1986 and 2015: Trek Back to the Future

If there ever was evidence that the science fiction gods really do exist, they provided the best evidence this past Monday when CBS Studios announced the return of Star Trek to television in January 2017. To quote another “Star” franchise, this would be a day long remembered. Without a doubt, Star Trek has always thrived on television and fans have been eagerly awaiting Trek’s return to television for a decade, since Star Trek Enterprise last left the airwaves in 2005. Of course, there have been 12 movies (and counting, if you include next year’s Star Trek Beyond), but television has always been the natural home for Trek. The five live-action television series (and one brief animated series) is testament to that and this pantheon will soon be joined by the sixth live-action incarnation.

To say that this news has caused reverberations throughout the Trek fandom would be an understatement. Some fans have objected to the unique distribution arrangement that CBS announced for the show, an arrangement that would launch the show on a broadcast network, but then would exclusively use CBS’ “All Access” streaming service to primarily air the show. Viewers would thus have to pay $5.99 a month to view the new Star Trek series, in addition to other CBS offerings.

Other fans have expressed reservations over the showrunner for the new series, Alex Kurtzman, who has been named as the executive producer. Kurtzman, along with writing partner Robert Orci and director JJ Abrams, were the driving forces behind 2009’s Star Trek reboot, as well as 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Fans have been very divided on the new direction of the “JJ-verse” films and have extrapolated their concerns on this new venture. Although CBS stated in it’s press release that the new series would not be directly related to 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, it is still unclear which timeline, setting, and characters the series will ultimately feature.

"Back to the Future" Day

It’s fitting that Back to the Future Day (October 21, 2015) was just a few weeks ago because this is the ultimate time travel moment for Trek fans. Back in 1986, on the heels of The Voyage Home’s smashing box office success, Paramount greenlit a return to television for Trek, the first since The Original Series (TOS), in the form of The Next Generation (TNG). Although The Next Generation is now widely praised for revitalizing the franchise, it was hardly the surefire hit when it first debuted. The first two seasons were rocky at best and there were many fans at conventions that vowed Jean-Luc Picard would never be their captain. Given time, TNG eventually found its footing and helped usher in the high-water mark of Trek during the ‘90s. Especially in blazing a new television distribution model through syndication.

Similarly, Star Trek is now once again at a crossroads. Television has changed dramatically in the past two decades. On-demand streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu are the wave of the future. It seems fitting that Star Trek would return to television in a format that would embrace this new approach, much like how syndication was pioneered with TNG. Personally speaking, $5.99 a month is a small price to pay for new Star Trek. As for the creative direction, it’s much too early to tell. Although I was not the biggest fan of the JJ-verse movies and some of his other credits like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Kurtzman has proven himself to able to showrun a quality science fiction program through his work on Fringe. And as important as the showrunner is, it’s as equally important who the writers will be. And since we have no word on that yet, it is far too early to judge how the series will ultimately be written.

tngStar Trek: The Next Generation

It is only natural for fans to be passionate about the things they love and there aren’t more passionate fans in all of sci-fi / geek / pop culture than Trekkies. To be sure, I have my own aspirations for the new series as well. Star Trek has always been at its best when it’s broken barriers. It’s stagnated a bit as of late in this regard and that is why I really hope that this new series will actually be bold again and feature a LGBTQ main character (which is long overdue) and a plurality of well-written female characters and characters of color (which it has not quite accomplished with the JJ-verse movies or with Enterprise, Trek’s last TV outing).

Fans should debate and discuss with fervor what new possibilities this series might bring. We wouldn’t be fans otherwise! I was not alive in 1986 to experience the first wave of “Trek back on TV” revivalism, so I am cherishing every moment in which this series truly is new, unknown, and part of that great “undiscovered country”. But amidst all of that talk about timelines, continuity, and distribution models, it is important we never forget just how exciting Star Trek being back on television can be, just as it was more than two decades ago.

21 Comments Join the Conversation →

  • Leonard Nimoy says in his second autobiography — 1995’s I Am Spock — that Paramount asked him if he wanted to help produce TNG, and he declined, saying, “Can you catch lightning in a bottle twice?” He was pleased but very surprised when TNG went on to succeed and become beloved and was happy to provide a link between TOS and TNG by appearing in “Unification.”

