Seven Times Star Trek Changed Television

Star Trek is well known for its cultural impact, but it has also been at the forefront of changes in how TV is delivered and consumed. With the September debut of Discovery on the horizon, Star Trek is poised again to go where no show has gone before.

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Capt. Kirk gets ready to fight his best friend in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the second Star Trek pilot.

1965 – A second pilot: NBC commissioned a pilot for Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train to the Stars” in 1965. Rather than the adventure show they expected, Roddenberry produced “The Cage,” a thoughtful science fiction story starring a somewhat low-key Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike. Unlike nearly every other pilot episode ever produced, NBC’s answer wasn’t a “Yes” or a “No,” it was “Try again.” The result was “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” with everyone except Leonard Nimoy replaced by new cast members.

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A group of CalTech students protest outside the Los Angeles NBC affiliate.

1968 – The Write-in Campaign: Amid rumors of the show’s impending cancellation after Season Two, fans sent more than 100,000 letters to NBC to request that the show be renewed. The letter-writing campaign was one of the earliest examples of successful fan-network interactions.

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An advertisement for TOS in syndication. One might question their choice of a picture of Leonard Nimoy from “Spock’s Brain.”

1969 – Syndication: While Star Trek was cancelled after Season Three, the 79 original episodes were enough to take the series to syndication. Kaiser Broadcasting stations in many markets began airing the show on Sept. 8, 1969, three years to the day after the series premiere on NBC. It was these daily airings that made the show a much bigger hit than it had ever been on network TV. The success of Star Trek in syndication not only launched franchise, it changed the syndication market forever.

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The Animated Series could afford special effects like forcefield belts.

1973 – Animated Series: Star Trek’s first return to TV came in the form of Filmation’s animated series. While it was not the first live-action show to make the jump to Saturday morning cartoons, most other similar cartoon series were based on comedy shows and featured kid-ified versions of the original. Star Trek: The Animated Series — run by many of the same people as the original and featuring most of the original cast — was not completely dumbed down the way many contemporary cartoon series were.

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A drawing of the bridge of the Enterprise for the proposed Phase II series.

1977 – The Paramount Network: This time around, Star Trek failed to change TV, but instead launched as a motion picture series. As part of the company’s attempt to launch a fourth TV network, Paramount Television commissioned Star Trek: Phase II, a new series that would anchor the network’s weekend programming block. Six months before the network’s launch, plans were cancelled and Phase II became Star Trek: The Motion Picture launching a franchise that would stay in continuous production for the next 27 years.

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The first season cast of TNG poses with, from right, Bob Justman, Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman.

1987 – First-run Syndication: With the success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in movie theaters, Paramount was finally ready to bring Star Trek back to the small screen as Star Trek: The Next Generation. But instead of selling the show to a network, the studio did something new, offering it to the stations that already aired The Original Series. And they offered to let the stations air it for free as part of a barter deal. This system, which was used far more often for game shows, took a lot of the pressure for immediate success. Paramount was able to support the show by retaining part of the ad time from each airing. And if TNG had been a failure after one year, Paramount would have just added those episodes onto the end of their existing package of TOS episodes. However, TNG was a huge success and it created a huge market for first-run syndicated dramas such as Babylon 5, Hercules, Highlander and TNG’s own spinoff, Deep Space Nine.

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USS Voyager, flaship of a new network.

1995 – United Paramount Network: Nearly two decades after Star Trek: Phase II, Paramount again tried to launch a new network. This time, Star Trek: Voyager was the UPN’s flagship show and the only show to launch with the network and be renewed for a second season. Voyager would run seven years, followed by Enterprise for four seasons.

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2017 – CBS All Access: Discovery will not be the first streaming-only series. But it is the first big budget scripted series produced specifically for the streaming component of a traditional TV network. CBS has been a radio and TV network for 90 years and is now making a major step into the online world. If this series is a hit, Star Trek will again change how TV is delivered, marketed and consumed.

 

Random Review: The Omega Directive (VOY)

Star Trek: Voyager

“The Omega Directive”

Season 4, Episode 21

First aired: April 15, 1998

Network: UPN

Teleplay by: Lisa Klink

Story by: Jimmy Diggs and Steve J. Kay

Directed by: Victor Lobi

Log line: Captain Janeway must carry out a top-secret Starfleet directive regarding the most powerful substance known to exist.

See Memory Alpha for a complete plot summary.

Non-spoiler review: An attempt to tell a character story inside a high-concept science fiction plot gives us some interesting insight into Seven of Nine’s journey towards humanity as well as her time with the Borg. However, the episode raises far too many questions that go completely unacknowledged by the script.

