Before the cross-examination, just the facts: CBS is making a new Star Trek TV series. It premieres in January 2017 for a one-night only event, before they send the series to their streaming service CBS All Access. It’s a new crew, new wonders kind of show, and Alex Kurtzman will executive produce. He co-wrote 2009’s Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, so we can speculate on the kind of Trek he’s envisioning. While these movies garnered a large fan base and really brought Star Trek back into the mainstream, many existing Trek fans felt that the film franchise expanding into its third installment in 2016 (Star Trek Beyond) was light on the ethical quandaries that were the bread and butter for both Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. By and large, however, they didn’t feel strongly enough to put much dent into the financial success of the films.
That’s the bare bones story, just the facts ma’am, official news version. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we need to know. While I would be happy to spew a thousand questions at the screen, I can narrow them down to 3 big ones.
- What Is CBS All Access? ??? ?
Here’s an enactment of my initial reaction to reading the news on io9.com:
It’s pretty harsh when a new Star Trek TV series is eclipsed by a revelation about a streaming medium. It turns out that CBS has a streaming service. The more you know, right?
In a way, this move is just further confirming what we’ve basically known all along: Netflix is the god-king of our era. Netflix has made the jump from just supplying content to creating content themselves, and they’re getting official credit (awards, nominations, huge buzz about their work online and throughout the media) and unofficial credit (as in, all those credit cards pumping dollars into their service every month). Netflix is leading the way and it seems like CBS is following.
Creating content for a streaming platform is middle ground territory at this point. The real risk (and presumably, the real rewards) have been taken by Netflix, and then Amazon Prime, and now it’s not super risky anymore. It’s been proven that a good original series will make money for its streaming platform. CBS All Access is boldly going where at least several companies have gone before, and trying to pass it off as more exciting than it is.
Honestly, most of the draw of streaming only shows is similar to the draw of HBO shows. They’re free to tackle darker topics as well as swear, sex, and shoot it up without consequence. This doesn’t always mean a better show than shows that don’t have those, but it does allow them to push the envelope. CBS All Access doesn’t seem like it’s free from the requirements of its network owners. I doubt we’re going to see a Star Trek without boundaries, so to speak. Having it online isn’t objectively better than having it on TV as far as I can tell.
- What Time Line Is This Series Set In?
This is not trivial. This could not be less trivial. No matter where in the timeline the show is set (from after Voyager to before Enterprise) it matters which universe this is going to be in. Is this a world where Vulcans are all but destroyed? Remember that Vulcans make up the majority of diplomatic attaches and are a huge, very pacifistic force in the Star Trek universe. Without their coolness, Federation politics are about to get a lot more volatile.
Plus, after Star Trek Into Darkness, we know that the Federation was in a severely weakened position following the destruction of a lot of their fleet and headquarters. Khan’s presence in this timeline is a much more complex encounter than Space Seed and Wrath of Khan (which are objectively better tellings of the Khan story, they just are, come down into the comments and fight me).
Also, are we going to ignore the fact that the Reboot series includes a Federation where they just give the most expensive ships ever made to some kid who did great at a training simulation and “solved” one crisis by basically dying and then not? I don’t know. It just seems to say a lot about the change in management that happened thanks to the timeline diversion that one Captain Kirk is basically a talented undergrad fresh from his last kegger and one is a brilliant, decorated officer in his early 30’s who worked his way up the ranks. These are cultural changes to Star Trek that go far beyond me being snarky at the Reboot: one speaks of, frankly, a much more desperate time. I don’t see the Federation of the Reboot evolving into the money-free society of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Reboot is a much more grim presentation of the future.
Are we getting a Star Trek where the conflicts are external and the Federation is as close to a functioning Utopia (with some instances of corruption) as possible to imagine? Or are we getting the Reboot, where morals have to be dragged through the mud before they’ll stick to the wall?
If they’re going to bank on the nerd vote to bring this new Star Trek TV series to popularity, they have to put up with some nerd questions. Sorry, not sorry.
- How Do They Envision This Moving beyond the Monetizing of Nerd Love?
And finally, real world talk: what are they bringing to the table to Star Trek besides the fact that, well, it’s Star Trek? This is a clear case of hopeful “build it and they will come”. People love Star Trek. Put new Star Trek behind a pay wall. Receive cash.
I’m not against people getting paid for their Art. I’m not against anyone who contributes to Art getting back what they put into it, and hopefully a little more. This isn’t about outrage at the idea that someone is not going to give me something for free. I have loved Star Trek harder and longer and more purely than I’ve loved anything else in my life; my attachment to the story is huge, but I work hard to keep my entitlement small. It’s not mine just because I love it. But I am concerned.
The official press release promises us that “The brand-new “Star Trek” will introduce new characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring the dramatic contemporary themes that have been a signature of the franchise since its inception in 1966.”
It also assures us that “The new television series is not related to the upcoming feature film “Star Trek Beyond,” which is scheduled to be distributed by Paramount Pictures in summer 2016.” (Cue screaming to know which timeline it’s set in in the background.)
It’s hard for me to fully buy into this promise. Not just because I didn’t see a ton of dramatic contemporary themes being a signature in Star Trek or Star Trek Into Darkness (again, come down to the comments and fight me, nerds) but because this is the first original series that CBS All Access is putting together. It needs, therefore, to be a huge success. They need to get out of it much, much more than they’re putting in. Anytime anyone wants more than they’re willing to give, I’m suspicious.
To summarize: I am a nerd. I love Star Trek. I like to put my money where my mouth is, and 2017 might very well see me paying a subscription to CBS All Access in order to watch precisely one show. Until then, I’m going to look eagerly for evidence that they want to give the show as much as they expect to get out of the franchise’s established fan base.