Harrison Ford in Star Trek!
After the success of American Graffiti settled Harrison Ford spends 1973-74 doing TV work, both series and TV movies unable to find his next big role, becoming a regular on Kung Fu. Even after the critical success of The Conversation Ford struggles to get a big role.
Meanwhile George Lucas fails to get funding for his space opera script in '73 after being rejected by every major studio and starts writing a more conventional movie instead which ends up a near-future police procedural.
By 1977 Star Trek's return had seen several script treatments- Star Trek: The God Thing, ST: Planet of the Titans etc but all where rejected and plans for a film where scrapped in May '77. Instead Paramount decided to launch a new TV channel the Paramount Television Service (PTS) with Star Trek: Phase II as its flagship show. Announced on June 10 '77 and it was a huge thing given Star Trek's success. There was to be a 2 hour TV movie and 13 episodes to be broadcast on Saturday's.
Behind the scenes Roddenberry had rubbed some up the wrong way given his profiting from the Star Trek name with his own company and limits where put in place and the studio appointed a representative to ensure budgets where kept to and stories vetted. Paramount also wanted to cash in on the tie-in novels, technical books etc that had been made and forced Roddenberry to use the Starfleet Technical Manual, and other such books in developing his series, though Roddenberry complained of 'having his hands tied' writers like Alan Dean Foster, David Gerrold, and Diane Duane liked having a foundation for their work, and Roddenberry relented, though unhappy as he was 'not getting a cut' from the novels (which was partly untrue). The writing team would produce the Star Trek Chronology from their joint writing efforts and episodes would refer back to events in others, though there was no 'arc' for Phase II as later TV would know it..
The whole project seemed doomed in July due to the wobbles in Paramount regarding going ahead with the new Network- in the end Gulf and Western's chairman Charles Bluhdorn was convinced by Paramount chief executive Barry Diller, partly on the the strength of the Star Trek brand. Advertising was increased and Diller got an increase in Star Trek's budget to ensure it was the 'best TV possible' since so much was riding on it.
As '77 rolled on sets, models, and costume where being produced and it was expected all the main cast would return, with most signed up by September; therefore it was a shock to many when Leonard Nimoy refused to return to his iconic role as Spock in October. The refusal of Nimoy and problems with William Shatner's salary (and ego) lead to the creation of new roles for the show: Xon the Vulcan science officer, which went to David Gautreaux, and Persis Khambatta as Ilia. The last role was William Decker, the new First Officer on the Enterprise, this casting was delayed as the character is fleshed out more in case Kirk needs to be written out.
Response to the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in November (grossed $10m domestic in a week) convinced many more of the Execs that there was 'legs' in science-fiction, and Paramount sees an uptick in companies wanting to advertise on their new Network eliminating one of the problems that PTS was facing.
Unable to find a breakthrough role Ford takes a spot in Force 10 from Navarone ( a weak script and plot sees the film bomb when released in Dec '78, not even making its $10m budget back at the box office) however, knowing the film is a turkey Ford finds himself looking for something new, and seeing Close Encounters doing well when he sees the casting call for William Decker in December Ford goes for an audition.
Casting for William Decker took place just before Christmas '77 and Ford wins the role over Andrew Robinson and Stephen Collins. He meets the rest of the cast, and "immediately felt part of the family" settling in quickly. With the principal cast established filming starts with a launch date of May 6th 1978.
Star Trek Phase II launches in PTS on time in May, the 2-hour movie the most expensive TV movie ever made, but the returns are worth it and PTS takes off with high viewership among American households. Deals with Canadian companies, and the BBC sees Star Trek: Phase II broadcast in Canada and the UK a month after being shown in the US. Many fans write to Paramount asking for the season to be extended beyond 13 episodes. In June '78 Paramount announced it was in talks with the cast and crew to extend Phase II's run which they confirmed at the end of the month- though there would be a months' gap so the 22 episode Season 2 would start in September.
Season 2 would begin on time in September, and Ford's Will Decker character was given more of a centre spot as the original fears that the series would not work without Spock has proved to be unfounded. While not the fan favourite Spock was Xon had gathered a good response from fans, as had Ilia, but it was Decker that was the standout from the new characters, his cheeky, jokey character playing well of both McCoy, Kirk and the other crew, especially as he was 'all officer' when the ship was in danger. Some rumours began to circulate that Kirk was about to be killed off, especially as some of Shatner's old ego problems had begun to reappear- a problem Ford did not have.
It was decided by higher up's to strand Kirk on a planetoid evading patrolling Klingons and give Decker a solid run of 8 episodes in charge of the ship leading a rescue mission. The response of not having Shatner even on set was palatable, and under instructions the writers began to plan an exit for Captain Kirk. This resulted in some very quiet contract negotiations with Ford for him to take the lead. Discussions with Shatner turned out quite amicable- he'd had an offer to star in a police show spinning off from George Lucas' space cops movie The Protectors.
Thus in the 2-part finale fans got to watch Captain Kirk finally gets rescued from his moon by Spock after the Enterprise is delayed by a massive battle with the Klingons. Spock takes the badly injured Kirk to Vulcan where he is healed by Vulcan medics and debriefed by Commodore Decker. Captain Kirk is ferried back to Earth on the battle-damaged Enterprise which is going in for a repair. As they get into orbit on the Bridge and surrounded by the senior staff, Kirk surprises Decker by informing him he is being promoted to the Admiralty, Decker offer his congratulations, as do the other staff, then Kirk drops the bombshell, Decker is getting the stripes and the Enterprise. The final shot of Season 2 is Captain Decker seeing Admiral Kirk off from his old command. Kirk takes one last wistful look around before boarding a shuttle and flying away from the ship hanging in space-dock.
Star Trek: Phase II season 3 was confirmed by Paramount in the credits with 'The Voyage goes on in Fall 1979'.