Earlier this week, the news broke that CBS will launch a new Star Trek television series in January of 2017. Fans everywhere responded with what could only be described as cautious optimism. On the one hand, it’s been over a decade since Star Trek: Enterprise shut down, breaking up a string of shows that spun neatly off into one another for nearly twenty years (1987 to 2005). Fans everywhere are more than ready to embrace new characters and new adventures on a weekly basis. Then again, there are a few items in the press release that could give fans pause: slated for a January 2017 release without a writing staff; launching on CBS All Access; Alex Kurtzman.
While I wouldn’t describe myself as the biggest Star Trek fan, that probably says more about the thoroughness of most Star Trek fans than my own involvement with the franchise. I’ve watched every season of the original series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine through to their completion. I also caught every feature film and even gave Star Trek: Voyager two or three seasons to win me over (it failed). In high school, a family friend would record new episodes of every show on VHS and send them home with my parents. In my late-twenties, when each season was available on Netflix, my dad and I sat down again to re-watch some of our favorite episodes of Deep Space Nine. I probably wouldn’t win a round of Star Trek trivia at the bar, but I’m no Wesley, either.
And that means I have a few big picture thoughts – call them constructive comments – on what a new Star Trek series might look like. The Star Trek fandom has a deserved reputation for being die-hard, progressive and considerate; these are the types of fans that other franchises should be emulating. So listen to us, Kurtzman and company, because if you treat them right, you’ll never have to pay for your own beer in a convention center again.
Here are the five things that we’d like to see with a new Star Trek television series.
You Can Have Your CBS All Access, With a Caveat
Since the news came out that the new Star Trek series would run exclusively on CBS All Access – the television network’s proprietary streaming service – more than a few people have voiced their displeasure with this decision. Not many people care about the online output of the Columbia Broadcasting System, past or present. Die-hard fans of shows like Twin Peaks or The Twilight Zone already own the series on Blu-ray or DVD. Meanwhile, fans of contemporary CBS shows became fans as a result of the network’s formulaic storytelling and easy access. Why add another streaming service to your monthly bill when the appeal of a show comes from the ritual of watching new episodes every week? You take away a show like Blue Bloods and I’d wager people will find a new series rather than pay extra for a poor man’s Hulu.
We can’t exactly shake our fist and demand that a major broadcasting network deliver content to us just because we want it a certain way. The fact that CBS is considering removing a popular license from the broadcast side of the business is another in a series of small steps forward for the industry; it’s only the how of the delivery that needs to be addressed. If CBS is promising that we can watch a big budget Star Trek series alongside every other version of the show for only $5.99 a month, then this would seem like nothing but good news for fans. If, however, the new Star Trek is more in-line with a traditional web series or represents a low-budget experiment by CBS, then you’re out of luck: fans have been doing their own web shows for years, and they probably care more about the show than your writers ever will.
Do Not Tie It into the Ongoing Movie Franchise
Without even a writer associated with the series, it’s far too early to speculate as to whether the Star Trek series will connect itself to the ongoing film franchise. The quotes from the Hollywood Reporter article suggest that the television series will take place in its own slice of the Star Trek universe, with a storyline that introduces “new characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations.” That being said, with Marvel and DC Entertainment both jockeying for success as the king of shared universes, Kurtzman and company might see the perfect precedent for a Star Trek crossover television show. And this would be a mistake.
First is the issue of corporate synergy. Die-hard Star Trek fans are already skeptical that a new series is an online marketing campaign disguised as new television; if you try to tie it into the film franchise as well, you run the risk of alienating your audience before you even have a chance to show them your ideas. Second, though, is the way the Star Trek universe is structured. If the show wants to pass the baton using a recognizable face, that’s one thing. Star Trek has long used cast members from other versions of the show to introduce its spin-offs, including using Picard in the pilot of Deep Space Nine and fan-favorite Quark in the pilot of Voyager. But whereas the MCU and DCU were built with a shared universe in mind, the various versions of Star Trek have muddled the continuity so deeply that untangling it is impossible. Don’t back yourself into a corner with ‘small universe’ tropes. Save the crossovers for time travel and alternate universe episodes.
