Star Trek is one of the most culturally influential television shows—and perhaps the most influential science fiction TV series—in history. The original series, which aired in the late sixties, has since spawned five successor series, eleven movies, a plethora of merchandise, and a multi-billion dollar industry collectively known as the Star Trek franchise (currently owned by CBS Television Studios, which now owns television properties previously held by Paramount Pictures, the studio that produced Star Trek for many decades).
Gene Roddenberry sold Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), to NBC as a classic adventure drama, calling it a "Wagon Train to the Stars." In reality, Roddenberry wanted to tell more sophisticated stories, using futuristic situations as analogies for current problems on Earth and rectifying them through humanism and optimism. The show's writers frequently addressed moral and social issues in the episodes by tackling topics such as slavery, warfare, and discrimination. The opening line "to boldly go where no man has gone before" was taken almost verbatim from a US White House booklet on space produced after the Sputnik flight in 1957. A major inspiration for Star Trek was the science-fiction film Forbidden Planet whose influence is especially notably in the pilot episode The Cage .
There were previous sophisticated science fiction TV shows that were either anthology series such as The Twilight Zone or British mini-series such as The Quatermass Experiment, but TOS was the first American science-fiction series with a continuing cast that was aimed at adults telling morality tales with complex narratives.
Although earlier British science-fiction shows done with marionettes and Soap operas  had had interracial casting, it was unique for an American live-action series to do this. When there were few non-white or foreign roles in American television dramas, Roddenberry created a multi-ethnic crew for the Enterprise, including an African woman, a Scotsman, a Japanese American, and—most notably—an alien, the half-Vulcan Spock. In the second season, reflecting the contemporaneous Cold War, Roddenberry added a Russian crewmember. TOS is also credited with television's first interracial kiss, although this had happened earlier in a British medical soap opera.
TOS was a groundbreaking show which garnered multiple Emmy award nominations during its run, setting standards for shows that followed it. Despite a limited budget, the show's special effects were superior to contemporary TV shows, its stories were often written by notable science fiction authors (though often re-written by the show's regular writers) , and many of its production values—such as costuming and set design—were of high caliber for such a low budget. Some of the production staff of The Outer Limits worked on Star Trek and often made creative re-use of effects of props from the former..
During its initial run from 1966 to 1969, TOS did not garner substantial TV ratings and was almost canceled after its second season. A letter-writing campaign by fans, unprecedented in television, prompted network executives to reverse their decision and renew the series for a third season. NBC put the show in a disadvantageous timeslot, and TOS was finally canceled after its third season. Soon afterward, however, marketing personnel of the network complained to management that the series' cancellation was premature. It turned out that after using new techniques for profiling demographics of the viewing audience, they found the Star Trek audience was highly desirable for advertisers to the point where they considered the series a highly profitable property. Unfortunately, that revelation came too late to resume production of the series.
After its cancellation, Star Trek took on a life of its own, becoming more popular and reaching a much wider audience than when it had originally aired. In the early seventies, a group of fans decided to hold a convention featuring the original actors: hundreds were expected, but thousands arrived.
In 1976, following another fan-organized letter-writing campaign, NASA named its first space shuttle orbiter, Enterprise (OV-101), after the fictional starship. The Enterprise was used in a number of flight tests, but NASA's plans to make it spaceworthy were canceled as impractical. Enterprise was occasionally used for engineering tests and was also used to investigate the 2003 Columbia accident, but has spent much of its life in storage and is now displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, DC. The opening sequence of the later series Star Trek: Enterprise (2001) features a shot of this real-life space shuttle in homage, intending to show it as a namesake for other ships in the Star Trek universe.
NASA also employed actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura to attempt recruiting African-Americans and women to become astronauts. During her work on the show, Nichols became frustrated at her relative lack of lines and was considering quitting. She was talked out of this decision by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who told her that a show that depicted a black woman working alongside whites in a position of importance helped further the goal of racial equality.
A possibly direct follow-on to Nichelle Nichols' inspiration was once stated by Whoopi Goldberg, as she had once been quoted as saying that Nichols' role as Uhura was her inspiration to get into acting. In the movie Trekkies it is told that as a child seeing Star Trek for the first time, Ms. Goldberg ran around the house screaming "hey Mom! Look! There's a black woman on the TV and she ain't no maid!" Ms. Goldberg was eventually to portray the recurring El-Aurian female character Guinan on The Next Generation.
