You can’t possibly enter into the Blerd world without being either Star Wars, or Star Trek. I can’t say that we were all a bit disappointed and left starving after Archer’s “These are the Voyages”.
Star Trek Discovery fits into the normal Star Trek timeline, about 10 years before the iconic 5 year mission of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the gang. With Discovery being renewed for a second season with Sonequa Martin-Green playing a wonderful, memorable role.
This is an article in ArsTechnica that discusses the rocky and now hopefully smooth roads ahead for the franchise. Hope your enjoy.
On May 13, 2005, Star Trek: Enterprise ended its four-season run with the controversial two-part finale, “These Are the Voyages… ” The finale infamously brought in cast members from The Next Generation to tell the final chapter in Enterprise’s story, and it was viewed by some as a disrespectful and ignominious end to 18 almost-unbroken years of Trek on the small screen.
Generously put, many fans considered this a low point in the franchise’s history. With Enterprise, some fans blamed the anemic finale on the series’ often-uneven writing. Others blamed Rick Berman, who had been Star Trek’s Nerd-in-Chief since Gene Roddenberry’s passing in 1991. And still others blamed the rise of “darker” and more heavily serialized sci-fi fare like Battlestar Galactica (although BSG showrunner Ron Moore first dabbled in this style, largely successfully, in the latter seasons of Deep Space Nine).
But no matter who or what was to blame, Trekkies everywhere were suddenly in an odd position—left to wonder if the universe they’d come to know and love for almost four decades would make it to its 50th birthday. Star Trek was off the airwaves with no successor series waiting in the wings for the first time since 1987. And for some salt in the wound, it had even been three years since the last TNG-cast film, Nemesis, which had been poorly received by most fans and critics. (Its predecessor, Insurrection, hadn’t fared much better.)
Was this going to be the end of Trek as we knew it?
Hindsight, of course, is VISOR-level clear. The latest era of Trek films has attracted some of the biggest names in film to the franchise, and a new series—Star Trek: Discovery—just debuted to plenty of fanfare despite its unusual viewing situation. With confirmed new films and seasons on the way, the future of Trek seems brighter today than perhaps at any other point in the voyages of the Starship Enterprise (or various other ships boldly going). So, what happened within the last dozen years to right this franchise ship? Let’s just say, resolving corporate machinations or creative differences doesn’t happen at warp-speed.
Rumors of revival
Even at the lows of the Enterprise end, most people assumed that Star Trek was too valuable an intellectual property to disappear forever. But there were concerns at the time over how long the franchise would lie fallow before being revived; not to mention, what could a revival even look like at that point?
Back then, Star Trek’s future faced complications that had nothing to do with scripts or a writer’s room. A month after Enterprise exited the stage, CBS split from the Viacom family it had joined in 1999. As part of the separation, CBS would retain the rights to distribute existing episodic Star Trek material and develop new series, but Paramount (still with Viacom) would have the rights to past and future motion picture projects.
That uncertainty only increased with the sputtering flame-out of the TNG-cast films and the cancellation of Enterprise. Combined, they amplified fan concerns that it would be years before we’d see an effort to launch a new Star Trek project. But as it turns out, there were negotiations and rumors of negotiations before Enterprise’s body was even cold.
Back then, as today, the Internet was rife with Hollywood rumors and future ideas or deals. Those looking for hope could find purported news of a whole host of Trek films and series in the works. And in early 2006, two strong contenders emerged: an animated series being pitched to CBS and a motion picture project at Paramount.
The animated project was eventually titled Star Trek: Final Frontier. It would be set in the first half of the 26th Century, jumping almost 150 years forward from the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. The creators pitching the idea hoped that animation would provide, as it had for Star Wars, a way to create fresh stories in a beloved fictional universe without requiring skittish studio execs to approve expensive live-action productions. Snippets of character profiles and concept art found their way online, including sketches of 26th Century Starfleet uniforms and a boxy-but-recognizable riff on the USS Enterprise. CBS ultimately expressed an initial interest, according to the series’ development team, and a pilot script was created.
