I watched ARENA, a first season episode of the original STAR TREK television series last night. I recorded the episode off of MeTV (one of my favorite cable TV channels!). I've seen the episode several times but it's been long enough since I saw it last to make this viewing fresh and fun to watch.
Not as much fun to watch, however, as it was the first time I saw it. That's because ARENA was the first episode of STAR TREK I ever saw. Coincidentally, I saw this episode on January 19th, 1967, the date of its' original broadcast, which is almost exactly 48 years ago. My how time flies.
The most important thing about seeing ARENA on that long ago night was where and how I saw it. I was at my maternal grandparents house that night for a visit. I was aware that there was a new science fiction show on NBC called STAR TREK but I was also aware that neither of the two (yes, two!) local Austin television stations, KTBC and KHFI (later KTVV and now KXAN) were broadcasting the series either "live" or tape delayed. I could only imagine what wonders I was missing.
However, the NBC affiliate in San Antonio was carrying STAR TREK. No, my grandparents didn't live in San Antonio. In fact, they lived just a few blocks down the street from us. But they did have two very crucial elements that enabled me to boldly go where no man has gone that night.
The first was a Zenith color television (the quality goes in before the name goes on was the slogan as I recall). This was a mammoth console affair with a giant, green tinted glass picture tube and dials that you had to turn by hand as there was no remote control in 1967. This meant that I not only got to see STAR TREK, but I got to see it "in living color" as all shows broadcast on NBC were at the time.
The other thing that made seeing STAR TREK possible was a giant radio/television antenna/tower that my uncle had erected on the side of my grandparent's house. This allowed radio communications from their business to home "base" and to any and all vehicles equipped with mobile radio devices. KCN-492 where are you? It also meant my grandparents could pick up television signals from far off San Antonio. This was "cable" television in 1967. There was no home owners association in my grandparents neighborhood then or now but I can only imagine what their neighbors in Pemberton (an upscale Austin neighborhood) must have thought of that giant antenna contraption.
So it was that I got to see ARENA, my first STAR TREK episode ever at my grandparents that night. STAR TREK would be halfway through it's second season before I saw another episode. That's when KHFI finally starting showing TREK but not on it's regularly scheduled day and time. Did I care? Hell no. As long as I could see this ultra cool new television series at home on our own Zenith color television set I was happy.
So, what about ARENA almost 50 years later? It holds up very well. Kirk and the Gorn engage in a fight to the almost death in an episode based on the short story of the same name by veteran science fiction writer Fredric Brown. The episode I watched last night features new CGI special effects shots which enhance the overall look of the show without taking away from the narrative.
So thumbs up for ARENA in both 1967 and 2015. And thanks to my grandparents for giving me the opportunity to see what has become a touchstone of American popular culture for the very first time. I've never forgotten it.