A Look Back At Three TV "Stars": "Star Trek," "Star Wars," and "Stargate"

Herbie J Pilato

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The science-fiction/fantasy all-media fan base has never been so satisfied or saturated. Countless television shows and feature films shower the airwaves and streams and movie theatres, inclusive of DC Comics and Marvel-ignited product, and beyond.

Star Trek and Star Wars fans, in particular, are pleased with sequel after reboot or re-do of their beloved favorite franchises, despite a disparity in how various renditions of those individual Star worlds have been conceived, perceived, or received.

With the invasion of creatives like J.J. Abrams into both the Trek and Wars worlds, to mixed reviews by both fans and fellow creatives, with new series editions of Trek, namely, Discovery and Picard, poorly or richly embraced (depending on who you talk to), this is as good a time as any to assess the sci-fi TV situation, beyond and including all shows Trek and beyond, but with specific regard to weekly Wagon Train to the Stars, which how is Trek creator Gene Roddenberry initially described the original Star Trek series, when it debuted on NBC in 1966 (and in reference to a classic TV western which aired on ABC from 1957 to 1965).

While there were some legal issues in the 1970s with the original Battlestar: Galactica TV series (created by Glen Larson, and which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1979) due to its alleged resemblance to the first big-screen edition of Star Wars (created by George Lucas, and which premiered in 1977), in that same era, sci-fi fans could not have been more pleased when Star Trek: The Motion Picture reignited Roddenberry’s beloved child which has proven to have no end.

What many do not remember, however, is that Roddenberry had originally slated Trek to return to the small screen with a concept he titled, Star Trek: Phase II, but taking into account(ing) Warner Bros. receipts for Wars, Paramount, proprietor of Trek, switched gears and decided to bring Trek back in the big-screen guise of a Motion Picture.

That said — the space cadet/academy/military of the sci-fi division of entertainment is a delicate and challenging nut to crack — but let’s try, shall we?

Certainly, many fans fell hard when a new edition of Battlestar: Galactica(created by Larson and Trek vet Ronald D. Moore) debuted in 2004, even though many other fans felt assaulted by the dark, droney fresh take on the original Battlestar.

But let’s journey beyond the stars, betwixt dimensions with warp speed, and land upon a gem in the space rock field continuum that is many times overlooked in the realm of sci-fi Star comparisons:

Stargate SG-1 which, like TV’s M*A*S*H (how’s THAT for a comparison?!), was based on the 1994 feature film, with a different cast lead by Kurt Russel, and simply titled Stargate.

The SG-1 TV characters were embodied by Richard Dean Anderson (as the flip, yet stoic and loyal Col. Jonathan Jack O’Neill), Michael Shanks (the inquisitive and brilliant Daniel Jackson), Amanda Tapping (the no-nonsense Dr. Samantha Carter), Christopher Judge (as the evasive but charming Teal’c), each of which were believable in unbelievable situations for seven years on the show (originally on Showtime, then in syndication, then on Syfy; then the Sci-Fi Channel).

We cared about them because they cared about each other. We liked them because they were likable. We laughed with them. We ached for them. We applauded and cheered them on. We wondered with anticipation as to where their galactic-gateway-to-the-stars were to take them, week after week — and what they were to do once they arrived there (wherever there was). Into which world would they tumble? Which civilization would they uncover? Align with? Fear?

Like the show itself, the SG-1 team remained unpredictable, but not exhaustive or obnoxious. They were appealing, because their exploits were adventures of the heart, played out for the entire universe to see, embrace and enjoy.

In short, Stargate SG-1 captured magnificently what other shows in the planet-to-planet genre have ultimately failed to do, even — and particularly — the many small (and big screen for that matter) incarnations of Star Trek, the initial screen template for which debuted way, way back in 1966.

SG-1 became everything Trek’s Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise attempted to be, should have become, and simply never became. And it doesn’t look like either Discovery or Picard are going to improve that ratio. It seems like all of the post-Original Trek editions were created, partially, to right what many considered a central dysfunction of the original series: to expand upon character-driven stories, of which only a handful was featured.

In the case of the continued Trek franchise, too many rights made a wrong. The new Treks overcompensated with too much character development and neglected the marvel of Roddenberry’s ethereal, original vision — to explore strange new worlds — to “trek” to the stars…undiscovered countries and to exude charm and exhilarate the audience in the process.

For many, the new Treks transmuted L.A. Law In Space and Deep Space Blues. The characters talked and talked and talked and talked, but no one went anywhere with any legitimate sense of fancy, or imagination. Most of the Next Generation, Deep Space, and Voyager segments became, in effect, what used to be called “bottle shows,” with all the so-called adventure taking place on board the Enterprise, the space station, or any other number of starships.

In essence — where all the action wasn’t.

Can it be that the 1999 hit feature film Galaxy Quest, a Trek satire if there ever was one, is actually a better science fiction entry than any of the Star Trek big or small screen sequels put together? Quest certainly equaled in entertainment value any episode of the original Trek TV show.

An Even Closer Look

Upon viewing the opening sequence of any random episode of the original Star Trek television series, such as, “Miri” or “Metamorphosis,” the viewer immediately knows what to expect: an entertaining ride. The story and action are set up in the tease, and boom — the theme music commences and the segment begins to boil. The crew of the Enterprise begins a quest to some mystic or fantastic world. They receive a distress signal, or their journey is disrupted by an alien force that we’re certain at one point will zap at least one of the crew members across the planet’s surface with a resounding bolt.

