Fifty years ago Thursday, TV started boldly going where no man had gone before. And The Sun happily went along for the ride.
It would be nice to report that The Sun was an unabashed fan of “Star Trek” from the beginning, that this paper immediately embraced the pioneering science fiction series, which remains a cultural force a half-century later. But truth is, the series was embraced with what could, at best, be called lukewarm praise.
“This one looks like the son of ‘Twilight Zone,’ cousin to ‘The Outer Limits’ and neighbor of ‘Lost in Space,’ combining the better elements of all those shows,” Evening Sun critic Lou Cedrone wrote in the paper’s Sept. 9 edition, the day after the show’s premiere. “It has some sophistication.”
Hey, to be mentioned in the same breath as a contemporary classic like “The Twilight Zone” was high praise indeed, even if many would argue with the “Lost in Space” comparison. And in Cedrone’s defense, that premiere episode, “The Man Trap,” about an alien life form that sucks the salt out of humans as a means of survival, was not among the series’ best.
But at least Cedrone liked it better than Donald Kirkley, longtime critic for The Sun (which published in the mornings), did. Kirkley was not impressed.
“ 'Star Trek' was heralded as an adult science-fiction program, but it doesn’t make the grade on either count,” Kirkley sniffed in the Sept. 23 Sun, writing three shows into the series’ run.
“Like ‘The Time Tunnel,’ the premise is plausible enough, but there the resemblance ends,” he added. (That suggests he preferred “The Time Tunnel,” which -- to anyone who remembers that time-jumping series -- is sort of unfathomable.)
Kirkley didn’t stop there. The show, he said, “sinks to the status of a Class C horror movie.” He complained about the “monsters” that would attack the Enterprise, calling them “superpsychopathic villains with occult powers.” And he compared the show unfavorably to another series that was premiering on TV that month.
The bad guys, he said, would “precipitate fights replete with boffs, klunks and kazapps. It reminds us of a bad hour on ‘Batman.’ ”
Happily, The Sun did not remain a naysayer when it came to “Star Trek.” In fact, in 1972, when two 11-year-old girls wrote to the paper to ask then-critic Judy Bachrach if she liked anything on television, she said yes.
“There is a pretty good show on the air,” Bachrach wrote, “and it’s called ‘Star Trek.’ ”
Of course, ‘Star Trek’ had been off the air since June 1969, and it’s sorta sad that Bachrach, who went on to have quite a career as a journalist and is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, had to go depend on re-runs for an answer. But at least she knew quality.