When “Star Trek” was banned in Albany

On September 8, 1966, NBC aired a new science-fiction television drama.  The show, Star Trek, went from a humble hour-long drama to a worldwide phenomenon, with spinoffs, sequels, movies, books, with generations of fans and devotees.

On that September evening, NBC broadcast the episode ‘The Man Trap,” on a Thursday night lineup that started with the frontier drama Daniel Boone, a half-hour sitcom called The Hero, and a variety show hosted by Dean Martin.

And although most of the country aired the entire NBC Thursday night lineup … at least one television station in the NBC network chose to block one of the shows, in favor of its own broadcasting choices.

That station was WRGB.  And for several months, the WRGB prime-time lineup did NOT include episodes of Star Trek.

In essence, Star Trek was blocked in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area.

And therein lies a tale.

In 1966, our area had four television stations.  Our NBC affiliate was Channel 6, WRGB.  Our CBS affiliate was Channel 10, WTEN.  ABC shows were broadcast on Channel 13, WAST, while public broadcasting and educational shows were on our NET affiliate, WMHT-17.

Although local television stations were affiliates of networks, there was nothing set in stone that prevented a local television station from pre-empting a network show to air local programming.  This may include showing local sporting events, breaking news events, or movies of the week.

And while most of the United States broadcast Star Trek in its Tuesday night 9:00 pm timeslot, the NBC affiliate in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area – WRGB – chose a different option.  They instead replaced Star Trek with various other programs, including their own local “movie of the week” show.

I’m not kidding.  A September 1966 TV supplement in the Times Union carried a promotional article about the debut of Star Trek


Let me enhance that first paragraph for you.


So why would WRGB do this?  Did WRGB not know that they were blocking what would be the most popular science fiction drama series of its time?  Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.  And even in the 1960’s, WRGB was still producing a tremendous amount of local programs, more than any of the other local stations at the time.

But one thing is clear.  When WRGB chose instead to air movies and other shows in Star Trek‘s spot, WRGB recouped all the money for commercial advertisements.   And Star Trek was still an unproven program.

So if you really, really wanted to watch Star Trek in 1966, you could either hope that your television antenna could pick up the NBC affiliate in Utica – WKTV 2 – or you made do with whatever Movie of the Week WRGB chose to air.

So while all the other NBC affiliates were showing the adventures of Kirk and Spock and the Enterprise on September 8, 1966, WRGB instead showed an episode of the syndicated hour-long war drama The Gallant Men.  Yep, the Capital District made do with a four-year-old single-season war drama that couldn’t even hold its own against other war dramas like Combat! or Twelve O’Clock High.

By the second week of Star Trek‘s network run, WRGB had blocked both it and NBC’s 9:30pm sitcom The Hero in favor of a series of “Thursday Night at the Movies” broadcasts.  Yeah, it’s like sitting down to watch the first season of Empire and discovering that the local affiliate has decided to air some third-season episodes of The O.C. instead.

So how long did WRGB keep the Capital District away from the voyages of the Starship Enterprise?

A perusal of TV listings in the local news papers will give us a clue.

Airdate NBC aired: WRGB aired:
September 8, 1966 The Man Trap An episode of The Gallant Men
September 15, 1966 Charlie X The movie Seminole, a 1963 Western starring Rock Hudson, Anthony Quinn and Barbara Hale.
September 22, 1966 Where No Man Has Gone Before The movie It Came From Outer Space, the 1953 sci-fi drama.  No, it was not shown on WRGB in 3-D.
September 29, 1966 The Naked Time The movie Don’t Bother to Knock, with Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark.  Or as I call it, “Don’t bother to watch.”
October 6, 1966 The Enemy Within The 1955 movie All That Heaven Allows, with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. That makes two Rock Hudson movies.
October 13, 1966 Mudd’s Women The 1957 movie Tammy and the Bachelor.  I guess Debbie Reynolds was NOT one of Mudd’s women.
October 20, 1966 What Are Little Girls Made Of? A Kirk Douglas western from 1955, Man Without A Star.  Or a starship.
October 27, 1966 Miri The 1954 drama Saskatchewan, starring Alan Ladd as an RCMP officer.
November 3, 1966 Dagger of the Mind We get The Seven Year Itch.  Yep, our second Marilyn Monroe movie.
November 10, 1966 The Corbomite Maneuver We get The Incredible Shrinking Man.  So instead of hour-long modern sci-fi, we’re getting 1950’s drive-in sci-fi.  Hmm…
November 17, 1966 The Menagerie (Pt 1) A 1965 film called The Toy Tiger, starring Jeff Chandler and Larraine Day.
November 24, 1966 The Menagerie (Pt 2) The 1953 romantic drama All I Desire, with Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Carlson.  Urgh.
December 1, 1966 There was no new episode of Star Trek that week. We get our third Marilyn Monroe film, Let’s Make It Legal, which stars Ms. Monroe with Claudette Colbert and MacDonald Carey.
December 8, 1966 The Conscience of the King The 1952 comedy Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, with Rock Hudson, Piper Laurie and Charles Coburn.  By this time, Yeoman Janice Rand was off the Star Trek series, and we’ve seen our THIRD Rock Hudson film.
December 15, 1966 Balance of Terror The 1957 war drama Zero Hour, with Dana Andrews and Sterling Hayden.  You may be familiar with Zero Hour, the script was later used for the motion picture Airplane!.
December 22, 1966 There was no new episode of Star Trek that week. Our second “flying crisis” film in a row, the 1958 drama Crash Landing, which included Nancy Davis (the future Mrs. Ronald Reagan) in the cast.
December 29, 1966 Shore Leave The comedy The I Don’t Care Girl, with Mitzi Gaynor and Oscar Levant.  I guess they couldn’t show another airplane in crisis movie, since this week’s Star Trek‘s episode featuring a Japanese Zero shooting at the Enterprise crew.
January 5, 1967 The Galileo Seven We get our second Kirk Douglas film, the 1952 drama The Big Trees.
January 12, 1967 The Squire of Gothos We get a science fiction series called Star Trek.

Finally, after four months of “WRGB Thursday Night at the Movies” films, WRGB must have run out of Rock Hudson and Marilyn Monroe pictures, and decided to join the rest of the United States in showing Star Trek.

Think about this for a second.  This is 1966.  Nobody had any idea that Star Trek would become as big a phenomenon as we know it today.  And for WRGB, it probably made financial sense to show some “Movies of the Week” and recoup all the advertising dollars.  Heck, by the time WRGB finally broadcast the entire NBC Thursday night lineup, the show that followed Star Trek – the sitcom The Hero – had been cancelled by NBC, who replaced it with a reboot of one of their popular 1950’s cop shows.  You might have heard of it.  A little police procedural called Dragnet.

And it’s not like WRGB was the only television station to block out programs to show their own homegrown lineups.  For years, WTEN refused to air episode of American Bandstand, switching instead to Saturday afternoon talk shows.  And Channel 13 once blacked out an episode of a Valerie Harper sitcom because the episode talked about birth control.

But for whatever reason WRGB pre-empted the first half of Star Trek‘s inaugural season, we can at least be thankful that other stations did not follow WRGB’s decision.

Heck, in 2017 CBS is scheduled to preview the new Star Trek series Star Trek: Discovery, before the show moves to the CBS All Access streaming channel.

And in 2017, WRGB is a CBS affiliate.  So they should be showing this new Star Trek drama.

That is … unless someone dusted off an old Rock Hudson or Marilyn Monroe movie.