Star Trek is once again a united franchise, thanks to some corporate wrangling. The announcement that Viacom and CBS have agreed to re-merge isn't just important from a business standpoint, it's tremendously exciting for longtime Star Trek fans, as the franchise has struggled to regain its footing in pop culture since its film and television rights were split over a decade ago.
Even prior to the merger, Star Trek has been on the rebound on the small screen. Star Trek: Discovery has proved a huge hit for CBS All Access in America - and for Netflix internationally - and the hype for Star Trek: Picard reached a fever pitch with the unveiling of its San Diego Comic-Con trailer featuring the return of several TNG and Voyager stalwarts. At the same time, the J.J. Abrams-produced Star Trek films appear to have flamed out with the well-reviewed but little-seen Star Trek Beyond.
Many fans may have assumed that the differences between Star Trek in film and television over the last decade was simply a creative choice, putting the meat and potatoes Kirk and Spock adventures in the big-budget movies, while letting shows like Discovery and Picard delve into the more nuanced, socially relevant territory the franchise excels in. But that's not the case; Star Trek has been unfortunately bifurcated for most of the 21st century, leading to a franchise that often feels like it lacks cohesion and an overall vision. That's all about to change with the CBS/Viacom merger.
But before we get into what this all means for the future of the final frontier, let's take a look at how Star Trek got into such a mess in the first place.
How The Star Trek Rights Split (& How That Changed Movies & TV)
In 2006, CBS and Viacom became two separate corporate entities, ostensibly a way for the surging Viacom to thrive without the burden of having to drag the flailing CBS network with them. That corporate divorce was harder on Star Trek than most franchises; it was already in dire straits with the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise the year prior and the box office disaster of Star Trek: Nemesis just a few years earlier. CBS inherited the rights to Star Trek - both past and future series - on television, while Viacom's Paramount Pictures retained the rights to make and distribute the films. Star Trek has basically been operating with one arm tied behind its back ever since.
When J.J. Abrams rebooted the film series in 2009, he was eager to capitalize on that film's success by producing a television spinoff. CBS, however, was not interested in helping a corporate rival strengthen their property, so they declined to work with Abrams. The stories of pettiness between the two camps are not rare, with there being a tentative agreement that each side would essentially stay off the other's turf. For example, when CBS finally got around to producing Star Trek: Discovery, it was set a decade before The Original Series events, with no overlapping characters or ships. When the Enterprise did show up, it looked slightly different than it had been shown before, with Captain Pike in the command chair instead of Captain Kirk. One of the first indications that relations between Viacom and CBS could be thawing was the prominent inclusion of not only Spock, but the Enterprise and her crew in Star Trek: Discovery's second season.
Star Trek Being Reunited Is Not The Viacom Merger's Goal
Ironically, by 2018 the fortunes of CBS and Viacom had more or less reversed. CBS is now the most-watched network on American television, and All Access has exceeded expectations not only with Star Trek: Discovery, but other successful series like The Good Fight and The Twilight Zone. Meanwhile, Viacom's once-dominant cable television portfolio is much weaker in the streaming age, while Paramount's only current successful film franchise is Mission: Impossible, which hinges entirely on the health and continued interest of its 57-year old star, Tom Cruise.
That doesn't necessarily mean CBS is riding high at the moment. Les Moonves, CBS's longtime chairman and CEO, was removed from his position after it was revealed he had a long history of sexual assault allegations. One of the network's biggest hits, Bull, was hit with similar issues, as star Michael Weatherly has been accused of acting inappropriately toward Buffy The Vampire Slayer alum Eliza Dushku. And while there's still an ongoing battle over the culture at CBS, the merger with Viacom is the sort of unqualified good news the company has been desperate for.
The Best Of Both Worlds - The Future Of Star Trek
So what does all this corporate maneuvering mean for Star Trek? Short term, it's still unclear. CBS All Access' plans for the franchise on the small screen will almost certainly remain unchanged; Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks will go on as planned. The bigger question mark is what becomes of the film franchise. While 2016's Star Trek Beyond was perhaps the best of the three Chris Pine-led alternate universe movies, it was marketed poorly and became a box office disappointment. After several false starts - and an extended flirtation with Quentin Tarantino - it seems as if the reboot films are indeed over.
That's likely a positive for CBS. They can start from scratch now, not having to serve the continuity and plot points of the Kelvin timeline. In many ways, this massively opens up the possibilities for what a Star Trek movie could look like in the future. Alex Kurtzman, who oversees all of CBS's Star Trek projects, would likely want to expand on his stable of series in any jump to theaters. There's no guarantee that Kurtzman would be the head of any future Star Trek film plans, but he certainly has the resume for it: before he oversaw CBS's Star Trek properties, he was a writer and producer on the Abrams' Trek films.
Tying the film franchise to what's been happening on the small screen could potentially solve one of CBS's current Star Trek dilemmas, though it's admittedly a happy one; after Discovery's second season, fans are salivating for more of Anson Mount's Christopher Pike, as well as his Enterprise crew of Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Spock (Ethan Peck). Pike's overwhelming popularity seems to have caught CBS off guard; the character will feature in a few Short Treks later in 2019, but can no longer show up in Discovery due to that show's time jump at the end of its second season. If a series set on the Enterprise isn't in the offing, a film starring Mount's Pike would be an easy way to make everyone happy.
It's hard to overstate how huge of a moment this is for Star Trek. At the height of the franchise's popularity in the mid-90s, the films and television shows fed each other in deeply rewarding ways; when Worf shows up at the beginning of Star Trek: First Contact piloting the USS Defiant, it meant more to fans because they knew of that ship's significance on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. When Admiral Katherine Janeway appears briefly in Star Trek: Nemesis to give Captain Picard his orders, it feels like a nice little nod for fans of Star Trek: Voyager. It's essentially what Marvel does now with their films - the interconnected nature of all these very different stories makes the world of Star Trek feel that much grander in scope. The possibilities are once again endless for the future of Star Trek, and that feels like a victory for everyone.