Around the same time, the film project at Paramount started gaining steam when the studio reached out to J.J. Abrams and two of his frequent collaborators, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. All three were working with Paramount on Mission: Impossible III at the time, and Paramount asked Orci specifically—a known Trekkie—for ideas on reinvigorating the franchise. After multiple rounds of discussions, it was announced in April 2006 that J.J. Abrams would develop (i.e. direct and produce) the eleventh Star Trek feature film. Orci and Kurtzman were brought on board as writers, and Damon Lindelof (another frequent Abrams collaborator) would co-produce.
The movie would revisit the 23rd century and revolve around the exploits of a young Captain Kirk and crew during and just after their time at Starfleet Academy. In essence, it was a reboot of the characters and premise of the original 1966 Star Trek television series—although Paramount insisted on referring to it as a “reimagining” rather than as a reboot (time would prove this was arguably for good reason).
Incidentally, this wasn’t the first time that the idea had been floated of returning the franchise to Kirk & Co.’s school years. Harve Bennett, who had produced multiple original-cast Trek films in the 1980s, had pitched something similar (Star Trek: The First Adventure) for the sixth film in the series. That project never made it past a script.
Abrams’ “reimagining” ultimately had something that Bennett’s hadn’t—the full backing of the studio. And Rick Berman, after helming the franchise for 14 years, had quietly been shown the door (through which he graciously stepped, to his credit). As far as Paramount was concerned, Abrams’ Trek would be the new Trek.
While Abrams’ Trek pushed forward, the Final Frontier animated project would stumble on for only a couple more years. A few scripts would be written, a bit more concept art created. But by the time the first of the new films came out in 2009, this television counterpart was effectively dead. The series’ creators later chalked it up to layoffs at Startrek.com (once a potential distribution target) and management reshuffling at CBS Interactive. The world would have to wait for Star Trek’s return to the small screen.
Between its announcement in April of 2006 and its premiere in May of 2009, the production of the first Abrams-helmed Star Trek film ignited the fanbase in a way that hadn’t been seen in a very long time. Chatter wasn’t all positive, of course. As with every iteration of every fictional franchise in entertainment history, each murmur of excitement was matched with a cluck of disapproval—each word of praise for cast and crew selection, or production design, matched by vocal criticism. But slowly, in a series of tightly controlled reveals by Abrams and his team, we saw our new crew and our new Enterprise, and we finally got our new Star Trek movie.
Looking back, Abrams and his stable of writers and producers side-stepped the “reboot versus reimagining” issue in a manner that some of us (including me) thought was rather clever but other fans thought was a bit of a dodge. Anticipating concerns about decades of Trek canon being tossed out with a reboot, the film team instead set these new works in an alternate timeline (later dubbed the “Kelvin” timeline, to distinguish it from the “Prime” timeline in which most other Star Trek stories have been set). This choice gave Abrams and co. some latitude: they could tell a new origin story for the original crew while still preserving everything that had come before.
Plenty of Trek fans and reviewers have analyzed this decision (and the resulting timeline) since. I generally find Abrams’ approach favorable but acknowledge there have been some real problems along the way. In short, 2009’s Star Trek was a fun ride and a serviceable backdrop for getting the band together, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness started strong but went off the rails in the back half, and 2016’s Star Trek Beyond—possibly benefiting from lowered expectations after Into Darkness—wrapped a decent (if not terribly complex) story in a lot of the same flash-and-pop fun vein of the 2009 movie.
Although the writing in these new films has often disappointed, one thing many fans have near-universally enjoyed is the new cast. And personally, that was perhaps my biggest concern leading up to the first film in this new trilogy. Recasting such an iconic set of characters seemed like a daunting task, the undertaking of which was bound to fall short. But as it turns out, Trek fans have generally found the cast ranges from “good enough” to downright excellent. And while the stories told in the “Kelvin” timeline movies may be viewed as a mixed bag so far, the dialog between these characters—certainly a highlight of the older films featuring the original actors cast in these roles—has remained a treat.
Abrams has infamously double-dipped in the hallowed sci-fi cannon with his participation in Disney’s latest Star Wars reboot, but there will almost certainly be at least one more movie set in the “Kelvin” timeline featuring these recast original characters. For now, despite reports of the franchise’s first female director or the interest of a certain highly stylistic and pulp-y filmmaker, what a “Star Trek 4” looks like remains the fodder of message boards and forums.
