The Captain You Never Knew Preceded Captain Kirk On Star Trek

It's hard to imagine any other captain leading the voyages of the USS Enterprise in the original "Star Trek" TV series than Captain James T. Kirk. Fans are always surprised to learn that Kirk, played by William Shatner, was actually not the original captain of the famous Star Fleet spacecraft. Shatner's likeness has been so closely associated with the franchise that learning that there was someone else in the captain's chair before Shatner planted himself there might sound unbelievable — but it's true.

The first commander of ol' 1701 was an officer named Christopher Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter — at least in Gene Rodenberry's initial 1964 "Star Trek" pilot, called "The Cage." The original pilot, however, was ultimately rejected by NBC (via The Denver Post). If Captain Pike somehow seems familiar, though, it's because he does make an appearance, albeit fleeting, in a later episode in the original series. 

Famed comic actress Lucille Ball, of "I Love Lucy" acclaim, co-owned Desilu Productions at the time and produced the first "Star Trek" pilot. After it was rejected, Ball convinced NBC to invest in a second pilot, but it faced a huge challenge: it needed a new lead actor (via

Captain Kirk becomes the face of the Star Trek franchise

Hunter left the series before the second pilot, titled "Where No Man Has Gone Before," was shot, freeing Roddenberry to recast the show (of course, the Vulcan Science Officer Spock maintained his role). Hunter, at the time, was a film actor and wanted to concentrate on movie roles. He had also had a bad experience with another TV show and didn't like the long commitment involved with a television series, according to the website Comic Book Resources

When the bold and handsome Kirk assumed the captain's chair, the stars aligned, and NBC picked up the series. Pike does make an appearance in the series in recycled flashbacks from the first pilot, which is why he might be familiar to Star Trek fans who have watched the original series or binged it on a streaming service where the original pilot is still available.

"Star Trek" only ran on TV for three seasons, from its debut on Sept. 8, 1966, until 1969 — hardly enough time for it to complete its five-year mission "to explore strange new worlds" and "to boldly go where no man has gone before." But the continuing popularity of "Star Trek" and science fiction, in general, propelled the series into a movie franchise in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as several new TV series during that time. 

The crew of the famed starship has had several iterations since and are still seeking out new life and new civilizations — and Captain Pike, played by Anson Mount, made 14 appearances in "Star Trek: Discovery" (via IMDb) and is set to launch his own show, "Strange New Worlds," in 2022 (via IMDb).