New York and “Star Trek” are indelibly intertwined.
The incredible amount of support for the franchise in re-runs on WPIX, beginning in 1969, and the throngs of trekkers who came out to the first conventions during the ’70s, powerfully testified to the demand for more stories from the universe created by Gene Roddenberry.
“I would go so far to say without New York and WPIX … we may have not had a ‘Star Trek’ today,” said Paul Levinson, a media studies professor at Fordham University.
As fans plan to gather at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center this weekend for “Star Trek: Mission New York,” one of the biggest celebrations commemorating the show’s 50th anniversary, they reflected on the show’s impact and its future.
Marc Richmond, 41, a chef and lifelong Bronx resident, recalled the show’s groundbreaking presentation of a diverse future.
The original series was acclaimed by critics, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for having a black woman (Nyota Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols) and a Japanese American (Hiraku Sulu, played by George Takei), as major characters.
“In kindergarten, my best friends were white and Korean. I kind of almost saw that in ‘Star Trek’ with the cast,” said Richmond, who is black.
Fellow Bronx native Karen McBean said she was moved by Uhura and that the fictional scientist inspired her to go into the field of communications; she now works as a hearing specialist.
“I thought about doing science back when women and inner city kids weren’t encouraged to be smart or active in science,” McBean said.
Rolando Pujol, WPIX’s archivist, said the staion saw big ratings from both baby boomers and young Gen Xers who tuned in at dinner time.
Their fandom in particular led to the franchise being resurrected with movies, spinoff shows and other multimedia, he theorized.
“The fact that this one station was getting so much of its wealth from one show is what made the folks from Paramount realize, ‘Wow, we have something special,’” Pujol said.
Nothing, however, demonstrated the true power of New York fansmore vividly than the first Star Trek convention in 1972 at the Statler Hilton (now the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan).
Organizers expected 500 people and 3,000 showed up. The numbers kept growing at each subsequent convention.
“New York was the logical place to hold that convention,” Levinson said. “It focused the world’s attention on that convention.”
Richmond, who is going to “Star Trek: Mission New York” this weekend, speculated that the show might have had a particular appeal in New York because the city is, by and large, historically a more accepting place than elsewhere.
“To ride the subway and see someone who looks like they are going to step off the Enterprise isn’t the most surprising thing you see in a day,” he said.
Steve Brant, 61, of Bay Ridge, a veteran of the early cons, said they established a standard for other pop cultural gatherings
“We came together and respected everyone’s take on the show,” he said.
Brant, who will have a booth tied to a non-profit at this weekend’s convention, said having the franchise return to the city after a decades-long absence brings things full circle.
“It’s part of Star Trek’s magic. It showed us as being organized and unified in a mission for adventure,” he said.
Here are some of the highlights of this week’s convention:
Friday, Sept 2
“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” panel featuring Terry Farrell, Michael Dorn, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Rene Auberjonois and Cirroc Lofton.
“Star Trek: Enterprise” panel featuring Dominic Keating, John Billingsley, Connor Trinneer and Anthony Montgomery.
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” screening.
Saturday, Sept. 3
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” panel featuring Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn and Gates McFadden.
Discussion with Adam Nimoy about his documentary on his father, “For the Love of Spock.”
Sunday, Sept. 4
“Star Trek: Voyager” reunion featuring Kate Mulgrew, Roxann Dawson, Robert Picardo, Robert Duncan McNeill and Ethan Phillips.
Charity auction of Leonard Nimoy’s personal items.
Conversation with William Shatner.