The Star Trek franchise is set to undergo a sizable expansion over the next few years, with a number of different TV shows in the works, but why is this strategy being implemented now? Since Gene Roddenberry introduced Star Trek to the world in the 1960s, the core story of a lone spaceship exploring the final frontier has branched out into a nebula of movies, television shows, books and comics, containing both official canon entries and a range of wider media outside of the prime history.
For over half a century, Star Trek has retained the cult following that first fell in love with the original adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and has become arguably the most defining influence in the entire science fiction genre. New elements have been added over the decades, with more mature stories, scarier villains and increasingly multi-dimensional characters joining the intergalactic fun, ensuring that Star Trek continues to boldly go - long after the passing of its creator.
Star Trek's ownership is a shared arrangement, with the television rights resting solely with the CBS Corporation and Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures responsible for the big screen output. However, the landscape of the Star Trek franchise is set to change dramatically in the near future.
How The Star Trek Franchise Is Expanding
Star Trek began life on television with The Original Series and has since clocked a total of 5 further TV productions over the past fifty years, including the non-canon Star Trek: The Animated Series. At the time of writing, however, the are a further 5 new Star Trek offerings in development, including the currently-running Star Trek: Discovery. With Discovery acting as the primary current Trek series, CBS are also planning Star Trek: Picard, starring Patrick Stewart in his iconic role as Jean-Luc Picard, a Section 31 spinoff, an animated comedy from the head writer of Rick and Morty called Star Trek: Lower Decks and a second animated project aimed at a younger audience set to air on the Nickelodeon network.
Although release dates for many of these remain unannounced at present, it has been confirmed that the shows are being developed in quick succession. Production is currently underway on both Star Trek: Discovery season 3 and Star Trek: Picard, with franchise chief, Alex Kurtzman, claiming that work would begin on the Section 31 spinoff immediately after wrapping on season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery. Animation on Star Trek: Lower Decks also began earlier this year and a new batch of Short Trek episodes has also been green-lit.
As such, it's likely that these 5 projects will be released fairly close together and some overlap will almost certainly occur. This strategy represents a huge increase in Star Trek's presence on TV screens, with the overall amount of programming almost doubling in the few years since the release of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, compared to the previous half decade.
Why Are So Many Star Trek TV Shows Being Developed Now?
With Star Trek seeing a steady but scattered release of TV shows over its 53 year history, there has to be some explanation behind CBS' decision to simultaneously commission a whole range of fresh projects, and the rising popularity of streaming is sure to be a big driving factor.
Viewers are increasingly consuming their TV via on-demand streaming instead of the traditional broadcast model that has dominated since the contraption first found its way into every living room in the Western world, and Netflix remains at the forefront of this movement. In order to adapt to this shifting industry and compete with new rivals, networks and studios are beginning to offer customers their own in-house streaming platforms, with Disney+ and Warner Bros.' HBO Max just two prime examples. CBS have also joined the game with CBS: All Access, and Star Trek: Discovery is undoubtedly the company's biggest draw to this particular service, with an international release via Netflix propelling the series towards becoming the most popular streaming show in the world. It's only natural that CBS would seek to capitalize on this success and, predictably, 4 of the 5 current Star Trek products will indeed be airing exclusively on CBS: All Access.
Clearly, Star Trek is being used as CBS' trump card in the imminent streaming wars but this isn't the only reason behind the incoming glut of new material. Netflix has enjoyed a huge head start in the streaming realm and has progressed enough to put out its own high-quality programming. In order to immediately compete at that same level (and charge a fee near the same price point), studio-specific streaming platforms have one major advantage: established franchises.
Disney+ are developing several new shows based on their Marvel Studios and Star Wars properties, while HBO Max can rely on the likes of DC, Game of Thrones and Friends. The options available to CBS are somewhat more limited and Star Trek is by far the most recognizable and far-reaching brand available to them. With an entire streaming platform to fill with content, it's perhaps no surprise that CBS: All Access is relying so heavily on Star Trek and, in a clear sign of the company's intentions, CBS recently launched the Star Trek Global Franchise Group with the idea of building an entirely new brand strategy.
The production of so many new Star Trek stories may not have been such a viable option if the franchise was still thriving on the big screen. J. J. Abrams' 2009 movie reboot led to a trilogy of cinematic Star Trek adventures starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, but a fourth movie was cancelled after Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond suffered diminishing returns. A Quentin Tarantino Star Trek movie is currently being mooted for an unknown date in the future but remains speculative at present, leaving the franchise essentially dormant as far as the big screen is concerned, and thereby opening a path for major expansion on TV.
Will The Star Trek Expansion Be Successful?
The growing emphasis on streaming may have pushed networks towards a change of approach, and Star Trek is comfortably CBS' strongest option as a foundation for their own in-house platform, but that doesn't necessarily mean the strategy will succeed. The forthcoming Star Trek selection looks set to offer something for (almost) everyone, with Star Trek: Discovery acting as the main, action-based series, the Section 31 spinoff presenting something darker and more mature, Star Trek: Picard based around the draw of Patrick Stewart's return, Lower Decks sticking to more comedic fare and the Nickelodeon venture designed to appeal to a younger audience.
The purpose of this genre diversity is clear - if Star Trek is to become the face of CBS: All Access, it needs to appeal to more than just the established core fan base and the upcoming slate hits all the major TV demographics in the same way that Disney's Star Wars and Warner Bros.' DC superheroes have a crossover appeal that detours through a variety of genres and tones. Unfortunately, this is where CBS' Star Trek plans may derail, as the franchise's suitability for this role is contestable.
Certainly, Star Trek has, at times, appealed to both children and adults and wouldn't have enjoyed such longevity without drawing in new fans throughout the years. With that said, there's a reason why kids in 2019 can be seen wearing T-shirts that feature Stormtroopers instead of Klingons and eating out of lunchboxes adorned with Darth Vader's image and not Khan's. The likes of Star Wars, DC comics and even The Lord of the Rings on Amazon Prime are ideally suited to prop up a streaming service because their brand was constructed and intended for the broadest possible appeal.
While Star Trek possesses the same kind of massive fictional world and iconic cast of characters as those franchises, it wasn't necessarily designed to step out of its original boundaries with the same degree of flexibility. It could even be said that the franchise's enduring appeal is less to do with luring in new generations of fans, and owes more to the established following standing by Star Trek through thick and thin. By aiming content directly at children or comedy fans, CBS is attempting to rebrand Star Trek from an entity that generally only appeals to sci-fi fans to something that everyone can enjoy and this represents a huge risk. Established fans could feel alienated by Star Trek's new direction, or the franchise's geeky reputation may prove too strong, pushing away the casual audience CBS is trying to bring in.
It's entirely possible that the new range Star Trek projects will all be worthy shows in their own right but, even then, there's a risk of saturation. With 5 CBS Star Trek series running concurrently, and selected cast and crew crossing over between some of them, there's a strong chance of Star Trek burnout over the coming years, with fans struggling to maintain interest (or invest time into) so many different offerings.
CBS' long term plans for Star Trek are understandable and the network certainly aren't the only streaming service providers that could be accused of milking a franchise to generate enough content to make a subscription fee justifiable. In the network's pursuit of staying relevant, however, the Star Trek brand could quickly become something that bears little resemblance to its history or traditions and this, if nothing else, isn't likely to sit well with long time fans.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 and Star Trek: Picard are currently without release dates. More news as it arrives.