In the original pilot for Star Trek that aired in 1965, there is mostly different crew for the USS Enterprise which includes the captain being Christopher Pike. When NBC rejected the original pilot with this old cast a new pilot was made with James Kirk as the captain instead, why was this? Why was the entire main cast (except Spock) changed for this new pilot with no explanation given?

I am looking for both the in-universe and out-of-universe explanations.

  • Just to clarify, you're looking for the out-of-universe explanation, i.e. the reason the show's creators made the changes, right?
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 22:02
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    To be honest, I am interested in both explanations
    – user1812
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 22:13
  • In universe, Pike was promoted above the rank of captain. His new position would not have had a berth (assigned duty station) aboard a vessel the class of the Enterprise.
    – Dean F.
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 14:17
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    The other big personnel change was that the female first officer was dumped. The studio thought a female "Number One" was too far out for their audience to accept.
    – user82818
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 17:23
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    @Mr.Boy: Spock was never on film as a Martian. The female Number One was in the actual pilot.
    – user82818
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 17:14

4 Answers 4


Out of universe

In the original pilot for Star Trek that aired in 1965...

It didn't. The general viewing public didn't see it and didn't know anything about Captain Pike when Star Trek first aired in 1966. The original pilot, The Cage, was only shown to network executives (and a few other insiders), who didn't like it. But they decided to commission a second pilot that was "less cerebral." (Whether that second pilot was less cerebral is a matter of...some debate, but it did the job and the show was commissioned.) Jeffrey Hunter wasn't available to do the second pilot (he was pursuing his film career, and some claim his then-wife convinced him science fiction was beneath him; they divorced a couple of years later), so the role was recast with William Shatner and along the way renamed (Christopher Pike became James Kirk). There were some concerns about his portrayal of Pike (see various notes on The Cage) so it may not have been guaranteed he'd have gotten it anyway (though he said he was offered it, and there's a nice note from Gene Roddenberry about he [Hunter] having decided not to continue with Star Trek).

(Side note: Sadly, Jeffrey Hunter died in 1969, possibly partially as as result of an accident on a film set in 1968.)

In universe

The events of the first pilot occurred 11 years prior to James T. Kirk assuming command of the Enterprise, under its previous captain, Christopher Pike, who commanded the Enterprise from 2250 to 2265 (when Kirk took over). We first see those events 13 years after they occurred, in The Menagerie, Part 1. Kirk, a now-injured Captain Pike, Spock, Commodore Mendez, and others see the events "of 13 years ago" played for them by the Talosians.

So the change was simply that after a long and successful command of the Enterprise, Captain Pike was moved up/on to Fleet Captain and a new captain was assigned to Enterprise in 2265. Not too long after that (in 2266), Captain Pike was caught up in a catastrophic accident, which ultimately lead to the events of The Menagerie.

  • Thanks for the out & in universe answers. I did not know about the out of universe answer. As far as the in universe answer, I was going to post it. Eleven years is an unheard of amount of time for any active duty captain to command the same single ship in the 21st century. I would imagine the same would be true in the Star Trek universe considering Starfleet is based off of a similar structure to the navy. It would not have been a far stretch to imagine Pike’s entire crew, except for a few warrant officers, to have rotated out in that time frame.
    – Dean F.
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 14:10
  • @DeanF. - It was actually 15 years for Captain Pike. According to Memory Alpha, Kirk commanded Enterprise for the initial five-year mission, and then many years later after being reduced in rank, the new Enterprise for seven years. Picard captained the Enterprise D and Enterprise E for something like 20 years. As you say...not the way the Navy works. :-) But I suppose if they live longer, maybe careers take longer (though Kirk was in theory "the youngest" starship captain at age 32). Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 14:29
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    @DeanF. Modern naval vessels can put into port on a regular basis, and it's a relatively simple matter to send an officer anywhere on the planet to swap out. In Star Trek, Constitution-class vessels are often on long-distance, long-duration missions (five years). They also tend to be the fastest, longest-range ships. You can't swap out the commander in the middle of one of the Enterprise's exploration missions because you don't have another ship able to go out there and make the swap - if you did, you'd just give it to the new captain and send it off exploring a different direction.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:08
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    Could Pike have been replaced at one of those five year intervals? Sure... but a mission away from home for that long takes a special kind of person. It's not inconceivable that Star Fleet in the Pike/Kirk era doesn't have a lot of volunteers for that kind of mission.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:12
  • 3
    Re, "2nd pilot...less cerebral...matter of... debate." Well, the second pilot did not feature aliens with astoundingly huge cerebral cortices!! Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:42

The pilot, titled "The Cage", was never broadcast until 1988, therefore no explanation was required.