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Analysis:  As a character piece for Seven, who was introduced at the beginning of this season of Voyager, “The Omega Directive” does some interesting things. We see some of the values that her time with the Borg instilled in her as well as her coming to grips with the reality of her newfound humanity. She has to decide whether her own personal goals are more important than the ship’s and at the end she has the beginnings of a religious experience when she witnesses Omega come together spontaneously.

Around all this is a Starfleet captain and crew taking actions that are completely against many of the principles of the Federation and Star Trek in general. Janeway suspends the Prime Directive, invades an alien world, steals their technology and then destroys it. In a normal situation, that’s at least four violations of basic rules and principles that are well-established as Federation policy.

Janeway herself makes the case (through her standing orders from Starfleet) that the Omega substance is so deadly that it must be destroyed. That’s potentially a valid viewpoint — especially given that an Omega reaction could rob Voyager’s ability to go to warp — but Seven is the only character who questions the plan of attack. And she’s doing it for personal reasons, not because Janeway is asking the crew to temporarily throw away their principles. This feels like a first draft of a script that needs another scene or two in the middle to let the characters hash out the right thing to do.

Chakotay, for one, should at least question the idea of the Federation taking an almost paternalistic attitude toward the aliens who developed Omega. The idea that the Federation is so smart and good that it can go in and push these guys around should rub him the wrong way. I can imagine him eventually agreeing to Janeway’s plan, but not without an argument. His one good scene with Janeway is focused around his attempt to help her connect to the Voyager family as a whole. It’s not a bad scene, but this is one time where his character almost demands to be in conflict with her, at least for a little while.

Additionally, the alien scientist mentions that his people need Omega to save their planet. Janeway doesn’t even bother to explain why she’s stealing it from him and the episode spends no time exploring the consequences she just inflicted on an alien world.

It’s these lack of consequences that were so frustrating to many Voyager viewers while the show was on the air. It’s as if the writers were somehow held back from thinking through to the logical conclusion a given story. Or they just thought it was too complicated to deal with in 42 minutes.

Sure, this was the era of episodic TV and the reset button was always a part of Voyager’s DNA. But bringing up the question of when it’s OK to abandon your principles is the root of a lot of great drama. They had a good idea here when they presented a problem so big that Janeway must do ANYTHING to solve it. But they drop the ball so badly in addressing the consequences that the plot falls apart and the character work with Seven feels trivial.

Summary: Character-wise, this was an interesting exploration of Seven of Nine. But overall it was a frustrating example of missed chances at some real legitimate dramatic conflict. The plot raises several questions about ethics and principles and makes no effort to explore them.

Rating: 5 of 10

NEXT TIME ON RANDOM REVIEWS:

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1, Episode 12

“Miri”

Spoilers: Burnham and Vulcans

Yesterday’s panel at Comic-Con International added some more details to what we know about Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham. The panel revealed that Burnham was raised as Spock’s adopted sister after her parents were killed.

Sonequa Martin-Green plays Burnham, the lead character in Star Trek: Discovery. We previously learned that she had a close relationship with Ambassador Sarek (James Frain), Spock’s father. We now know that she was actually raised alongside Spock by Sarek and Amanda.

The trailer, also revealed at Comic-Con, includes a shot of Frain approaching an injured girl. This is presumably a flashback to her rescue.

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We also know that Sarek has an important role to play in the series. From the trailer, it looks like Burnham and Sarek have some personal issues to sort through. In the nearly 50 years since the character’s first appearance he has been shown to be a somewhat difficult father figure.

Burnham’s relationship to Spock will be explored later in the series, according to producers speaking at the panel.

During the time period in question, Spock and his father were not speaking. The TOS episode “Journey to Babel” shows their first reunion in 18 years. Discovery is set about 11 years before that episode.

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Spock’s expression of his mother’s human ancestry was a source of conflict for the character during The Original Series. The fact that he was apparently raised with an older human sister may inform that conflict and help explain his rather human reactions in the original pilot, “The Cage,” which takes place a year or two before the first episode of Discovery.

the cage spock smile

This is not the first time we have learned of a secret older sibling in Spock’s family. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier introduced the emotional Vulcan Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), who was Sarek’s son from an earlier marriage and Spock’s half-brother.

sybok

The fact that neither sibling was ever mentioned in the series is consistent with the Vulcans’ preference for privacy in family matters.

 

Coming Soon: The Random Review

With more than 700 classic Star Trek episodes to look at, we have much more than a five-year mission ahead of us. So we’re starting with a jump around from episode to episode. We will use a random number generator to pick an episode from the entire history of Star Trek.

Our first random number drawing is No. 545. That corresponds to a Voyager episode called “The Omega Directive.”

