Tales of Lost TV: Star Trek Cast on the Today Show (1966)

Tales of Lost TV is a monthly column in which I examine a particular TV program or TV series either known or believed to be lost forever. The amount of lost TV is truly staggering–aside from a handful of exceptions everything broadcast prior to 1948 no longer exists. That doesn’t mean it all has to be forgotten.

A Lost Star Trek Interview

Usually, Tales of Lost TV covers a particular TV show or program that no longer exists. This month, I’m writing about a September 1966 interview segment from The Today Show. Why? Because it featured William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy talking about Star Trek. More importantly, it aired before the show debuted. That makes it rare and potentially unique.

The interview, which also included actress Grace Whitney, may have been the first time Shatner and Nimoy appeared on television discussing their roles on Star Trek. Sadly, it is likely lost forever.

NBC Week 1966

NBC gave Star Trek a special sneak preview on Thursday, September 8th, 1966 alongside two other new shows: Tarzan and The Hero. The true series premiere took place on September 15th during NBC’s official premiere week.


The network proudly proclaimed NBC Week 1966 the first time in television history that an entire network schedule would air in color. NBC went to great lengths to let viewers know about NBC Week during the summer of 1966. There were countless promotional spots on television and radio, print advertisements, special newspaper supplements, and an hour-long fall preview special hosted by Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber.

Promotional booklets were sent out for the network’s ten new shows, including Star Trek, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and The Monkees. The Star Trek booklet famously includes two airbrushed photographs of Leonard Nimoy as Spock, intended to make him appear less demonic. Hundreds of thousands of color posters featuring returning NBC hits like Bonanza and Get Smart were sold to fans eager for new episodes of their favorite shows. Star Trek posters were made as well but not sold to the public.

Also, NBC used The Today Show to promote its new fall programs. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Grace Whitney from Star Trek appeared on The Today Show on Thursday, September 1st, 1966–exactly one week before the Star Trek sneak preview.

A Star Trek Mystery

I first learned of the existence of The Today Show interview a number of years ago when I stumbled upon the following entry in The New York Times television listings for September 1st, 1966:

Scanned image from The New York Times TV listings referencing Star Trek on The Today Show

The New York Times TV Listings for Thursday, September 1st, 1966
Copyright © 1966 The New York Times

It’s vague, of course, but as a lifelong Star Trek fan, the entry immediately intrigued me. What did mean? Did it refer to the entire cast? Just William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy? Where were these unspecified “stars” interviewed? In The Today Show studio? The Star Trek set? I had a lot of questions and no easy way to find answers.

In fact, for a long time, The New York Times was the only proof I had that the cast of Star Trek were on The Today Show prior to the show’s debut. I’ve read a lot of books about Star Trek, including several autobiographies, and I don’t recall ever coming across a reference to any interviews on The Today Show in 1966.

Eventually, I found entries to the September 1st, 1966 interview in TV listings from other newspapers. For example, here’s an entry from the Long Island Star Journal

Scan of TV listings from the Long Island Star Journal with a reference to Star Trek on the Today Show.

Long Island Star Journal Newspaper Listings for Thursday, September 1st, 1966
Copyright © 1966 Long Island Star Journal

Rather than the entire cast, apparently only William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Grace Whitney were guests on The Today Show. Credited as Grace Lee Whitney on Star Trek, the actress played Yeoman Janice Rand in eight episodes before being written out of the show. Prior to its debut, she posed alongside Shatner and Nimoy in a variety of early publicity photographs.

Let’s Go to the Videotape

Here’s text from September 1st, 1966 TV listings published in the Rochester, N.Y. Democrat and Chronicle newspaper:

Ed Ames, featured performer in NBC-TV’s “Daniel Boone,” will sing (7). William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Grace Whitney, stars of the new fall NBC-TV show, “Star Trek,” are interviewed on video tape by Barbara Walters (7:30). Washington, D.C., news guest will be interviewed (8). A feature on the experiences of an American college student living in the Soviet Union (8:30).

Barbara Walters conducted the interview. It aired at 7:30AM ET from videotape, not live. That could prove the interviews took place on the Star Trek set rather than in The Today Show studio. More importantly, it means there’s a very small chance the footage still exists.

Why? Had the interview aired live, the odds of finding a recording would be almost nonexistent. The fact that the interviews aired from videotape offers the tantalizing possibility that the original videotape–or a copy–could be out there somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered.

Unfortunately, it’s just as likely The Today Show engineers erased and reused the videotape just days or weeks after the September 1st, 1966 edition of The Today Show aired. We may never know for sure.

References:

“TV Logs.” Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester, NY]. 1 Sep. 1966: 40.


Were you a Star Trek fan from the very beginning? Do you remember seeing William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Grace Lee Whitney on The Today Show in September 1966? Could a videotape of the interview still exist? Hit the comments with your thoughts and be sure to check your closets, attics, basements, and crawl spaces.


5 Comments

  • Dennis Morgan says:

    I saw this interview but not live on the Today show. It was shown as a filler after an afternoon Saturday movie on our local NBC channe.. It was probably the first Saturday after the original showing and before the official start of the show. I just remember being excited at seeing this as I had already seen the first show. I have no memory of the questions she asked.

  • Patrick McNamara says:

    There could be some chance that Barbara Walters has a copy if she kept a record of her interviews as reference material for her journalism. But given how many she did it’s not that likely. And given how avid Star Trek fans have been about keeping and digging up old material, if it was in public hands it would likely have shown up by now.

  • Carl says:

    I did not see the “Today Show” interview with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Because the article referenced the premier of “The Girl From Uncle,” I was reminded that I recently watched an old “Man From Uncle” episode, which featured William Shatner as the guest star, in a role as a good guy, and Leonard Nimoy playing a villain. It was fun seeing them together in a TV show in other than their Stat Trek roles.

  • Joseph says:

    Very few “Today Show” episodes or segments prior to the 1970’s are believed to exist.

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