The legacy of Star Trek: The Animated Series, 50 years on

by The Insights

Star Trek: The Animated Series premiered 50 years ago, in September of 1973 during Saturday morning cartoons, but the show wasn’t written for children. Instead, it was very much conceived of as a continuation of The Original Series. Some of the episodes were direct sequels, such as More Tribbles, More Trouble, which is a continuation of the classic The Trouble with Tribbles, and featured the return of Cyrano Jones. Other episodes include How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth (the first Star Trek episode to win an Emmy award), in which an alien claiming to be a Mayan deity captures the Enterprise, as well as The Infinite Vulcan, written by Walter Koenig, in which a scientist tries to clone Spock.

Dorothy (DC) Fontana led a group of writers from the original show who mostly wrote for a traditional, adult Star Trek audience. That’s why the show didn’t catch on – while it was well-received by critics, it might have done better in prime time. The show won a Daytime Emmy for best children’s series, but it was cancelled after two years because of low ratings. Roddenberry then moved on to work on another live-action series, called Phase II, which would eventually become Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

As a result, Star Trek: The Animated Series was largely forgotten by all but the most ardent Trek fans, sandwiched between the iconic original series and The Next Generation, which premiered in 1987. Because it was animation, and aired in a time slot aimed at children, many people who enjoyed The Original Series wrote it off as immature kids’ fare. But in recent years, The Animated Series has reasserted itself as an important part of Star Trek history.

A new history

Its status as a part of the franchise is still somewhat uncertain: fans have long-considered the two-year show as the latter years of the Enterprise’s five-year mission, but reportedly Gene Roddenberry himself did not consider The Animated Series to be part of the Star Trek canon. For many years, Paramount respected Roddenberry’s wishes, but since the rebirth of the television franchise with 2017’s Star Trek: Discovery, the show appears to be solidly ensconced within Star Trek’s history.

Captain Robert April, a key character from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (a series that debuted in 2022, set a decade before The Original Series), was named as the first captain of the Enterprise in The Animated Series. Star Trek: Lower Decks (a series that launched in 2020) regularly references its animated predecessor as well – for example, Dr T’Ana is a Caitian, a species that was introduced on The Animated Series.

In fact, Lower Decks has a direct connection to The Animated Series – it’s another animated show for adults, but this time the franchise has embraced it. They’ve even gone so far as to do a live-action crossover between Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks in the episode Those Old Scientists.

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