For the first time in 12 years, Star Trek will be back on television with a new episode. Well, kind of, I guess.
It will be on CBS All Access, the online subscription-based streaming platform that will bring Star Trek into the future. And many fans, including myself, have drawn many parallels between what CBS is doing now in terms of distribution, and what it did 30 years ago, when it launched “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
You remember that, right? First-run syndication was practically unheard of. Back in 1987, if you wanted a television show produced, you approached NBC, CBS, ABC or maybe even Fox. But to bypass all of them, and go straight to the individual television stations themselves? What did Star Trek think it was, a rerun?
But it worked. And it worked beautifully. First-run syndication became (and continues to be) a huge market for television, even with the proliferation of cable shows, and now streaming through the likes of Netflix and Hulu.
I’m sure I’m not alone, but I am happy that Paramount Television took this route decades ago, and brought us TNG. What would our lives be like without Capt. Picard, Cmdr. Riker, Mr. Data, Dr. Crusher, Geordi LaForge, Worf, Counselor Troi, and yes, even Wesley Crusher? It was great … and CBS hopes to capture lightning in a bottle a second time by using Star Trek as a vehicle to make CBS All Access into a true competitor to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.
CBS is paying a lot of homage to TNG in launching this new Star Trek series, including one other thing that has made headlines of late: assembling a dream team to help bring that show to the screen.
We’ve read about all of them. First, it was Alex Kurtzman, who helped write the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot film, as well as “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” Then it was Bryan Fuller, who got his break writing for “Star Trek: Voyager” and has since made critically acclaimed (if not audience-popular) television shows. After that, CBS surprised everyone by bringing Nicholas Meyer aboard, the man responsible for such film gems as “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”
Most recently, CBS threw another curveball to fans, inviting Gene Roddenberry’s son, Rod Roddenberry, as an executive producer. Although his position might be more show than substance, putting all these people together really makes it hard not to be excited about the new Star Trek series.
Yet, I’m still sitting here worried.
Because as they say in “Battlestar Galactica” … “All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”
Paramount prepped a new Star Trek series in the mid-1980s to capitalize on what was definitely a golden period for the franchise. At first, Gene Roddenberry wanted nothing to do with it. But reportedly after seeing what Paramount had come up with for a new show, he came on board and took the reins.
Joining Roddenberry was his own dream team. Bob Justman, the original series producer who would later dub Roddenberry as the “Great Bird of the Galaxy.” D.C. Fontana, a story editor for the original series who also penned 10 popular episodes. Ed Milkis, the post-production wunderkind of the original series that somehow found a way to get finished episodes, with good visual effects, completed on time. And David Gerrold, the prolific writer who brought us Tribbles (and mainstream notoriety).
For fans who were in love with the original “Star Trek,” but worried what would happen to the show 20 years later, who could ask for better reassurance than this? These were some of Star Trek’s best minds, and it was a recipe for instant success.
However, it wasn’t. It was a path to disaster. And one that almost imploded TNG before it could even get out of the first season.
Many stories, and even a documentary from William Shatner, have highlighted this time period. And depending on who you talk to, a lot of blame gets pushed around, especially to Roddenberry himself (and maybe rightfully so).
Yet, we forget that Justman, Fontana, Milkis, Gerrold and especially Roddenberry — they were not the same people desperately trying to keep the original “Star Trek” on the air. Since then, Star Trek had become a massive franchise, one Paramount called its crown jewel. Many of these player had gone from virtual Hollywood unknowns to superstars in the large and ever-growing fandom that was Star Trek.
And suddenly, you had all these great minds in a single room, pressured to demonstrate that what happened 20 years before was not a fluke.
One by one, the TNG dream team got smaller and smaller. Justman, Fontana, Gerrold, even Milkis were gone before the first season ended. Milkis didn’t even make it past the pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint.”
Dream teams don’t necessarily do well. Sure, it worked in 1992 with a bunch of NBA players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. But two years later, a barely functioning dream team of lawyers barely got O.J. Simpson acquitted of a double-homicide.
Making a dream team work is going to take a lot, especially with established people all looking to add their signature to this television show. Fuller has his work cut out for him, but if he can find a way to orchestrate all these personalities, all these perspectives, maybe history won’t repeat itself.
Well, except for the part of TNG later becoming a smash success. That would be nice for this new Star Trek series, because I don’t think any of us want to wait another 12 years for the next one.