Live long and prosper. (popularity of 'Star Trek' television program; products based on the show) (Column)
by Steven Anzovin
On a cool September night in 1966, I curled up in front of the tube to watch the first episode of a new show that promised to be like no other ever seen on network TV.
As the now-famous saucer section appeared on the TV screen, I was immediately and permanently hooked. The show was, of course, the original "Star Trek."
Not only did I wait impatiently for each new adventure of the Enterprise and its intrepid crew, but I also built Star Trek model kits, read Star Trek books (even one on how to submit a script to the producers, which I dreamed of doing right up until the show went off the air three years later), and argued over the deeper meaning of each episode with a small circle of like-minded, starry-eyed friends.
Almost twenty-seven years later, the longevity and popularity of Star Trek is something of a mystery to me. Older and not so starry-eyed, I find that the old "Star Trek" is painfully, predictably, laughably bad. Sure, the old series now qualifies as vintage cheese, but there's only so much cheese most people can take.
Nor is Star Trek's popularity a matter of great art triumphing over the marketplace, since nobody (except maybe the late, great Gene Roddenberry and a few truly intense fans) could claim that the hilarious old "Star Trek," the wildly uneven Star Trek movies, the deadly dull "Star Trek-the Next Generation," or "Dee Space Nine" are anything like masterpieces.
Maybe the key can be found in how Star Trek fans feel about the characters. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Picard, Data, Worf, and the rest are like family members whose every action is now familiar-and perhaps laughable-but no less loved for all that.
Guiltily, I have to admit that I still enjoy the hammy histrionics, the sophomoric bridge banter, the wonderfully tacky sets, and the thrillingly melodramatic score of the old "Star Trek." My brother and I, not close in other ways, can tune in to a "Star Trek" rerun, recite each line of awful dialogue, and feel closer than we do at any other time. I even watch "Star Trek--the Next Generation," maybe because I feel that I owe it to the Federation. Compared to the perilous, unpredictable real world, the universe of Star Trek, with its simple heroic values, consistent characters, and happy endings, is, well, comforting.
Whatever the reason for Star Trek's success, marketeers have jumped on the bandwagon. Today, there are scads more Star Trek goodies available than there were when I was a kid. And, as befits a show that inspired many viewers to get into computing, several Star Trek-themed products are now offered on disk.
There've been computer games based on Star Trek concepts since the dawn of personal computing.
One recent authorized entry is the Star Trek: 25th Anniversary game, from Interplay Productions (17922 Fitch Avenue, Irvine, California 92714; 714-553-6655). This RPG lets you maneuver Kirk, Spock, and Bones (rendered in the hobbit-proportioned bodies apparently required in such games) around the Enterprise and on a variety of alien worlds.
Digitized scenes and sounds from the original series add the necessary authenticity, and you can even kill off a nameless ensign on every mission, just as happens in each episode.
Star Trek-flavored utilities are a new development. Berkeley Systems (2095 Rose Street, Berkeley, California 94709; 510-770-8787) has released Star Trek: The Screen Saver, a collection of modules for the company's popular After Dark Windows screen saver. Sound Source's Logical Collection is a set of audio clips from the original series for use with Windows. (Contact Sound Source at 2985 East Hillcrest Drive, Suite A, Westlake Village, California 91362; 805-494-9996.)
The final frontier of Star Trek fandom may be coming soon to your local mall. The people who brought you Virtuality, the virtual reality (VR) arcade game, are developing a new role-playing VR game based on "Star Trek-the Next Generation."
Up to 50 players at a time will supposedly be able to play various roles on each installation, manning (or womanning) the bridge, holodeck, and other stations while fighting off the Borg and repairing the hull integrity latching system.
Do we want to live Star Trek, not just watch it? Will overexposure finally kill our love for the Enterprise and its crew? Those are questions that even Spock couldn't answer.