History of Star Trek Fan Campaigns

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Fandom: Star Trek
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For examples of other show campaigns, see Fan Campaign.

December 1, 1966 letter from Harlan Ellison calling on famous science fiction authors to join with fans in supporting Star Trek: The Original Series.
students protest outside of the Burbank studios in 1968. "It's totally illogical to cancel Star Trek," "Mr. Spock for President," and "Vulcan Power."

Outside of the fan campaign to save CBS' Mama in 1956, the original major fan campaign was "Save Star Trek", in 1968 and 1969.

Gene Roddenberry believed that Star Trek was already threatened with cancellation in the middle of its first season in 1966. On December 1, 1966, after speaking with Roddenberry, author Harlan Ellison wrote an open letter to the Science Fiction Writers of America asking for their support along with the fans, with guidelines on where to write and what to say:

We need letters! Yours and ours, plus every science fiction fan and TV viewer we can reach through our publications and personal contacts. Important: Not form letters, not using our phrases here: They should be the fans' own words and honest attitudes.[1][2]

"Save Star Trek" was the fan response to threatened cancellation after the second season. Their efforts successfully renewed the show. A similar campaign for a fourth season was unsuccessful. Later, fans went on to campaign for the show to be shown in reruns, for the creation of the movies, and for the inclusion of the original actors in these movies. Spearheaded by the Star Trek Welcommittee, the campaign was taken up by fans everywhere and took on many different formats.

A first-hand, early explanation:

We were off the NBC schedule -- dropped -- cancelled. The letters, marches, and all the rest of it were immeasurable help in getting us put back on the schedule.... The renewal was due to many factors -- over a million letters and petitions, the student protests, Gene Roddenberry’s literate, reasonable and persuasive assault in personal trips to New York to speak to the decision -makers there. We had definitely been off the schedule - - and then the mail began to pour in. It cost NBC a great deal in hiring extra staff to answer it ... because much of it was from people of some standing in industry, professions and so on. These could not be answered by a routine form letter. So, we cost NBC some money -- and all of you kept us on the air.[3]

Origin of "Save Star Trek"

Bjo Trimble explains:
The whole "Save Star Trek" campaign was [her husband] John’s fault. We had visited the Trek set, about when word sifted down that the show would be canceled at the end of this, the second season. So we watched actors do their stuff beautifully in front of the camera, then slump off looking depressed. On our way home, John said, 'There ought to be something we could do about this!'... By the time we got back home, we’d mapped out a basic plan of action. So we called Gene Roddenberry to see if he was OK with this idea. Gene had just told his staff that it would be wonderful if there was just some way to reach to fans and get their support. So things began to happen. But all the news at that time was about Women’s Lib and 'the little housewife speaking up,' so the news media had little interest in a businessman. Reporters focused on me instead of John. To my sorrow, John has seldom gotten even the fan credit he so well deserves for his part in making the Star Trek we know now a reality for all of fandom. [4]

On December 1, 1967, the Trimbles sent out a letter to Star Trek fanzine editors -- which at that time meant Juanita Coulson, the Langsams and Elyse Pines, perhaps Shirley Meech and Peggye Vickers) -- and to science fiction fanzines and individual fans, their names harvested from fan mail liberated from Paramount's mail room by Roddenberry. It describes the need for immediate action, the addresses to write to, instructions for writing effective letters and ideas for agitation.

an early 1969 plea from fans in The Crewman's Log #16/17
Action NOW is of the essence.... I just got a call from Gene Roddenberry... it is highly likely that Star Trek will die if something isn’t done.... [W]e don’t have much time to work.... Morton Werner, head of programming for NBC-TV, Rockefeller Center, New York, is one of the main people who will decide whether or not Star Trek lives. Letters should be personally addressed to him.... We want to combat the good ol’ traditional American attitude of ‘well, my one vote won’t count much...’ because your one tiny letter just may be the letter that topples the scales in the right direction. If thousands of fans just sit around moaning about the death of Star Trek, they will get exactly what they deserve: GOMER PYLE! (Yetch!) But if thousands of fans get off their big fat typers and W*R*I*T*E letters, and do it soon (like, NOW), it could happen that the man in charge of this sort of thing will be more impressed with our letters than with the damned Nielsen ratings.... So pass the word, and write some letters, people; it’s up to us fans to keep Star Trek on TV. Our own inaction will assure that it never sees a third season![5]
NBC figured Gene Roddenberry for a loose cannon – and they were right. Gene was as iconoclastic as he could possibly get away with, and he suffered a fair amount of slings and arrows due to his unrelenting envelope-pushing. NBC was also convinced that Star Trek was watched only by drooling idiot 12-year olds with no buying power. They managed to ignore the fact that people such as Isaac Asimov, a multiple PhD, and a multitude of other intellectuals enjoyed the show. So, of course, the Suits were always looking for reasons to cancel shows they didn’t trust to be raging successes. They used faulty Nielsen Rating numbers to “prove” that Star Trek was failing badly, and decided to cancel it. Fans decided to take action, and we did it very well, thank you very much! So well that NBC came on, in prime time, and made a voice-over announcement that Star Trek was not canceled… so please stop writing letters.[6]

