CBS’s TV Domination Means Trek Might Only Return As A Sexy Procedural

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Regardless of how much you and I want to see Star Trek return to the TV, we aren’t the ones who control the latinum.

The big problem is the sticky nature of this IP. Corporate ownership of Star Trek is not under one house: Paramount has film rights and CBS has TV rights. Beyond the potential for legal issues interfering with the creative process, like we saw with production delays on The Hobbit movie, there is one really big problem with this.

CBS is totally killing it right now.

Of the top 50 shows on network television, according to Entertainment Weekly, a whopping 28 of them are on CBS. Of the top 10, six are CBS shows and – if it weren’t for Monday Night Football – the network would have the top three shows period: The Big Bang Theory (19M viewers), NCIS (18M), and NCIS: New Orleans (17M).

We are sure locked on procedurals

The heart of CBS’s current smash success is procedural dramas. In addition to the two NCIS programs mentioned, their top 50 shows include Criminal Minds, Scorpion, Blue Bloods, Hawaii 5-0, The Good Wife, Person of Interest, The Mentalist, CSI, Elementary, and Stalker. Oh and NCIS: LA and a repeat of NCIS: New Orleans. (Moreover, the rest of the top 50 includes a lot of procedurals on other networks.)  So telling CBS to gamble on something other than a procedural right now would be like telling Marvel Studios to stop doing super-hero movies. Seriously, if we want Trek back on TV we should be pitching a series where hologram Moriarty travels through time solving crimes with Reg Barclay, sexy alternate universe Hoshi Sato, and a wise-cracking exo-comp.

“The solution, Leftenant Barclay, Empress Sato, Sparkbot 9000, is elementary.”

      “The solution, Leftenant Barclay, Empress Sato, Sparkbot 9000, is elementary.”

 

Now what goes up must eventually come down. Creative success of this kind tends to be cyclical:

  • the network takes a risk on an untested property and
  • audiences respond to it because it’s so different so
  • studio executives repeat that formula ad naseum and
  • audiences eventually lose interest so
  • the network takes risks on untested properties and
  • yadda yadda yadda

The best example of this is what happened in the 1990s with Seinfeld – which shared a lot of cast members with Trek. It was an innovative when it started, but in one of the latter seasons George says, “Nowadays, whenever you turn on the TV all you see are four idiots whining about their dates!”

 

An interesting theory…

Despite all this procedural nonsense, we must remember that the No. 1 non-football related show on TV is the least football-y thing imaginable: The Big Bang Theory, whose guest stars have included Trek royalty like LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and of course Wil Wheaton.

The craziest thing in all of this (to me at least) is the painfully obvious opportunity for synergy CBS would have between a new Trek series and The Big Bang Theory. I mean, I don’t like the show, but if want to really promote the new Trek series? Have the BBT gang go to a convention and meet all the new cast. Then have the BBT actors guest star on episodes of the new series. Like Sheldon could show up as a Rogue Q and take the new ship back in time to witness our whole universe in a hot, dense state.

Honestly this would make a gagh-ton more sense than putting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on an episode of Voyager to cross-promote the show with UPN’s wrestling shows.

But given that CBS has not already jumped on this, it seems logical (ahem) to conclude the network will only take risks once it stops dominating the airwaves.

Further complicating matters, the real money in Star Trek is in its merchandising – and it’s unclear what percentage of that CBS might get as a kick-back. UPN could run Enterprise as a loss-leader if the show was still serving as essentially high-quality advertisement for conventions and action figures, but if CBS doesn’t see any of that why should they care?

So if you really want to bring Star Trek back, stop watching CBS. Particularly Big Bang Theory.

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NCIS: Qo’noS — I like it!

Congratulations to Bob on Scorpion and Hawaii 5-0. Very bizarre editorial. Intended as humor? Desperation? Not sure.

I’d like to see Trek back on TV, but with the Kirk and Spock characters. A better looking ship the the JJ version would be nice.

