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.”
I’m glad they stuck to the classic format, though I miss the Vulcan named “Steve.”
I missed out on Star Trek: The Animated Series during its original run and to this day have never seen it, even though I’m a fan of the franchise. I tend to be dubious about Filmation shows, but this one definitely sounds worth seeking out.
I’m not surprised that James Doohan voiced so many characters in the animated series. What does surprise me is that he didn’t do more work in animation. Before coming to Hollywood, Doohan was one of the busiest radio actors in Canada, owing largely to his ability to affect a wide variety of foreign accents; I can remember, for example, him playing a Swede on “Hazel”. As it happens, his only other animation credit is an episode of “Duckman” from the ’90s.
In 2002 most of the original Star Trek cast reunited again for the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before”. Dr. McCoy appeared in the episode but did not speak, DeForest Kelley having passed away in 1999. Of the surviving cast members, only Doohan refused to take part, as he was over 80 and in ill health (though he had fathered a child at 79). The Futurama people evidently resented Doohan’s refusal: his character of Scotty was replaced by an identical one named “Welshie”, who has only one line (“I am very, very drunk” in Welsh) and is killed off early in the episode.
Happy New Year! Live long and prosper!
The animated series is available on Blu-Ray and DVD
I thought I heard that Doohan refused to appear in the Futurama episode because he didn’t want to work with William Shatner again, but I might be remembering incorrectly (or correctly remembering inaccurate information).
The animated Trek was the first Star Trek series I watched (my older brother was into the original when it first ran), and I went from there to reruns of the original. I attended several conventions in the ’80s, and got to see James Doohan display his variety of dialects in a routine called “What if Scotty wasn’t Scottish?”
Filmation couldn’t afford the rights to the original Alexander Courage theme, so they got Ray Ellis to compose a sound-alike theme (credited to his wife Yvette Blais).
“Because of budget, Filmation was unable to hire Walter Koenig who played Chehov [sic] to repeat his role in the animated version so gave him a chance to write his first television script (The Infinite Vulcan).”
Koenig said in interviews that the way he found out Chekov wouldn’t be returning for the animated series was when D.C. Fontana announced it to the audience at a Star Trek convention, AFTER he’d written his episode of that series. I always thought it was odd that Nimoy said he would refuse to participate if Takei and Nichols didn’t come back. Why not include Koenig in that request, too?
I also read that the reason the Klingons’ armor and Tribbles were pink instead of gray in this show was because the person responsible for choosing the colors was colorblind.
Filmation could not afford to rights to Gene Roddenberry and Alexander Courage’s theme. Roddenberry dashed off laughable lyrics to Courage’s theme in order to get half the enormous royalties.
Paramount also did not want a new live-action Star Trek series to be revived for prime time because the original series was immensely profitable in syndication. They thought a new series might compete (or maybe it might have compared favorably or unfavorably). That may also be also why NBC could not run the animated version in prime time.
The issue with it being “too grown up” in appeal for the Saturday morning demographic raises a point. Ren and Stimpy had the same problem. It became a sensation after it started running on MTV and late-night, not as much on Nickelodeon’s Sunday morning line-up. Nick actually had the same dilemma with R&S in that it was outside the demo they needed for daytime.
That fact is significant in the face of shots against the work of the artists at Hanna-Barbera and Filmation on Saturday morning without understanding the circumstances. One has to keep in mind that the networks and sponsors did not want a level of sophistication comparable to prime time, so the scripts and gags were simplistic and may have seemed like they “could have been better.”
These studios were working with microscopic budgets, fast turnarounds, and an enormous amount of scrutiny, as well as the confines of what the networks and sponsors saw as appropriate for their target market. Yet a lot of entertaining, memorable work still resulted. Millions are spent on things more easily forgotten made under little restriction.
BTW, James Doohan did voices for the very first first Rankin/Bass stop-motion feature, “Willie McBean and His Magic Machine.”
It was a weird version of Trek. I really couldn’t get into it.
Star Trek: The Animated Series is unique in what I’ve seen in that it wasn’t a comedy, and it wasn’t made primarily for a young audience, as Jim Korkis describes. I enjoyed it; thoughtful storylines from some of the same writers of the original series.
Does anyone know of any other series with a similar serious tone in -classic- animation? I wouldn’t include something like Jonny Quest (which is great) – not a comedy, but aimed at kids for the most part. It seems like this Star Trek is one of a kind in this regard. Lend me your knowledge.
The long-running U.S. drama series “Supernatural” was adapted into a Japanese anime series in 2011. Like Star Trek: TAS, it ran for 22 half-hour episodes. There are, of course, many anime series with a serious tone and geared toward adults.
Ah, you’re completely correct, thanks. There’s bound to be something similar in anime from the 70s or earlier.
The 1970s Hanna-Barbara series “Devlin” about a family who performed motorcycle stunts in a traveling circus might fit what you’re asking about. It had a very serious tone sometimes even at the cost of the action of some episodes.
Nice of Nimoy to go to bat for his fellow actors on the voicework. Somehow I can’t picture Shatner doing that.
It should be mentioned here that STAR TREK is one of the few Filmation series not owned by Universal Television (keeper of the in-house Filmation material via its Classic Media division), and not subject to the PAL-speed up travesty the other shows and films went through before their elements were tossed by Hallmark. In this case, CBS now owns this show (as does all the other Paramount Television shows), and is available on video in its original broadcast speed.
I have nothing against PAL speed-up. It’s a teeny tiny one, and the pitch is correctable too if a company cares enough.
Kirk is a jerk 🙂