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William Shatner was “devastated” by Star Trek’s early cancellation

William Shatner is a Star Trek legend, and he turned Captain Kirk into a pop culture icon. And, the original series meant more to him than you might know.

William Shatner as Kirk in Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek started with William Shatner, and the actor’s influence is still all over the sci-fi franchise. Since the end of the Star Trek movies, we’ve seen the return of Kirk not once but twice, in the shape of both Chris Pine and Paul Wesley.

They’re equally great in their own ways, and Wesley, in particular, has managed to get to the heart of the Star Trek captain with his guest roles on the new show Strange New Worlds without ever falling into impersonation. But they’re not William Shatner.

After leading the original Star Trek series as Captain Kirk alongside Leonard Nimoy‘s Spock, Shatner returned to the captain’s chair a decade later to star in six Star Trek movies. These are where Shatner really shines, and The Wrath of Khan to The Voyage Home is one of the best movie trilogies ever made, anchored by the actor’s performance.

As it turns out, Star Trek’s return was a blessing for Shatner because the actor was “devastated” by the unceremonious end of his TV adventures, which were cancelled abruptly after season 3.

“I remember how, at the end of the series, at the end of the third year, how devastated we all were that the show was over,” said Shatner, speaking with Collider.

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“We all really loved the show, and many of the scripts – people talk about the third season not being as good – you know, it was great! We had something like $150,000 dollars per episode, including our salaries, and now they spend $2, $3, $4, $5 million dollars on an hour. But we all enjoyed it – I enjoyed the show. I enjoyed doing it right up until the very end. So I was very sad [when it ended].”

Star Trek only returned via the movies after finding success on syndication through repeats on cable TV. It was there where the sci-fi series found its following, and the Star Trek fanbase grew and grew, year after year. This led to conventions, and eventually the fanbase was so active and significant that studios took note, making the movies in order to capitalize on Star Trek’s resurgent popularity.

The success of the movies then would lead to TNG which, after a bumpy start, became one of the best TV series of all time. Since then, Star Trek has been nearly ever-present, be it on the small or big screen. Undoubtedly, a large part of that is down to Bill Shatner.

For more on Star Trek, check out our Star Trek Strange New Worlds season 2 review, and keep up to date with our hopes for the Star Trek Legacy release date. Don’t forget about everything that’s new on Paramount Plus this month.

You can also learn about Leonard Nimoy’s secret to making the best Star Trek movies, and read the one question Stephen Hawking asked William Shatner. Or, for something more fun, see which Star Trek captain would win in a zombie apocalypse.