Also see History Is Written By The Victors: Bjo Trimble talks about saving Star Trek (2003).

front page of a 1969 publication by Bjo Trimble, perhaps the second one in a series

Twisting the Peacock's Tail

This is part of the story, but not the entire story. According to numerous sources, Gene Roddenberry and Desilu-Paramount were in on the "Save Star Trek" campaign from the very beginning. In fact, it was Roddenberry who contacted the Trimbles about a letter campaign after having met them at Worldcon -- not the other way around.

Roddenberry met with college students to organize "spontaneous" protest marches and put Star Trek stickers on the cars of NBC executives. He also recruited people to visit NBC's Burbank and New York offices, talking to anyone who would listen about Star Trek's incipient cancellation and passing out leaflets, buttons and stickers to anyone interested. In addition, he sent out flyers to anyone who had written fan mail. He also provided the group with film clip frames (from the cutting room floor) and various small items from the set that could be sold to defray expenses. This was the beginning of the Lincoln Enterprises souvenir/premium catalogue.[7] Bjo Trimble says in interviews that they had to remind Roddenberry to be extremely circumspect about his involvement so it would appear to be solely a grassroots campaign.

Form letter from Gene Roddenberry addressed to the official fan club members. See Inside Star Trek.

That Roddenberry was involved was an open secret among members of the official fan club, who received a welcome form signed by Roddenberry with the words "We also may all be actively involved later in 'Twisting the Peacock's Tail'. More about that later."

What aroused the suspicion of NBC Vice President Herb Schlosser was that Star Trek had not been cancelled. The schedule was still in process. In fact, NBC executives were in favor of renewing it, and when the schedule was released in February 1968, Star Trek was on it. Several newspapers which had declared Star Trek had already been cancelled had to retract those articles in light of a statement by Leonard Nimoy: “We’ve gotten no word yet one way or the other. And at this point we seem to be in a better position than we were a year ago."[8]

Originally NBC moved the show to Monday night to get more visibility.[9][10][11] Later, they reneged on this schedule and moved it to Friday at 10 p.m., guaranteeing that this would be the last season as it was too late for children, and teens and adults would be out at parties or shows. Roddenberry seemed to lose heart and interest in Star Trek at this point.[10]

While these actions generated publicity and may have attracted viewers, the real reason Star Trek was renewed, according to Bob Justman and Herb Solow, was that NBC was owned by RCA, which decided to use the fact that Star Trek was filmed in color to advertise their color TV sets.

According to Alan Baker, NBC's Director of Publicity Programming, the number of letters received at the height of the letter campaign in early 1968 was more like 12,000, not over a million. Even 12,000 was almost too much for the publicity department to handle, since NBC's policy was to respond to every single letter received. This was still far more than the 2,000 to 4,000 letters generated by most TV show letter campaigns.[10]

In an open letter to TV Guide, NBC Vice President Mort Werner said the number of letters and telegrams was closer to 100,000. The Hartford Courant reported 114,667 letters between December 1967 and March 1968. The final tally according to NBC was 115,893 letters, with 52,358 received in February 1968. Werner sent along some of the letters, which were reprinted in TV Guide:

As an ardent member of the Star Trek Underground Watcher's Society, I agree with the New Orleans lady in principle. But, Mrs. Tortorich, it is the kiss of death to tell anyone that a program is intellectually stimulating! If this is made known, the network will fire the producer, and the sponsors will fade like a cheap pair of pants. No! There is a better way, fellow Trekkies. We must tell the network that Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley are dolls, real DOLLS! Tell the sponsors the show is the newest kind of CAMP! Then tell the public that if they listen close the dialog is really DIRTY! This should please everybody, and those of us who are hooked on the show could enjoy it another year. Besides, Mr. Spock really is Something Else. - Jane Ayers, Evansville, Indiana.
NBC shouldn't even think of canceling Star Trek, the most literate, original and thought-provoking series. TV's image is already badly tarnished; should Star Trek be canceled, its image will be shattered beyond repair. - Rod Osbourne, Paterson, NJ.
If NBC kills Star Trek my 132 seventh-grade boys vow to use a phaser on our NBC affiliate. - N.H. Zimmer, Metairie, LA.
Dear Peacock: If the Enterprise leaves its Hollywood orbit, I'll pluck out your feathers -- one by one. - David Hillman, Burbank, CA.
Greetings! We the inhabitants of the Omicron Delta system salute you. In Star Trek you have finally created a television program worthy of intergalactic recognition. Should you discontinue it, we will have no alternative but to destroy your planet. - Anonymous, Tecumseh MI.
NBC: We will be forced to reduce you to your component atoms... - Office of the Commander, United Star Federation.
I have constructed a quite successful laser beam, and... - Anonymous, San Diego, CA.
As most of your readers probably already know, NBC has renewed Star Trek for the 1968-69 season. While we were formulating next season's schedule, more than 100,000 viewers -- one of the largest totals in our history -- wrote or wired their support for Star Trek. Obviously, it is not possible to answer such a large volume of mail individually, so I, therefore, extend a general thanks on behalf of NBC management to your readers who took the time and trouble to communicate with us. The response was gratifying. - Mort Werner, Vice President, NBC Television Network, New York, NY.

