etc. had been destroyed. But that wouldn't have been a concern for CBS if they'd wanted to directly pick up where season three left off. Care to elaborate?
     
  5. bbailey861

    bbailey861 Admiral Premium Member

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    I really love this question. While I would dearly have loved to see many more episodes with this crew, I can't help but think that its early demise helped create the conditions to allow the franchise to become what it has. I don't recall ever reading or hearing about the CBS thing, though.
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, let's be realistic; regardless of what time slot it was in, Star Trek never got huge ratings. The main reason NBC kept it on the air, aside from considering it a classy and well-made show that they could take pride in, was that it motivated sales of color televisions, the patent for which was owned by their parent company RCA. But they took a financial loss on the show otherwise. Heck, that's why they changed the time slot in the first place: because its ratings weren't that good and they could get better ratings in the old time slot by putting a different show there. So the odds that it ever would've gotten a fourth season were slim regardless of what time slot it ended up in or whether Roddenberry stayed on as showrunner.

    Though maybe the time slot move did help motivate fandom by allowing Roddenberry to build the narrative of network hostility killing the show, and thereby making Trek fans feel like activists supporting a cause, standing up against an injustice, like so many people did during the late '60s. So it may have helped turn Trek fandom into something more passionate and dedicated, something that felt more like a movement than just a fondness for a TV show. And thus it could've made the audience yearning for a revival more intense.
     
  7. Knight Templar

    Knight Templar Commodore

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    "The problem with blessings is that they come in disguise while temptation kicks down the door".

    That said, I don't think it matters how long Star Trek lasted in the late 1960s. Whether it was canceled after two seasons (as almost happened) or it lasted six or seven seasons.

    Because the massive surge in Star Trek popularity came in the 1970s when the show was sold into syndication. Arguably, Star Treks greatest popularity was when it suddenly was available to watch every day by fans who could never have remembered the original episodes.

    I myself never saw a single episode when they originally ran obviously.

    From what I've observed and heard, Star Trek started gaining immense popularity in the sucky, moribund 70s. It was an optimistic, technologically idealistic series that lots of people started getting a good look at in the 70s. And it really had no competition in the 70s as far as space opera was concerned.
     
  8. Search4

    Search4 Captain Captain

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    Frankly i think it would have been same. The show came back because Star Wars premiered. Period. That's what convinced that powers that be they had a potential franchise.
     
  9. awiltz2

    awiltz2 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

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    From what I've seen in interviews, someone in the network had something personal against the show. He succeeded (if my memory serves me) in initially cancelling the show.

    Then Roddenberry and friends decided to start a mailing campaign that eventually resulted in millions of letters to CBS asking them to put it back on the air.

    The network response was essentially as follows: okay, okay, we'll keep it on the air, just please stop mailing us letters!

    Ironically, they received thousands more letters of people thanking them for keeping it on the air.

    Do you know what this single event created? It created a unified group of people who worked together to make a change. From that point on, those millions of people who mailed in and won the battle were members of a collective movement.

    When Star Trek was cancelled officially about a season later - this group lost their war (it became personal!), but the sense of that collectively movement persisted. It eventually evolved into conventions, cosplay, book clubs, Trekkies and so on.

    People who watched Gunsmoke weren't a unified front, they were fans of Gunsmoke. People who worked together to revive and protect something they collectively believe in - that is a unified front.

    The fan base wouldn't have become a collective movement hadn't there been an initial attempt at cancellation, and a collective fan base to prevent it.

    I almost wonder if CBS knew this. God knows they're making a retarded fortune on DVD sales ($200 on Amazon for Original Series? *dies*)

    But yeah.
     
  10. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, let's remember that the show first came back in animated form in 1973. And the process of developing a live-action Star Trek revival began in 1975, well before Star Wars premiered. The main impact that Star Wars had was convincing Paramount to bring ST back as a big-budget tentpole feature film rather than a smaller film or a TV series.

    Knight Templar is right that it was the success of ST in syndication in the early '70s that led Paramount to recognize its potential as a successful franchise.


    That's a myth that Roddenberry propagated, but the evidence doesn't bear it out, as explained in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman. First off, the letter campaign brought in nowhere near a million letters; it was more like 12,000. Even for that, the NBC mail room needed to hire a couple of extra people to handle it all, so there's no way the system could possibly have handled anything near a million.