Bring Back the ‘Boldly’
For years, every film and television property has been tasked with becoming the darkest timeline version of itself. The darker the storyline – and the more morally compromised the protagonist – the more we appreciated it as mature works of fiction. Of course, audiences can only take so much of a single aesthetic before the pendulum swings back in the alternate direction. What was old is now new, and with the release of both The Martian and Tomorrowland this year – and the conversations regarding futurism that both films sparked – we’ve reached a point where optimism might just be cool again. We’ve never been as primed for new Star Trek as we are now.
That makes Alex Kurtzman potentially the biggest question mark for the series going forward. As Matt Singer noted at The Dissolve, Kurtzman and his previous Star Trek collaborator Roberto Orci had a well-established penchant for shadowy conspiracies and flawed systems of power. The first film worked hard to untether itself from continuity and open up the narrative possibilities; it then brought itself immediately into the middle of the pack by writing Star Trek Into Darkness as a half-baked yarn of government corruption. If Star Trek wants to stand out in a current landscape of grimdark television shows, all it has to do is look to its roots: bring back the futurism and humanism of its predecessors and you’ll have a show that not only appeals to your core fan base but also feels like a breath of fresh air.
Don’t Be Afraid To Pull Rank
One of the fun aspects of the later Star Trek shows was their dedication to letting characters grow into positions of power over time. While these series typically spend time with the command teams – the Picards and Siskos of the universe – the writers often recognized when secondary characters were connecting with their audience and slowly expanded their influence. This also allowed the writers to threaten characters whose survival wasn’t already a foregone conclusion. While people may joke about the role that redshirts played in the original series, the truth is that every show had a more-or-less untouchable main cast. And as much as we may love the other versions of Star Trek, it would be hard to pitch a new series where characters are only really in trouble if an actor wants out of his or her contract.
Here is where one of the stereotypes of CBS shows would actually work in Star Trek’s favor: pitch a show of new recruits that don’t immediately take control of the ship and make the command crew somewhat inscrutable. Take a page from a show like Agents of SHIELD, where somewhat grounded characters exist alongside heroes and do their jobs in the shadows of greatness. Haven’t you ever felt bad for the ensigns and civilians when a captain grimly orders his ship to self-destruct? Imagine a Star Trek series where the captain or first officer did not exist as a primary character, but rather, a secondary one, only seen through the eyes of your protagonists. This would serve as a great jumping on point for people who may not be familiar with the Star Trek universe – if those still exist – and help speed up your pitch process. It’s like a hospital drama, but in space!
More Time on the Holodeck
Holodeck episodes have always been something of a mixed bag in Star Trek. When used correctly, they allowed the main characters to step out of their familiar environments and into the realm of movies and books. It was always fun to watch Patrick Stewart play Robin Hood, for example, or Julian Bashir to take a spin as Sam Spade. When used incorrectly, though, they were predictable and repetitive. How many different types of power surges can lead to the holodeck safeties being turned off? How are we supposed to feel when a good episode of Star Trek turns into a bad homage to Dragnet? For the most part, the holodeck was best used in moderation. If two characters need to have a long conversation, put them on the holodeck and have them duel with swords. A little variety can be nice.
So what’s changed since then? The holodeck – which seemed so fantastical in the years surrounding 1990 – isn’t a work of fiction anymore. Gaming companies are demoing new footage daily of people using headsets, gloves, and props to play fully immersive video games. We’ve come a long way since Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in how we think about video games and immersion. If the new series of Star Trek episodes can find a way to make holodecks the same cultural touchpoint they were thirty years ago – and open the doors to the occasional western or horror homage – then the show might appeal to those same video game audiences you’re hoping will download your CBS All Access applications. Just a thought.
Related Topics: Star Trek