William Shatner Recalls The Difficult Early Days Of Star Trek


Star Trek is arguably bigger now than it’s ever been before. Season 2 of Discovery looks great and is set to air in early 2019, the next cinematic installment in the Kelvin timeline is being geared up (once they iron out Chris Pine’s salary), Quentin Tarantino is developing his own Trek project and none other than Captain Jean-Luc Picard is making a comeback in a new show. And on top of that, you’ve got a plethora of Star Trek games, books and supplemental media that adds up to one of the healthiest franchises in science fiction.

And yet, it wasn’t always this way. While the original 1960’s Star Trek is regarded as a television classic by modern audiences, it had a surprisingly tough time finding fans upon its first broadcast. Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, reminded us of this in his recent appearance on The James Altucher Show podcast, where he was promoting his new memoir Live Long and… What I Learned Along the Way.

“We were being cancelled every year. They were cancelling, and they weren’t cancelling. The third year, we limped along Friday nights.”

The show was finally axed after the third season, but soon found an audience on syndication, amassing the beginnings of the cult following that’s supported it through thick and thin to this very day. But in the wilderness years before that happened, what was Shatner doing?

“I had a truck; I put a cab on the back of the truck, took my dog, and I drove across the country. I toured these 13 weeks, lived in the back of the thing. I did star in Star Trek, and I was living in the back of a truck.”

While the cast didn’t get residuals on the show, Shatner would eventually see a whole bunch of Trek-related income from the well-received Star Trek movies, though his time in the role came to an end in Generations when a bridge fell on him. Shatner revealed that this wasn’t exactly an artistic decision from Paramount, saying:

“So the producer said, ‘We’re going to kill Kirk because we think that The Next Generation will make more money at the box office,’ and I said ‘Why? Why do you want to kill the Captain? [They said] ‘Ah, the box office, expenses, the budget, and the box office.’ And they said, ‘Do you want to be a part of it?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I’ll be a part of it.'”

I’m far from alone in finding Kirk’s Star Trek death a bit anticlimactic (though there is a certain poetry in him dying on a cheap orange rock planet set) and it’d be have been nice for him to go out with a bit more pizzazz than having a girder crush him to death. Oh well, at least his isolated funeral, in which Picard is the sole mourner, is quite moving.