When it first hit the air in the ‘60s, Star Trek was only around for three little-watched seasons. But thanks to endless reruns, it became one of the most beloved—and important—TV shows of all time. Here are some facts about Star Trek on the 50th anniversary of the airing of its first episode.
It was the first serious science fiction series on American TV
Science fiction was a part of TV since the medium’s birth, but shows about spacemen and aliens were generally geared toward kids, or they were anthology shows. The Twilight Zone, for example, often featured standalone episodes with sci-fi themes. Star Trek, however, was the first weekly science-fiction series with the same characters having a different adventure every week.
It was the first live-action series with a diverse cast
By and large, the faces American viewers saw on their TV screens in the 1960s were white faces. On Star Trek, creator Gene Roddenberry presented an integrated, multicultural crew of the Enterprise. Among the characters were a woman with African heritage (Nyota Uhuru) and a Japanese-American (Hikaru Sulu). Almost as controversial was the inclusion of ensign Pavel Chekov (Walter Koening). The character was from Russia, who in 1966 was America’s most feared enemy nation.
Not only that, but people of color were shown in positions of power
African-American roles were few and far between on American television at the time. When Nichelle Nichols was cast as Uhuru, the Enterprise’s communications officer, it was the first time on American TV that a black woman was shown as an authority figure. Even less common on TV were Asian-American characters. On Star Trek, George Takei portrayed Hikaru Sulu, the ship’s helmsman.
It led to the first-ever fan conventions
Today, gatherings like ComicCon, where the casts and creators of TV shows meet with fans, are commonplace. (And many more fans gather online to discuss the finer points of their favorites.) In 1972, Star Trek fans gathered in New York for a Star Trek convention—the first such event of its kind.