Op-Ed guy Joseph Dickerson joins us again, this time to talk about Trek’s role on the small screen. Fans were informally surveyed by Larry Nemeck at the official Star Trek convention in Las Vegas last August as to what they wanted from Trek. The overwhelming response was that the fans want Star Trek back on TV. “Star Trek started on TV, and Star Trek is best suited to be a TV show,” one fan said. But does the idea of a new Star Trek TV series make sense for CBS-Paramount? Joe gives us a bit of perspective on how to answer this question from both a business and creative perspective.
Does the idea of a new Star Trek TV series make sense for CBS-Paramount to bring
Trek back to the small screen?
There are two ways to look at this question: From a business perspective, and from a creative perspective.
From a business perspective, you have to start by looking at the recent history of the franchise and the current marketplace. Star Trek on TV was losing more and more viewers as time went by, until the final series Enterprise was canceled. Was this an indication of declining interest, quality, or both? I won’t debate the quality question, but will say that viewership for almost ALL shows was declining in the last years of Enterprise, and has continued to decline since (even hit shows have less “eyeballs” than even five years ago).
So, you have declining viewership to deal with. Home video sales of TV seasons, once a fat profit center for studios, has become far less so as well (with the advent of streaming and a weak economy, many fans skip buying the series of DVD or bluray). Star Trek as a licensed property (for books, games, toys, T-shirts, etc.) is still pulling in a nice “annuity” for Paramount… would a new series provide for additional licensing opportunities? Sure, but licensing fees won’t cover the production cost of a show (unless it’s incredibly popular or the show is very cheap to produce).
Licensing alone isn’t enough to support a new TV show
That last point is key: Even if you take advantage of standing sets, costumes, and props, a Star Trek show is very expensive show to make, and requires a big investment… and because of the many reasons cited above, Hollywood is in a very “risk averse” phase right now. If a TV producer has to choose between an expensive SF show or a three-camera sitcom, a cop show, or a reality show… they’ll pick the cheap show. One can make an
argument that Star Trek has a built-in audience, one that will show up week after week… but the counter argument is a very blunt one: when Enterprise was on the air, the ratings weren’t there… and the ratings have not been there for other SF shows such as Fringe or Terra Nova.
And not just ratings, but demographics: Are Star Trek fans in that desirable 18 to 35 demographic? Based on my research, the JJ Abrams 2009 Trek movie brought a LOT of new fans to the franchise… and many of them are in that coveted group. Will they tune in to a TV show every week, though? That’s a big question.
So, is there a business reason for Star Trek to be on TV again? Maybe, if the numbers work out. How can they? The obvious solution is an animated series, a la Star Wars The Clone Wars. It would be cheaper to produce, it would allow the producers the opportunity to do scenes and aliens that would be difficult to do in live action, and if it strikes the right tone it could appeal to adults and kids alike. And the upside to an animated series is it would help grow the fan base in a different way than a new film does. It wouldn’t be prime time Star Trek like we’ve had before, but it would still be Trek on TV again.
Let’s assume business is good. Can we have Trek on TV now?
Now, the creative question: Are there any more stories to be told? Can a new Star Trek series again take us to where no one has gone before? It depends on the talent involved. A good example when it comes to this is the other famous SF TV franchise, Doctor Who. The show has had various show runners over the years, and many episodes were really bad… But even some of the best creative people can have a bad day. The deeper problem occurs when you have bad SEASONS, not just the occasional episode. This happened on Doctor Who, and this decline in quality led to declining viewers and the halt in production for several years.
I bring this up as a case study of what to avoid. If you get the wrong show runner and writing staff behind a new Star Trek show, then you will sabotage the notion before it even begins. There are always possibilities, Spock said… possibilities to tell good stories with interesting characters in the Star Trek universe. Go forward thousands of years past Kirk and Spock, do an anthology show with different ships and crews on different missions, do a Starfleet Academy show, do a Starfleet Black Ops show… There’s lots of “space” to play in.
If you don’t have the talent to tell such stories, though… then you shouldn’t even try.
Right now Trek belongs to JJ, but who is right to take the reigns for Trek on TV?
Like these posts by Joe? Then check out (and support!) the Kickstarter for his new book, UX101: A Primer on User Experience Design
Joseph Dickerson is a writer, User Experience Architect (and Star Trek fan) focused on designing effective and innovative on-line and mobile applications. For more from Joseph visit josephdickerson.com or follow him on twitter: @josephdickerson.