See also

The Importance of the Third Season

While the third season of Star Trek had fairly lackluster ratings, it was instrumental in the future of Star Trek. At the time, shows without a third season were not picked up for broadcast syndication (individual stations buy shows outside their affiliated network). And without syndication, where the show really picked up viewers, Star Trek would have simply been a footnote in television history. In that sense, the Save Star Trek campaign certainly saved the future of Star Trek.

Campaign for the Fourth Season

announcement of 1969-70 cancellation, letter campaign for a fourth season
Flyer requesting fan action including marches on local NBC stations to keep Star Trek on the air. Composed by Andy Probert, who later worked on the special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Another unsuccessful letter campaign for a fourth season began in the winter of 1968 as word spread that the show was off the fall 1969 schedule.. Some of these letters were reprinted in TV Guide also: "How can anyone dare speak of taking Star Trek off the air after I just had my ears sharpened like Mr. Spock?" - T. Rioux, Fall River MA. (This may be Terry Lee Rioux, who in 2005 completed the authorized biography of DeForest Kelley, From Sawdust to Stardust.)

In the twelfth issue of the official newsletter Inside Star Trek, fans were told:

YES, STAR TREK HAS BEEN CANCELLED. Star Trek will return to the air Tuesday, June 3, 1969 at 7:30 on NBC with Gene Roddenberry's never-before-seen "Turnabout Intruder". They will then re-run eleven third season episodes before going off the air the first week of September 1969. In a few areas Star Trek has been picked up for re-runs by local stations starting in September, 1969.

This would not preclude the possibility of re-entering prime time network programming as a mid-season replacement in January, 1970 or even a fresh start in September 1970. Our best chance lies with ABC which usually has more openings than the other networks.

The realization of this rebirth is largely up to YOU.

The networks have been besieged by your letters; however, as soon as they see a drop in the mail count they will figure the storm is over, breathe a sigh of relief and promptly forget us.

DON'T LET THEM. This is our last chance. WRITE!!! WRITE ABC!! WRITE NBC!!

WHO SHOULD FANS WRITE? WHAT ARE THE EFFECTIVE WAYS?

First, don't mention Star Trek on the envelope. If you do the network executives will never see your message since all such letters are forwarded unopened to the show.

Send your letters to NBC and ABC executives. The best choices are: [addresses for NBC's Julian Goodman and Mort Werner, ABC's Elton Rule and Martin Starger follow]

Letters from schools, professional organizations, and professional people always carry extra weight. A hundred letters carry more weight than one letter with 100 signatures.

WILL LINCOLN ENTERPRISES STAY IN BUSINESS? YES, as long as loyal fans would like souvenirs of the show. Thank you for all your support in the past.[12]

Detailed Instructions

The zine Star-Borne, probably issue 11 or 12, included this list of suggestions for fans to write requesting a revival of the live-action show and supporting the animated series. These are adapted from Bjo Trimble's original guidelines for writing letters to NBC to save TOS.

