Star Trek, also known as Star Trek: The Original Series, is a science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry which aired from September 8, 1966 through September 2, 1969. 79 episodes were produced. After the show was cancelled, it was placed in syndication, where it spawned a strong fan following and later achieved iconic status as a worldwide television phenomenon.
Set in the 23rd century, Star Trek follows the adventures of the starship Enterprise and its crew, led by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), his First Officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and his Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley).
William Shatner's voice-over introduction during each episode's opening credits stated the starship's purpose:
Space... the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
The success of the program was followed by five additional television series (one animated) and ten theatrical movies with an 11th on the way for May 2009. The Guinness Book of Records lists it as having the largest number of spinoffs. Though the title of the original program was simply Star Trek, it has acquired the retronym Star Trek: The Original Series (sometimes shortened to ST:TOS or TOS), in order to distinguish this first series from the sequels which followed (all of which comprise the Star Trek universe or franchise).
When Star Trek debuted on NBC in 1966, it was not an immediate hit; ratings were low and advertising revenue was lackluster. Even prior to the end of the first season of Star Trek, there were already calls in the network for the cancellation of the series due to its low Nielsen ratings. Bay area Creature Feature host John Stanley in his memoir I Was a TV Horror Host relates how Desilu head Lucille Ball at that time "single-handedly kept Star Trek from being dumped from the NBC-TV lineup." During the show's second season, the threat of cancellation loomed. The show's devoted fanbase conducted an unprecedented letter-writing campaign, petitioning NBC to keep the show on the air. Its fans succeeded in gaining a third season; however, NBC subsequently moved the show to the Friday Night Death Slot at 10 PM. Gene Roddenberry resigned as line producer of Star Trek before the start of the final season to protest the changed timeslot, and was replaced by Fred Freiberger. NBC then substantially reduced Star Trek's budget which brought about a marked decline in the quality of many third season episodes. As Nichelle Nichols observes:
"While NBC paid lip service to expanding Star Trek's audience, it slashed our production budget until it was actually ten percent lower than it had been in our first season....This is why in the third season you saw fewer outdoor location shots, for example. Top writers, top guest stars, top anything you needed was harder to come by. Thus, Star Trek's demise became a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I can assure you, that is exactly as it was meant to be."
While Roddenberry remained nominally in charge of the series as executive producer, he essentially removed himself from the daily production of the show in its third season. Star Trek was cancelled at the end of its third season. However, it became extremely popular and gathered a large cult following in TV syndication during the 1970s....