After largely dormant for over a decade, ‘Star Trek’ is back in a big, big way. The success of ‘Star Trek: Discovery‘ has in the past year given way not only to further seasons of the flagship series but to an ever widening array of spinoffs. So far, the list of confirmed ‘Trek’ projects includes ‘Discovery’, the ‘Short Treks‘ minisodes, the animated ‘Lower Decks‘, and a pair of untitled shows, one of which will see Patrick Stewart reprise the role of Jean-Luc Picard for the first time in nearly two decades, and another following the exploits of Michelle Yeoh’s Philippa Georgiou as an operative for Section 31. And given that CBS intends to use ‘Star Trek’ to buoy their All Access streaming service, it’s all but guaranteed that there will be even more on the way.
But as exciting as this sudden flood of new ‘Trek’ might be after the decade-long drought that followed the cancellation of ‘Enterprise’, you don’t have to look too hard to find the cloud in this silver lining. After all, the closest analog the franchise has to this sort of boom period is the ‘Next Generation’ era, which saw the premieres of four shows and the release of six theatrical films between 1987 and 2002. Even setting aside the short form content, this new era is on track to match that output (at least on the television front) in a fraction of the time. By contrast, during the nineties, there were never more than two ‘Trek’ shows on the air at any given time, and even that era was accused of inviting franchise fatigue by the end.
Which all that in mind, newly minted mastermind Alex Kurtzman has quite the tightrope to walk. In essence, he has to balance CBS’s demands for new ‘Trek’ content with his team’s ability to produce that material, all while avoiding viewer burnout. Oh, and it would be nice if the various shows were good too. It’s a tall order to say the least, so just how does he plan to meet it? Well, the issue was broached on a recent installment of Variety’s TV Take podcast. Here’s what Kurtzman had to say:
“I want to make sure each show is a different and unique proposition. I think ‘Deep Space Nine’ and ‘Voyager’ got into a tricky spot where people were starting to feel they can’t tell the difference between the shows, even though they were very different, but “I can’t tell the difference so why would I pick one over the other?” Our job is to make sure that it feels like a very different prospect from any other ‘Trek’ show that exists. In the same way in the world of Marvel or in the world of Pixar you have multiple stories coexisting although each one feels different while there is an assumption and an understanding of what the brand identity of what that thing is.”
“Every time you go to a Marvel movie, you kind of know what you are going to get, but one could be ‘Ragnarok’, one could be ‘Black Panther’, and one could be ‘Iron Man’, and all of those have a very different feel, but there is always a premium on storytelling… And even though all their films are different, the one thing you can always expect when you go to a Pixar movie is that the story is going to be great. I want us all to elevate ‘Trek’ to that place. So when you go to watch a show, the expectation is we are going to have great storytelling. The kinds of stories are going to be different and the way we they are told is going to be different, btu I want to build ‘Trek’ to where people assume that about it.”
It’s an interesting take if nothing else. After all, the folks in charge of ‘Star Trek’ at the time were specifically concerned with making sure that each new show had its own identity, one that set it apart from what had come before (‘Deep Space Nine’ was set on a space station and ‘Voyager’ was on the other side of the galaxy, while ‘Enterprise’ was a prequel). Though due to a number of factors, including the overlap of the creative talent involved and simply the way television was made at the time, the various shows often did have a fairly similar feel. On the one hand, this wasn’t the worst thing in that they all felt of a piece. Disparate elements coalescing into a cohesive whole, if you will. But even as an avowed fan of all of these shows, I’d be lying if I said they never erred on the side of formulaic storytelling. This was especially the case in the latter days of the period, in that much as I love ‘Enterprise’, the show employed a very similar storytelling style (at least for the first two seasons) to ‘The Next Generation’, which at the time was a fifteen-year-old show.
All that said, what little we know of the new wave of ‘Trek’ shows does seem to bear out what Kurtzman is saying here. He has, for example, previously stated that the Picard series will be a more contemplative, slower paced affair than the more action-oriented ‘Discovery’. ‘Lower Decks’ is being described as a comedy, and while it’s not entirely clear how that will be executed in a ‘Star Trek’ context, it’s certainly something different. And while we don’t yet know what to expect from the Georgiou/Section 31 series, Kurtzman recently described that organization as “the Jack Bauer of the Starfleet universe.” Whether or not the show ends up being comparable in any way to ’24’, that at least give us a sense of the mindset with which the subject is being approached.
Are you concerned about the looming explosion of ‘Star Trek’ content? How would you avoid franchise fatigue? Is Kurtzman on the right track? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for the latest on these and other upcoming ‘Star Trek’ projects as it becomes available!