Star Trek - write now!
There has been mentioned in STAR-BORNE, in almost every issue, the letter writing campaign to help bring back ‘live’ STAR TREK and to help keep the animated STAR TREK on the air too. What should you do when you write your letters? Follow the information given here.
How often should you write? Would it be difficult for anyone to write one letter a week to PARAMOUNT and NBC? First, WRITE PARAMOUNT. Tell them that you want STAR TREK to return as a live television show or movie. Then get your friends, cousins, fellow workers, school mates, etc., to write too. The more letters the better. Let us keep burying PARAMOUNT in an avalanche of letters.
And then WRITE NBC. Tell them what you think of the animation. Tell them if you want it back next year. Tell them if you would like to see it as a prime-time evening show.
Write to your local television station that might be broadcasting the syndicated rerun STAR TREK. This can be instrumental in keeping the reruns in your area. There is nothing wrong in calling the station manager too and telling him/her what you think of STAR TREK. Every call or letter counts.
Follow the letter writing rules. If you have trouble composing a general business letter, write a general form letter and use it as the model for the letters that you will write. But most of all - WRITE!
The following are the guides for writing letters:
DO NOT write STAR TREK, “I LOVE LEONARD NIMOY” etc. on the outside of the envelope. This is automatically forwarded to Gene Roddenberry by NBC or Paramount.
DO NOT send in petitions. They are virtually worthless. One letter is worth more than 100 signatures.
DO NOT send in “Form” letters of any kind including carbon or ditto. These are too readily identified.
DO NOT write ‘cute’ letters. This is a BUSINESS LETTER! Use proper English and letter form if possible. Also, anonymous letters present a very bad image as to the caliber of the ST fan.
DO type or write neat intelligent letters with a firm voicing of opinion.
DO use letter-headed stationery only IF IT IS REPRESENTATIVE OF YOU personally. It is ideal for pointing out the kind of responsible person that the STAR TREK fan is.
WRITE NOW! It is also recommended that you keep carbons of all correspondence with both PARAMOUNT and NBC, and that you also keep records of all replies (if any) that you receive from NBC or PARAMOUNT.
S.T.A.R. CENTRAL encourages all of our readers to write now. The above rules may be reprinted freely by any ST fan or club in order that more of STAR TREK’s fans will find out about the campaign." [13]

Other Star Trek Fan Campaigns

the "Enterprise" is rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities with Star Trek television cast members and creator Gene Roddenberry in attendance

Fueled by the success of the first campaign, fans went on to rally for other things they wanted. Later Star Trek fan campaigns, some resulting in success, included those to:

  • bring back re-runs/syndication
  • create the first Star Trek film
  • have all the original cast members in the movies
  • not have Spock killed in The Wrath of Khan
  • have a big/bigger part for McCoy in the movies
  • convince President Ford to name the first space shuttle orbiter after the starship Enterprise, instead of Constitution.

Gallery of Star Trek Fan Campaign Flyers and Letters

References

  1. Harlan Ellison, December 1, 1966 open letter to "The Committee" consisting of major science fiction authors including Richard Matheson, Isaac Asimov and A.E. Van Vogt.
  2. "It is no secret that for many years I was not exactly the biggest booster of ST. Having been in at the beginning before the beginning of the series, having been one of the first writers hired to write the show, I was wildly enthusiastic about the series as Gene Roddenberry had initially conceived it. (In fact, at the very first Nebula Awards banquet of the Science Fiction Writers of America, which I set up at the Tail O' The Cock here in Los Angeles, I arranged for a pre-debut screening of the pilot segment.) The show debuted on September 8th, 1966 and by December it was in trouble with NBC. The Nielsens were very low, and Gene asked me if there was anything I could do to get the popularity the show was experiencing in science fiction circles conveyed to the network. I set up 'The Committee' and using the facilities of Desilu Studios, I sent out five thousand letters of appeal to fandom, urging the viewers to inundate NBC with demands that the show be kept on the air." Harlan Ellison, Harlan Ellison's Watching (Underwood-Miller, 1988).
  3. D.C. Fontana, quoted in Spockanalia 2, April 19, 1968. Cited by Marc Cushman in These Are The Voyages - TOS: Season Two Jacobs Brown Press, 2014. Spockanalia's editors added: "While we're busy taking pride in our nudging the Powers That Be, let's remember that networks have very short memories. There will, no doubt, be a new campaign this fall -- and it will be less desperate if we continue to write during the summer. Right, Bjo?"
  4. from an interview with Bjo Trimble on startrek.com, posted 9.1.2011, accessed 9.4.2011
  5. Marc Cushman, These are the Voyages - TOS: Season Two. Jacobs Brown Press 2014.
  6. Bjo Trimble, the Woman who Saved Star Trek, 2011-08-31.
  7. “Gene Roddenberry gave us a great many film clips and so on -- odds and ends of things around the set -- to sell to fans and friends, so that we could defray some of the expenses of the campaign. Well, the stuff went like wildfire and I knew then that fans -- all Star Trek fans, not just our friends -- would dig the chance to buy this kind of stuff..." Bjo Trimble, quoted in Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn, These Are The Voyages - TOS: Season Three (Jacobs Brown, 2015).
  8. Quoted by Marilyn Beck, in her That's Showbiz column: ‘Trek’ Wasn’t Axed, Says Leonard Nimoy.” Hartford Courant, 15 Feb. 1968: 25.
  9. Lincoln Geraghty, ed., The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film and Culture (McFarland, 2007), p. 30.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Herbert Solow & Robert Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (Pocket, 1996), p. 378 et seq.
  11. George Gent, “N.B.C. Schedules Changes in Fall". New York Times. 21 Feb. 1968: 95.
  12. Inside Star Trek 11, p. 8.
  13. from Star-Borne