What do you do when your favorite sci-fi franchise has managed to “live long and prosper” for five decades?
Thousands of Star Trek fans will don their preferred Klingon or Vulcan garb this weekend and make the trek to Manhattan to pay homage to one of the most enduring TV and film franchises in pop culture. They’re gathering for Star Trek: Mission New York, a three-day convention that started Friday morning and was organized by franchise-owner CBS and ReedPOP, the pop culture events company that also runs New York Comic Con.
The convention features appearances by former cast-members, including William Shatner and LeVar Burton, as well as a show hall brimming with Star Trek merchandise and three days of panels discussing anything from the franchise’s costuming and special effects to the evolution of “Trekkie” fandom itself.
It’s all part of CBS’ ongoing celebration of 50 years of the franchise that started on Sept. 8, 1966, with the premiere of Star Trek: The Original Series, and gave birth to indelible characters such as Shatner’s Capt. James Kirk and the late-Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, along with phrases like “Space: the final frontier.” It’s a franchise that has produced more than 550 hours of television and film programming combined, while also showing a knack over those five decades for predicting advances in technology years before they appeared in real life.
“It’s the 50th anniversary of the original series, but we’re celebrating all of Star Trek—six different [TV] series, 13 movies—it’s all-encompassing,” Liz Kalodner, the executive vice president and general manager of CBS Consumer Products, told Fortune. (She promised “an extensive social media campaign” to celebrate the official anniversary this coming Thursday.) Kalodner, who oversees the licensing and merchandising of CBS properties such as Star Trek, noted that Mission New York is all about fan-service and CBS worked with the team at ReedPOP “to create an event that is truly interactive, where the fans can completely engage in all aspects of Star Trek.”
ReedPop’s global brand director, Brian Stephenson, told Fortune anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 Star Trek fans could end up walking through the halls of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center this weekend. Roughly an hour after the convention opened its doors on Friday morning, fans had already formed multiple long lines seeking autographs from former cast-members (Shatner won’t arrive until Sunday, but fans swarmed 79-year old Walter Koenig aka Ensign Pavel Chekov), while another long line formed with fans waiting for the chance to buy the U.S. Postal Service’s new line of stamps commemorating the franchise’s 50-year anniversary.
Later, at a ceremony unveiling the new stamp designs, Postmaster General Megan Brennan said Star Trek “broke the mold” for television shows with progressive casting that showed racial and gender diversity. “Star Trek epitomizes the best of America and will always do so, forever,” Brennan told a crowded room at the convention center.
Among the fan-friendly experiences on offer at the convention are “gaming zones” on the showroom floor, where attendees can play various video games based on the franchise, including the massive online role-playing game Start Trek Online, which will soon be available on Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4. There’s also a tour of recreated set pieces from Star Trek: The Original Series, featuring the bridge and the transporter console from the original U.S.S. Enterprise.
ReedPOP’s Stephenson told Fortune that his team is staffed with its fair share of Trekkies, all of whom “just geeked out” at the idea of teaming with CBS to create a new Star Trek convention. They targeted New York for the event’s location because it’s where the first-ever Star Trek convention was held, in 1972. Now, the franchise hosts an annual convention in Las Vegas, as it did last month, but ReedPOP and CBS wanted to extend this year’s 50th anniversary celebration to New York, while offering fans “something a little different, a little unique” compared to what they usually see in Vegas.
Fans wandering the convention’s expo floor certainly have a wide range of options, including signing up for a Star Trek cruise set to sail in 2017, buying their own personal Starfleet uniforms or stuffed “Tribble,” previewing the Smithsonian Channel’s upcoming documentary Building Star Trek, and even chatting with actual NASA scientists and astronauts about the real-life technology that enables space travel. They can also peruse an expansive universe of Star Trek merchandise and collectibles, ranging from board games to autographed posters and 3D crystal art.
In addition to the conventions in New York and Las Vegas, the celebration of 50 years of Star Trek has already featured a 100-city concert tour with a live symphony orchestra, a touring art exhibit that launched at San Diego’s Comic-Con earlier this year, the Starfleet Academy Experience at New York’s Intrepid Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution’s restoration of the original shooting model of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
The extended celebration has no doubt represented a significant investment from CBS, but Kalodner said it’s a worthy rollout for a massively popular franchise she admits is one of the most valuable properties owned by CBS. (She declined to put a monetary value on the franchise, though CNBC estimated its value at greater than $4 billion roughly a decade ago.) And, Mission New York also allows CBS to balance honoring the franchise’s past with stoking fans’ excitement over Star Trek’s present and future. Star Trek Beyond is still in theaters, though it has grossed less than other recent Star Trek films, and CBS is prepping the rollout of Star Trek: Discovery, the franchise’s first new TV series in roughly a decade, which will debut in early-2017 as part of the slate of original programming on the network’s subscription streaming service, CBS All Access.
Writers from the new TV series are appearing at a Mission New York panel, as CBS looks to get fans excited about the next generation of Star Trek stories.
“One of the things that is remarkable about Star Trek is that it is multi-generational,” Kalodner said. “Families have passed on their love of Star Trek to children and grandchildren, and the new entertainment has brought in those new fans. So, if you come in to one of these conventions, you’ll have programming regardless of the franchise or movie that you love, regardless of your age.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this article mistakenly referred to the late-Leonard Nimoy’s iconic Star Trek character as “Dr. Spock,” which is actually the name of the pediatrician and best-selling author, Dr. Benjamin Spock. Nimoy’s famous character was named, simply, Spock (or, more formally, Mr. Spock). Fortune regrets the error. Live long and prosper.