Friday, Sep 01, 2006
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'Star Trek' turns 40

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Maybe it's been operating in a parallel universe, but "Star Trek" will be 40 years old on Sept. 8. For those of us who were raised with Mr. Spock and Capt. James T. Kirk on the Starship Enterprise, it seems we've been caught in a time warp.

TV Land network will celebrate that noble passage on "Star Trek's" anniversary, with four of the show's most popular episodes airing from 8 p.m. to midnight EDT.

Then the fabled series (which lasted only three years on network television) will join TV Land's regular lineup on Nov. 17. Time hasn't stood still - though to talk with William Shatner, who played Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy, who was the stoic Mr. Spock - you'd think it has.

It took Nimoy 15 years to find Spock and the show that was to make him famous. He worked in serials and small films while he was studying acting, then did a stint in the Army. When he returned he landed parts on "Wagon Train," "Man from U.N.C.L.E." and "Perry Mason."

In 1965 he was cast in the pilot for a new science fiction show written by visionary Gene Roddenberry. It was an odd character that he agreed to do.

"I remember what Gene told me when I met with him. He said the character is going to be a character with an internal conflict because he is half-Vulcan, half-human. He wants to live as a Vulcan. His human side is something he has to contend with constantly. And I was excited about that because I thought it would give the character an inner life, something to work with," says Nimoy, seated next to Shatner in a hotel room here.

Shatner, who was born in Canada, started his career on the Canadian Broadcasting Co. as a kid. After he moved to New York, he co-starred on programs like "Playhouse 90," "Studio One" and "The Twilight Zone."

He was 34 when he read the role of Capt. Kirk. The pilot had been screened a year earlier with another actor playing the captain, but didn't sell. A second pilot, with Shatner as the resolute captain and Nimoy as his second-in-command, was created. Shatner doesn't remember exactly how Kirk was described in the script, but says, "He was the typical leading man. And the books 'Capt. Horatio Hornblower' by C. S. Forester were the basis of the hero. So I read several of those."

Their tours-of-duty turned out to be supercharged. When the show was canceled, legions of die-hard fans rose up in protest. Nimoy remembers: "I thought we would see a couple years of reruns and then fade away. I really did. Then after two or three years, when the series went into syndication and stations around the country would schedule according to their own local audience and find out where this show might work, they began to discover there was a very interested audience waiting for the show.

"Then suddenly it became a news story, and 'Star Trek' was being run every night at 6 o'clock and the family dinner hour was being disrupted. When we were stopped at the airport, people would say, 'My family won't sit down to dinner because 'Star Trek' is on.'"

The groundswell developed into a tsunami, with every conceivable spin-off from mechanical toys to multimillion-dollar feature films.

After the glare of the limelight faded, both men had to continue working. "The '70s were difficult because there was a tremendous hunger for 'Star Trek' but there was no 'Star Trek' being produced," says Nimoy.

"That was frustrating. I was working as an actor; I was busy. I was doing a one-man show called `Vincent' about Vincent Van Gogh. I went to 35 cities and had a wonderful time. I toured in the national tour of `Sherlock Holmes,' a Royal Shakespeare production. I was on Broadway a couple of times. I was having a wonderful time as an actor. But there was a lot of interest in `Star Trek.'"

"I was doing the same thing," says Shatner. "I was doing a stage show and I was earning a living, but not with the same elan that the series had. And, as happens to me and series actors, they go through a phase where they don't work on television. So Leonard filled his career with these wonderful moves and I did the same thing, but it wasn't national television."

Neither has any regrets about playing such icons. "I think regret is the toughest word in the English language, and one should try to live one's life so you don't feel regret," says Shatner.

"You commit yourself totally to an action realizing that what you're doing at this moment - which you may not do in the next moment - is only a result of the forces acting on you at that moment, forces that might change should there be a knock on the door ..."

"The fact is, that from the moment that `Star Trek' went on the air in September 1966 to this very day, I've never had to worry about where my next job is coming from," says Nimoy. "So since September `66 I've had no problem. So for me to complain about the impact that Spock has had on my life would be insane."