“So if you really want to bring Star Trek back, stop watching CBS. Particularly Big Bang Theory”

Hear, hear sir!

Yes, but what you’re forgetting is that just because CBS owns the rights, it doesn’t mean it would have to air on CBS. CBS owns Showtime, amongst other properties. Why not a ST series on Showtime, a’la Homeland?

Beh, I hate bing bang theory…but i look forward Supergirl

I quite like your notion of any new ‘Trek’ a show cast getting a ‘crossover’ introduction at a ‘convention’ in ‘The Big Bang Theory’, Jared…but I certainly wouldn’t like see ‘Sheldon’ & co. appearing on the ‘Trek’ show itself.

However, if CBS announce that they want to give us a less ‘Star Trek-y’ show, then anything goes I guess. ;)

“Seriously, if we want Trek back on TV we should be pitching a series where hologram Moriarty travels through time solving crimes with Reg Barclay, sexy alternate universe Hoshi Sato, and a wise-cracking exo-comp.” Not necessarily a bad idea! Seriously, if the stories had thoughtful, compelling Star Trek-type themes, clever writing and likeable, compelling performers, a wide variety of dramatic premises—including your facetious one, Whitley—could work out great. I’m not one to place limits on the more superficial attributes of what makes good Star Trek. It’s the meat & potatoes, the philosophical and spiritual core, that made Star Trek great and unique from the very beginning. When you listen to Gene Roddenberry in old interviews talk about the fundamental attributes of Trek, you don’t hear him focusing on Spock’s ears, or the design of the Enterprise. By and large, he talks about the values and sensibilities of his science fiction show—the potential of humanity and a set of values promoted by Trek. That’s the core of Trek, not whether it’s set on a starship, on a space station, at Star Fleet Command on Earth, in the Delta Quadrant, or traveling through time solving crimes. Though having time-travel as a regular occurrence would make it more difficult to ignore all of the paradoxes and logic problems associated with time-travel plots. But, a more whimsical show based on the Department of Temporal Investigations from DS9 Trials and Tribble-ations? It could work for fans and the masses if it stayed true to the… Read more »

“Further complicating matters, the real money in Star Trek is in its merchandising – and it’s unclear what percentage of that CBS might get as a kick-back.”

I would like this point developed a bit. Why is it “unclear?” If CBS owns the TV rights, then wouldn’t their merch deal for a new Trek series on TV be determined by their negotiations with the company producing the show and the writers who create the new characters and other merch-able content for the show? If Paramount has nothing to do with the new show, then the merch licensing would seem to be a deal between CBS and the contracted creatives.

1. NuFan – May 29, 2015

Very bizarre editorial. Intended as humor? Desperation? Not sure.

The point of the article is a speculation on the likelihood of CBS doing a new Trek series, based on the performance and genres of its current, very successful roster of TV shows.

How is that not clear? And how are you able to enjoy science fiction if you find this rather straightforward editorial “very bizarre?”

Even Chekov couldn’t bullseye the Warp-9 moving target that is audience whims. Procedure Trek? Rom-Com-Trek? Super Hero Trek?

How about Star Trek??

IF CBS puts out a high quality show that’s fully developed for a modern audience and takes some chances with content, characters, and plotting… there is a GOOD chance people will check it out.

Trying to be yesterday’s news is a sure-fire way to implode the nacelles and leave us stranded in the Canceled Quadrant.

“Seriously, if we want Trek back on TV we should be pitching a series where hologram Moriarty travels through time solving crimes with Reg Barclay, sexy alternate universe Hoshi Sato, and a wise-cracking exo-comp.”

Hahaha, nice one!

Have to admit, I would watch that…but I think they’d have to farm it out to Adult Swim.

We may want to look at how well SUPERGIRL does. It doesn’t fit the procedural pattern, and it looks as if the network’s trying to skew younger than the usual CBS audience. If it’s a good show and does well, a Trek show might be able to fit onto the “eyeball” network, as well.