    Also, it's not correct that the network cancelled the show and the letters got them to reverse the decision. At most, the show was on the bubble and the schedule was still up in the air, but there's no proof that the show was ever going to be cancelled, or that the letters were the deciding factor in any way. The public announcement about the show's renewal wasn't saying "We're renewing it because of your letters;" it was just saying, "Don't worry, we're not cancelling the show, so please stop flooding our mailroom for no reason."

    As for some specific executive having something personal against the show, I don't think I've ever heard that claim in over 35 years of reading about Star Trek. Could you be getting it mixed up with the original Doctor Who and the animosity that the BBC's Michael Grade had toward the show?
     
  11. BoredShipCapt'n

    BoredShipCapt'n Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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  12. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk Cartoon Premium Member

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    Or conflating with CBS head Les Mooves' anti-Star trek/SciFi stance.
     
  13. PvtKtara

    PvtKtara Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Joan Winston, who worked for CBS at the time, was interviewed in one of the Star Trek magazines a few years before she died, and she mentioned that CBS was interested in picking up the show from NBC (something they have a pretty good history with, dating all the way back to "Guiding Light" on through "JAG" and "Medium"), but only on the condition that Leonard Nimoy was still available. Unfortunately, he'd already moved on to "Mission: Impossible" and the idea was dropped.
     
  14. awiltz2

    awiltz2 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

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  15. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    ^^^Stephen Edward Poe was aka Stephen E. Whitfield, author of The Making of Star Trek, so he was probably getting that from Roddenberry.
     
  16. awiltz2

    awiltz2 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

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  17. Lipton

    Lipton Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    awiltz2: Wow, you've got a lot of material before you! :) It would be interesting seeing things through your eyes. Would you do some reviews? I'd be interested to hear how people who haven't seen much Star Trek perceive it today.
     
  18. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    There are many conflicting claims in different sources. Roddenberry said it was a million (though he acknowledged that that included multiple names on petitions, so the actual number of distinct letters would've been lower); Leonard Nimoy in I Am Not Spock said it was more like 50,000. Solow & Justman talked to the man who was actually NBC's head of publicity at the time and thus was directly responsible for handling the fan mail, and he said it was 12,000. Note that he also says that even 12,000 letters was "an enormous amount for the NBC mailroom to handle" (Inside Star Trek, p. 380), so it's not an attempt to downplay or dismiss the enthusiasm of the fans; it's merely correcting the rather ridiculous exaggerations that have gotten into the popular culture and been mistaken for fact.


    Well, the latter can be chalked up largely to inflation, and to other factors like the growing number of producers per show, advances in union contracts that get higher salaries for more production staffers, etc. True, TOS was a relatively low-budget show even for its time, but so were a lot of other shows. NBC was taking a big chance on Star Trek -- an adult, prime-time science-fiction drama with continuing characters was unprecedented in American television, and they had no idea whether it would succeed, so naturally they were going to invest in it cautiously. That's not animosity, it's just basic business sense. Any network only has so much money to spread around on the multiple shows it produces, and the bulk of the money is going to go to the surest hits, leaving less for the riskier shows.

    As for Nimoy's view, that's something he was saying decades after the fact, and as an actor he was only seeing one side of the picture even at the time. An actor like Nimoy would've had little direct contact with the network executives, so his perspective about the network's attitude probably wouldn't be as reliable as that of, say, a studio executive like Solow who worked directly with the NBC execs. Indeed, Nimoy's view of NBC's attitude may have been filtered through Roddenberry, who liked to promote the perception of an adversarial relationship with NBC as the bad guys he was fighting at every turn.


    Well, it was an uphill battle, but it's a fundamental mistake to think that has to be the result of personal animosity from the network. It amazes me how many people think that network TV is a charity rather than a business -- that money somehow isn't an issue and that the only possible reason to cancel a show is petty hatred or mean-spiritedness. The fact is, it's very expensive to produce a TV show. If viewers don't watch a show and advertisers won't pay for it, then a network can't keep it on the air no matter how much the executives may love it. Conversely, if viewers flock to a dumb reality or wrestling show in droves and it rakes in enormous ad revenues, then the network execs have to keep it on the air no matter how much they hate it, because it's providing the money that helps them pay for the better, smarter shows they'd rather be making. Ultimately what the audience wants to see -- and by extension, what the advertisers are willing to pay for -- is a more important determiner of a show's fate than what the network executives like or dislike.

