What is Star Trek about? I don’t mean who made it (Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman, JJ Abrams), who starred in it (Shatner, Nimoy, Stewart, Quinto, etc.), or what was the basic premise (the adventures of the crew of a spaceship in an idealized version of the future). I’m not even trying to be specific to any one version of Star Trek, be it the Original Series, Next Generation, or even Star Trek Into Darkness. I am asking what, at the end of the day, is Star Trek really about? It’s not specific to one man or character nor is it really obstructed by pop culture’s love for hating Star Trek fans. When it comes down to it, Star Trek is just about people exploring new places and discovering new stuff. That core principle has been twisted and contorted to fit new mediums over the years, but it was an idea designed for the weekly exploits of a TV series, not every-once-in-a-while big budget movies. It’s an idea the J.J. Abrams films, for all of their strengths, seem to have actively run away from, pushing off the whole “5 year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations” thing for as long as possible.
As a result, Star Trek fans new and old have been left in an odd position these past couple of years, forced to accept new movies when in fact they might simply have preferred a new TV show (something is better than nothing, right?). That’s how you have someone like Michael Dorn out there seemingly talking crazy talk (a new show centered on his Next Generation character Worf as the captain of his own ship, co-starring Marina Sirtis and LeVar Burton, in no way connected to the new movies) and receiving national media attention. The same thing happened when Bryan Singer tried to get a new Star Trek TV show off the ground, or when David Foster made waves in 2011 with his concept for a new 5-7 season series in “pre-2009 screen canon.”
Basically, everyone looks at what’s happening in film and TV right now (the Franchise/proven property is king!) and doesn’t understand why something like 12 Monkeys gets a TV series (albeit a truly awesome one) while Star Trek does not. If Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan, and Search for Spock helped get us to Next Generation surely the 2009 Star Trek and Into Darkness will lead us to the next Next Generation, right? I mean, come on! Next year is Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary, and the only celebration Paramount has planned is a new movie which doesn’t even have a finished script yet even though it starts filming next month. Beyond that, we have no real idea what they’re up to. As of right now it looks really bad compared to the remarkably engaging 50th anniversaries enjoyed by Doctor Who and James Bond in recent years. A new Star Trek TV show would sound nice, but it seems highly unlikely to happen soon.
Why We Still Don’t Have a New Star Trek TV Series As of late 2013, not even J.J. Abrams knew what the deal was, telling Entertainment Weekly:
I have been hearing for as long as I can remember that CBS, who has the rights to the series, has just been saying they’re not interested. That’s the word I’ve been told.
That’s an important distinction he made, referring to CBS. The actual film/TV rights for Star Trek don’t rest at the same place. Paramount and Abrams’ Bad Robot are responsible for the movies, but CBS owns television and most of the consumer products licensing. A new TV series is apparently more on them than anyone else, and they didn’t have much to say at the time:
We love the Star Trek franchise, its fan base and the many possibilities for its future when the time is right.
Devin Faraci of BadAssDigest, the place behind many a comic book movie rumor, indicated his inside sources told him:
CBS is still feeling burned by the post-TNG glut of Trek shows. They feel that the number of series they had going made the franchise feel less special, and they’re gunshy about having too much Trek in the public eye. Right now they’re pretty happy with the attention the movies are getting and they’re in no rush to dilute it.
That actually makes total sense. It was a fan’s dream having Deep Space Nine and Voyager going at the same time that Next Generation movies were happening in the ‘90s, but to an outsider it probably just seemed like a crap-ton of Star Trek, fodder for all those nerds (Hey, screw you, hypothetical other guy!). Plus, even with everything J.J. Abrams did to make Star Trek cool for a general audience he still ultimately failed to catapult the franchise into elite status, at least as measured by box office. Moreover, Into Darkness indicated Paramount still has trouble selling Star Trek to young people, with only a quarter the film’s opening weekend audience being under the age of 25 compared to nearly half (45%) of the audience for that summer’s true blockbuster, Iron Man 3, ticking the under-25 box. The tie-in video game they made also tanked.
So, it really seems like it’s the long-time fans who are campaigning for another TV series, largely due to dissatisfaction with the Abrams movies and fond Next Generation/DS9 memories. Paramount, on the other hand, hired Justin Lin to make the next movie, a guy you hire off of Fast & Furious for the sole purpose of finally getting Star Trek over the box office hump, not to return it to its roots. CBS seems disinterested in the whole affair.
How It Could Come Back
Mark Altman of TrekMovie.com argues what pretty much everyone in Hollywood thinks about anything these days: Why can’t they just copy off Marvel Studios?
