Suspended Animation #352
Star Trek: The Animated Series produced by Filmation aired aired Saturday mornings on NBC from September 8th, 1973, to October 12th, 1974 for a total of twenty-two episodes.
Many fans felt it gave a nice sense of closure to the original live action series, especially its disappointing third season, and others thought it was a good transition from the original series to the new films.
Since the show was closely supervised by creator Gene Roddenberry, many of the things and characters that first appeared in the animated series were later referenced in different Star Trek television shows, films and books.
When the live action series was cancelled in 1969, Filmation had already gotten in contact with Paramount to propose an animated series. Developed by Don Christensen the concept was that the original crew would be training new teenaged Federation cadets on the spaceship Excalibur.
NBC was interested but wanted a heavy educational emphasis and, of course, none of the violence or sexual suggestiveness of the original series. Spock would have mentored a young Vulcan named Steve; McCoy a young African-American boy named Bob; Sulu a Chinese boy named Stick, and Kirk, Chekov, Nurse Chapel, and Uhura all had trainees as well.
Christensen wrote multiple plot synopses but there were several concerns from Paramount, NBC and creator Gene Roddenberry and the series was never proceded.
Once the original live action series went into syndication, it became a huge hit and the growth of Star Trek fandom convinced Paramount that they needed to do something to keep the franchise viable and make some money. Hanna-Barbera entered into talks about a Saturday morning animated cartoon series.
Howerer, Lou Scheimer at Filmation was still aggressively interested in the property and pursued Roddenberry who agreed that he preferred the Filmation proposal. Roddenberry had previously rejected the 1969 Filmation proposal because “it has to be the real Star Trek with the real cast or nothing”. And he wanted to be in full creative control.
Scheimer’s willingness to accommodate Paramount, NBC and Roddenberry resulted in a guaranteed two season commitment and that Filmation had total story control with no input from NBC.
By February 1972, the deal was signed. The budget was set at $75,000 an episode with much of that going to the voice talent. It was the most expensive voice cast for a Saturday morning series up to that point because the actors from the original series were used.
At the time, Roddenberry said, “That was one of the reasons I wanted creative control. There are enough limitations just being on Saturday monring. We have to limit some of the violence we might have had. There will probably be no sex element to talk of either. But it will be Star Trek and not a stereotype kids’ cartoon show.
“If there is a difference between the live and animated versions of Star Trek, it is that we have ‘opened up’ our universe to more aliens in the animated version. From our crew members, Arex and M’Ress, to the many civilizations we visited in the first season of animated shows. It is easier to create an alien with pen strokes than with makeup on a live actor.
“In animation, any kind of planet landscape, equipment including starships could look any way we wanted and we could show as many as we wanted, any alien could be represented well…and no fear of zippers showing.”
Roddenberry wisely insisted that Filmation hire D.C. Fontana as the story editor who had also served as the story editor for the first season of the original show. Scheimer thought she was great and she was a huge supporter of the show in the fan community.
Fontana not only was the primary guardian of making sure the show adhered to Roddenberry’s vision, she leveraged her relationships to bring in writers who had worked on the original series. At the time the Writer’s Guild of America was on strike so writers could not write for live action television or films but animation was not covered by the WGA contract.
She recruited David Gerrold (More Tribbles, More Trouble), Samuel A. Peeples (Beyond the Farthest Star), Steven Kandel (Mudd’s Passion), Margaret Armen (The Lorelei Signal) and more even though the pay was only $1,300 for a twenty-three minute script. Only Gene Coon turned down the offer because he felt it wasn’t worth it for that price.
However, Fontana convinced sciene-fiction writer Larry Niven to adapt one of his short stories, The Soft Weapon, into The Slaver Weapon that featured his own creation of the Kzinti but interestingly did not feature Kirk just Spock, Uhura and Sulu.
Because of budget, Filmation was unable to hire Walter Koenig who played Chehov to repeat his role in the animated version so gave him a chance to write his first television script (The Infinite Vulcan).
Fontana herself wrote Yesteryear that won an Emmy Award for Excellence in Children’s Programming. The 2009 Star Trek feature film makes use of material from this episode about the early years of Spock. It also won Best Contemporary Science Fiction Film at the second annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Los Angeles in 1973.
The writers found they needed to write a more focused script with one main plot and only one subplot.
Fontana said, “One of the first things Gene made sure of was that the original actors would do the voices of the characters they had played originally.”On April 24, 1973, the actors were reunited for the first time in four years to reprise their iconic roles. Along with William Shatner (Captain Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) and DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) were James Doohan (Mr. Scott) and Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel).
The later two performers would also voice mulitple other roles in the series. Doohan ended up doing Arex, Kyle, the Klingon Commander Kor and more. Barrett voiced M’Ress, the computer and more.
In fact, the studio was considering having them voice Sulu and Uhura as well. When Nimoy found out, he insisted that George Takei and Nichelle Nichols voice their characters or he would not voice Spock.
Nimoy also explained that they were the two minority characters representing diversity on the Enterprise. On May 22, 1973, NBC announced the two actors would be returning to the series although they would not appear in every episode.
On June 4, 1973, the actors got together to record Beyond the Farthest Star, Yesteryear and More Tribbles, More Troubles. It would be the last time they would all record together. Shatner and Nimoy were often touring out-of-town in stage plays.
Once, Nimoy recorded some lines at a studio in Arlington, Massachusetts while he was touring in Camelot. Shatner recorded some lines at a studio in Warren, Ohio when he was performing in another play.
There were some occasional guest voices including Mark Lenard recreating Spock’s father Sarek, Roger C. Carmel encoring his role as Harry Mudd and Stanley Adams getting a chance to re-do Cyrano Jones. Willliam Simpson did the voice of the young Spock and felt that his direction not to show emotion while reading lines meant it was “bad acting”.
Scheimer lobbied heavily for the show to be moved to prime time with no success. One of the reasons for its cancellation was that it appealled to adults and older teens but not so much to the children who were the key demographic for advertisers on Saturday morning.
“Star Trek was not a a children’s show,” an adamant Scheimer told reporters. “It was the same show that they would have done at night time. We did the same stories with the same writers. The fans loved it but it was not a kids’ show.”