The currently streaming fourth season of Star Trek: Lower Decks continues to build both series lore and fan loyalty. Not only has viewer response been strong, but season 5 was confirmed to be in the works almost six months before season 4 debuted. While these are all outwardly positive signs for the health of the Lower Decks as a series, showrunner Mike McMahan is cautious not to conflate current success with future security.
Changes at Paramount+ have Lower Decks showrunner concerned
When discussing the direction of the Star Trek franchise with CinemaBlend, McMahan deliberately stopped short of taking a sixth season of Lower Decks for granted…
“Yeah, I mean, listen, we’re in weird times. Everything is changing. I think everything’s gonna continue to change. I would say nothing is safe. I don’t have any bad news for anybody, but also, I think you shouldn’t assume that this stuff is gonna stick around unless you vocally and watch it early on. I do not know if we’re going to have another season after the season we’re working on right now [Season 5]. Lower Decks could very well be a five-season show.”
While McMahan may have hoped to match the 7-season run of the shows in TNG-era that inspired his animated series (or exceed it), that was a different time, with a completely different business model. Things have changed from the birth of the streaming era a decade ago, leading to the big-spending of the “streaming wars” which saw multiple Star Trek shows launched on CBS All Access (later rebranded as Paramount+). Now Paramount+ is joining other media companies by pulling back on spending for original content. Just today Paramount cancelled the relaunched iCarly, after that series ran for three seasons.
Perhaps the most visible example of the unpredictability of the streaming model and how it impacts Star Trek is the current status of Star Trek: Prodigy. After finishing its first complete season, the show was removed from Paramount+, even though work continues on a second season as Paramount looks to find a new home for the show. Fan response to the Prodigy removal was swift, flooding social media with the hashtag #SaveStarTrekPodigy and buying official releases of Season 1 on physical media. McMahan has Prodigy (and other ending Trek shows) in mind as he tells CinemaBlend he is hoping for that kind of fan energy for Lower Decks:
“So, if you love Lower Decks as much as I do, I would say make sure to watch it and get people to watch it now. A letter writing campaign after a show gets canceled, it’s helpful, but what’s more helpful is campaigning to get more eyes on the show when it’s airing because it gives me the ability to push for more seasons. I would love to finish Lower Decks with the plan that I have for it. I would say, take Prodigy looking for a new [network], and take a look at Picard being wrapped at Season 3, and at Discovery wrapping as well. I would say read those as signs that if you want more Lower Decks, you should be vocal about it now and not wait.”
While it’s unlikely Paramount+ would remove Lower Decks like it did with Prodigy and work on the fifth season has already started, so that still seems like it will make its way to the streaming service. However, McMahan’s comments make it clear that a sixth season is not a given.
More Lower Decks… If Opportunity Allows
Notable within McMahan’s words is that there is a plan for Lower Decks that takes it beyond its current five seasons. Ending the series early would necessitate a rush to write a full conclusion, and while McMahan and his writing team are likely prepared for that scenario, they want the fans to know it’s possible to deliver more seasons of Lower Decks, given the opportunity. The Lower Decks team is hitting its stride in the fourth season. In the words of Supervising Director Barry Kelly, they are now performing like “a well-oiled machine.” Ideally, season 5 should be a time to set Lower Decks up for a long, well-crafted finish, rather than quickly cap it in order to move on to the next project.
Star Trek has a long, proud history of fan campaigning, from the successful push to get a third season of Star Trek: The Original Series to the unsuccessful push to get a fifth season of Enterprise. A popular online petition following the second season of Discovery may have helped sell Parmount+ on launching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. These are the efforts McMahan references when talking about “letter-writing campaigns,” but in the era of streaming and accelerated show development, a more proactive approach is needed to keep current shows running. In essence, McMahan is saying by the time a show is cancelled, it may be too late. In calling for fans to be vocal and active, Mike McMahan is tapping a resource he knows is there and has been crucial in the past. Is it too soon for the #SaveStarTrekLowerDecks hashtag? Perhaps, but viewer engagement that is likely to show support for Star Trek: Lower Decks would be sharing the show on social media, purchasing it on DVD or Blu-ray, and of course, re-watching episodes currently available on Paramount+. Maybe #WatchStarTrekLowerDecks would be more apt?
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