Before he won fame as a certain star ship captain, Canadian-born actor William Shatner starred in the pilot for another classic TV series called Alexander the Great, filmed in the mid-1960s. The pilot did not get a pickup, but was eventually released as a TV movie. The movie followed a lot of conventions of sword and sandal movies of the time, relying on garish costumes, a historically suspect plot, and the kind of over the top acting that Shatner was later to become famous for.
The pilot/movie was also a curiosity as it featured, in a supporting role, Adam West, who later went on to appear as Batman in a campy take on The Dark Knight. Rounding out the cast were John Cassavetes, who later became a great film director as well as actor, and Joseph Cotten, a classic film actor made famous by his long association with Orson Welles.
The plot relates the run up to a battle loosely based on Issus, one of the early battles Alexander won in his conquest of the Persian Empire. The Persians are led by a character named Memmon, played by Cliff Osmond, who looks glorious in his curly Persian beard and elaborate robes. The historic Memmon was a Greek mercenary general and was defeated by Alexander at another battle entirely at the Granicus River.
Seeing the movie, made available on DVD, it is easy to realize why it was not picked up as a series. Quality issues aside, the challenges of producing a historical drama week after week on the skimpy budgets of 1960s episodic TV shows would have been as challenging as – well – producing a science fiction space adventure in the same era. Still, the counterfactuals inherent in the show being picked up and running for two or three seasons are fascinating to speculate on. Who would then have been casted as Captain James T. Kirk and how would that have affected, if at all, the fortunes of “Star Trek?”