Star Trek began as a television show, created by Gene Roddenberry, which debuted in 1966 and lasted three seasons. Reportedly, a letter-writing campaign by fans helped the show get renewed for its third season. Following its 1969 cancellation, the show began to develop a cult following, especially after it began running in syndication.
A half-hour animated version of the show, using most of the original cast, debuted in 1973 and lasted two short seasons. Although regarded as a de facto fourth season of the original show by many of the show’s writers and cast, the animated series was widely ignored and unavailable for years.
In 1975, work began on a live-action revival, entitled Star Trek: Phase II. Despite several scripts being written, the project was scrapped along with the proposed network it was designed to anchor. But the success of 1977′s Star Wars caused the pilot episode to be reworked into 1979′s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Sequels followed in 1982, 1984, 1986, 1989, and 1991.
In 1987, between Star Trek IV and Star Trek V, Roddenberry and Paramount debuted a new live-action show, titled Star Trek: The Next Generation. Set roughly 100 years after the original show and featuring a new cast, The Next Generation became a hit, lasting seven seasons, concluding in 1994. That same year, the Star Trek movies continued by switching to the Next Generation cast. Sequel films would follow in 1996, 1998, and 2002. In 1993, before The Next Generation concluded, its first spin-off, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, had launched. The first series not set on the Enterprise, it would also run seven seasons, concluding in 1999. In 1995, a second spin-off, Star Trek: Voyager, launched; it would also run seven seasons, concluding in 2001. Over the 14 seasons spanning 1987 to 2001, a remarkable 21 seasons of Star Trek were produced.
In 2001, the franchise went in a different direction, replacing Voyager the following season with the new show Enterprise. Instead of continuing the Next Generation era, this new series would be a prequel to the original series. It also deviated from past shows by starring a celebrated actor, featuring lyrics in its title sequence, and not including Star Trek in the show’s title (although this was changed for its third season). This fifth live-action series lasted four seasons but would, in 2005, become the first live-action Star Trek series to be cancelled due to low ratings.
At this point, the franchise appeared dead, the final film having appeared in 2002 and the final TV show having been cancelled in 2005. Complicating matters, Viacom (which had bought Paramount in 1993) spun off CBS, effective 1 January 2006. CBS would retain rights to Star Trek television, while Paramount, as part of Viacom, retained the franchise’s movie rights. Paramount entertained several pitches to revive the franchise, ultimately settling on a glitzy new movie, directed by J. J. Abrams, that recast the original series characters with a much higher budget. This “soft reboot” was set in a new timeline, yet retained a link to the old one, symbolically passing the torch. Simply titled Star Trek, this eleventh movie appeared in 2009; sequels appeared in 2013 and 2016.
In 2017, the franchise returned to television after a 12-year absence (almost as long as the time between the animated series and The Next Generation). This time, Star Trek would appear on the streaming service CBS All Access and offer the shorter seasons that had “prestige television” had popularized. The first such series, Star Trek: Discovery, was set roughly 10 years before the original series. Its success sparked plans for several new Star Trek series, the first of which was Star Trek: Short Treks, offering short episodes set at various points in the timeline; the series featured the first animated Star Trek episodes since 1974. A second full-length show, Star Trek: Picard, debuted in 2020 and continued the Next Generation era. Additional series are planned, including two new animated series.
At the end of 2019, CBS and Viacom re-merged, uniting the film and television divisions of Star Trek. It is not yet known what this means for the franchise, but it might give Alex Kurtzman, who helms the overall franchise for CBS, the possibility of overseeing Star Trek movies.
As of this writing, Star Trek constitutes 9 fictional series (the original series, the animated series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Short Treks, and Picard), which total a remarkable 782 episodes (not counting the short episodes of Short Treks), and 13 movies (6 featuring the original cast, 4 featuring the Next Generation cast, and 3 featuring the reboot cast).
This material may be divided into different eras, based on the time in which the material is set. The following list indicates the length of each era, as of this writing:
- The Enterprise era: 98 episodes (4 seasons of Enterprise)
- The Discovery era: 43 episodes (3 seasons of Discovery, plus “The Cage”), plus several Short Trek episodes
- The classic era: 101 episodes (3 seasons of the original series, plus the animated series), plus 6 movies [note that the 22 animated episodes were shorter]
- The Next Generation era: 540 episodes (7 seasons of The Next Generation, 7 seasons of Deep Space Nine, 7 seasons of Voyager, and 1 season of Picard) + 4 movies
- The Abrams reboot universe: 3 movies
Note that, as of this writing, both Discovery and Picard are ongoing, with more shows planned.