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Reviewed by:
  • Star Trek and American Television by Roberta Pearson and Maire Messenger Davies
  • Robert Gabriel
Star Trek and American Television Roberta Pearson and Maire Messenger Davies Univ. of California Press, 2014, 256 pages

Having debuted before American television audiences on September, 1966, Star Trek is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary as a pop culture phenomenon, as audiences all over the world instantly recognize its characters, its extended universe, and its lexicon. Star Trek eventually became a television franchise comprised of five series: Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969); Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994); Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999); Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001); and Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005). While the original series struggled with low ratings through three seasons on network television, the franchise went on to achieve a second life and an unprecedented level of success and longevity in syndication and on cable, as well as in feature films, books, and other platforms.

Focusing directly on the television franchise, the recently published Star Trek and American Television - written by Roberta Pearson and Maire Messenger Davies, both scholars of television and media studies who currently teach in the UK at Nottingham University and the University of Ulster, respectively – examines the television franchise as a case study to reflect the changing production and economics behind the American television industry. The book reflects current television scholarship, such as Amanda Lotz's The Television Will Be Revolutionized, to look at the Star Trek franchise through the Network Era, the Multi-Channel Transition, and the Post-Network Era. While Star Trek: The Original Series was broadcast on network television in the 1960s, The Next Generation was broadcast as a first-run syndication in the 1980s and 1990s, and Voyager subsequently debuted as part of a launch for a new network, UPN. Star Trek and American Television suggests, then, that it is important to recognize that the franchise lay at the heart of the multi-channel transition, and the book successfully incorporates an understanding of the television industry and production practices to look at how the series embodies over four decades of American television history.

The authors frame their book as a response to a quote from William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, who stated in an interview, "It's a television show" (3). The work's scholarship is in fact enhanced by a round of interviews conducted by the authors, including some of the lead actors of the franchise such as Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart, longtime producer Rick Berman, and several other behind-the-scenes supervisors, showrunners, and craftspeople who worked on such things as the makeup, costume design, set design, and writing to show how these various participants all made contributions to the franchise. The book's introduction states how it contributes to an already immense field of Star Trek studies: "It is the first extended examination of the people, practices, and institutions that made Star Trek as television" (16).

The book is organized into three section. The first addresses the context of the production and economics of the original series. In the first chapter, "Star Trek and American Television History," the authors reflect on how the original series typified standard production and industry practices for network television at the time before getting canceled due to low ratings. At the same time, the series was atypical insofar as it was conceived by an auteur-like creator, Gene Roddenberry, and for the multiple second chances it received: it earned a second pilot shot and finally found success with audiences in syndication in the 1970s as compared to its reception during its original primetime run. In particular, the original series found audiences with young males and upscale viewers, but the terms of narrowcasting or niche audiences were not a part of the industry practices then as they are now. Here, then, is an example of how the authors make a point of analyzing the [End Page 74] series in relations to the history of American television.

The second section of the book looks at the production practices of the series, its creative workers and their day-to-day involvement in making the series. Chapter two, "Art, Commerce...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 74-75
Launched on MUSE
2018-08-20
Open Access
No
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