Something tells me, though, SUPERGIRL might end up over on the CW (the “C” stands for CBS) it it underperforms on CBS, and if the CW can afford it.

I think a Trek show that skews younger and has that optimistic feel of classic Trek about it could actually do well on the CW. The tone I’d go for would be the same as THE FLASH, which I’ve been enjoying immensely.

As long as netflix has Star Trek … I can live without a new series. Remember we lived without a new star trek series from 1969 to 1987…I dont count the cartoon version .. so baton down the hatches and enjoy TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT…over 700 hrs of star trek to watch and love

Comment no. 2 from bmar already said it.

The article is mixing up the CBS studio with the CBS network.
Not every CBS studio production runs on the CBS network, and not every show on the CBS network is from CBS studios.
Stop mixing both up, please

…i could see this working, actually:

if i squint right, Start Trek *IS* a sexy procedural drama! =)

a big part of what makes nu-trek suck is: no military hierarchic PROCEDURE!

GIVE ME FEDERATION STARSHIP PROCEDURE!! PLEASE!!! =D

(…and while you’re at it, make it sexy and dramatic) ;-)

…oh yeah,

you better smell-lll-lll-lll-oowwWW!!!, …what the Rock, …is COOKIN”!!

(you d@mn j@bronis!) ;-)

I don’t totally understand the point of this article.

Empress Hoshi is HOTTT!!! =P

comment image

better link ;-)

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9. danielcw – May 29, 2015

Not every CBS studio production runs on the CBS network, and not every show on the CBS network is from CBS studios.

That would certainly mitigate the point, but it might still be true that CBS’s success with its current collective (on all networks) roster of shows makes them more risk-averse than if they weren’t seeing success and needed something new and different. I don’t know how many non-procedural shows CBS has running on other networks, but it’s certainly a smaller percentage of the collective CBS-owned programming than if the CBS network weren’t making money hand-over-fist filled with procedural shows.

Then again, if the execs at CBS are smart—and we should assume that they are—and their goal is to keep growing and have new shows coming down the pike for when the current shows decline, they might well decide that the market is presently saturated with procedural shows, and be looking for potential future successes and trends. Enter Star Trek.

It all depends on the posture of CBS’s strategic management—risk-averse vis-a-vis risk-seeking. And that all depends on market data and other info that we simply don’t have access to here. It is an interesting issue to ponder and speculate about, nevertheless.

12

Me neither. It seems to be calling for the downfall of CBS, which is why I am wondering about intentional humor.

7

Hah!

I am going to steal The Canceled Quadrant and tell everyone I came up with that.

Well, the good thing is that we have Netflix. I can rewatch the best TV shows of all time on Netflix!

Anyway, I also do not watch the Big Bang Theory, nor any procedural. The only CBS show I watch is Survivor. I WILL watch Supergirl, though. I am really looking forward to that one.

Here’s a thought: what if CBS did make a new Trek show, but it was so unlike Star Trek so that very few Trek fans watched it? Then, with extremely low ratings and reviews it would be canceled and we will never get another Star Trek show again. But, thanks for Netflix!

Thanks for your opinions, Jared. Others have already pointed out your painful conflation of CBS Studios with the CBS network (which makes me wonder what other aspects of your reasoning are equally flawed and suspect), so all I will add is that I’ll take your advice and stop watching “The Big Bang Theory” as soon as you bend down and kiss my hairy white butt.

I say sure. Just as GR submitted TOS as ‘Wagon Train to the stars’, present a new Trek show as a ‘sexy procedural in the stars’. Then make it an interesting thought-provoking ‘sexy procedural in the stars’. Sure.

And, truth be told, I would not mind seeing more Empress Hoshi. Not. One. Bit.

Oh well. I’m still convinced Star Trek’s return to television is inevitable, though with only the classic questions to be answered- When? Where? And Who?