Voyager is available to stream on Amazon, Netflix, CBS All Access, YouTube and a few other services. Or, you can buy Season 4 on Amazon.

 

What is Star Trek: Discovery?

Here’s a rundown of what we know now in July 2017. By the time the show premieres, we will know a lot more.

  • Premiere: In the U.S., the show will air a two-hour debut episode Sept. 24, 2017, on regular CBS network TV. The series will then shift to the online platform CBS All Access, where episodes will be released weekly through November. Then the show returns with the second half of the first season beginning in January 2018. There will be a total of 15 first-season episodes.
  • How to get the show: CBS All Access is a subscription service for U.S.-based viewers. The cost is currently $6.99 a month (or $11.99 with no ads). Outside the U.S., the show will be released on Netflix.
  • Setting: The show is set about 10 years before The Original Series — in the original TV timeline, not the recent movie timeline — and will take place aboard at least two Federation starships, the USS Discovery and the USS Shenzhou.
  • Story: We don’t know a lot, but we do know that the show will tell a serialized story throughout the season that will likely involved the Klingons.
  • Producers: The show has already had some changes in the production staff. The following producers have contributed in a variety of roles since the show was announced in 2015. In the coming weeks we will be profiling each of the principle people involved in the show.
    • Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek reboot films)
    • Bryan Fuller (Voyager, Deep Space Nine, Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, American Gods)
    • Heather Kadin (Sleepy Hollow, Scorpion, Tales From the Darkside)
    • Gretchen J. Berg (Reign, Revenge, GCB, Mercy, Pushing Daisies)
    • Aaron Harberts (Reign, Revenge, GCB, Mercy, Pushing Daisies)
    • Akiva Goldsman (Fringe, Transformers, Paranormal Activity, I am Legend, Batman & Robin, Batman Forever)
    • Rod Roddenberry (Star Trek: Inside the Roddenberry Vault, Trek Nation, Earth: Final Conflict)
    • Trevor Roth (Rod & Barry, Star Trek: Inside the Roddenberry Vault, Trek Nation)
    • David Semel (Goliath, Pure Genius, Madam Secretary, Legends, Person of Interest, Heroes)
    • Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II, Star Trek IV, Star Trek VI, Elegy, The Day After, Time After Time)
    • Vincenzo Natali (Utopia, Hunter, Getting Gilliam, Cube, Westworld)
  • Cast and characters: One of the biggest differences in this show is that the main character will not be the commanding officer of the ship, but rather the first officer. At least, that’s what they are telling us before the first episode. We know very little about that characters and each person’s relative importance to the show as a whole.
    • Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham is played by Sonequa Martin-Green (Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, The Good Wife). Burnham is the first officer of the USS Shenzhou and will be called “Number One” in reference to Majel Barrett’s character from the original Star Trek pilot. She has a close relationship to Vulcan Ambassador Sarek (Spock’s father). The choice of a traditionally male name for the character has not been explained yet.
    • Capt. Gabriel Lorca is played by Jason Isaacs (The OA, Hitman, Star Wars: Rebels, Avatar: The Last Airbender). Lorca is captain of the USS Discovery. He is described as a brilliant tactician.’
    • Lt. Saru is played by Doug Jones (The Strain, Falling Skies, The Flash, Arrow). Saru is the first Kelpian in Starfleet. His species has developed an ability to sense danger. The Kelpians have been created for this new series, so Jones will be working with a blank slate.
    • Lt. Stamets is played by Anthony Rapp (Rent, Dazed and Confused). Stamets is a science officer.
    • Sarek is played by James Frain (Gotham, Agent Carter, True Detective, Tron: Legacy). Frain plays a younger version of the character played by Mark Lenard in The Original Series, the films and The Next Generation.
    • Chief Medical Officer Nambue is played by Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock, Phineas and Ferb, Weeds).
    • Ensign Connor is played by Sam Vartholomeos (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).
    • Admiral Anderson is played by Terry Serpico (The Inspectors, Blue Bloods, Rescue Me, Army Wives).
    • Cadet Tilly is played by Mary Wiseman (Baskets, Longmire). Tilly is a fourth-year cadet assigned to Discovery.

Engage! TV Trek News launches

Hello and welcome to TV Trek News.

In the coming months we will cover the return of Star Trek to the small screen. Star Trek Discovery, the sixth (or seventh, if you count the animated series) series debuts this fall on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Netflix around the world.

This site will bring you news, rumors, episode reviews, cast profiles and interviews based around the new series. We also plan to look back at the rich 50-year history of Star Trek on TV with rewatches of classic episodes, news and info on the cast and crew and reviews of tie-in media.

Coming this weekend, full coverage of the Star Trek Discovery panel at Comic-Con International.