SyFy Wants A New Space Opera – Should It Be A New Star Trek TV Series?

Yesterday, to much fanfare, the SciFi Channel changed its name to SyFy. Many took this as an attempt to distance itself from ‘real science fiction’ but yesterday network executives were on the record saying they are actually looking for a new ‘space opera’ to fill the void left by Battlestar Galactica and Farscape. TrekMovie wonders, why not a new Star Trek TV show?


SyFy wants another space opera
The admission that SyFy wants to go back into space came an interview by io9 held at the network rebranding event in New York yesterday. When asked what the future holds for SyFy one of the more interesting comments from network president David Howe was the following:

we’re actively looking into developing the next space opera hopefully for the next year or the year after

io9 also talked to Mark Stern, SyFy’s creative director of original programming, who was asked to elaborate on the plans.

You know it’s so early days, I don’t have anything really specific. We’re talking to a lot of people that we already work with, about ideas. We don’t want to do something that is the same old. You don’t want it to feel recycled. So that’s the challenge of doing that. I’m a huge fan of Firefly, and shows that take that idea and take that part of the genre and reinvent it in a whole new way. I’d love to find our version of, not specifically Firefly, but similar to what Joss [Whedon] tried to do with that in terms of, "lets recast the Western in space." Love that idea, and I love that show. What’s another way to approach that? We’re talking to a number of people about that, but at this point honestly it’s about getting Warehouse 13 on its feet, getting Caprica on its feet, getting Stargate Universe going. This is a really big time for us, we haven’t really had time to think about next year.

Time for Star Trek back on TV?
Although all the buzz these days for Trek is about the 11th (and 12 & 13th) feature films, at its heart, Star Trek is a TV franchise. Star Trek’s last period on TV started with Next Gen in 1987 and ran until 2005 with Enterprise (two shows that SyFy still air in reruns, by the way). There have been 5 live-action series with 28 seasons and over 700 episodes in total.

Although the new feature film has shown that Trek can fit into the realm of summer action movies, the core idea of Trek is better suited to the TV format. Star Trek is about seeking out new life and new civilizations, and using the future to tell complex stories that teach us something about ourselves. A TV show gives you the time to explore the core themes of Star Trek, and Trek’s penchant for continuity makes it ideally suited for today’s arc-driven dramas.

Star Trek is the quintessential ‘space opera’ for television. If SyFy seriously wants back into space, is there any place better than the final frontier? And is there any better time then after the franchise has been revived with a new feature film? (and more to follow) If SyFy is thinking long-term, then a new show could be on the air in the same year or the year after the second JJ Abrams produced Star Trek feature (or around 2011-2012). No other property could really bring SyFy the built-in buzz and fanbase that a new Star Trek TV show could. 

SyFy (formerly SciFi Channel) may be the home to such shlocky classics as "Mansquito" and other low-budget fare, but is also the channel that launched the award-winning Battlestar Galactica and the well-regarded Dune and Taken mini-series. There is the capacity for them to put quality science fiction on air.

The same network that brought you "Mansquito" also successfully rebooted "Battlestar"

But, if SyFy did want to bring Trek back, there are a few hurdles.

1. Would CBS sell the show to NBC/SyFy?
Even though Paramount Pictures is currently in development for a second JJ Abrams-produced Star Trek feature film, it is CBS that really ‘owns’ Star Trek. TrekMovie has confirmed that the decision to bring Trek back to TV now lies solely with CBS. Any deal to do a new Trek show would be one where NBC Universal (SyFy’s parent) would buy episodes from CBS Studios (CBS would still own the show for DVD, syndication, merchandising, etc). NBC has bought shows from other studios before, Stargate is owned by MGM and The 4400 (which ran on NBC Uni’s USA Channel) was owned by CBS. However, Star Trek is one of the crown jewels of CBS (which is now worth even more) and so there is a question as to whether or not CBS would want to share the spoils with NBC or whether they would prefer to hold Trek for their own network (CBS) or their joint venture network (CW). And, even if they were willing to partner up for a new Star Trek series, would they want it on cable, or would they prefer more lucrative revenue from a network TV partner, like NBC, ABC or FOX.

NBC Uni has bought shows from other studios, including "The 4400" from CBS and "Stargate SG-1" (and others) from MGM

2. Could it be done on a cable budget?
Picking up on that network revenue point — to date all the Star Trek TV series have been for broadcast TV, either on network (TOS on NBC, VOY & ENT on UPN), or in syndication (TNG & DS9). Viewership on network TV is larger, and therefore the shows have larger budgets. Star Trek has always been an expensive show to do. The pilot for Voyager is said to be one of the most expensive TV shows ever shot (and not just for all the reshoots). Setting a show in an alien-filled future (presumably on a space ship) means lots of special effects, sets, make-up and likely guest stars (if they stick to the exploring new worlds idea). Other cable SciFi shows have worked around this, but most BSG episodes would be considered ‘bottle shows’ for Trek as they require few or no new sets to build (and few guest stars). And did you ever notice how almost every planet they visit in the Stargate universe looks a lot like British Columbia, Canada? To do space opera right, it has to be ‘operatic’ meaning big and grand and that means spending some money. It would be a challenge to do Trek right on a cable budget, but Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer is fond of saying that limitations are good for artists.

Can Star Trek be done on a BSG or Stargate budget?

3. Could they come up with an original spin on Star Trek?
SyFy’s Stern said they did not want the ‘same old’ or ‘recycled’ ideas. They are looking for something fresh, and likely something that will get them the kind of buzz Battlestar Galactica brought the network. The idea of Star Trek on TV is likely to be seen as the ‘same old thing’. If you look at Next Gen, Voyager and Enterprise, the shows were the same good concept recycled with fewer and fewer fresh ideas as the years progressed, which resulted in consistently reduced ratings. However, JJ Abrams has proven that an ‘old’ concept can be reinvented for a new generation, while still bringing along the core fan base. So the trick would be to find someone (or a team) that could do the same for Trek on TV.

The key to this would be a talented creative team that knew Trek, but also had a proven track record in creating and/or running modern TV shows. There are many potential candidates for show creator/show runner, including Trek vets like Bryan Fuller, Ron Moore, Michael Taylor, Rene Echevarria, Ira Steven Behr and Manny Coto as well as Trek’s new masters, JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (although one wrinkle with Abrams is that he has an overall TV development deal with Warner Brothers and bringing them into the mix could be one too many studios at the table). Coto and Fuller have already expressed interest in getting their own cracks at a Star Trek show. There are also certainly non Trek vets who would be interested (for example, J. Michael Straczynski and Bryce Zybel pitched a Trek TV reboot back in 2004). Of course a big question for Trekkies would be which timeline/universe to set a new Trek show in (Prime, JJ-verse, or new), but that is secondary to coming up with an original spin on Star Trek.

Producers on innovative shows like "24" (Coto) and "Pushing Daisies" (Fuller) have ideas for their own Trek shows

Trek will be back on TV…someday

There are no answers to these questions, yet. But it is reasonable to assume that history may repeat itself. Star Trek The Next Generation (which began a 17 year run of Trek shows on TV) was spawned in midst of the successful series of TOS era movies in the 80s. The new Star Trek movie has moved the franchise back into that level of popularity so it is inevitable to consider bringing it back to TV. I have no doubt that Star Trek will eventually be back on TV, the only questions is where and when. 

A new crew made Trek work for the movies again – why not another crew to make it work for TV?



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