B9 as Sherlock “Benign” Holmes…

Star Trek merchandising is handled by CBS Consumer Products. Why would there be a problem in CBS seeing the money?

#7 @CmdrR — Your first line made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that.

What Star Trek really needs to succeed is good writing. Develop a handful of interesting characters and turn real science fiction writers loose on them. Many of Star Trek’s most successful episodes were written by real SF writers, like Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, and Norman Spinrad — think of “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “Amok Time,” and “The Doomsday Machine.”

If the characters are interesting and the stories are compelling, people will watch, no matter what genre it is.

I’d love to see what Lois McMaster Bujold or Robert J. Sawyer could do with Star Trek. (And we know Sawyer’s a fan; he even co-edited a book of essays about Star Trek called “Boarding the Enterprise.”)

If the X-Files can come back, so can Dulmer and Lucsly.

STAR TREK: TID (Temporal Investigations Division)

then: ST: TID New Orleans featuring Sisko’s Restaurant as the place where all the timecops hang out.

then: ST:TID:SVU:Los Angeles

Jared Whitley,

Just exactly what rights do your sources say Paramount has to STAR TREK?

I literally watching nothing at all on CBS. Nothing. The news, and that doesn’t count.

I fear whatever we get, if anything in the way of a new Trek show is going to be shallow, formulaic and predictable, and geared towards teenagers. As much as I would like to, I simply can’t see anyone putting the brainpower and money behind a proper Trek show along the lines of big productions like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Homeland, etc (insert your favorite popular show here). Not that I mean to compare those shows to Trek, just the wide appeal and production values of those shows. But I do have some faint hope about upstart productions from outlets like Netflix and Amazon Prime…

21. Fred Javelina – May 29, 2015
If the X-Files can come back, so can Dulmer and Lucsly.

STAR TREK: TID (Temporal Investigations Division)

….that would be a blast to see.

@Fred – Hey now, you’re ripping off my idea! lol

It would be a fun series because it would allow them to visit any time period and using the miracle of SFX even visit specific events from real and Trek history (like Trials and Tribbleations).

#20. @Corylea

Do you read Sawyer’s “Starplex”?
http://www.amazon.com/Starplex-Robert-Sawyer-J/dp/0889954445
http://sfwriter.com/sysx.htm
http://sfwriter.com/exsx.htm
Very Trek-y novel. Some even says “Star Trek done right”.

What about Star Trek sitcom? Maybe about a bunch of Klingon agents infiltrating 2260s Earth – like, a witty futuretro take on “The Americans”.

Captain, USS Northstar

I watch football and golf on CBS and that’s it. But, I do agree that a ST series (maybe with this current cast so we can see what they can do with real character development and thoughtful story arcs) on Showtime would be just the thing.

With a guest appearance by Empress Sato — she could be a compelling arch-villian. He he.

CBS owns Showtime….why wasn’t that mentioned here? It’s an obvious venue for a new Trek.

# 9. danielcw – May 29, 2015

” The article is mixing up the CBS studio with the CBS network.” — danielcw

Not only that but any scheme that would work for UPN would work on the CW as that’s where UPN ended up.

Also, I recently ran across a Moonves statement I missed 8 years back that might shed some light on his attitudes toward this:

http://trekmovie.com/2007/01/11/cbs-wants-trekkies-to-get-a-second-life/

“eSheep is currently building out our very own StarshipEnterprise to allow the Second Life community to mash-up a slough of StarTrek episodes. It’s a great way to give back to the fans who make the show as successful as it is. Who knows, maybe some day we can even broadcast one of their virtual works on one of our television networks.” — Les Moonves, CBS

Is the real money for Star Trek in merchandising? Whats the percentage? What’s the source for this?

Is this known as being true for Trek or just based on the idea tha merchandisinig is where Star Wars. Marvel etc. makes their money?