In the mid-seventies, encouraged by the burgeoning fan base for the show, Roddenberry sought to start a second television series (Star Trek: Phase II); this abortive attempt morphed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. The movie did sufficiently well at the box office, grossing more than $80 million in the US and $139 million worldwide, to spawn several more movies during the eighties. In 1987, Roddenberry created a second TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), which was set aboard the fifth Federation starship Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) more than seventy years after events in the earlier series and related movies. Unlike TOS – which often reflected a bold, interventionist American philosophy — TNG had a less aggressive and more socially liberal message. This show, unlike its progenitor, was syndicated and sold to individual local TV stations rather than a nationwide network. It became the number one syndicated TV show, lasting seven seasons, and spawned two sequels, a prequel, four movies, and a vast marketing business.
Star Trek and its spinoffs have proved highly popular in television repeats, shown repeatedly on TV stations in the US and worldwide. The Star Trek franchise is similarly prolific. Only Star Wars has had as significant an influence as a science fiction and pop culture phenomenon. According to Forbes magazine:
Star Trek conventions have become popular, though waning and now often meshed with conventions of other genres. Fans coined the terms "Trekkies" and "Trekkers" to describe themselves, and produce an abundance of fanon material like fanzines with fiction, art and songs.
The show’s cultural influence goes far beyond its longevity and profitability. An entire subculture grew up around the show and, anecdotally, there are indications that Star Trek has influenced many people's lives. Many scientists and engineers claim that their professional and life choices were influenced by Star Trek. The inventor of the first non-vehicular cell phone, Martin Cooper, states he was motivated to develop it from watching Star Trek. In addition, phrases like "Beam me up, Scotty", "Resistance is futile" (from the iconic Borg), and Treknobabble have entered vernacular. Words from the show including Klingon have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and "Trekkie" is the only fan label listed in that dictionary. Fictional devices in the show have also been claimed as inspirations for actual devices like mobile phones (communicator).
A broad consensus amongst fans is that the Star Trek franchise became formulaic and mediocre in the 1990s due to over-exploitation of the franchise by Paramount and production of multiple spin-offs and movies, though fans do not necessarily agree as to when this began (some adult viewers of TOS felt it also could be formulaic and repetitive ). The release in May 2009 of Star Trek, a reboot involving characters from the original series and set in an alternate timeline, was developed with the partial hope to resurrect the franchise.
Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly, in reviewing the new film states that Star Trek had "devolved into a near-irrelevant cultural joke, likely to inspire giggles and unprintable curses from even its most ardent supporters." Leonard Nimoy wondered in 2003 whether or not the franchise "had run its course". Director J. J. Abrams argued "people [may not] even understand what Star Trek means anymore", and joked that a parody like Galaxy Quest "spoils" the show because of its accurate parodic portrayal. Even on set, Abrams felt nervous "with all these tattooed faces and pointy ears, bizarre weaponry and Romulan linguists, with dialogue about 'Neutral Zones' and 'Starfleet'". In covering the relaunch film, Jensen remarked the series' optimistic nature ran counter to an increasingly cynical culture, and that the film had been delayed from December 2008 to May 2009 to "rehab" the series' image.
Upon release, the film was a major critical and box office success, sparking comments by fans and critics that the franchise has a bright renewed future.
The first television series with comparable story-line and set-up to Star Trek (aside from the more generic genre rival Doctor Who) was the 1990s series Babylon 5. When pitching the series, the producer J. Michael Straczynski had hoped that television executives would think Trek had opened up the market for science-fiction on TV. However, he was told that Star Trek only created a market for more Star Trek and that the prospects for non-Trek related science fiction were seen as bleak. Eventually, Babylon 5 was greenlighted. Three script writers who had worked for Trek's original series were to write for Babylon 5 (including D. C. Fontana who had written for three different Trek series), and Star Trek actor Walter Koenig was cast in a recurring role. All this, and the strong similarities of the series' premise to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" invited comparison to "Star Trek." In addition, Babylon 5 was the first television series since Star Trek to get nominated for or win the Hugo award for best science fiction drama, which had only recognized feature films in the media category since Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry's widow and Star Trek actress, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, publicly stated that her decision to do a guest star appearance on Babylon 5 was to stop the feuding and bickering among hardline fans of the two series, which broke out occasionally at science fiction conventions.
Some television series have major or supporting characters who are Star Trek fans with this affecting the storyline of the show. The major character of Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a Star Trek fan. The Season 5 episode The Replacement in which there are two Xanders is a simultaneous tribute to three episodes of the original series in which there are two Captain Kirks.
