“Creators of history”: Assignment: Earth
“Assignment: Earth” aired on March 29, 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4. Synchromysticism is the study of “happenings” and reoccurring patterns and synchronicity in human behaviour and world events, and the end of April is regarded in synchromystic circles as a “red zone” with a high concentration of violent activity. Sixty-nine days after King’s death, Robert F. Kennedy was also assassinated. June 5, the date of Kennedy’s death, also has synchromystic connections, being the date of the Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbouring countries. June is a major month on the whole with Midsummer (around the 24th) being a particularly important date. The flying saucer era began on June 24, 1947 when pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing unidentified flying objects flying in formation at supersonic speed over Mount Rainier in Washington. The date has also marked several occasions when mysterious objects fell from the sky.
Looking back on the pilot of any long-running television series can be a strange experience. The reoccurring motifs we’re accustomed to aren’t there, or are at least present in forms different to the ones we’re accustomed to. A pilot is by definition a first draft, and the one for Assignment: Earth is no different in this regard. What’s especially strange about this pilot though (simply and uninspiringly titled “Assignment: Earth”, though I suppose it gets the point across), at least for someone used to what the show eventually becomes, is that it opens up not with Supervisor 194 Gary Seven in his swanky apartment, but with an oddly-shaped spaceship in orbit around Earth. The ship’s captain, played by Canadian Royal Shakespearean actor William Shatner, exposits that he and his crew come from the far future and have travelled back in time to 1968 for historical research. Gary then transports aboard the ship, looks around in confusion and we cut to the intro credits…of an entirely different show.
Knowing a little background about how United States TV worked in the late-1960s would probably be beneficial. Back then it was customary for new pilots to be not-so-subtly disguised as regular episodes in currently-airing shows, so that the new show could piggyback off of the existing one, hopefully inheriting its audience. This still happens on occasion today, but not with the same kind of regularity as it used to. In this case, Assignment: Earth actually began life as a spin-off of an earlier, lesser-known series of Gene Roddenberry’s called Star Trek, which followed the adventures of Captain Kirk (Shatner’s character) and the crew of the USS Enterprise, which patrolled and explored the galaxy in the far future as part of an interstellar conglomerate called the United Federation of Planets. Star Trek was indebted to the Pulp and Golden Age science fiction genres of the 1950s and early 1960s, in much the same way as Assignment: Earth was to the “spy-fi” fad of the late-1960s and 1970s, at least at first.
Part of the reason Star Trek isn’t as well remembered as its successor is today is that it never scored particularly good ratings, partially due to the fact that it largely wasn’t any good, and it ultimately burnt itself out after two seasons.…