What better way for me to begin the second season of The Toys That Made Us than with an episode about Star Trek. Created by Gene Roddenberry, the original series, which debuted in 1966, is still one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and this entertaining and high-spirited episode serves not only as a comprehensive history of Star Trek toys but as a welcome trip down memory lane with the show itself. Truth is I enjoyed seeing the numerous clips from the various shows and movies as much as following the toys’ history.
Using a splendid mix of humor and nostalgia, we see how the history of Star Trek toys was about as rocky as the history of the original TV series. The show introduces us to American Toy Model Company, the first company to make Star Trek toys. Unfortunately, initial reactions to the show did not make Roddenberry’s show particularly toy friendly, despite quite nice re-creations of the Enterprise and shuttlecraft. by AMT. Then other companies jumped on the bandwagon – the problem was they often just repackaged toys they already had, coming up with toys that weren’t even part of the series (Star Trek helmets anyone?).
The Coolest Guy on the Block
Once the series ended, nobody foresaw the popularity the show would attain once the three seasons went into syndication. Or that the crew of the Enterprise would get their own TV cartoon series. But one toy man in the 1970s was smart enough to capitalize on the franchise’s rise from the ashes – Marty Abrams of MEGO. Abrams, the self-proclaimed “coolest guy on the block” was quite a character it seems. The inventor of the Nintendo Power Glove and called “the father of the modern action figure,” Marty Abrams was already responsible for selling action figures from the Planet of the Apes TV series, and MEGO put out the first Star Trek action figures. The interviews with him are some of the best moments in the episode. He is shown with warts and all—wait until you hear what happened when given the chance to license Star Wars. He may have a giant-sized ego, but it’s hard to dislike him. He’s always entertaining, and I felt sad when I learned what would eventually befall Abrams and his company.
To Boldly Go… To the Cinema
The episode also shows how the success of Star Wars led to Star Trek movies. You would think the toy market for Roddenberry’s creation would have skyrocketed then. Not so, thanks to bad timing. Not even MEGO couldn’t make it right with its Star Trek: The Motion Picture action set. After the first movie didn’t match the action of Star Wars (let’s just say the pacing was sloooowwww…) they decided not to make any toys for the next one – this little movie called Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Big mistake. I have yet to find a fan who doesn’t think Wrath of Khan isn’t still the best of all the Star Trek movies.
The Next Generation of Toys
No doubt the franchise had a timing issue when it came to toys related to the movies, and this episode of The Toys That Made Us talks about it with good-natured humor and wit. But then when Star Trek: The Next Generation hit the airwaves, and a company called Galoob jumped into the fray. But even with the success of the new series, things weren’t totally copacetic in the Star Trek toy world. Turns out Galoob only marketed its toys for children, badly underestimating Next Generations’ popularity with adults. Who knew? They eventually dropped the line of toys.
But it’s Playmates who figured out that not only could they make toys that kids would love, but also Star Trek collectibles that adult fans would want to own. Art Asylum, which would eventually become Diamond Select, would later take up the mantle, creating amazingly detailed collectibles that the most ardent Trekkies would want to own. These include action figures that allowed you to change the head and hands for a different look, something that’s very common today. This part of the episode even focuses on the Entertainment Earth exclusive Star Trek Gold Phaser and Communicator.
As popular as the Star Trek franchise and its collectibles are to today’s collector, it might be surprising to know just how rocky things were to get to this point. And this first episode of the second season of The Toys That Made Us doesn’t hold back. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny. A welcome trip down Star Trek memory lane.
For more information on Star Trek toys and their history, read Entertainment Earth’s Four-Part article series on the history of Star Trek toys: