To what extent did the business model of network television enable Star Trek: The Original Series to appeal to such a wide range of audiences? In ways did that same model constrain it?
It is the nature of network television, that executives will always target the broad general audience. This of course is linked to business interests. It is easier to tell an Advertiser X% of the audience is going to be interested in your product as having to tell the advertiser – sorry we only target this fringe group. Thus shows are created to augment the advertisements.
One of the major things Harlan Ellison complained about when writing for Star Trek is that his initial stories were ‘dumb down’ for the TV show. (He published a book with the original draft of ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’ and it is even more magnificent than the actual episode)
What made The Original Series different at the time, was that the vision of Star Trek, was a utopia while at the same time reflected the American society. In the world of Star Trek, humans stopped fighting wars, overcame their racial biases and all worked together to explore the universe. In America everybody was working together, no matter the skin color, the show just portrayed the same thing – that was (at the time) a revolutionary idea and a positive vision for the future we should work towards.
This of course allowed everyone in America identifies, at least on a racial level, with any of the characters of the show. Making it appealing to an even broader audience.
And I guess that is one of the most wonderful ideas that has been ingrained into the culture. We are all humans. We all can achieve great things together and when working together we can explore the entire universe.
Sadly marketing did not understand this message. Every new incarnation of Star Trek had some sort of hook on the look we got the first <race> <gender/sexuality> captain. – While it is wonderful that these actors were given the roles, however, it only highlights the race/gender difference rather than just saying it does not matter.
Another thing that defined Star Trek is its episodic nature. Every Episode wraps up nicely and you can watch Star Trek The Original Series completely out of order. Over time this changed and Star Trek Deep Space Nine was one of the first shows that experimented with long-form storytelling, using the entire last season to have a narrative Arc to tell the story of the Dominion War.
With the rise of streaming services, shows become (less) restricted by advertisers. This can be especially seen on Netflix. Many claim Netflix shows are either Hit or Miss, but actually, they are targeting a specific niche. The shows are watched and hopefully liked by that niche. If you are not part of that target, you may not understand or like the show. I guess that is a side effect of not creating things for a general audience.