Wednesday, November 4, 2015

We don't need corporations to define Star Trek

CBS Television Studios announced today it will launch a totally new Star Trek television series in January 2017. The new series will blast off with a special preview broadcast on the CBS Television Network. The premiere episode and all subsequent first-run episodes will then be available exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access, the Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service.
The next chapter of the Star Trek franchise will also be distributed concurrently for television and multiple platforms around the world by CBS Studios International.
...Alex Kurtzman will serve as executive producer for the new Star Trek TV series. Kurtzman co-wrote and produced the blockbuster films Star Trek (2009) with Roberto Orci, and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) with Orci and Damon Lindelof. Both films were produced and directed by J.J. Abrams.
So I took a little time yesterday to ponder this advertisement for CBS All Access disguised as the announcement of a new Star Trek series. If I understand this press release correctly, the premiere episode will debut on CBS Television, and all subsequent episodes will air only on the VOD/streaming service. Yes, I understand that it's called show business for a reason and blah blah blah, but asking viewers to pay for yet another subscription service, in an environment which already contains Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, not to mention cable, may be a bridge too far. It certainly sets a bad precedent for the history of Trek on TV, which has never needed to rely on deals like this before. That's not what I wanna talk about, however.

What I want to know is this: in 2015-soon-to-be-2016, do we even need to rely on CBS (and Paramount for the movies) for Trek anymore? Way back in prehistoric times, also known as the 1970s, Trek fandom kept the spirit of The Original Series alive by writing fan fiction, making original art, publishing zines, and many other things in the absence of their favorite TV show.

Axanar takes a single TOS episode and expands upon it, telling an
untold tale of Trek history.
That entrepreneurial spirit lives on today, in Trekkies who are far more than just non-professional amateurs, creating far more than just newsletters and filk songs. In recent years, there has been a renaissance in the realm of Trek-related fan films, many of which are funded through crowdsource websites like Kickstarter, and if you think these are cheaply-made productions shot in 16mm out of somebody's garage, think again. Below-the-line industry professionals - computer graphics animators, set designers, costumers, makeup artists, etc. - are involved in the creation of a number of these projects, giving them a look not unlike that of many network TV shows. The writing and acting, in the best cases, is also of a high quality.

Perhaps the most exciting factor, however, is the direct involvement of actors from the Trek shows. George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig from The Original Series are among the many Trek alumni who have appeared or are appearing in this new wave of fan films, playing either their familiar roles from their respective series or new ones, and as a result, they give these independent films - for that's what they are, really - an air of "legitimacy," in a way. Even the productions without known Trek actors, though, look and feel far more professional than one might expect.

Star Trek Continues is one of several web shows that
attempts to create a "fourth season" of TOS.
No, none of these productions are able to profit financially from their efforts, but that's not the point. They're being made because they can be made, because their creators' love for Trek is not reliant solely on whatever CBS and Paramount deem to provide us. Not only do these new films and shows satisfy a demand that the "official" keepers of the Trek brand can't even keep up with, they provide new parameters for what Trek is and can be- but then, Trek fandom has been doing that for a long, long time.

I was going to wait until January to announce this, but I guess now is probably a more appropriate time to let the cat out of the bag: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Trek, in 2016, I plan on doing a year-long series, once a month, that will explore different aspects of what you could call the Trek legacy. It won't be comprehensive; I'm just gonna take a look at some of the ways in which Trek has grown beyond the shows and films, and these indie Trek productions will definitely be among them. Also, in September 2016 I'll present "30 Days of Trek," which will celebrate the shows, the characters, and the people who made the whole thing possible, and will include my personal all-time Top 25 episode list. So there you go.

What was responsible for the geek renaissance?

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