"This is the adventure of the United Ship Enterprise..."
August 10, 2018 7:38 AM   Subscribe

On this day in 1966, William Shatner recorded the opening narration to Star Trek. You know it best by its opening words, "Space ... the final frontier." But it didn't start out that way.

Originally, the opening narration was written like this: This is the story of the United Space Ship Enterprise. Assigned a five-year patrol of our galaxy, the giant starship visits Earth colonies, regulates commerce, and explores strange new worlds and civilizations. These are its voyages ... and its adventures.

Working quickly to make the show's September 8 premiere date, Star Trek's producers Gene Roddenberry, Robert Justman, and John D.F. Black spent the first week of August writing and editing what would become one of the most iconic narrations in the history of television. A series of memos details the different revisions that were made. Ultimately, William Shatner would record the final version of the opening narration on August 10, 1966 in between shooting the episode "Dagger of the Mind."

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It's five-year mission: to explore strange new world, to seek out new life and new civlizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

25 years later, Shatner would narrate one minor, but very necessary, revision.
posted by zooropa (42 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
1966 was an excellent vintage, if i do say so myself.
posted by infini at 7:49 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


"Regulates commerce" is downright (George) Lucasian. It's incredible how clumsy all the earlier revisions are when the as-recorded version is poetic in its parsimony.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:50 AM on August 10 [10 favorites]


Space wheat?
posted by ensign_ricky at 7:54 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


The degree to which John D. F. Black channels future (cringe-worthy) Kirk voice in the ". . . endless . . . silent . . . waiting. . . " memo is astonishing. It makes me wonder how much of the Shatner style we can actually blame on Shatner.

Also, hooray for editing.
posted by eotvos at 7:56 AM on August 10 [4 favorites]




The final version does a beautiful job of setting the tone, and capturing the theme and spirit of the show. TOS is very much about exploration. And not the exploration of colonizers and subjugators, but a humanist sort of exploration. Forging into the unknown out of a passion to know what's out there. Exploration driven by intellectual and cultural curiosity.

TNG is probably the series that holds up best for me – but reruns of TOS are what cemented my love of Trek as a child. To this day, the opening strains of the theme song evoke that sense of wonder.

I don't get fannish about many things, but Trek is one of the things. Eating popcorn while watching Captain Kirk and friends doing cool-ass space stuff on their cool-ass spaceship on my family's crappy CRT television was fucking formative. You can have that when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:15 AM on August 10 [34 favorites]


This is such a great example of the creative process and the value of iteration and collaboration. Lump of coal, lump of coal, lump of coal . . . hey, look, there was a diamond inside all along!
posted by Zonker at 8:44 AM on August 10 [14 favorites]


1966 was an excellent vintage, if i do say so myself.

Yep. I was just about 6 months old for this.
posted by terrapin at 9:00 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


It makes me wonder how much of the Shatner style we can actually blame on Shatner.


Nah, he always had it.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:09 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


It always bugged me that it was the "USS" Enterprise. "USS," to me, meant "United States Ship," just like "HMS" was "Her Majesty's Ship." Surely the Enterprise wasn't American? They had a Russian on board! To hear that it stood for "United Space Ship" just bugged me even more, because by that time I knew the organization the Enterprise represented was the United Federation of Planets. Which suggests UFS, but...and so on and so forth. Much worse than violating some johnny-come-lately fake rule about splitting infinitives.

Anyway, it's a treat to see that narration evolve from something that could have been so much more forgettable.
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:10 AM on August 10 [8 favorites]




The final version does a beautiful job of setting the tone, and capturing the theme and spirit of the show. TOS is very much about exploration. And not the exploration of colonizers and subjugators, but a humanist sort of exploration. Forging into the unknown out of a passion to know what's out there. Exploration driven by intellectual and cultural curiosity.


Lots of zapping things though.

The canonical comment by Astro Zombie from 2009 has it.

I think the primary question that Star Trek sought to answer was "What if liberals ran the navy?"

posted by lalochezia at 9:25 AM on August 10 [14 favorites]


It always bugged me that it was the "USS" Enterprise. "USS," to me, meant "United States Ship," just like "HMS" was "Her Majesty's Ship." Surely the Enterprise wasn't American?

