This weekend marks the 48th anniversary of the premiere of the very first Star Trek episode on TV. The celebrations are unquestionably low key; I couldn’t even find any acknowledgement of this on the startrek.com website. But I expect things will be very different in two years time. At least, that is what we Trek fans hope. By then, it will be the fiftieth anniversary and we know for certain that at the very least a Star Trek film will be out in two years.
That is much better than what happened during the iconic show’s fortieth anniversary. Nothing happened then. Paramount Pictures didn’t put out a film because of the failure of Star Trek Nemesis, while CBS Television Studios also followed suit since Star Trek: Enterprise was just canceled a year before on UPN.
During that time period both companies felt that the Star Trek franchise needed a rest from the public eye. As we all know, Paramount rebooted the film franchise in 2009 with Star Trek and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness was released last year. While both films were successful, there is a feeling of unease among a large segment of the fanbase. Under director J.J. Abrams’ guidance, they feel as if Star Trek has strayed far from what it’s meant to be; a story of space exploration and encountering the unknown. Instead, they say that the past two films were just modified Star Wars films. That is a hard viewpoint to argue against, since the films emphasized action and thrills over the more cerebral fare that creator Gene Roddenberry championed when he created the original show and Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).
The Star Trek reboot was supposed to reinvigorate the franchise and raise public awareness, but how successful was that goal? How much in the public eye is Star Trek? It’s there for sure but a lot of attention is being paid these days to the latest superhero film or the return of Star Wars, while any news of the upcoming Star Trek sequel gets shrugs. This was really clear when Paramount announced this year that the screenwriter for the past two Star Trek films, Roberto Orci, was tapped to direct the next sequel. He isn’t a big-name director, actually he hasn’t directed anything at all. Yet, he is being entrusted by Paramount to guide the next Star Trek film, which is coming out in the fiftieth anniversary of the original series. You would think that with that much attention the franchise will receive then, that the film studio will want to ensure that a topnotch director will handle the reins. But who knows? Maybe Orci will deliver the kind of Star Trek film its fans have been clamoring for.
The State Of Trek TV
Putting the film series aside, we have to wonder about the state of the TV side of Star Trek. It’s being nearly ten years since we last had a Star Trek TV show. Before that Star Trek in some form or another had existed on TV since 1987. Think about that. For nearly twenty years there was a Star Trek TV show on the TV airwaves. Now there isn’t anything. A drought like this hasn’t existed since the original show was cancelled in 1969. Even then there was the animated TV show that aired in the mid-70s that helped mollify fans until the film series started in 1979.
It would’ve been nice if CBS had announced that they were developing a new Star Trek show, maybe one that would be ready in 2016. But so far, nothing, which stinks because it gives the impression that CBS doesn’t hold Star Trek in high regard. It’s been reported on the Internet, that there is some tension between Paramount and CBS over Star Trek and that supposedly Abrams didn’t want any Star Trek shows out while his Bad Robot’s production company produces the Star Trek films. A case can be made that having a TV show airing while a film is concurrently released is overkill. Producer Harve Bennett partly blamed the failure of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier on the fact that TNG was airing at the same time. Of course, what didn’t help that film was that it sucked. Then again there have been times when Star Trek films were successful during a show’s run. That would be Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact, all of which were released during the runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
Another point made about the lack of Star Trek shows now is that the well has run creatively dry. That was certainly the case with former showrunner Rick Berman and his partner Brannon Braga. But as seen with the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise, when they handed the show over to Manny Coto, the show felt fresh and hit a creative high. Sadly, it was too late for that show. This proves that a new set of eyes would bring something new to Star Trek.
One of the franchise’s clear strengths is that it’s a well-developed universe with rich characters and dynamic situations. All of the Star Trek spinoffs examined different aspects of the Star Trek universe so it’s fairly easy to come up with a new angle in the original universe. A new show could explore the Star Trek universe far into the future and do something radical, say a fall of the Federation storyline. Or it could be set in another part of the galaxy. Or it can just go back to its roots like Star Trek: Enterprise tried to do and be about explorers out in the unknown.
Summing up, it has to be said that Star Trek belongs on TV. Sure the films are fun with their cool special effects and all, but many of the films lack something that the TV shows offer. A chance to be reflective and examine ideas and characters. Many of the greatest episodes among all the shows were character studies or were high concept. Also the years-long wait between films isn’t tolerable anymore. Star Trek has to remain in the public eye and it’s hard to do that with so much competition. Other properties like the Marvel films and soon Star Wars are staying relevant by having new material available, which meets public demand. Sure, the property has to be careful about over-saturation, but with the right handling, more Trek can be fed out to fans without going into overkill.
Hopefully by this time in two years time, there will be an end to the Star Trek drought.