Star Trek

Star Trek – Pilot Episode – The Cage

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The show launched an amazing amount of spinoffs, movies, conventions and discussions. A franchise that has generated billions of dollars in revenue. The show that launched imaginations and products not even known to man yet and yet, many of them are here today. Gene Roddenberry’s characters, stories and imagination were light years ahead of anyone else’s back in the day.

How did it all come to be?  If it weren’t for Lucy (Lucille Ball), it never would’ve happened.

In 1964, Lucille Ball was the sole owner of Desilu Studios and the first woman to ever run a major Hollywood studio. At the time, Desilu producers were looking for ideas that could be developed into new series and they contracted two ambitious writers to develop pilots: Gene Roddenberry with “Star Trek” and Bruce Geller with “Mission: Impossible.”
Desilu took the Star Trek pilot to CBS with whom they had a first-refusal agreement but the network rejected it and opted to pick up another new space-themed show “Lost in Space.”
The studio then took the pilot, “The Cage”, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike to NBC rejected, they rejected it but the executives were still impressed with the concept, and made the unusual decision to commission a second pilot: “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.   The network decided to order a season but the Desilu Board of Directors didn’t like the idea, they thought the studio was overstretching itself with three expensive new programs — Star Trek, Mission Impossible, and a western called The Long Hunt for April Savage.
Lucille Ball was impressed by Roddenberry’s vision so she used her power as board chair to override the board’s decision to dump producing Star Trek in Feb. of ’66.  With that, production of the show continued and the first episode aired in September of that year. She was right about Star Trek and she was right about another show that came out of her studios.. Mannix.

In early 1964, Roddenberry presented a brief treatment for a television series to Desilu Productions, calling it “a Wagon Train to the stars.” Desilu worked with Roddenberry to develop the treatment into a script, which was then pitched to NBC.

No one can explain it to you better than Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenbury.

While the show initially enjoyed high ratings, the average rating of the show at the end of its first season dropped to 52nd out of 94 programs. Unhappy with the show’s ratings, NBC threatened to cancel the show during its second season. The show’s fan base, led by Bjo Trimble, conducted an unprecedented letter-writing campaign, petitioning the network to keep the show on the air. NBC renewed the show, but moved it from primetime to the “Friday night death slot”, and substantially reduced its budget. In protest, Roddenberry resigned as producer and reduced his direct involvement in Star Trek, which led to Fred Freiberger becoming producer for the show’s third and final season. Despite another letter-writing campaign, NBC canceled the series after three seasons and 79 episodes

During the first season, the producers’ need for new episodes to be delivered to the network to meet the original series commitment became urgent, and a frame was written allowing most of the original footage from “The Cage” to be used within the series’ continuity as a two-part episode “The Menagerie”. The original pilot episode “The Cage” is sometimes listed as episode 99 when shown. On the VHS home video releases, it was identified as Episode 1.

The process of editing the pilot into “The Menagerie” disassembled the original camera negative of “The Cage”, and thus, for many years it was considered partly lost. Roddenberry’s black-and-white 16mm print made for reference purposes was the only existing print of the show, and was frequently shown at conventions. Early video releases of “The Cage” used Roddenberry’s 16mm print, intercut with the color scenes from “The Cage” that were used in “The Menagerie”. It was only in 1987 that a film archivist found an unmarked (mute) 35mm reel in a Hollywood film laboratory with the negative trims of the unused scenes. Upon realizing what he had found, he arranged for the return of the footage to Roddenberry’s company.

“The Cage” was first released on VHS in 1986, with a special introduction by Roddenberry, and was aired for the first time in its entirety, and in full color, in late November 1988 as part of The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation to the Next, a two-hour retrospective special hosted by Patrick Stewart. It contained interviews with Gene Roddenberry, Maurice Hurley, Rick Berman, Mel Harris, cast members from Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, clips from both series and the Star Trek films I through IV with a small preview of Star Trek V. It was later rebroadcast on UPN in 1996 with a behind the scenes look at Star Trek: First Contact.

According to “The Menagerie”, the events of “The Cage” takes place thirteen years before the first season of Star Trek, in 2254. No stardate was given.

Below you’ll find a great documentary about the show as well to watch and share.

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Source: Sal Amato
By Vilnisr – Own work, Public Domain,
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