    So even someone who understood Star Trek as well as Leonard Nimoy understood it was surprised that they managed to make a success of TNG. This gives me hope that the Star Trek fans who predict that the new show will be horrible — passionate and knowledgeable as they are — will be just as wrong as he was. 🙂

    Now they’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle again. I’d be skeptical, except that the past has already shown us that this can happen more than once. 🙂 I wish the makers of the new show all the luck in the world, and I hope they’ll have help of the caliber of Gene Coon and Bob Justman and Dorothy Fontana in the making of it.

    • Milo

      Look, I’ll admit the new show could be a hit. However, I also know you can only go to well so many times. Sooner or later, it will run dry.

  • Markus McLaughlin

    I was in middle school in Maine when I saw Trek at the cinema. I learned about TNG before seeing the late Leonard Nimoy at a college tour. I am now a writer on my spare time, inspired by Trek…

  • Yeah, no thanks on the LGBTQ captain. It would detract from the show, how many TNG episodes were about Picard’s sexuality? 2? I mean, for all we know he was bisexual- it really doesn’t need to figure into the show. Now a lesbian ensign… that might make for more compelling TV.

    • Michelle

      Did Riker’s or Kirk’s sexuality detract from the show? Heterosexual relationships are treated as normal. That’s all I’d like from an LGBTQ captain or main cast member. It’s time to stop stigmatizing same-sex relationships on tv. Star Trek is known for being progressive, and for “infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” I think we can deal with a non-straight character.

      • Erin Saari

        T, Q, and I have nothing to do with Sexuality.

        The rest I agree with it.

        • Kevin Watson

          Q, which stands for queer, is an umbrella term which refers to both non-binary genders and various non-heterosexualities which are not covered by the LGB (e.g. pansexuality, asexuality, demi, etc).

          • Erin Saari

            Questioning and Queer; Gender and Sexuality can be there. However much of the non binary gender is under the Transgender Umbrella So I guess partially correct. Some sexuality (or the absence of) falls under the Q.

      • Milo

        Actually, yes, sometimes the sex was distracting.

    • Erin Saari

      The T and Q (and I when you get down to it) Have nothing to do with Sexuality.

      But then you go full titillation being ok with the L? Geez make a statement and stand by it. Don’t say “I don’t like anything but my own voyeuristic kink” That’s fairly sexist and insulting.

      • Milo

        It’s all Politically Correct alphabet soup!

        • Erin Saari

          What a stupid thing to write.

    • Milo

      Fully agreed! Even more of a concern than Kurtzman running the show is the addition of homosexuality that will probably find it’s way onto the show. I’m not interested in watching something that further pushes the political lies of the gay movement.

  • Erin Saari

    The difference is that they expected us to tune in before this time they are expecting us to pay to play… and the draw is a complete unknown. For the record Enterprise was a failure and Voyager was rocky because they couldn’t manage to get the Trek right. I liked the actors from both series but they weren’t roaring successes. The TNG Movies were not well received and ID has all but destroyed the little good will JJ had after the action packed, but somewhat convoluted alternate universe.

    Trek has a problem and has had it for decades now. They don’t believe in Gene’s vision. Therefore at the core they don’t believe in Trek. And it shows.

    • Milo

      I disagree with that Trek hasn’t believed in Gene’s vision for decades. If you ever saw Trek Nation, you’d know the pains that Rick Berman went to do it the way he felt Gene would want it done. The issue is that sometimes Gene didn’t understand drama. We’ve seen what an all Gene Roddenberry Star Trek looks like in The Motionless Picture and the first season or two of TNG, and it’s not good. Gene had some great ideas, but they needed to be tempered by other creative forces. When he was alive and had some say, the best Trek was always thanks to more than just him.

      • Erin Saari

        Berman doesn’t believe in man traveling through space or making a better society and it shows. How is that even close to Gene? Gene believed in a better society and Mankind reaching for the stars and Berman thinks it’s horsehockey.

        There are a few problems with ST:TMP is the Star Fields and the endless chase scenes that don’t move. Also the Screenplay was Livingston, The story was Alan Dean Foster and the Director was Wise. How exactly is that Roddenberry? Even so it over doubled it’s budget not to mention the video sales. ID barely broke even.

