×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Star Trek’ Anniversary: Gene Roddenberry’s Battle for Equality

Happy 49th anniversary to “Star Trek,” which debuted on NBC Sept. 8, 1966. It’s a remarkable success story due to its longevity, its fan loyalty, its philosophical-spiritual meditations — and its racial integration.

When Gene Roddenberry insisted on an integrated crew for Starship Enterprise, it wasn’t a TV first, but it was a rarity. In 1966, interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states — one-third of the U.S. George Wallace’s inauguration speech in January 1963 included his rallying cry “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Even though the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, acceptance was slow: In the 1968 presidential election, Wallace won nearly 10 million votes and carried five states.

Meanwhile, show business was aiming for more integration, but then — as now — the intentions were better than the results.

In March 30, 1966, six months before “Star Trek” debuted, Daily Variety carried a story about a TV integration study. A team at UCLA had monitored all seven L.A. TV stations (three network affiliates, four locals) for content. The survey counted 1,197 speaking parts in primetime TV during one week in December. Only 40, or 3.36%, of the roles were played by black actors. Even worse, primetime TV ads included 1,371 speaking roles, of which 0.65% were black. The ACLU, which called the press conference, added a note that not all these characters were positive: Blacks were often cast in dramatic roles “which fortify the stereotype of the angry Negro who is a threat to society.”

When Roddenberry was a freelance TV writer, he was asked to join the 1959 series “Riverboat.” However, the producers didn’t want black characters on the show; they argued with Roddenberry so much that he exited.

In retrospect, the casting of Nichelle Nichols as communications officer Lt. Uhura and George Takei as Lt. Sulu seems like a perfect fit. But the roles were radical at that time, since both were in positions of great authority. Even so, Nichols planned to leave after the first season, to return to her stage and singing work. But she met Martin Luther King Jr. at an NAACP event and he urged her to stay, because Uhura was a positive role model who was needed. On Nov. 22, 1968, Nichols and William Shatner’s characters shared a kiss. Network brass was nervous, but the public had a more positive response.

“Star Trek” was expensive and ambitious. On Sept. 27, 1966, just after the series had debuted, Desilu production chief Herbert Solow complained to Variety about the costs. Solow said “Trek” and the other new series from Desilu, “Mission: Impossible” on CBS, were among the most expensive shows on the air. Each network paid about $145,000 per episode, which meant Desilu was having to pay out of pocket to keep up the quality on both shows. Solow fretted about the costs, saying, “Our only hope is to rerun them globally and that the shows will go on for five years.”

The original “Star Trek” series only lasted three seasons, but nearly 50 years later, folks are still watching both series. So it turns out Desilu’s investment paid off.

More TV

  • Spongebob Squarepants Mr Kiasu

    Singapore Comiccon: Spongebob Squarepants Collides With Local Character Mr Kiasu

    Enormously popular Nickelodeon character, SpongeBob SquarePants is 20 this year. To commemorate the anniversary Nickelodeon commissioned Singaporean artist Johnny Lau, creator of iconic local animated character Mr Kiasu, to draw a coffee table book converging the wildly diverse worlds of the two. Lau released the book “Mr Kiasu Meets SpongeBob SquarePants” at the Singapore ComicCon [...]

  • America's Got Talent Simon Cowell

    Simon Cowell Lawyers Up From Abroad as 'America's Got Talent' Investigation Begins (EXCLUSIVE)

    “America’s Got Talent” executive producer Simon Cowell has set his legal representation for an investigation into the NBC competition series, which was announced by the network this week after a lengthy meeting with ousted judge Gabrielle Union. Cowell has hired Larry Stein, a longtime litigator in Hollywood and media spaces, multiple individuals familiar with the [...]

  • Ryan Reynolds' Aviation Gin Hijacks 'Peloton

    Ryan Reynolds Hijacks 'Peloton Wife,' Wrings New Buzz From Old Ad Trick

    The “Peloton Wife” is on the verge of striking up a new relationship outside her marriage The actress who plays the controversial Madison Avenue figure in a commercial for the luxury physical-fitness company is back in a new ad campaign – for another marketer that has little to do with promoting a healthy lifestyle. Aviation [...]

  • Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime

    'Delhi Crime’ Wins Big at Asian Academy Creative Awards

    Richie Mehta’s harrowing Netflix series “Delhi Crime” was the big winner at the 2nd annual Asian Academy Creative Awards in Singapore on Friday. Representing the show, lead actress Shefali Shah was rushed off her feet as she repeatedly had to return to the stage. “Delhi Crime” earned her best actress in a leading role, best [...]

  • KARNAWAL

    ‘Karnawal,’ ‘Restless,’ ‘Summer White,’ ‘Firsts’ Win Big at Ventana Sur

    BUENOS AIRES  — With Ventana Sur now firing on multiple cylinders, featuring pix-in post or project competitions for not only art films but also genre pics and animation – two sectors embraced by young creators in Latin America – “Karnawal,” “Restless,” “Summer White” and  “Firsts” proved big winners among Ventana Sur’s arthouse and animation competitions, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content