My Two Cents on the Future of Star Trek
Written by Dan Carlson
Published November 10, 1999
OK, so everyone and his mother is cashing in on the foremost debate on the Internet these days, whether or not the Star Trek franchise is doomed. Many people claim that “Trek” has outlived itself. Others (though only a few) claim that there is nothing wrong. I have read articles that proclaim Rick Berman to be the “anti-Gene [Roddenberry]”. Many so-called “fans” out there have villianized Brannon Braga recently concerning the fuss over Ron Moore’s departure. They think that the new generation of “Trek” writers have ruined Roddenberry’s vision of the future, and the only “true” “Trek” series was the first one, and maybe “The Next Generation” as well.
So what’s one more opinion?
“Trek” is certainly not dead. It still has a long life ahead of it. What form that life will take is up to The Powers that Be, namely, Rick Berman and the other writers, and unfortunately, the desk jockeys at Paramount. First, I should backtrack a little and briefly discuss “Trek’s” current situation. Contrary to many arguments, DS9 and Voyager have both strengthened the franchise and helped define the new “Trek” ideal. The original tag line may have been “to boldly go,” but Star Trek was more about humanity than about aliens. And that’s exactly what all of the series have focused on.
New episode still concentrate on our heroes finding humanity among the stars. The shows are still about human nature and morality. None of that has been changed by “Deep Space Nine” or “Voyager.” The morals and ideals of the Federation are still held in high esteem. Yet the recent series have made that ideal much more realistic. There will always be those who challenge our morals. Those challenges can come from without (like the Dominion), or from within (like Janeway hunting the Equinox crew). There are times when those morals must be sacrificed for the greater good. DS9’s “In the Pale Moonlight” is a chilling, but accurate, example of that fact. However, those same morals should never be thrown away, as Sloan and “Section 31” did.
DS9 and Voyager have refined the Trekkian theme. Now, Star Trek is about holding on to those morals that define us as humans in an immoral universe which seeks to take them from us. The line between good and evil is no longer clear, but grey. That makes the characters more interesting, more involving. Sure, we all liked Captain Picard throughout the seven seasons of TNG, but the character got MUCH more interesting when he embarked on a personal crusade against the Borg in “First Contact.” Sisko just plain scared me when he got involved in a conspiracy to get the Romulans involved in the war. The simple fact is that evil is a more enticing plot element than good. “Trek” must adapt if it is to continue living a successful life. It has already adapted quite a bit by adding a much greater action/adventure element to the story. However, this does not mean that the old “Trek” morals must be sacrificed. On the contrary, DS9 and Voyager have proven that those ideals can flourish under adversity.
“Trek’s” future may currently be in doubt, but it is certainly not dead, nor is it dying. It is merely changing. In the past decade, the franchise has drastically transformed. More than 50 new episodes were produced each year from 1993 to 1999. This was a gigantic change from the 25 or so episodes which had been added in TNG’s first 5 seasons. Furthermore, the astronomical growth of the Internet fueled “Star Trek’s” growth. Now, millions of fans can join in, discuss the latest episode, post our own opinions, compile lists of “Trek” minutiae [if you’ll pardon the pun], and even create our very own stories. In the past 7 years, we have been overwhelmed by the infinite amount of material which is available.
Many consider “Trek’s” biggest problem to be its sagging ratings. Part of this dilemma is caused by the glut of new episodes that have been handed to us. We’ve gorged ourselves with “Trek,” and we’re still demanding more for our bottomless stomachs. Unfortunately, the chef over in the kitchen has run out of recipes, and the customers [us] have gotten indigestion. While many of the stories have become more exciting, the quality overall of the work has degraded.
To continue the food analogy and to draw on my Medieval History class, I’d like to describe a “revolutionary” farming method which was discovered in the 10th and 11th centuries, called “crop rotation.” Basically, a farmer would harvest his crops from a half of his field one year, but then let that part lay fallow the next to allow the soil to recover nutrients before he starts farming that plot of land again. This is exactly what the writers need to do with Trek. They’ve over-exposed the audience, and some people are beginning to tune out, because there’s nothing “new.” Sure, they’re still watching the new shows, but are they truly interesting? What is special about them that will get more viewers to watch? Lately, Voyager has been banking more on the Star Trek name, and hasn’t provided as much substance to back it up. The first four episodes of the sixth season gave me some hope, but unfortunately the next shows proved those hopes to be misplaced. The writers are running out of ideas, and all we’re getting are re-heated leftovers.
There will definitely be another Star Trek series. However much I’d love to see it as soon as possible, it would be better if the writers waited five years or so. Just look at the 1970’s, after TOS went off the air. “Trek” most certainly didn’t die. In fact, it grew stronger. The same will happen if Mr. Berman and TPTB will let the franchise rest for a while. The fans will always be out there, eager to watch when the new show arrives. In fact, there will be even more fans, because eager anticipation is highly contagious, if the recent “Star Wars” movie is any indication. In the meantime, the fans will get a chance to digest the shows that are already out there, and the writers will get a chance to come up with some truly engaging stories for the new stories.
When that series does come out, it should have some specific characteristics which will help it build on the successes of the other series.
- First, it should have a fresh perspective. That doesn’t necessarily require a new setting, like when Voyager was sent to the Delta Quadrant. On the contrary, the show should definitely be set in the Alpha Quadrant, where we can meet all of the familiar races: the Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, and Cardassians.
- There should be a very clear element of Trekkian optimism in the show. That doesn’t mean that everything should be happy-go-lucky like in TNG, but like DS9 the ideals of the Federation should be in the forefront.
- The basic plot of the series should be laid out in advance. J. Michael Straczynski did this with “Babylon 5,” although I don’t think that the show should be plotted out so meticulously. A basic idea of what the series as a whole is about and where it is going should definitely be considered.
- Something important about the usual “Trek” setting should be radically changed.
A big problem is the fans; no one can be totally satisfied. I’m sure you’ve all heard the old saying, but I’m going to repeat it for emphasis: “You can please some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” No one’s going to be completely happy with whatever’s next. The Internet has made it much easier for one to air their critiques [or insults, in the case of Brannon Braga].
The Internet itself hurting the franchise? Yes and no. In one sense, the Internet has given “Trek” immortality (as if if didn’t already have it). The fans out there will always be able to gather and talk about “Star Trek.” But at the same time, it enhances that same glut which I discussed earlier. There is too much “Trek” in the world right now. Give people a chance to enjoy what we have so far before feeding us more.
“Trek” will never die. As a TV series, it will eventually go off the air for good. But “Trek” itself, the ideas and ideals, will last forever. The phrase “the Final Frontier” has a special meaning to all of us, even non-Trekkers. “Beam me up, Scotty!” has taken its place in pop-culture immortality right next to catch-phrases such as “May the Force be with you” and “I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.” There will always be fans out there who will ensure that no one will forget the show called “Star Trek.”
Let the franchise rest for a while. There will always be people clamoring for a new series, for better ideas, for cooler special effects (myself included!). But if we let the TV series alone for a while, in five or ten years it will come back better than ever.