        TNG died shortly after he did. The viewership was constantly losing interest. The start of TNG was dicey because it wasn’t aired on a network. Straight to Syndication without a wide viewing audience. or airplay. There were many parts of the country that didn’t ever have access to TNG for the first several seasons. Other places they would play early morning or late at night like after MASH reruns. I know I was in those areas. For a year I had to wait for episodes for a month because a friend had them recorded by a family member and sent to him. Then I would have to arrange to get to the watch party to see them. It wasn’t until the 4th season that I saw a TNG on TV, and again it was like at 10pm or 6am on a Sunday. By the end of the 4th season it started being a reasonable hour but never really near prime time.

        And of course it was a group effort. It’s silly to think one person puts on a TV show. That’s stating the obvious not proof of anything.

        Straight to Video is success? No it sucked. Have you tried to watch it straight threw. The Militarism angle is horrible, it’s a depressing show, and it’s generally crass. Like the JJverse it had nothing to do with Trek but fantastic casting. Enterprise was such a waste of good talent and great concept to do an endless war show. Hell not even shows about war were that violent and a downer. I will refer you back to mash.

        The same with Voyager. Every time they went down that crazy dark war angle ratings dropped. By the end of Enterprise nobody was watching.

  • Milo

    Seriously, Will, what is your hang up on gay Trek? I have yet to hear you talk about Star Trek without your desires to see it gayed up at some point. If all you want is gay man sex in a Starfleet uniform, go check out a number of the fan films made over the years. A good number of them have fallen into that Hell hole. Let’s leave official Star Trek closer to something family friendly.

    If you think JJ-Trek has divided the fan base, add a gay main character to Trek, and then you’ll see what “divided” really means! How about we skip that drama and keep things as they are. Besides, if the new show takes place after TOS, they developed a cure for all mental illness, so homosexuality simply would not exist in human society after “Whom Gods Destroy.”

    • Kevin Watson

      Your view of homosexuality as a mental illness is rather disquieting. You must hate George Takei, then, if you’re that upset over the idea of non-hetero characters. What about Jadzia Dax? Clearly, in the crowd of joined trills, gender and sexuality are far more fluid. Remember the DS9 episode ‘Rejoined’? I doubt anyone would argue that either Dax or Kahn were ‘mentally ill’ during that relationship.

      Just because fan films have tried to be more inclusive and representative of a more diverse crowd doesn’t mean an official trek shouldn’t. Trek has always been progressive for its time. TOS put women of color in positions of authority when even white women couldn’t get ahead in the world. TNG explored outside normal gendered clothing and explored transgender issues before either of those ideas were in the mainstream. Star Trek has always been a symbol of progress, of moving forward and seeing the world not as it is, but as it can and should be: a place where everyone is accepted and treated equally, regardless of their skin, gender, sexuality, species or economic class.

      Your comments on this article have been filled with bigotry and sentiments which are starkly antithetical to the ideals of Star Trek.

  • Eric Cheung

    Whatever the next Trek show does, it should push the boundaries and inspire the great thinkers of tomorrow. Adding diverse characters like LGBTQ crew members would be a welcome start.

    But I want to know how governments and economies have changed. It’s nice that Trek has inspired the flip phone and the iPad, but I want it to inspire politicians and economists to figure out how to breed empathy and equity. How can we get to the Earth where there is no hunger, there is no need, and every child knows how to read?

    I want the next show at least to try to answer that question.

  • Count of Monte Fisto

    I guess all Will cares about for the next show is they tone down the straight white males. That’s typical in today’s society. Who cares that straight white males created all most everything that is good about modern society. Me? Im more interested in the return of the prime timeline. I will say if they have an LGBTGQRSTUVWXYandZ captain I won’t be tuning in. You can have one of those progressive alphabet characters on the show but not as the captain. I get physically ill seing homosexuals. That’s all there is to it.

  • Christopher

    To those of you taking issue with the idea of an LGBTQ main character (and note that Will nowhere stated that he was talking about a captain): I hope you are aware of the fact that what made Trek great is exactly this inclusivity. The statements you are presenting here are very similar to those some fifty years ago, when some people saw Spock as a representation of the devil, and took offense with a black & female main charakter, which they could have put into mostly the same terms as you, e.g. “not family-friendly” / “against everything that made our society great”, etc. I find it perplexing how you can hope for another good Trek series without most of what made the franchise so great, i.e. challenging established beliefs and exploring the ‘unknown’. There are so many insightful comments contained even in this short comments sectionthat illustrate how every Trek series recurrently dealt with what the things you are now taking offense with.