The network tried pretty hard to get Roddenberry to make the Enterprise all-american and to make the crew all white and human. The U.S.S. thing might have been a concession to get them to shut up.
posted by octothorpe at 9:55 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


If I remember correctly from the 1968 book "The Making of Star Trek", which had a lot of these pre-production memos and notes in them, there was never any thought except to call the ship "USS Something" and all the ship names bandied about were other well-known American naval names. A lot of the surrounding world-building of Star Trek did not come to pass in the early days. In a couple of early first season episodes, there is no Starfleet, instead there is a "United Earth Space Probe Agency", and no idea of a United Federation of Planets at all.
posted by briank at 10:17 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


Lots of zapping things though.

I will go to my grave arguing that Star Trek is one the most important cultural artifacts of the 1960s and will go down in history as one of America’s greatest mythologies. That it was born of 20th Century commercial television means that quite often it is pedestrian, violent, or just plain dumb. But examined as a whole, it’s a remarkable piece of work that has influenced the career choices, politics, and modes of behavior of entire groups of people.
posted by Automocar at 10:21 AM on August 10 [19 favorites]


I wonder if there's a chance that the "regulates commerce" bit had anything at all to do with the then-recent expansion of the interstate commerce clause of the US Constitution to include civil rights aspects. Probably not, but the commerce clause was the first thing that came to my mind when reading that.
posted by exogenous at 10:24 AM on August 10 [4 favorites]


I wonder if there's a chance that the "regulates commerce" bit ...

It was the Enterprise, not the Dialectical Materialism.
posted by pracowity at 10:33 AM on August 10 [6 favorites]


You can have that when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

We’ll be gentle.

Set phasers to “stun”.
posted by New Frontier at 10:54 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Well that was a delightful glimpse into a bit of the backroom sausage making. I guess they knew right from the get-go that they were shooting for "iconic", and (maybe they just hoped) that the narration would last a long time.

The word "bold" returns to create the most famous split infinitive in the history of the English language — fantastic!
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:11 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


"'I've got a big, hard, powerful rocket, and it's about to blast off! Ohhh, yeah!'"

"No, Bill."

"But--"

"No, Bill."
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:18 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


If I remember correctly from the 1968 book "The Making of Star Trek", which had a lot of these pre-production memos and notes in them, there was never any thought except to call the ship "USS Something" and all the ship names bandied about were other well-known American naval names.

Yup, for the most part. Here's the list of the Constitution-class ships (the class that the original Enterprise belonged to), both the ones that were shown or named in canon and the ones from the list in The Making of Star Trek.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:24 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I mean, y’all, it was a Constitution-class ship.
posted by thecaddy at 11:55 AM on August 10


how much of the Shatner style we can actually blame on Shatner

"Blame". *sigh*. I mean, it's a good series. I do have a favorite captain, though I'm not going to say, but I don't get much of the easy pickings Shatner hate. He did pretty good with the hand he was dealt (and the time period he was dealt into).

cue someone enlightening me that he was actually bad in numerous real and bad ways, I know, I know, I'll see myself out
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:58 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Shatner was Shakespeare-trained and got his start at the Stratford Festival. His line-readings are pretty consistent with Shakespearean delivery — there used to be an entire box set of Shakespeare speeches Rhino put out and its amazing how many of the performers sound like they’re doing a Shatner impression.
posted by maxsparber at 12:09 PM on August 10 [7 favorites]


God, I am such a Star Trek nerd. Nothing like Astro Zombie, though. That dude was ridiculous on the topic.
posted by maxsparber at 12:11 PM on August 10 [9 favorites]


There's a great three-volume book titled _These Are The Voyages_, by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn, that turns the documents in the UCLA Film and Television archive, as well as bits and pieces of interviews with actors, directors, and stage crew, into an oral history of the filming of TOS. It's an amazing read and a real insight into how hard it really is to make a socially aware sci-fi TV show on an incredibly limited budget.
posted by hanov3r at 12:16 PM on August 10




I'm currently enjoying The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J. J. Abrams. Its pretty great, oral history and you learn how much work and collaboration goes into getting a script from pitch to screen.

Biggest take away was Rick Berman is the epitome of either dying the hero or living long enough to become the villain.

Biggest shock was the writers, actors and showrunners recapping which episodes from season 7 were good or bad, Sub Rosa was considered in the good pile.