In crossover casting, two other television series have cast actors from Star Trek in shows in which other characters are Star Trek fans who frequently refer to Trek moments or cite Trek storylines. The character Hiro Nakamura on NBC's Heroes likes to describe his ability to teleport as "like Star Trek," and has often performed the Vulcan gesture to "live long and prosper." His father is played by original Star Trek cast member George Takei (Sulu). Additionally, Nichelle Nichols who portrayed Uhura in "The Original Series" and Zachary Quinto who acts as Spock in the 2009 movie "Star Trek" both play prominent roles throughout "Heroes".
Over a dozen actors from various Star Trek series have made guest appearances on one or the other of the Stargate series. In those series, Colonel Jack O'Neill makes unsuccessful pitches to name new space vessels after the Enterprise and also gives the Vulcan salute in tribute to Trek. In an earlier episode of Stargate: SG-1 O'Neill travels back in time to the 1960s and during an interrogation by an Air Force officer he refers to himself as "James T. Kirk, captain of the federation starship Enterprise". Another "Trek" reference is made when a character questions whether or not another team member can be "beamed up". The response is "What am I, Scotty"? Later in the series, advanced alien technology actually allows team members to "beam" up and down in a similar manner as what was seen on "Star Trek".
In the Cold War submarine film Crimson Tide, in a moment of crisis the USS Alabama executive officer played by Denzel Washington gives a pep talk to his young radioman referring to Kirk's telling Scotty they need "more power", or in this case the need to restore radio communications. For comic relief, the sitcom Frasier has a recurring Trek fan character, Noel. This plays a role in several episodes including one in which he deceives Frasier into believing a speech is written in Hebrew when it is really in the Klingon language.
Star Trek has been the subject of a large number of parodies and tributes.
Prominent among film parodies is Galaxy Quest, as it parodied the original Star Trek series, elements of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the whole Trekkie phenomenon. Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning is a fan-made parody of both Star Trek and Babylon 5.
On television, the animated series Futurama makes frequent references to Star Trek and parodies some of its better known plot elements on a regular basis, including the character Zapp Brannigan who is based on a combination of Captain Kirk and William Shatner, and cast members of the original series have taken part in one episode. Prominent examples in other television series include multiple episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy.
There are many other parodies in comic strips, music and computer games, such as Eminem's song "We made You" Eminem was dressed as Spock, Dr. Dre as Kirk. The back cover of Blondie's Parallel Lines shows a band member wearing 'Spock Socks'.
NASA and other institutions have paid explicit tribute to the series in the use of names of ships and characters from the series. Subtle acknowledgments in media and real life include the use of Star Trek ships' registry numbers, especially the Enterprise's NCC-1701.
Riverside, Iowa has proclaimed itself the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, asserts in the book "The Making of Star Trek" by Stephen Whitfield, that the character of Kirk had been born in the state of Iowa. In March 1985, when the town was looking for a theme for its annual town festival, Steve Miller, a member of the Riverside City Council who had read Roddenberry's book, suggested to the council that Riverside should proclaim itself to be the future birthplace of Kirk. Miller's motion passed unanimously. The council later wrote to Roddenberry for his permission to be designated as the official birthplace of Kirk, and Roddenberry agreed.
In the Star Trek 2009 film, Riverside is depicted as having a Starfleet shipyard on its outskirts, where the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 was built.
The city of Garland, Texas is the first city known to have an official place name based on the TV series: "Star Trek Lane," located off of Apollo Road and east of North Jupiter Road ( ). The city of Birmingham, Alabama also boasts a "Star Trek Lane," and "Star Trek Circle," in the Sunrise East subdivision of its Roebuck neighborhood.
An unincorporated area near the Las Vegas Strip contains a residential street named "Roddenberry Avenue." While the mailing address lists the avenue as being located in Las Vegas, Nevada, the physical address is an unincorporated township called "Enterprise". There is no indication that the township's name has any connection with the Star Trek series, and it is unknown whether or not the street name is a deliberate tribute to the Star Trek creator.
A limited number of Famous Players theatres in Canada house large replicas of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A. One such theatre can be found in the town of Thunder Bay, Ontario, another in Windsor, Ontario, another at the 'Colliseum' theatre in Ottawa, Ontario, another in Richmond, British Columbia as well as one in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In the Greater Toronto Area, replicas can be seen in the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Toronto, and in the SilverCity in Richmond Hill, Ontario. In addition, a replica of the Sovereign-class USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E can be found in Laser Planet in Oakville, Ontario as well as in the Colossus theatre, in Langley, British Columbia.