A Brief History of "Star Trek" with Footage of the 1977 TV series, "Star Trek: Phase II" That Never Was

Herbie J Pilato

In 1965, NBC commissions the first Star Trek TV pilot episode, titled, “The Cage,” starring Jeffrey Hunter, who played Jesus in King of Kings, as Captain Pike, and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock. But it’s deemed too cerebral and doesn’t sell.

A second pilot is ordered, called, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” starring William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Nimoy back as Spock. This new pilot is more action-oriented and sells.

Star Trek goes on the air and lasts three short years, the first being the best, the last being the worst.

The show then becomes a ratings frenzy in syndication.

From 1973 to 1975 NBC airs an animated version of the series on Saturday mornings, which features all the original cast.

By now, Trek Conventions are taking over the world, enough to impress Paramount studios (Trek’s proprietor) to bring Star Trek back.

Paramount is formulating an all-new TV network…a syndicated network…ahead of its time. This is 1977 for gosh sakes!

A new Trek series is a key component of that plan to launch the new network.

Everyone is on board — literally — except Nimoy as Spock.

So, Roddenberry creates a new Vulcan character named Xon, played by another actor, and who replaces the Spock presence.

Then — Star WARS hits the BIG screen.

Paramount nixes the new TV series, which was to be called Star Trek: Phase II (see below for links to rare footage — and not to be confused with the fan-made show of the same name!) in favor of a new big-screen movie called Star Trek: The Motion Picture (as if we couldn’t have figured that out, in wake of Superman: The Movie — with Christopher Reeve).

Now set for the big screen, the new Trek intrigues Nimoy who agrees to return as Spock.

The Motion Picture is born, with Kirk, Spock, et all, and the actor who was to play Xon on the new TV series in a very minor role.

Disappointingly directed by the famed Robert Wise (The Day The Earth Stood Still), the movie is considered boring by critics and fans; too cerebral, ironically just as the original Star Trek TV pilot (with Hunter as Pike) was considered too cerebral.

But The Motion Picture does well in general and overseas at the box office, and just as in 1966 when NBC and Paramount ordered a second TV pilot, Paramount orders a second movie.

This time, producer Harve Bennett (from TV’s The Mod Squad and The Six Million Dollar Man) is brought in to produce the second movie (with a TV-geared mentality in the TV division of Paramount, even though it’s set for the big-screen).

Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan is born, based on Bennett’s keen eye view of Ricardo Montalban's guest performance as Khan in The Original Series (that’s what they call it now).

Initially named, The Vengence of Kahn, the title is changed to Wrath because it’s too similar to Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi.

Khan is a huge hit and even though Spock dies at the end, Nimoy is enticed back once again to play Spock (raised from the dead!) in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, only if he can direct — which he does.

Search for Spock performs respectably well, but Nicolas Meyer, the genius director/writer behind the scenes of The Wrath of Kahn, is only slightly involved. And Robin Curtis replaces a too-much-money-demanding Kirstie Alley in her star-making role as Vulcan Lt. Saavik.

Circa 1986: Paramount once again decides to form a new TV network…with a new Trek series, which becomes Star Trek: The Next Generation, with an all-new cast of characters, 200 years after Kirk and company…including Data, who ultimately becomes a version of what the Xon character was to be on Phase II.

More Trek movies (with Original Series and Nex Gen casts!) and TV sequels (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, etc.) follow.

Decades later, the new Discovery and Picard TV Treks (among others) are on the new Paramount+ streaming service, along with the upcoming Strange New Worlds, which is ultimately a remake of the original Star Trek’s first TV pilot (with Captain Pike).

And there ya’ go.

Click here for lost footage of "Star Trek: Phase II"

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Writer/producer Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including biographies of Mary Tyler Moore, and "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery. He also writes for Emmys.com, TVWriter.com, and is the host and an executive producer of "Then Again with Herbie J Pilato," a classic TV talk show.

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