CBS Paramount Domestic Television, a unit of CBS, is digitally remastering all 79 episodes of the original series to enhance the show's 1960s-era visual effects with 21st-century computer-generated graphics.
Digitally created images will replace the miniature-scale models used for exterior shots of the various spacecraft on the show, including Kirk's Starship Enterprise and the enemy war vessels of the alien Klingons and Romulans.
Shots of distant galaxies and planets also will be touched up with computer graphics to give them greater depth. The flat matte paintings used as backdrops on the surface of the strange new worlds visited by the Enterprise crew will be digitally enhanced to add texture, atmosphere and lighting.
Moreover, the music and sound for the show's opening sequence have been rerecorded in state-of-the-art digital stereo, and William Shatner's classic 38-word introduction, beginning with "Space, the final frontier," has been digitally remastered.
CBS Paramount says the makeover is intended to enhance the show's visual appeal while staying true to the original look and feel of the series.
"Nothing really has changed except for the fact that it's just prettier to look at," John Nogawski, president of CBS Paramount Domestic Television, said in a recent conference call with reporters. "Right down to placement of stars, it is being resimulated to be exactly what was there in the first place."
Visual effects producer David Rossi said one subtle change avid fans may notice in the opening sequence was in the flight of the Enterprise, recreated as a computer-generated graphic with measurements taken from the original model of the craft now on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
In the original sequence, the ship's flight path seems to shift slightly to the left and right, a flaw in perspective caused by limitations in the physical length of the dolly track used for the camera shot. The digital rendering creates a more realistic perspective.
"We smoothed out the motion of the Enterprise. It flies more dynamically now," Rossi said. "It occupies real space. It doesn't look like a model anymore."
In honor of the series' 40th anniversary, the remastered episodes will begin airing on Saturday on more than 200 TV stations across the country.
It will mark the first time in 16 years the original series will be seen in U.S. broadcast syndication, though it currently airs on the cable network G4TV and will begin running Nov. 17 on cable's.
Conceived by author Gene Roddenberry, "Star Trek" debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, introducing TV viewers to a 23rd-century team of space explorers led by Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk, the Enterprise commander and an interstellar Lothario.
The series co-starred Leonard Nimoy as his stoically logical first officer, the half-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock, DeForest Kelley as the cranky ship's doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy, and James Doohan as trusty chief engineer Scott.
Running on NBC for three seasons, "Star Trek" was canceled in 1969 due to mediocre ratings. But it developed a strong cult following in reruns that helped establish the show as a pop culture staple.
Shatner and Nimoy insist the series endures because its visual effects were secondary to transcendent themes dealing with social justice, race relations and even Cold War tensions.
"Shows about explosions and special effects, go away," Nimoy said in a recent interview. "We didn't have a lot of production values. It all had to get into your head somehow and resonate somewhere. And I think that's why it survives."
Shatner, who jokes he doesn't watch "Star Trek" reruns anymore because "the aging process is so painful," added that fans saw past the "cheesy costumes, and the bad sets and the ill-gotten special effects" because of the show's substance. "It's almost like theater of the mind."