When Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, it was a dark time not just for fans, but for creator Gene Roddenberry himself. Unable to get another TV series off the ground, Roddenberry was reduced to selling Trek merch and doing the lecture circuit in order to support himself. Meanwhile, William Shatner was living in a camper home and taking any gig he could to get by.
But along the way, something amazing happened: The crew of the USS Enterprise refused to stay cancelled and Star Trek: The Animated Series was born.
That was 50 years ago, and today we take the long life and, well, prospering of Star Trek for granted, but back in the early ’70s that was far from the case. And while a variety of factors would combine to eventually beam Captain Kirk and company back onto our screens, it was the low-budget Animated Series that helped to save the franchise, while also reminding fans of what Star Trek was all about.
Not only did Star Trek: TAS help to save the franchise, allowing for the Star Trek movies to be made and then eventually a whole new array of live-action TV shows as well, starting with The Next Generation. But in recent years, new animation projects have also sprouted up. Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Prodigy, Short Treks, and most recently, the Very Short Treks have all followed in the grand tradition of The Animated Series, now 50 years after it debuted.
This is the story of how a cartoon ensured Star Trek’s survival, with a little help from some fans. And why that animated legacy continues to live on today.
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