Star Trek faced long odds on its way to redefining what sci-fi could be.
"I remember the fatigue and the tension every season, of wondering if we would be canceled or not," recalls William Shatner, whose James T. Kirk first flew onto the airwaves 50 years ago when Star Trek premiered Sept. 8, 1966 on NBC.
From its uncertain beginnings, Star Trek went on to become a cultural phenomenon unmatched by any TV show before or since, with Gene Roddenberry's "Wagon Train to the stars" spawning six TV shows (a seventh is coming in January) and 13 films (so far). And that's to say nothing of the countless comics, novels and conventions it has inspired.
"It was the most inauspicious beginning to what has been the rest of my life," says Walter Koenig, who thought he failed the audition for the role of the Russian helmsman Chekov, but turned things around when the producers asked him to punch up his reading with some humor ("Guess what? The ship is about to blow up!" he recalls saying in Chekov's now-trademark Russian accent.)
Though the show was canceled in 1969 after just three seasons, its mission of bringing cutting edge, socially conscious stories to the masses continued, first on Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-74), and then in a series of films starring original series castmembers including Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (Bones), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), and James Doohan (Scotty). The success of the films gave rise to new and beloved TV shows, beginning with The Next Generation (1987–94), and continuing with Deep Space Nine (1993–99), Voyager (1995–2001) and Enterprise (2001-05).
Here, The Hollywood Reporter and those who worked on the show look back on the 100 best Star Trek episodes to celebrate the 50th anniversary — though not everyone could pick just one.
"My favorite episode of the original Star Trek series was any time Uhura would get a chance to 'get off the bridge,' " Nichols says with a smile. "Normally she never got off the bridge until it was time to go home after filming for the day."