The History Channel recently unveiled its new documentary series The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek, which airs Friday nights and can also be streamed any time on demand.
Directed by Brian Volk-Weiss, the series takes a deep dive into the iconic universe of Star Trek, which, the documentary explains, began thanks to another icon, Lucille Ball.
Ball’s Desilu Productions produced the sci-fi series, and she also created the concept of a network “put pilot,” which helped launch Star Trek.
Normally, there’s “like a one-in-20 chance the pilot gets shot,” explains Volk-Weiss. “So Lucy invented the put pilot, where they were guaranteed two pilots. Her two picks? Star Trek [and] Mission: Impossible. So two for two, she picked things that are still in production 50, 60 years later. It’s crazy.”
Gates McFadden, who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, narrates and also produces the series, which features interviews with Trek stars and behind-the-scenes talent.
“I already knew Gates because we produce her podcast,” Volk-Weiss explains. “So when I called her up, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this Ken Burns deep dive…’ She’s like, ‘I’m in, I love it!’ And then her agent calls me and her agent’s like, ‘Brian, how did you get Ken Burns to direct your Star Trek documentary?’
Brian laughs, “I was like, ‘Miscommunication!"”
Still, he allows, “That’s what we tried to do. Like what Ken Burns did for Gettysburg, that’s what we tried to do for Star Trek.”
For the record, the producer of Movies That Made Us and The Toys That Made Us has been a lifelong Star Trek fan. “[E]verything we’ve done was kind of training us for this,” Volk-Weiss says. “I wish there was…a word more powerful than surreal. I mean, beyond surreal.”
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