By all accounts, ``Star Trek'' will live long and prosper.
A fourth television series debuting in January, seven feature films earning more than $500 million at the box office, scores of best-selling books, and a billion-dollar merchandise industry - all this from a 1966 TV series that almost flopped.
Two weeks ago the movie ``Star Trek Generations'' kicked off a successful holiday season run, which to date has brought in $49 million. If you're not a hard-core fan, but want to appear informed, here's some facts you'll want to know:
The film is the first feature for the cast of ``Next Generation'' and brings together Captains Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and James T. Kirk (William Shatner), marking a somewhat unceremonious passing of the baton. Kirk dies in the movie - one of the worst-kept secrets in recent moviemaking history - suggesting his retirement from the Star-Trek screen. Or so we're led to believe.
NBC's goof of the decade?
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry outlined his original ideas for Star Trek around 1964. NBC gave it the thumbs-down, saying it was ``too cerebral.'' But Roddenberry got a second chance, and the 1966 episode ``Where No Man Has Gone Before'' marked the debut of the series. Low ratings caused NBC to threaten cancellation, but a letter-writing campaign saved it. Finally, in 1969 - after three seasons and 79 episodes - NBC did kill the series.
Ten years later ``Star Trek: The Motion Picture'' was released -
featuring the familiar faces of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov - sparking a string of Trek movies. On the TV end, reruns were going strong, and the renewed interest spawned ``Next Generation'' (1987-1993), and now ``Deep Space Nine'' (1993). Next month ``Star Trek: Voyager'' debuts, featuring the first woman captain in the starring role: Kate Mulgrew plays Capt. Kathryn Janeway.
Beam me up, Scotty
Theories abound as to why Star Trek has such a dedicated following. Different camps side with the old and new, but Star Trek has always had the two-tiered appeal of sci-fi and human drama.
``Star Trek plays to what people hope are the best parts of the human race ... doing the right thing at the right time,'' says Mark Fellenz, a management consultant who considers himself a devoted fan but not a hard-core ``Trekkie.'' The show is about being progressive and pushing boundaries, Mr. Fellenz notes, with episodes focusing not only on conflicts with renegade Romulans, but also on racial equality (Star Trek featured TV's first interracial kiss), interplanetary harmony, and moral issues. ``At the end, there's always a resolution,'' he points out.
Trekkers, not Trekkies
Star Trek fandom may be hard to measure, but no one can argue about its far-reaching effect. According to Paramount Pictures, Star Trek airs in more than 100 countries. Each year, 10 million people see the ``Star Trek'' exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum in Washington. Trek phrases have even become part of the lexicon (``Make it so.'' ``Beam me up.'')
In the '60s, viewers tended to be teenage males; nowadays they are mostly families. Still, the Trekkers are high-profile, attending conventions (there are hundreds each year), testing one another's knowledge, and collecting paraphernalia - from Star Fleet Academy rings to Enterprise Christmas-tree ornaments. Yes, some dress up in costume. Some even speak Klingon. On-line (Internet and the like), Trekkers can find anything - from gossip about actors to episode bloopers.
This Saturday, Boston will host a Star Trek Convention, complete with a visit from William Shatner. (He does not do autographs, by the way.) About 4,000 people are expected to attend. The ``Grand Slam'' show, held annually in Pasadena, Calif., features 60 cast members and attracts some 16,000 people. (March 17 - 19, 1995).
How fast is Warp Factor 3?
No, it's not three times the speed of light, but 33, or 27 times the speed of light.
Star Trek trivia abounds. Ask Robert W. Bly, whose ``The Ultimate Unauthorized Star Trek Quiz Book'' (HarperPerennial) is approaching best-seller status. A sampling:
Who did Roddenberry call before William Shatner to play Captain Kirk? (Jack Lord)
Who was Roddenberry's first choice for Mr. Spock? (DeForrest Kelley, who plays Dr. McCoy)
What are the three phaser settings? (Stun, Kill, Destroy)
What is the name Data gives to the android child he builds? (Lal - Hindi for beloved)