Winner, Institutional 2023

Star Trek

Today (NBC)

The original Star Trek television series aired on NBC for only three seasons, from September 1966 to June 1969. It was fresh, prescient, and so ahead of its time that it couldn’t quite capture the mainstream audience required for hits during a particularly insipid time in television. But fast forward nearly 60 years (perhaps through a space-time anomaly), and creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision is alive and well, having spawned a media franchise of 13 feature films, 11 television series, and numerous books and comics, with a legendary fan following. Today Star Trek is more vibrant, imaginative, funny, entertaining, and progressive than ever. And these days, we’ve got the special effects to make it look stellar.

 The original science-fiction series was set aboard a starship, Enterprise, whose mostly human crew encountered alien life as they traversed the stars, led by the iconic Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). It was groundbreaking for its diverse cast and for its unapologetically progressive values—exploration over colonialism, cooperation over violence. Though the series wasn’t as popular as network executives hoped, the show spawned a passionate fandom with its own conventions and its own monikers. Although early fans were often the subject of ridicule, they’ve had the last word, helping to invent a model of fandom that has since taken over the world. (See: Swifties, Comicon.) As the fandom grew, movies followed, and soon new television versions with new crews aboard new ships, all building out the original Star Trek universe.

The successors to the original series have updated the franchise without losing its moral core—the dream of a future free from human destruction, poverty, and bigotry. Subsequent captains have served as models of ethical and diverse leadership: The Next Generation’s Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Deep Space Nine’s Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), and Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) among them. The humans have served alongside recurring characters from many other worlds, including the unforgettable Worf (Michael Dorn), a Klingon, and Data (Brent Spiner), an android whose struggles to become more human and to be allowed self-determination echo through to a 21st century full of developments in artificial intelligence.

With every passing decade, new versions have proliferated, attracting new generations of fans. Film reboots directed by J.J. Abrams and Justin Lin revived Kirk and his crew with new, young actors, zippier dialogue, and vastly improved effects in the 2000s and 2010s. The Streaming Era has brought a raft of reimaginings with a variety of sensibilities, from the dark and complicated Star Trek: Discovery to the crowd-pleasing prequel Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (featuring a young Spock!) to the hilariously meta cartoon Star Trek: Lower Decks. As the latest versions of Star Trek invite in a new generation of viewers, the interstellar travelers still encounter danger and difficulty, of course. But the Starfleet crew always comes out on top— and without sacrificing essential values that seem quintessentially human: valor, self-sacrifice, curiosity, compassion, broadmindedness. 

For its enduring dedication to storytelling that projects the best of humanity into the distant future, the Star Trek franchise is honored with the Peabody Institutional Award.