Best reason to get the book is for Malcolm Mcdowell's thoughts on his character and working on Generations. If you get it as an audiobook, its like 37 hours of content. No stone left unturned.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:36 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


It was the Enterprise, not the Dialectical Materialism.

Well, by comparison to other science fiction...
posted by exogenous at 1:40 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


Could have been worse.
posted by zarq at 2:04 PM on August 10


From infinitewindow's link:
William Shatner (actor, “Captain James T. Kirk”): I showed up to my audition in my Mickey-Mouse-trying-to-make-himself-throw-up-a-bad-plate-of-scampi T-shirt and extremely tight cowboy boots. Gene was there, wearing pretty much the same outfit, and as soon as he saw me, he stood up and shouted, “Yes! Matching! Yes!” Of all the actors they’d auditioned, he said only I understood his vision for the future, which revolved heavily around matching uniforms.

Leonard Nimoy (actor, “Mr. Spock”—2008 interview): The best decision I ever made was wearing my T-shirt that had Marvin the Martian dry-heaving into a potted ficus to my audition, because when Gene saw me wearing the same shirt as him, he just went wild. He said he had the perfect part for me: a dead-eyed slab named Spock who constantly points out people’s mistakes and sleeps in the hallway.
I'm pretty confused. Were "cartoon characters throwing up" some kind of widespread fashion fad at the time?

EDIT: Never mind. Jokes. I get jokes.
posted by AndrewInDC at 2:20 PM on August 10 [3 favorites]


Yep. 1966 ftw. I have never known a world without Star Trek. It shaped my belief in possibilities. I will always be grateful.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 3:19 PM on August 10


"Regulates commerce" is downright (George) Lucasian. It's incredible how clumsy all the earlier revisions are when the as-recorded version is poetic in its parsimony.

man, who doesn't love disputes about the taxation of trade routes
posted by entropicamericana at 4:05 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Well, the Ferengi could have wrapped that up in an afternoon, and without any bloodshed.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:44 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Biggest shock was the writers, actors and showrunners recapping which episodes from season 7 were good or bad, Sub Rosa was considered in the good pile.

I, uh... what?
posted by mordax at 5:51 PM on August 10


The podcast Rachel Watches Star Trek is a delightful listen for anyone who as even a mild interest in Star Trek. Rachel Lackey, who never watched a single episode, watches TOS from the beginning with her husband Chris and they do a recap and get her take on it, the good, bad, funny and cringeworthy. That they start at the beginning is how I knew that the "Federation" isn't even mentioned until well into the first season--they were making it up as they went along!

The relevant part for the thread is with canonical intro it's actually confusing what the heck the Enterprise is doing. Rachel wonders, if they are exploring why are they getting used to transport medicines or ferry some diplomat or scientist between known locations again? Why are there all these humans in uncharted space? The original intro would actually do a better job orienting a viewer on what the heck they are watching.

I love the memo in TFA that is essentially "as we discussed last night on the phone get Shatner to record the intro as soon as possible." I speak corporatese, that is someone who is sick of getting blown off. Then he signs the memo "love and kisses." :)
posted by mark k at 7:30 PM on August 10 [5 favorites]


Split Infinitive?
posted by ovvl at 7:47 PM on August 10


Lucille Ball outmanoeuvred those studio execs, made it happen.
posted by ovvl at 7:49 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


Thanks for that Rachel Watches Star Trek recommendation. I just listened to the first five episodes.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:20 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


The network tried pretty hard to get Roddenberry to make the Enterprise all-american and to make the crew all white and human.

And of course male.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:05 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I read somewhere that Shatner’s trademark delivery was born when he had to step on as understudy for Christopher Plummer as Henry V at a Shakespeare festival. He had a shaky grasp of the lines and kept pausing to remember what to say next. To his surprise the audience ate it up because it generated dramatic tension.
posted by EarBucket at 8:14 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


In a couple of early first season episodes, there is no Starfleet, instead there is a "United Earth Space Probe Agency"

World building is hard and there weren't too many other shows that had built out an SF or fantasy world at that point. I kind of like that they were willing to change things on the fly rather than stick with the show bible just for the sake of continuity.
posted by octothorpe at 8:31 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I read in, iirc The Making of Star Trek, that the networks really wanted the USSS Enterprise, as on United States Space Ship. Roddenberry held out for United Space Ship. The story of course may be apocryphal.
posted by happyroach at 11:14 PM on August 12


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