The 55th anniversary for Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek" premiere was September 8. Lucille Balls Production Company took a big gamble to create a multi-billion-dollar franchise that spans the entire spectrum of pop culture.
The History Channel will celebrate sci-fi's legacy tonight (Nov. 5) with "The Center Seat 55 Years of Star Trek", a new 10-part docuseries by Brian Volk-Weiss ("The Movies That Made Us," and "The Toys That Made Us")
Gates McFadden (who portrayed Dr. Beverly Crusher in "Star Trek: The Next Generation") narrates and produces each episode. Each episode covers a chapter in the 50-year history of Star Trek, from its inception to the creation of "The Original Series" through a series of spinoffs and sequels. If you are interested in finding out where you can stream any Star Trek series online, our Star Trek streaming guide will help you.
"The Center Seat" features interviews with Star Trek alumni such as Nichelle Nichols and Brent Spiner, Kirstie Ally, Walter Koenig.
The History Channel will air the first four episodes of "The Center Seat": 55 Years of Star Trek weekly, starting Friday, November 5th at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Six additional episodes will be available on "History Vault," its subscription video service.
Space.com interviewed Brian Volk-Weiss, series creator and director of Star Trek, to find out more about his life as a filmmaker, his childhood memories of Star Trek, and why Kirstie Alley wore bathrobes in "The Wrath of Khan."
The History Channel's 10-part series "The Center Seat" chronicles the history of Star Trek. (Image credit: History Channel
Space.com: Why did you choose Star Trek? How did you approach this ambitious series?
Brian Volk-Weiss (interviewer): We had many structural advantages over other docs because we were simultaneously making ten episodes. We knew from the beginning that we could devote an hour each to the animated series, the original series, and "Star Trek: Enterprise" without having to buy a box paperclips. This was an extraordinary luxury and, to my knowledge, no one else has that experience with another "Star Trek: Enterprise" doc.
Ken Burns was the inspiration. As a child, I heard that Gettysburg was able to produce twenty hours of information. It's impossible to do 20 hours. After I was done, I wished it had been 40 hours at Gettysburg. That was the mindset we tried to bring to it. We are able to do the most extensive documentary ever on "Star Trek"! We set out to accomplish that and we will soon find out if it was possible.
Space.com: What were your earliest memories growing up of "Star Trek"?
Volk-Weiss : Two memories are my first experience with "Star Trek." My first was when I was on a ski lift in Massachusetts with my mom and she explained the show to me. She was talking about the original series, and explaining how television works. That's how young I was. Another memory is that I don't think I was ever more traumatized by a movie than seeing the Ceti eel move in and out of Chekovs ears ["Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan]].
Space.com: What were some of the surprising facts that you found when you went down the rabbit hole for research on "The Center Seat"?
Volk-Weiss : We learned a lot. Although I don't want to reveal too much, I have seen "The Wrath of Khan", three to four hundred times. So, I interview Kirstie Alley about her journey to Hollywood to become Vivian Leigh. She learned that Vulcans were far from Vivian Leigh. She couldn't refuse the job. With her charm, she made Leigh look more like her.
Saavik is her most famous character, and I was somewhat confused. She says, "Brian! Did you notice that the first time you saw Saavik, her hair was in a bun with no makeup and the last time she saw her, her hair was down with mascara and she has lipstick on her eyes. I said that I hadn't noticed it. She replied, "Have you ever seen a scene on any other Star Trek movie or TV series where a character is wearing a bathrobe in an elevator?" She said that she was young and beautiful and was completely naked. She tried every day to get Nicolas Meyer, her director, to let her look natural. This is my crazy bit of trivia I discovered.
Space.com: Who did you most look forward to interviewing for this project? And who did you really want, but couldn't find?
Volk-Weiss : Patrick Stewart was the person we wanted but couldn't get. Avery Brooks [Captain Sisko] was a close second. However, I knew that he was not known for doing interviews about Star Trek before we began so my expectations were set. Nicolas Meyer was the interview I looked forward to because of his writing that changed my life.
Space.com: Which "Star Trek" series or movie do you think is the best?
Volk-Weiss: It's a tie between Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I believe "Star Trek III" to be a great movie. It is full of humor, drama, emotion, and pathos. The theft of Enterprise! The greatest moment in Star Trek history. David being killed? The Enterprise being destroyed? There are many important events in Star Trek III. However, it is unfortunate to have come after what I consider to be the greatest Star Trek movie ever made. It also has the unfortunate luck of being before the most successful and fun of all the original Star Trek movies.
Then, "Star Trek VI" was a great story. It is still relevant today. Finally, you got to see Sulu becoming a captain. One last chance to see Captain Kirk live. Both films are amazing and they don't get enough love.
Space.com: Do you like the direction of the "Star Trek: Discovery" animated series? If you were given the keys to the franchise, where would you go?
Volk-Weiss : Here's my positive response. I am very happy with "Star Trek: Lower Decks" and will leave it at that.
If I was in charge of all the shows, I would make them more about exploration and less about mythologies. I believe "The Original Series", "The Next Generation", and "Deep Space Nine" were successful because they had great casts. They have hired top-notch actors and writers. That was only half of the battle.
The "Riddles of the Week" are the other half. They would find a problem in minute 6 and have it solved by minute 46. That's my definition of "Star Trek". Great writing and a great cast. These are the people you would want to have dinner with, but they're also solving mysteries.
Space.com: Space.com's series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise was polarizing at best. How did you react to this strange and disturbing last episode?
Volk-Weiss : It is, without any doubt, the best "Star Trek” pilot to this day. That's not a lot. I feel that "Enterprise", is the opposite of all other Star Trek series. It took two years for "The Next Generation" to be found. Deep Space Nine, I would argue took three years to find its self. If someone thinks Voyager found itself, they might say it took three years. "Enterprise"'s first season is my favorite in Star Trek history. Season two is also pretty good. They are able to travel through Florida with a laser beam and get into 9-11, but what do we really want to see? First contact with Romulans and foundation of the Federation. Season one's plot between humans and Vulcans was fantastic.
It was too much for me by the end so I didn’t watch it. I had heard it many times over about how disgusting and terrible it was. It was so bad that I didn't even bother to watch it. It was quite bizarre. Rick Berman was wrapping up his tenure. It was really about him and not about Enterprise.
Space.com: What is the best thing about "The Center Seat"? And what are your hopes for fans to take away from it?
Volk-Weiss (Director): These shows are not for me. This was made for the Star Trek community. If they love it, then I'll be happy. I will be disappointed if they don't love it. So until I hear everyone else's opinions and a month after the premiere, I won't be able to say I am happy with anything. I will be happy if they are happy. If they are not happy, I'll do my best to make them happy again.
Gates McFadden is the host of the show and she booked the whole thing. Without her, we wouldn't have Brent Spiner and Kate Mulgrew. I waited till the very last minute to choose the narrator. Gates was gracious and agreed. I believe her voice-over is the highlight of the show. It was a blessing.
The History Channel will air the first four episodes of "The Center Seat": 55 Years of Star Trek every Friday at 10pm ET/PT. Six additional episodes will be available on "History Vault," which costs $4.99 per month.
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