But while all eyes are focused on the big screen, there are murmurs that CBS wants to bring Star Trek back to where it all began.
For almost 20 years, from 1987 to 2005, there was always a Star Trek show on the air. Twenty-one years after the end of the original series, Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek: The Next Generation, arguably the central series in the canon. That show overlapped with the next, Deep Space Nine, which in turn overlapped with Voyager, which overlapped with Enterprise, which ended in 2005. For 10 years now there has been no Trek TV to speak of, just the films.
That wasn't always going to be the case. After the end of Enterprise, Bryan Singer loosely assembled a team to develop a project called Star Trek: Federation. Much like The Next Generation leapfrogged far past the original series' timeline, Federation was going to be set near the end of the Federation's lifespan. In this story, the Federation had become increasingly corrupt, losing allies and becoming little more than border police, trying to keep their few systems peaceful with a decaying fleet of starships. It took a new enemy called the Scourge to invigorate the decrepit Federation. They built the first ship, called Enterprise, in 300 years. By this point, the Cardassians and Klingons had become less warlike and more mystic, the Bajorans had sequestered themselves on their planet and sought only spiritual enlightenment, the Romulans and Vulcans had reunified, and the Ferengi had become the dominant power in the galaxy.
|Yeah. Imagine a galaxy ruled by THESE guys.|
Work progressed on this story until word reached the team of J.J. Abrams' film production. Their pitch was never rejected; it just never made it to the studio. Star Trek: Federation was over before it began.
Despite all that work, there's no telling what a potential new show would look like. We live in a time where there are two Trek universes, both apparently viable thanks to the "parallel timeline" cheat the films employ. It's likelier, however, that a new Trek show would take after the current Pine-Quinto version, rather than the Shatner-Nimoy-Stewart-Brooks-Mulgrew-Bakula version. Why muddle a successful brand? As much as setting a show like Federation in the farther future of original Trek could be great, there's no reason for CBS/Paramount to confuse audiences with two versions of Star Trek.
That's not to say a show set in the nu-Trek universe would be inferior. Quite the opposite. Increasingly, Hollywood today tells stories across the broadest possible spectrum. We have the Avengers franchise, and we also have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, as well as new, canonical Marvel shows on Netflix like the upcoming Daredevil. All of these stories are loosely connected, telling a sprawling but internally consistent mega-story. Star Trek was made for this type of storytelling.
It's been said that Trek works best on TV, and this accounts for the issues some have with the new Trek films. The scope is too small, and the scale too big, on film. Both films tell stories about singular, renegade missions, essentially. In Star Trek, it's an untested Kirk trying to bring down a time-traveling madman. It's the story of how the Enterprise crew became the Enterprise crew. Into Darkness touches briefly on the idea of typical Starfleet missions, but quickly shifts gear and follows the Enterprise crew pursuing another time-shifted madman with an agenda. Both stories climax on or around Earth. The films aren't concerned with the Federation or the operation of a galactic society; there's no time for that.
These are film stories, certainly more exciting than a tale about, say, a creature on a mining planet hampering production of a mineral desperately needed by other planets, but that's the beauty of the TV show. There, the scope can be larger and the scale smaller. We become a part of the 5-year mission to seek out new worlds and new civilizations instead of spending 2 hours with Kirk and Spock: action heroes. It was the humanity of Star Trek that made it what it was. "This is clearly a military operation," Scotty says to Kirk in Into Darkness, speaking of their mission to find and kill Khan. "Is that what we are now? Because I thought we were explorers."
|Amen to that, Scotty. ('Cause right now, you totally aren't.)|
Although original Trek is often lampooned for its occasionally heavy-handed allegories and social commentary, that was the beauty of it. The best sci-fi stories tell us who we are now and who we could be someday. They allow us to ask questions and play with answers in exciting and inventive ways. A new Star Trek TV show, set within the confines of the Abramsverse but apart from the Enterprise, could tell fresh sci-fi stories that speak to our time through the lens of an imagined future.
What was that? Apart from the Enterprise crew, you say? Oh, yeah. That's gotta happen. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin—they're all movie stars now. That isn't to say they're too good for TV, or would never do a guest spot on a Trek show (in fact, that's all but guaranteed if CBS greenlights a new show), but they certainly wouldn't be available for a TV production schedule.
To me, that's fantastic. While I dearly love the first two Trek TV series, dramatically speaking they often are edged out by the terrific conceits of the subsequent Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The former wasn't even set on a Starfleet vessel; it was set on a broken-down space station in hotly contested space, the equivalent of setting a show on a foreign army base in the Gaza Strip. Voyager, the latter, saw the titular ship flung tens of thousands of light years from home, setting up a simple premise (get home) while supplying a fresh setting for new and weird stories. It was fun to see Trek stories told without the familiar comforts of the best ship and crew in the fleet.
|Stay tuned for Star Trek: The Retirement Years.|
This is what a new Trek TV show could do. Build the structure of the future, set up Starfleet and its missions, allies, and enemies. Provide a context that the current Trek films don't have. Don't forget: the original Trek movies, even (or especially) the best ones, were buoyed by the TV show. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan lifted a great villain from a good episode. The next two movies built on plot threads from this film. Star Trek: First Contact, far and away the best of the Next Gen films, derived its premise from a classic TV two-parter, "The Best of Both Worlds."
Simply put, Star Trek is what it is today because of the television shows, and it could rise again thanks to a new one. Maybe it will be put on network television, but it's equally if not more likely that it will find its way to a streaming service like Netflix. The studio and filmmakers have been quiet in the lead-up to 2016's 50th anniversary and the third Star Trek film. My guess is that quietude will not last for much longer, as the third film is slated to start shooting in about a week.
Are you in favor of Star Trek once again going boldly where no one has gone before? (Except for, like, the 5 shows and 12 movies preceding this hypothetical new show?) All hailing frequencies are open in the comments below. Let's start some subspace chatter.