It’s a great idea, really, but it faces the same exact problem everyone else has which is there is only one Kevin Feige. For the Marvel model to work, you need a Svengali figure, a true visionary not only masterminding everything and following a well-thought-out plan but doing so without having to cut through the normal Hollywood studio red tape while also maintaining good working relationships with all of the directors, writers, actors, etc. Part of the problem is not just finding the right person for the job but also creating the right infrastructure which can accommodate that model, and outside of Marvel Studios no one else really has that other than maybe John Lasseter’s lordship over Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar or Kathleen Kennedy’s control over the new Star Wars universe, both of which have had behind-the-scenes scuffling indicating early growing pains. But if Star Wars suddenly has an animated series setting the stage for a new trilogy of films and spin-offs, which are all moving forward with precision-timing, each one seemingly recruiting a more promising new filmmaker (Gareth Edwards! Rian Johnson!) than the last, why can’t Star Trek do the same kind of thing with more of a TV element?
Altman has no real answer for who would be their Kevin Feige, but he does have an interesting take on who might be available to work as a showrunner on a hypothetical new series:
There’s also some huge Trek fans out there who you’d never associate with the franchise and whose end result I couldn’t begin to imagine which would make it even more exciting. Some of the names that come to mind are the man behind “The Negron Factor,” Mad Men’s Matt Weiner (who used to hang out with the Star Trek writers back when he was on the lot doing Becker) and uber fan Seth McFarlane as well as filmmakers like Bryan Singer. But you’d be shocked to know how many established TV showrunners and Co-Ep’s are major Trekkers who would do virtually anything (and work for less than their quote) to shepherd a new Star Trek to the screen. Much like AMC’s infamous bake-off’s, it’d be great for CBS Studios to hear a myriad pitches from some of the town’s most accomplished writers to hear their thoughts on new directions for the franchise we couldn’t even begin to contemplate.
Where would such a show end up? That’s the problem. CBS has the rights, and Star Trek absolutely does not fit their profile. Netflix and Amazon aren’t going to be able to swoop in here, although a deal like CBS has with Amazon for Stephen King’s Under the Dome is one potential model. No, the only potential homes for any kind of new Star Trek show would be on something CBS owned, and after you discount the actual CBS channel you’re left with Showtime, EPIX (which Paramount owns), and the CW (which CBS co-owns with Warner Bros.). Showtime could make something like a sci-fi Game of Thrones, EPIX would seem more like a spiritual successor to the syndicated days of Next Gen, and the CW would probably do a Starfleet Academy kind of thing, filled with crazy hot young actors and love triangles galore. The CW would love that! Its president, Mark Pedowitz was asked about it earlier this year at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, “As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I would hope to have Star Trek at The CW. Hopefully it will get released and we’ll be able to look at it as a TV series. At the moment it’s a feature film and I have heard no discussion about it going out as a TV show at all.” Todd Vanderwerff, formerly of AVClub and now of Vox.com, has a slightly different opinion for how this should play out. He’s not so interested in Star Trek getting its own Kevin Feige or where exactly contractual rights would lead it. He wants to see whether or not Star Trek could maybe work as an anthology series, ala True Detective, American Horror Story, or Fargo. He basically looks at the joy Altman expressed over the prospect of an all-star bake-off and wonders why anyone would have to lose? Why not take the True Detective model even further and actually replace show-runners each season, not just actors?
Hannibal and Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller (a Trek alum), for instance, would love to make a Trek series with Angela Bassett as captain of a starship. With the anthological miniseries format, both Fuller and Bassett could squeeze a 10-episode season into their busy schedules. Or think of what Battlestar Galactica‘s Ron Moore (who worked on many Trek series before BSG) could do by returning to the universe that gave him his big break in television, with everything he’s learned since. Wouldn’t you kill to see him reunite with the Next Generation cast for one last big adventure? The wickedly sly and funny Jane Espenson, who’s written for everything from Buffy to Once Upon a Time, also worked on Trek. Give her a dream cast and the budget to make a series of adventures featuring that cast, and I’d bet you’d see something amazing, and possibly more comedic than Trek usually gets.
What he’s talking about kind of reminds of a TV show version of how comic books sometimes do special issues where every other page of a story is animated by a different yet equally prominent artist, ala the first issue of DC’s new Harley Quinn comic book a little over a year ago. It sounds fun, impossible, likely unrealistic, the complete opposite of the way all the old Star Trek shows beautifully connected to each other, but fun. It’s like what if instead of 7 seasons a piece for Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager overlapping each other, each show with an almost completely different cast, you had just one short season of Next Gen followed by a totally different season of DS9 followed by…well, you get the idea.
I don’t know how well that idea would actually work, especially as far as how it relates to the movies, but I do agree that Star Trek needs to be back on TV. Towards the end of its TV life, Star Trek was finally starting to explore long-form serialized storytelling, such as the Dominion War of Deep Space Nine, or the season-long Xindi story of Enterprise. That type of storytelling is commonplace now, and it’d be great to see Star Trek get the chance to adapt to the new landscape. But that’s all in the land of the mostly hypothetical. In the here and now, we have a movie on the way. Maybe once this new trilogy of films is done CBS will be willing to start talking TV series again. The more pressing concern, really, is that Simon Pegg and company finish that dang script.
What do you think about Star Trek’s future or lack thereof on TV? Do you actually really like the whole “let’s just make it Sci-Fi True Detective?” thing? Let me know in the comments.