The Rebirth of a Franchise
With the word “reboot” on everyone’s lips concerning this year’s 11th Star Trek movie, I felt it was as good a time as any to go waaaay back in the Official MRFH Time Travel Booth to the tantalizing take of a Star Trek “what if?” – a sequel series featuring the second adventures of Captain Kirk and crew.
The year was 1977 and science fiction was very much the In Thing, thanks to a little film called Star Wars. Eight years prior, Star Trek (the original series) had been canned following its tumultuous and poorly-received third year of broadcast. The cast and crew scattered to the winds, and CBS made an interesting choice of throwing the show into a new concept called “syndication”. Like many cult success stories, Trek succeeded after it failed, eating up ratings charts and prompting the studio to produce a half-hazard animated series that ran for a year in 1973-74.
Talk started buzzing about bring Star Trek back as a second live action series. The planets aligned as Gene Roddenberry and Paramount got behind the idea, with Paramount seeking a flagship show for its proposed Paramount Television Service. Roddenberry had previously announced that he was interested in both a movie and a prequel series, where Kirk and Spock and the rest had met at Starfleet Academy.
Why this is all is more than just a brief blurb in the annals of Star Trek is just how far they got with planning and pre-producing this new series, which ultimately got right up to the line where they were going to film the first half season – two weeks before beginning principle photography – and then the deal collapsed. The new channel never materialized as a viable fourth network (Paramount later came up with UPN in the 90’s), and the team behind this show, called Star Trek: Phase II, switched gears and took existing sets, storylines and actors from the show and channeled it into a film (Star Trek: The Motion Picture). By some reports, Disney’s Michael Eisner heard the pitch for the pilot show and declared, “We’ve been looking for the feature for five years and this is it.” So it was said, so it was done.
As I said, you’d be surprised just how far they went with the pre-production of Phase II. Test footage was shot (which can be seen on The Motion Picture’s Director’s Edition DVD) and sets, including the new Enterprise bridge, was built. For the most part, the original cast was slated to return (Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Rand and Chapel) with a couple significant changes and additions.
The first was in replacing the role of much-loved Spock (Leonard Nimoy, who bowed out for various reasons) with that of a hunky full-blooded Vulcan named Lt. Xon. Xon was written out of the movie completely to preserve his character for possible future use (a different Vulcan ended up dying in the transporter accident), but Star Trek II, III and IV’s Lt. Saavik was granted a few of his personality traits. The other two new cast additions, however, did make it from the proposed series to the film – Commander Will Decker and Lt. Ilia (both of who were effectively “killed off” by the end of the film, preserving the original cast with no additional changes). As William Shatner’s salary for the first 13 episodes was so high, the studio seriously considered reducing his future role to cameos, with Decker taking over as the main hero. Whew, bullet dodged, right?
The premise of the show was that the Enterprise had completed its original five-year mission, and was embarking on a second mission of equal length. Thirteen scripts were greenlighted, and a new array of Enterprise adventures took shape, from Kirk going back in time to Pearl Harbor 1941, to a two-part adventure on the Klingon homeworld. The original series’ Matt Jeffries returned to give the Enterprise’s look an overhaul, transforming it from the 60’s version to the sleeker vision that we ended up witnessing for the first three Star Trek films.
As we well know, Star Trek took a different track at this point, veering into the waters of motion pictures, and later on, four future series. But the agonizing question “what if?” remains. What if Phase II aired and succeeded? What if it aired and failed, possibly tanking the franchise for good? What would’ve happened to the actors in either case? What stories might we have seen? Would movies have ever happened?
Star Trek Phase II’s Progeny
Star Trek: The Next Generation became the first official Star Trek spin-off series in 1987, owing a great debt to Phase II’s planning and Roddenberry’s continued input. Phase II’s Decker and Ilia were obvious inspirations for TNG’s Riker and Troi (with both Ilia and Troi being empaths, natch), and two abandoned Phase II scripts were recycled for the 24th century’s Enterprise. While the series might have begun under the shadow of the movies, the original series and Phase II’s planning, it soon moved in its own direction by the beginning of the second season, leaving older concepts and writers behind.
1999’s Galaxy Quest might not have made any direct references to Star Trek, but the entire movie was an obvious homage to both the show and the behind-the-scenes events and relationships. The end of the film showed the actors returning for a new Galaxy Quest series, a la Phase II, and with a similar pseudo-updated look and cast changes.
In 2004, hardcore Trekkies James Cawley and Jack Marshall decided to do what many hardcore fans attempt – to fulfill their own dreams of a new series by filming it themselves. However, against many odds, they succeeded in the creation of a well-done and highly popular “unofficial” Star Trek show, first called Star Trek: New Voyages, and later on, Star Trek: Phase II. They painstakingly recreated the look and feel of the original series, including purchasing a large portion of Phase II costumes and building detailed sets.
An all-new cast strove to honor the spirit and personalities of the original characters, but New Adventures went one step further by netting actual Star Trek cast and crew to grace their show: Walter Koenig, George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, Denise Crosby and more reprised their roles, while classic Trek writers such as D.C. Fontana and Michael Reaves penned some of the half-dozen episodes that have been produced at this point. As the show’s creators don’t make a dime off the series, CBS and Paramount have left them alone, paving way for additional voyages.