    So yes, Star Trek fought an uphill battle, because science fiction has always been a niche genre, even more so in the 1960s than it is today. Even with its cutting-edge production values and colorful visuals prompting people to buy color TV sets, it didn't have the same broad appeal as a Western or a cop show or a courtroom drama or a spy show. So it was always going to be at a ratings disadvantage, just as SF has usually been on network television.
     
  19. Gary7

    Gary7 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    There are so many factors at play that it makes it highly speculative in considering what would have happened with the franchise had Star Trek continued on after the 3rd season.

    First, you have to put a stake in the ground on things that happened before the cancellation. Do you rectify the issues with Roddenberry, such that he has an active role in the series for the 3rd season? This is critical, IMHO. There was a feeling on the set during the 3rd season that "this is it", which telegraphs a few other things. Shatner claims to have remained as enthusiastic as possible, while there are times Nimoy seems to have been just "going with the flow."

    But if you sweep all of this under the rug and re-imagine the 3rd season as a better one with Roddenberry as the driving force, let's consider what would happen afterward. The explosion of interest in Star Trek happened in syndication, whereby far more "channels" of broadcasting it were exercised. You didn't have this with a single network. Re-run times happened all over the place and at different frequencies. I remember seeing Star Trek aired in reruns at night during every weeknight. That fueled a lot of interest, versus one show per week. So, without that syndication blast, would Star Trek awareness have spread as much as? Perhaps the earlier seasons being syndicated while the newer seasons were being produced would still have been done, just delayed a little. I do believe that the interest would have elevated by then.

    We also have to look at the actors involved. Luckily, they didn't seem to be doing much after the cancellation. Certainly, Shatner went on the talk show circuit. But he was having lots of trouble finding work. So, had the series continued, I don't think there would have been any issues with retention.

    Assuming Star Trek continued on past 1969, would there have been an "in-line" Phase II? Perhaps. I suspect the series would have ended after 5 or 6 seasons regardless. Even though there would have been more material to satisfy the audience in reruns, I still think there would have been a strong enough, perhaps even stronger, desire for a Star Trek movie. I probably would have happened a few years later.

    And what about TNG? How would it have been affected? I think there are too many variables to give a good speculation. I suspect it probably would still have been produced at around the same time. There might have been just 3 TOS movies instead of 4 at that point.
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I agree -- if the show had stayed in a good time slot (which is very unlikely given its ratings) and Roddenberry had stayed aboard, then the show would've had a better third season, but the odds would've still been against it getting a fourth season, since NBC was losing money on it every year. And even if, by some miracle, it had gotten a fourth or fifth season, it wouldn't have had any major impact beyond enlarging the syndication package. So I don't think the circumstances of the show's cancellation had much of an impact on its later popularity.

    Well, there's one huge exception there: just a month after Star Trek was cancelled, Leonard Nimoy signed onto Mission: Impossible as the replacement for Martin Landau (who, as it happens, had turned down the role of Spock several years earlier), and was the second-billed lead on that show for two years. Now, according to this interview (starting at about 10:30 in the video), he didn't take that job until after ST was cancelled, but he was offered a lot more money for it than he got paid on ST, and he relished the opportunity to stretch as an actor by playing a wide range of characters (though that didn't work out as well as he'd hoped). If ST had gotten a fourth season, it's possible that the M:I producers just wouldn't have considered him as a potential replacement lead, since that would've been poaching from their sister show; but it's possible that they would've made him the offer, in which case he might've decided that moving to M:I was a better career move than playing Spock for another year -- although knowing Nimoy, that would've depended largely on how satisfied he was with how Spock's character was being developed. And if he had dumped ST for M:I, he would've surely come to regret it later.

    And if Nimoy had walked out on ST, I doubt NBC would've been willing to continue the series, since he was the linchpin of what popularity the show had. Even if they'd tried to do a Spock-less fourth season, or pulled a Darrin and recast the role, the ratings probably would've plummeted and the show would've been cancelled midseason.


    I don't think it would've made any difference. It was the show's success in syndication in the early '70s that created interest in a live-action revival starting around '75. If TOS had run one or two seasons longer, that wouldn't have changed much about what happened later.