Star Trek turns 50 with the anniversary of the sacred sci-fi franchise’s broadcast debut, “The Man Trap,” on Sept. 8, 1966. The Thursday night airing was the culmination of a storied process that saw creator Gene Roddenberry develop two attempts at a proper pilot episode, sticking with the latter William Shatner-starring iteration and subsequently shooting a handful of followup episodes. Yet the episode chosen for Star Trek’s aired introduction was actually its fifth!
Despite NBC opting not to launch with the intended pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” Star Trek’s proper introduction to the zeitgeist with “The Man Trap” proved fortuitous for numerous reasons. It certainly didn't make sense at the time, even apparently drawing the initial ire of Roddenberry. Yet, in hindsight, that decision revealed a kind of wisdom that was seemingly missing when NBC canceled Star Trek nearly three years later.
However, avoiding the inside-baseball details that have filled memoirs, I will instead focus on five substantive story-related reasons why, on that fateful night 50 years ago, “The Man Trap” successfully conveyed the quintessence of Star Trek and made the ultimate pitch to pop culture.