I’m sure Trek makes money from merchandising. But I wonder whether it rakes in the cash that a comic book property could. It skews toward adults. And towards novelty items like Starfleet pajamas and Enterprise ice cube trays.

I suspect few little kids are clamouring for Uhura backpacks over Frozen ones, but I could be wrong.

The site’s suggested before that putting Trek back on TV would kickstart a merchandising juggernaut for CBS/Paramount (using Spider-man as the example), and I just wonder how accurate that is. Star Trek isn’t Spider-man.

“UPN could run Enterprise as a loss-leader if the show was still serving as essentially high-quality advertisement for conventions and action figures…”

Really? Do Trek figures rake in that much dough? Do conventions make that much dough for the studio?

BTW, the CW has some really good, popular genre shows right now (iZombie [okay, a procedural], the 100, Arrow, The Flash). And they’re not just teen dramas.

# 31. Jack – May 29, 2015

” Is the real money for Star Trek in merchandising?”– Jack

All we know is JJ, who got $5 million for directing his 1st Trek pic and profit participation, thought merchandizing was worth enough to throw a fit over not being allowed to be its czar.

@30 Disinvited,

Moreover, why do people insist on convoluting the ownership of Trek? CBS owns the whole thing and licenses the film rights to Paramount. Paramount owns the movie “masters” but not the underlying copyrights. My guess is as soon as Paramount stumbles in producing more movies, defaulting on their deal, CBS is going to take it back. As it stands, if reports of a non-compete payment by Paramount to CBS to keep Trek off TV are true, then as soon as BR’s Trek deal expires, CBS could very easily start producing a new series?

point of order… Oh, terrific article. Well said. but…

Not the article nor any comments mentioned the words “cable” nor “reruns”. If I remember the success of TNG, it was all about cable and it’s rerun, erm, rerunability. Heh, I made up a word there. ;p

The one advantage Trek has over any procedural is you can watch it over and over. People do, not just Trekkies. imho

#34, Q__ — It’s been awhile since I read “Starplex;” thanks for reminding me of it.

There’s also the syndication market; Paramount made so much money syndicating the original series that the episodes of TOS became known as “the 79 jewels.”

Just Another Salt Vampire

This story is very dumb.

CBS owns Star Trek for television, meaning that they could sell a new series to any network. It could be a network that they own (CBS, Showtime, CW) or any other network (HBO, Netflix, etc.).

It’ll probably be years before there is another Star Trek show. CBS seem quite happy to live off reruns and merchandise deals.

18. The article is actually quote sophisticated and nuanced. Tough stuff to explain.

TV is about making a profit which is why Star Trek won’t be back on network TV.

It’s too expensive to produce and doesn’t fit their model today. The bigger problem is the franchise has no leader. There’s no Rick Berman – who I can’t stand – pushing executives and pitching ideas for new shows. Orci is gone and neither Abrams nor Bad Robot appear interested in managing the franchise beyond making movies.

Without a cheerleader in the board room there’s not enough profit to be made – even on cable – for TV executives. It’s not 1987 or even 2005. The business of TV has changed too much.

There simply is no incentive for CBS to produce a new Trek show. Fan demand simply isn’t enough. You need the younger crowds, except they are more into Marvel, DC, video games, “Star Wars”, etc.

And judging by the highly polarlized division of Trek fandom over the BR movies, does CBS really trust that the same thing won’t happen again?

As for merchandising, it doesn’t bring in even half as much money as it once did. Not as many dvds/blu rays are being sold, and kids ignore the toys. And good quality Trek-based video games don’t exist. Companies aren’t going pour tens of millions of dollars when only a few die hard fans will play it.

I would argue that it is Trek fandom itself holding back the franchise and keeping a new show from happening.

Thanks for the insightful article Jared.
Good Stuff.
it was also nice to see that Jason Alexander enjoyed his Voyager appearance.
I always liked that episode
I also liked Jason’s Guest turn on Criminal Minds a few years ago.
He does a good job playing smart villains

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