Every Star Trek fan knows that the first episode of Star Trek: The Original Series aired on September 8, 1966, on NBC. The premiere date is so important to Trek fans that it’s commemorated each year with Star Trek Day, a celebration of all things Trek.
Though September 8th is widely acknowledged as the “birthday” of the Star Trek franchise, it’s actually not the date that Star Trek was seen for the very first time. The first episode of The Original Series premiered in a different country two days before it premiered in the United States.
Which Country Did ‘Star Trek’ Premiere in First?
The September 6, 1966 issue of the Montreal Gazette revealed that Star Trek premiered in Canada two days before it premiered in the United States. The Television and Radio section of the paper included a small, black and white ad for the new show.
The ad proclaimed that Star Trek, starring William Shatner, would take viewers “through the universe and beyond in television’s most exciting adventure!” The ad also boasted that the show would play “in astral color.” A small black and white sketch of Shatner’s face accompanied the text ad.
The episode aired on CTV, the Canadian Television Network.
Why Was the Canadian Premiere First?
Star Trek was scheduled to air a new episode every Thursday in the United States. So, as evidenced by the Montreal Gazette’s ad, Canada chose to air the weekly episodes on Tuesday.
According to the Canadian Communications Foundation, Canadian television viewers, especially those who lived near the border, were often able to access American television networks. So, Canadian networks often competed with American networks for viewers.
One of the ways that Canadian networks dealt with this competition was by airing American television shows on their own networks before the American networks. The hope was that by airing the show first, they’d be able to snag Canadian viewers who might have otherwise watched the show on the American network.
At the time, it was common for networks to distribute their programming to other business partners. So, NBC distributed the first episode of Star Trek to CTV, and in an attempt to get a jump on Candian viewership, they aired it two days before it aired in the United States.
‘Star Trek’s’ Real Birthday and Star Trek Day
For more than 50 years, Trekkies have been celebrating Star Trek’s birthday on September 8th, apparently unaware that the franchise’s true birthday was two days before. According to Syfy, the truth about Star Trek’s true birthday didn’t start circulating in the U.S. until a few years ago, when the U.S. premiere was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Larry Nemecek, the host of The Trek Files podcast and a Star Trek historian, told SyFy that he was “shocked that it took 50 years to penetrate us [Americans]!” He then confirmed that he’d seen scans of Canadian newspapers that advertised the earlier broadcast date.
Though the truth is now known, it’s unlikely that Trek fans will be changing the date of their Star Trek Day plans. The September 8th date has become so much more than just a celebration of the airing of Star Trek’s first episode. It’s a celebration of all the ways the Trek franchise has changed the world and all the things Trek represents. Whether fans choose to celebrate Star Trek Day or Star Trek’s official birthday they’re celebrating the same things.
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