The 1970s were the golden era of the Saturday morning cartoon. It was common practice to turn hit TV series (well, the ones popular with kids) into animated series. Filmation was king of this cartoon subgenre. The animation studio cranked out spin-offs such as Gilligan's Planet and The Brady Kids (not to mention the M*A*S*H spoof M*U*S*H). Filmation was known for cost-cutting techniques, practices like recycling shots and rotoscoping.
That being said, Filmation was responsible for one of the great 1970s cartoons, Star Trek: The Animated Series. While the animation may not hold up against Disney classics, these continuing adventures of the USS Enterprise had some serious strengths. The original cast was (largely) back, as was creator Gene Roddenberry. Many of the writers returned as well, giving the show far more brainpower than the average 'toon. Many of the episodes were sequels to classic stories from the 1960s series.
Star Trek: The Animated Series is now available Blu Ray in celebration of the franchise's 50th anniversary. Here are some fascinating facts about the show.
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It was the first Star Trek series to win an Emmy award.
The episode "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth" snagged the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Entertainment Children's Series in 1975. The show had been nominated the previous year, but lost to Zoom, a PBS series that encouraged children to "turn off the TV."
Filmation originally wanted the series to be about adolescent Starfleet cadets.
The original concept for the series involved the established enterprise crew taking on young apprentices, and it would focus on the youth. Filmation offered Roddenberry a buyout to give up his creative control of the show, so that the studio could pursue its "Child Trek" theme. Roddenberry clearly objected. Filmation kept the idea in its back pocket, and would eventually turn the conceit into a live-action series, Space Academy, which aired in 1977. The program, pictured, featured familiar stellar voyager Jonathan Harris of Lost in Space fame.
Chekov was cut from the series due to budget restrictions.
Though an animated series is cheaper than a live-action production, there was still significant belt-tightening. Filmation's budget would not cover all of the original cast, so Chekov was written off the show.
Leonard Nimoy demanded that Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were cast.
Filmation sought further casting cuts, suggesting that James Doohan and Majel Barrett provide the voices of Sulu and Uhura. Nimoy stepped in for his fellow cast members, threatening to abandon the project unless Takei and Nichols were given their roles. Preach.
However, Walter Koenig did become the first Trek actor to write a Trek episode.
It was not so glum for the cast-off Koenig, however. He became the first Star Trek actor to write for the franchise with his season one episode, "The Infinite Vulcan." However, the tale of cloning was not so easily bashed out. Roddenberry reportedly made him work through 10 drafts of the script.
James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett pulled extra duty voicing dozens of characters.
James Doohan was a noted impersonator. When auditioning for his Star Trek role, he read lines in seven or eight different accents, before deciding that Scottish would be best for an engineer. The actor shows off his range in the cartoon, voicing everything from other Enterprise crewmembers (the orange navigator Arek, helmsman Walking Bear) to aliens and rabbits. Nichols also multitasked, providing many of the female voices. Splitting much of that duty was Majel Barrett, best known as Nurse Chapel and Gene Roddenberry's wife.
It features one of just three times a woman takes command of the USS Enterprise.
Now this is a cool bit of trivia. In "The Lorelei Signal," written by Margaret Armen, who also penned three original Star Trek scripts, Uhura takes command of the ship. Interesting, the only other times a woman takes command came in the first ("The Cage") and final ("Turnabout Intruder") episodes produced in the Original Series.
Ted Knight of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' did some uncredited voice work.
While he was playing Ted Baxter on Mary Tyler Moore, Knight earned a little extracurricular work adding voices to The Animated Series episode "The Survivor." Here he appears as Carter Winston, a well-mustachioed man in a yellow jacket. Spoiler alert! He's actually a shape-shifting Vendorian.
The series was in the official Star Trek canon, then out of the canon, then back in the canon.
This is where it gets a bit complicated. Obviously, originally, The Animated Series was taken to be official canon, part of the official chronological story of the Star Trek universe, as it was a sequel to Star Trek produced with the original cast, under the control of creator Roddenberry. However, in the 1999 edition of The Star Trek Encyclopedia, it was stated that the series was no longer officially canon. However, references to the cartoon were repeatedly made in other Trek productions and novels. In 2007, startrek.com added The Animated Series to its official library, making the happenings of the show part of the canon. Hooray!
The final episode established Robert April as the first Enterprise captain.
Part of the canon debate centered around timeline tidbits like this, the fact that The Animated Series established an Enterprise captain prior to Christopher Pike. Should his captaincy be part of the continuity? When Roddenberry first submitted a Star Trek script to MGM Studios in 1964, the captain's original name was Robert M. April. A "Robert April" character also shows up in two episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel written by Roddenberry. Amusingly, the Star Trek Encyclopedia book uses a photograph of Roddenberry himself to depict Enterprise captain Robert April.
It features the first appearance of a holodeck.
The Holodeck became a regular fixture of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation, inspired by Gene Roddenberry's conversations with digital projector inventor Gene Dolgoff. Yet the notion of a virtual reality chamber in the starship first appeared in a later The Animated Series episode, "The Practical Joker." However, the Holodeck was simply titled the "Rec Room." Sulu, Bones and Uhura enter the large, empty room and send themselves to a simulated beach.
The 2009 Star Trek film borrows from the episode "Yesteryear."
J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot is further proof that Trekkies take the cartoon quite seriously. The blockbuster depicts some of Spock's upbringing, including a scene where the half-human is bullied by other Vulcans, which was directly lifted from "Yesteryear," one of the standout episodes of The Animated Series. Fun fact: Actor Mark Lenard again portrays Spock's father, Sarek.