Star Trek: Phase II - 1977's Forgotten Trek
Hollywood's latter-day wunderkind, Mr. JJ Abrams, has been given the responsibility of rebooting the Star Trek franchise. Next year we'll see an all new cinematic take on the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy – probably setting the internet ablaze with countless flame wars. I'm serious. I think that it's going to break the internet, but Trekkies and Trekkers alike should take heart. This isn't the first attempt to reboot Star Trek... and I'm not talking any pastel-colored Next Generation stuff either.
In 1977, Paramount was moving forward with plans to launch their own TV network. Despite no new episodes in years, Star Trek was still popular, and there was a growing interest in science fiction. Paramount's plan was to bring back Star Trek as a TV movie and series. This new Trek would be the flagship of their new network. The show was put into production, and this time Paramount gave Trek top-project status.
They called upon Ralph McQuarrie, famous for his Star Wars production designs, to help create the design for a new retrofitted Enterprise. Mike Minor, who would go on to do production design for the first two Trek films, created the new look for the Phase II Enterprise interiors (you can see many of those details carried forward into the films and TNG). Scripts were written, sets built, most of the original cast cajoled into their old roles, new actors cast, even some test footage shot.
Paramount's plans for a fourth network never materialized (though they did finally accomplish a TV presence in the mid-90's using the odious Voyager spin-off of Trek to launch the network). One of the abandoned Phase II's scripts became the ponderous Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Other scripts & characters were recycled and adapted as fodder for The Next Generation a decade later. Props and sets found use in the movies and later TV series. One notable bit of scenery built for Phase II, a technical looking archway, has appeared in every show to bear the Trek name since the 70's.
It would be interesting to see what a 1970's Star Trek series would have been like, though it might not have lasted. Expensive special effects brought down ambitious sci-fi series of the period such as Battlestar Galactica. Trek was at its best when it sought to tell big stories, the kind of stories best told on the silver screen. The success of those movies ensured that the four spin-off series were all top of the line productions.
So let's hope that people will be able to go into the new Trek film with an open mind. It's just another way to tell the same kinds of stories with the characters that we've grown to love. If it doesn't work, I'm sure there will be another attempt a few years down the road. If Trek has taught us one thing, it's that no frontier is really final.