Creator Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek to NBC as
"Wagon Train to the stars," referring to the popular Western about
settlers making their way to California. In some ways, this sci-fi
series did resemble a Western, notably in the way it could address
topical issues like racism in a "safe" context. But the two genres are quite
different in terms of popular appeal. Westerns are ideal for reaching mass
audiences. They're mostly interchangeable in terms of setting, conflicts, and
even vocabulary, so viewers can drop into a series at any time and grasp what's
going on. The fans of a science-fiction series are more like an exclusive club,
in which status is determined by knowledge. Star Trek, with its
background stories about Vulcans, Klingons, and the Federation, left most
first-time viewers baffled and ready to switch back to My Three Sons.
Twenty years later, Roddenberry produced a sequel series whose audience wasn't
much larger than that for the original. Because TV audiences had become so
splintered, however, it was considered an unqualified success.
Taken from The Boston Phoenix's "50 Years and Counting," a retrospective
of the most influential programs from television's first half-century.
Click here for the full article.
--Robert David Sullivan
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