Forty-five years ago this week, NBC cancelled a TV series that boldly took viewers to a place they'd never been before, ending what was to be a five-year mission for the Starship Enterprise. But that in no way grounded the explorations of Kirk and crew -- since that date, the Star Trek franchise has launched a dozen movies, four TV shows (not counting the animated series), and at least two fan fiction Web series.
I wrote about one of these -- "Star Trek Continues" -- recently on Crave, and was soon contacted by Trekkies everywhere to make sure I knew about an even longer-running Trek spin-off called "Star Trek: Phase II." I'm happy to say that now, after a talk with Dennis Hotston, first assistant director, I know lots about it as well.
First launched in 2003, the Web series is named after a reboot of the TV series that was planned by Paramount but got scrapped in favor of its first "Star Trek" movie. Thus far, the series has produced nine episodes and is about to release its 10th in the next few months.
That episode, called "The Holiest Thing," will also be the first to star Brian Gross as a new Captain Kirk, who was formerly played by James Cawley, the show's senior executive producer. Gross has appeared in a variety of TV shows, including "NCIS: Los Angeles," "CSI: NY," and "Saving Grace," and done voice work on the video game Star Wars: The Old Republic. Hotston says that when fans saw the new episode starring Gross at a private screening, some commented that "he was a better Captain Kirk than Captain Kirk."
The thing that has the "Phase II" crew the most excited these days is that they're in the process of moving into a new studio in Ticonderoga, N.Y. Hotston says that it's a big step up after having filmed for years in a converted car dealership. "James Cawley has the original blueprints from Desilu," he told me. "Not reproductions -- but the real blueprints -- and we are building those sets exactly as they were at Desilu Studios in 1966."
The warehouse in which the sets are being built covers 13,000 square feet. The bridge, corridors, and transporter room are pretty much completed at this point, Hotston says, adding that once those are ready, a new episode called "Mind Sifter" will begin filming there.
To help with funding the studio expansion, and to raise funds to continue producing the fan-based series, the "Phase II" folks have launched a Kickstarter campaign. They shattered their $10,000 goal, having raised over $46,000 to date, but they're still trying to hit bigger goals with six days left in the campaign. The funds will not only be used for the studio move, but to produce future episodes, which the creators say cost about $15,000 each to make.
Even though fans can now contact the production and ask for permission to see the sets, some day the new studio might be made available to the general public for tours. "It's an amazing feeling to step up to the sets because James Cawley has such a such a great eye for detail. Things like the paint colors, the trim...all these things are exactly like they were in the '60s. He's taken years to find props for Kirk's quarters, and just little things like that make all the difference when the episode hits the air."
Until the next episode is ready, Hotston says fans can get a peek at the new Captain Kirk in this clip. Live long and prosper.