I am a first generation Star Trek fan. The Original Series debuted about a year before I was born and concluded when I was almost two years old. I watched the show after school while it was in daily syndication in the mid-1970s, along with my other favorite show at the time, Batman starring Adam West.
Back then, kids could easily discover Star Trek in organic ways. The show was in syndication across the country on broadcast television. The Animated Series aired on Saturday mornings on NBC. Trek-themed toys were in Toys R Us. Trek comic books were floating around. And the Star Trek movie series debuted in cinemas in 1979, thanks to the popularity of Star Wars. Flash forward to today, and Star Trek is more easily available than ever before. Nearly all of the TV series are available on Netflix, and most of them are also available on other streaming services. The exception is Discovery, which is available only on CBS All Access. Meanwhile, at any point in time, most or all of the 13 Star Trek movies are available via various streaming platforms.
The irony is that while Star Trek is widely available, the franchise is not so easy for kids today to organically discover or plug into. The most recent “Kelvin timeline” movies enjoyed some box office success, but certainly nothing approaching the levels of other popular movie franchises. Meanwhile, the first new Star Trek TV series since 2005, Discovery, is available exclusively on the CBS All Access streaming platform, which has relatively few subscribers compared to other streaming services. All of this is to say that Star Trek is not exactly top of mind in pop culture these days, especially among kids.
A Galaxy of Competing Universes
Even for kids who are predisposed to like science fiction, scores of other franchises compete for their attention, especially as compared to when I was growing up. Today, including both TV series and movies, a kid has an embarrassment of riches to choose from in the sci-fi and fantasy arenas, including:
- The Star Wars extended universe of movies and TV series, including a forthcoming live-action TV series on Disney+ (the new streaming service from Disney which will launch in November).
- The Marvel extended universe of movies (about 50 films since the year 2000) and TV series (around 13 in the past 10 years with more to come on Disney+).
- The DC Comics extended universe of movies and TV series.
- The Harry Potter extended movie universe.
- The Tolkien movie series (The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, the latter of which will soon also become a TV series on Amazon Prime).
- The Narnia movie series (which will soon also become a TV series on Netflix).
- Game of Thrones (for precocious kids).
- The Expanse TV series.
- Battlestar Galactica (the original and the SyFy reboot).
- The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead (with an expanded universe of more shows and TV movies coming soon, per AMC’s recent announcements).
- Planet of the Apes.
- The Terminator movie series (to which James Cameron is returning as Producer to reboot the series).
- James Bond (25+ movies to date).
- Transformers movies, shows, and toys.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- Stranger Things.
This list above is just a small fraction of the competition, from off the top of my head. In the era of Peak TV and mammoth movie franchises, where the amount of content and distribution channels has exponentially exploded, Star Trek is just a lonely voice in the crowd. And that’s without even considering Fortnite and other video games which most boys are obsessed with these days.
In the current media landscape, most kids are unlikely to gravitate towards Star Trek left to their own devices (both literally and figuratively). Even if they do become aware of Star Trek, how would they know where to start, given the daunting number of Trek TV series and movies?
Passing the Torch
As a father who is passionate about Star Trek, I would like to pass down my love for the franchise to my kids and to teach them about why it is special and how it is different from other entertainment properties. My motivation for cultivating their interest in Star Trek is twofold:
- Watching Trek together, whether previous series or new ones, is an experience we can share together.
- As a fan, I’d like to do my small part in keeping interested in the franchise alive for succeeding generations.
When my daughter and my son were approaching an appropriate age to start watching Star Trek, I realized I would have to figure out a careful strategy for introducing it to them.
So, how did I end up going about this?
Before answering this question, for comparison, I’ll provide a brief recap of how I “onboarded” onto Star Trek:
- I began watching TOS in daily syndication and eventually watched all the episodes multiple times. Around the same time, I watched The Animated Series.
- I watched every movie during its initial theatrical run (with repeat viewings later on home video).
- I tried watching TNG (The Next Generation) when it premiered, but I aborted pretty quickly since I hated it so much. Eventually, I tried again, became a huge fan (it gets good in season 3) and watched every episode.
- I watched DS9 (Deep Space Nine) during its initial run, all the way through.
- Ditto for Voyager.
- I watched the first season of Enterprise as the episodes first aired and then bailed out and have never returned.
- I watched Discovery weekly (with my son) during its first two seasons on CBS All Access as each new episode dropped.
As context for readers, my “favourite” series are TOS and TNG, whereas I consider the “best” series to be DS9. My favourite movie overall is The Voyage Home, but, more generally, my favourites are II, IV, VII, First Contact, Insurrection, and Star Trek (2009).
In sum, I became a Star Trek fan naturally and without any outside influence. To introduce my kids to the franchise, I knew I would need to take a more intentional and methodical approach.
I will explain the approach I took in part 2 of this series.
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