Star Trek: The Animated Series was a half-hour Saturday morning cartoon that premiered exactly one half century ago — yesterday. You can watch its opening credits sequence on YouTube — with its strange 1970s version of the theme song. CBS’s YouTube channel also offers clips from various episodes.

Starting in 1973, it ran for two seasons — a total of just 22 episodes. But the BBC notes it kept Star Trek in people’s minds after the original series had been cancelled in 1969:

While The Original Series had struggled in the ratings during its initial run, the show thrived in syndication, and created the phenomenon of fan conventions (think Comic-con in the present day). Because of this, studios were interested in more Star Trek, but there was a problem: the sets had been scrapped, the costumes were gone, and it would have been cost-prohibitive to rebuild everything from scratch. NBC settled on a different approach: an animated series.

According to The Fifty-Year Mission by Mark Altman and Edward Gross (an oral history of Star Trek), Gene Roddenberry wasn’t overly interested in an animated show in and of itself. However, he was willing to go along with it because he saw it as a stepping stone to another live-action show or a feature film. An animated show would energise fans, he thought, so he agreed on the condition that he would have full creative control of The Animated Series. After a fight, the network gave in. The full, regular cast returned, with the exception of Walter Koenig’s Pavel Chekov, who was cut for budget reasons…

[I]t was very much conceived of as a continuation of The Original Series. Some of the episodes were direct sequels, such as More Tribbles, More Trouble, which is a continuation of the classic The Trouble with Tribbles, and featured the return of Cyrano Jones… [Another episode was a sequel to The City on the Edge of Forever.] Dorothy (DC) Fontana led a group of writers from the original show who mostly wrote for a traditional, adult Star Trek audience. That’s why the show didn’t catch on — while it was well-received by critics, it might have done better in prime time. The show won a Daytime Emmy for best children’s series, but it was cancelled after two years because of low ratings. Roddenberry then moved on to work on another live-action series, called Phase II, which would eventually become Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Whatever is decided regarding “the canon”, The Animated Series sits firmly within Star Trek’s guiding ethos: Gene Roddenberry’s vision for a utopian future where humans coexist peacefully with aliens as part of a Federation, and there’s no poverty or war.


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