Elements of The Cage were used in the episode "The Menagerie", presented as historical events prior to Kirk becoming captain. The footage presented in The Menagerie is not necessarily consistent with the plot of The Cage, but again this presented no inconsistency to the audience as they had never seen The Cage.

The Cage was first seen by the public in its original form in a 1986 VHS release long after the original series was completed. As the audience already knew it was a pilot and not part of the original series, no particular on-screen explanation was needed for any discrepancy between events in The Cage and those seen in the broadcast series.

As for an out-of-universe reason for the change, according to Wikipedia, Jeffrey Hunter, who played Pike, declined to appear in the second pilot (which became the 3rd broadcast episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before") and William Shatner was offered the role of Captain. As for why the rest of the crew was re-cast, the details may be lost to history. In general, the casting was not solidly determined even by the filming of the second pilot. For example, George Takei appeared in "Where No Man..." as the ship's physicist Lt. Sulu, but in later episodes became the helmsman).

Presumably, a great many changes between The Cage and the second pilot (and the other broadcast episodes) were made by the producers to better convince network executives the show could attract an audience.

  • 9
    It's not that lost to history. "We support the concept of a woman in a strong, leading role, but have serious doubts as to Majel Barrett's abilities to 'carry' the show as its co-star." "We also think you can do better with the ship's doctor, the yeoman, and other members of the crew. We applaud the attempt at a racial mix; it's exactly what we want. Hopefully, there'll be more experienced minority actors available for next year." Reported by Herb Solow in his book and many others quoting it.
    – JdeBP
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 6:02

When the second pilot was to be filmed Jeffery Hunter the original Captain Pike was not available because he was making a movie. This is according to the book The Making Of Star Trek pages 135-136.


The Star Trek Star Fleet is modeled after the modern navy. Seldomly does a person in the military retain the same rank and duty station more than a few years before they are promoted or transferred to a position with higher responsibilities (making them promotable). This also opens up a person’s current position for it to be filled by the next promotable person. The expectation is that all service members progress in their duties and become promotable. If a person does not earn/warrant a promotion after a certain amount of time, that indicates lack of progression. Eventually, if more time is spent in the same position, the military will seek to separate them from service as unpromotable.

Warrant officer positions are a little different than other officer and enlisted positions. The warrant officer is a valuable subject matter expert. They may stay in the same position as long as the military and the person come to an “agreement” as such. This still does not rule out frequent transfers to the same position elsewhere. Just not as often in most cases.

Based on observation alone, the Star Fleet Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE) precludes having an officer above the rank of Captain command the Enterprise. Under a Modified Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE), a higher ranking person can be added to the crew under specific or special circumstances, as the situation dictates. This higher ranking person would command the captain of the ship due to their outranking the captain.

Therefore, Pike’s departure from the Enterprise was inevitable and expected. No explanation would be necessary. Spock’s retention as science officer is less clear. He might have been classified as the preeminent subject matter expert and exempted from the normal line of progression even though he was not a warrant officer. Or, his lack of people skills might have limited others’ perception of his leadership skills until they were proven under (and attested by) Kirk, his superior.

Coincidentally, the US military has toyed with the idea of exempting pilots from the progression structure in order to make the position more appealing to the best candidates. Instead of frequent duty position changes and an eventual promotion out of the cockpit to fly a desk, pilots will be retained in their positions for a longer period of time. That way, their family lives are more stable. And, they have the opportunity to do the thing they love most, flying, while still receiving promotions and pay increases. It will be a voluntary exemption. Pilots that chose to continue to climb the military political ladder may still choose to do so.

  • Alternatively, Spock may have kept his position by simply declining promotion. He states multiple times in TOS that he has no interest in being in command and would prefer to remain as CSO, and there's some limited circumstantial evidence throughout the entire franchise that particularly exceptional commissioned officers within Star Fleet are given some degree of input on their assignments (at least by the sensible flag officers). Being the son of a major diplomat may have given hi enough indirect influence to make this possible as well. Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 17:57
  • @AustinHemmelgarn - Good call. This might have been the case. Although, you can only play that chip so often before the modern military would coerce (exercise their authority) to force your promotion based on their perceived needs. This may explain his eventual promotion while remaining virtually tethered to Kirk or a science advisory position.
    – Dean F.
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:03
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    On the other hand, Starfleet is much more civilian in nature than it is military, while some ranks and structuring resemble a real wet-navy, Starfleet is shown to be significantly more relaxed and informal about rank. It may simply be that the desires of the individual officers hold a lot more sway with starfleet than they do with a modern military. After all, an officer that doesn't want promotion because they're happy with the work they're doing is unlikely to do as good a job in the higher-ranking position! Starfleet is much more flexible and supportive of its members than a modern navy. Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 13:52

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