Captain’s Log, Stardate 090891: The Enterprise has assumed orbit around a Class M planet inhabited by the oddest race of creatures we’ve ever encountered. They call themselves ”Trekkies” — some insist on the word ”Trekkers” — and their entire civilization seems to be based on an ancient TV show about a band of space-age pioneers. They worship in hives called ”conventions,” where they don silly velour uniforms and plastic pointy ears. Mr. Spock says these strange beings are harmless, but I’m not so sure. Something about them seems disturbingly familiar.
Of all the worlds the starship Enterprise has visited since its launch 25 years ago this month — Rigel 7, Janus VI, Omicron Ceti III, and others — the most hospitable has always been its home planet, Earth. We Terrons can’t get enough of Star Trek: The original series is still broadcast in the U.S. more than 200 times a day. It has been translated into 47 languages, including Hebrew, Portuguese, Dutch, and Swedish. Its sequel series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, is one of the most popular syndicated shows in the country, seen by more than 17 million a week. The five Trek movies — the sixth is due Dec. 13 — have been among the most successful science fiction films ever made, earning a total of $398 million. When you add in 25 years’ worth of Trek toys, posters, and lunch boxes, you’re talking about one of the most profitable cult franchises in entertainment history.
The irony is that Star Trek was a flop when it first aired on NBC (Sept. 8, 1966, to June 3, 1969), never climbing above 50th in the Nielsens and lagging behind such powerhouse programming as Mr. Terrific and The Tammy Grimes Show. Three times NBC tried to cancel it, each time triggering an avalanche of fan letters. In 1968 alone, the network received more than a million — including ones from New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and sci-fi author Isaac Asimov.
Over the past 25 years, fans have multiplied faster than those furry little fuzzballs called Tribbles. Today there are more than 200 Star Trek clubs nationwide, hundreds of annual Trek conventions, and more than 500 Trek fanzines. For thousands of Americans, Star Trek isn’t just a TV show — it’s a way of life-on-other-planets. To those fans — and to anybody else who’s ever tuned in — we devote these pages. Herewith, Entertainment Weekly’s bold look back at 25 years of warp-speed TV.