All while Paramount was bringing a string of variably-successful Star Trek films to a theater near you, CBS never quite gave up on the idea of bringing it back to the small screen. And why would they? Television is where Trek had been born, and many would argue that it’s where Trek really shines.
Throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s, a number of TV projects popped up in the Trekkie rumor mill. Two of the most prominent were, unsurprisingly, proposals for animated series. One alleged project was to be set in the same “Kelvin” timeline as Abrams’ films (and was pitched by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), and another was set in the “Prime” timeline way in the 31st century, called Star Trek: Federation (pitched by X-Men’s Bryan Singer).
Ultimately, CBS poked at both proposals but didn’t bite on either one. Later, an Entertainment Weekly cover story would reveal this may have partially been due to its arrangement with Paramount—while CBS had the rights to develop new series, there was reportedly an embargo on such a series appearing. As EW reported:
The film division was given the priority to reboot Trek as a big-screen franchise (which was successfully achieved by director-producer J.J. Abrams, starting with 2009’s Star Trek), while CBS was under embargo to hold off releasing a new series until January 2017, six months after the launch of Star Trek Beyond.
That, of course, didn’t stop CBS from doing work behind the scenes. The company in fact took a page out of Paramount’s playbook from the late 1990s and began developing a new Star Trek series to serve as the flagship for a new CBS network—except that the network, in this case, was an online streaming video platform.
In September of 2016, it was announced that Bryan Fuller (of Pushing Daisies and Hannibal fame) would be the showrunner for a new, live-action Star Trek series that would be a key piece of content (some would say the key piece of content) on the proprietary CBS All Access streaming platform.
“[CBS CEO] Leslie Moonves, our COO Joe Ianniello, and I all sort of said, ‘Wow, this could be a franchise that really puts All Access on the map,’” CBS Interactive President Marc DeBevoise told EW for that Star Trek: Discovery cover story mentioned above. “It organically grew out of the company wanting to reboot the franchise and having a streaming service that could benefit greatly from having an anchor series.”
In the end, the deal to create Discovery ended up being a little more complex. Other content distributors (notably Netflix) would heavily subsidize the production of the series in exchange for the rights to distribute it on their own platforms outside of the United States. Within the United States, the series would remain exclusively available on CBS All Access.
It’s fair to say that most fans agreed that wasn’t the way they would’ve preferred to see the new series distributed. Reactions ranged from reluctant acceptance to all-out boycott. Famed Trek reviewer Timothy Lynch recently told Ars in January that he hadn’t even seen the new series yet due to this unorthodox arrangement.
But production and distribution deals do not the meat of a new Star Trek series make. The events of the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, would be nestled into the crowded timeline of the “Prime” universe a decade or so prior to the events of the original Star Trek series of the 1960s. In addition to Bryan Fuller, a raft of early personnel announcements buoyed fans’ expectations for the series. Nicholas Meyer, the director (and uncredited writer) of the widely revered Wrath of Khan (in addition to holding writing credits on The Voyage Home and directing The Undiscovered Country), was going to serve as a consultant to the writing team (his eventual title would be “consulting producer”). Even Rod Roddenberry, CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment and son of the Great Bird himself, was getting an EP credit.
Eventually, Fuller’s involvement came to an end. Some said production on Discovery was moving too slowly for him, and he had other projects he wanted to pursue (such as Starz’s adaptation of American Gods), and some said that he had moved too slowly for CBS and had been too distracted by those other projects. Either way, Fuller was out, but many of his ideas for Discovery’s first season would stay and ultimately make it to the small screen.
As with the Abramsverse, Discovery’s first season has been analyzed in depth again and again by Trek fans and followers everywhere (including Ars’ Annalee Newitz, whose reviews I’d encourage you to check out). Suffice it to say that the show didn’t please all the people all the time, but it definitely pleased some of the people some of the time. This debut season was dominated by a gritty war story, a couple of plot twists, a jaunt through the Mirror Universe, and—possibly the series’ greatest achievement—a diverse ensemble cast that brought to life some of the most complex, deepest characters in Star Trek’s history.
And most importantly, by CBS’ reckoning at least, the show was successful enough to warrant a second season. No Star Trek: Enterprise redux for now.