Trek fans ultimately craved similar segments, and eagerly anticipated small-screen viewings upon hearing of The Next Generation’s debut (in syndication in 1987). But after a while, as many critics pointed out, one kept waiting for something to happen. But nothing ever did. Oh, sure, the late, great DeForest Kelley reemerged as Dr. Leonard McCoy from the original Trek for a cameo appearance in TNG’s pilot. And later, Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock and even James Doohan’s Mr. Montgomery Scott came aboard that new edition of his Enterprise (in episodes, by the way, which happen to be the highest-rated and best-loved segments in Generation’s history); even William Shatner’s iconic Captain Kirk paired up with Patrick Stewart’s TNG’s Captain Picard in the big-screen Star Trek Generations in 1994.

But the sacred triad of Shatner’s Kirk, Nimoy’s Spock, and Kelley’s McCoy was nowhere to be seen in their regular weekly TV spot, docked or in flight, on their own beloved Starship Enterprise.

As I stated in Part 1 of this article (see link below), original and true Star Trek fans never asked for the film series (the second of which, The Wrath of Kahn, released in 1982, is at least superior to the TV sequels), or a Next Generation, or new characters on a new ship Voyager. And Enterprise, the fifth Trek TV series prequel, focused on the formative years of the Federation, pre-Kirk, Spock, etc., while heaven only knows what Discovery focused on, or the new Picard series now, for that matter.

It’s all very nice, but true “Trekkies” (or “Trekkers,” which they…ahem, “we” prefer to be called) never ultimately received what we originally wanted. And what was that? New adventures of the same wonderful people that we had come to know and adore — on the small screen — in our living rooms, every week.

That’s it. Nothing else. But that’s precisely what we did not and will never get.

Even Trek maestros Gene Roddenberry was displeased with the way the franchise developed after the first year of TNG. Rumor had it that he was also not fully satisfied with the Trek films (which he wanted to circumvent around the adventures of the Enterprise, and not Kirk and Spock).

In truth, Roddenberry’s true resurrection of his original concept worshiped by millions never came to be.

Instead, original Trek-lovers were treated to unfamiliar Trek sequels, produced from what looked to be a parallel universe.

Neither Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Picard, or even Strange New World has lived up to the name of their legendary older brother/father. The Next Generation, ignited by Roddenberry was a worthy attempt (certainly in its very Star-Trek-Original-Series-esque first season), but after Roddenberry passed away (in 1991), TNG just didn’t cut the mustard. And Deep Space Nine was a very nice science fiction program (especially upon viewing its last few seasons). But it wasn’t Star Trek, at least not any Trek that Roddenberry had in mind. If Roddenberry-successor and subsequent 1980s-90s Trek franchise king and executive producer Rick Berman wanted to create a new sci-fi military-bent about space travels, then he should have done that. But labeling Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise as party to Star Trek was, well, as Bill Shatner once stated early on in the Trek revamp era, “a misnomer.”

And the same goes for whatever the heck Alex Kurtzman and A.J. Abrams have tried to do with Discovery and Picard and the rebooted Star Trek feature films that were ignited in 2009.

Even with Kirk essentially split it two on TNG (with Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard and Jonathan Frakes’ Number One), a poor man's Spock (Brent Spiner’s Data), and a prettier-than DeForest-Kelley doctor (Gates McFadden’s Beverly Crusher), true Trek fans still merely pined for the charm of the original show, which never came into fruition.

But with a gift like Stargate SG-1, well, that’s a different science fiction story and franchise altogether. The original SG-1, before it branched out into a few small-screen sequels of its own, not only outshines the TV Trek sequels (along with the J.J. Abrams feature revamps), as well as other now-sci-fi military classics like Babylon 5 (sorry, “Fivers!”), but even the 1994 Stargate feature film upon which it is based (sorry, Kurt Russell-ers!).

Certainly, there have been other solid sci-fi/academy-like contenders. Although some of the alien make-up was hideous and insulting, and some of the characters, just plain silly, Roddenberry’s very own Andromeda syndicated series of the early 2000s (produced posthumously by his wife Majel “Nurse Chapel” Barrett-Roddenberry) held up well. Others of that time, like Farscape, which aired on Syfy, were elegant and elaborate and reached a praised hierarchy in certain fandom quarters. And while Sliders nailed it a few times with imaginative stories, frequent character replacements killed any sense of lengthy on-screen camaraderie. It would have been much cooler if the characters had been given a ship in which to travel through time, instead of employing a Time-Tunnel/SG-1-like funnel effect).

And certainly, countless new sci-fi series takes from today, in general, are relatively impressive (if still way too dark and edgy).

But none of them, and I mean none of them, ever came close to Star Trek: The Original Series, except Stargate SG-1 which, even though the military crew on this show, too, never utilized a ship for their journeys, at least their core portal was stationary, with solid outlets spanned across variant worlds.

Suffice it to say, SG-1 doesn’t disappoint on any level. The show employed spectacle, fancy, aptitude, humor, and adventure, all wrapped within a neat package that continues to soar with entertainment and sophistication, displaying a media mosaic of imaginative, fictional disclosure.

What else could any sci-fi TV fan want? Or better yet — it’s exactly what any true sci-fi “Wagon Train to the stars” (military-based or otherwise) should be.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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