Prospectus for a worthwhile Star Trek TV reboot

[Blog topic by request of Vega]

I really enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ theatrical reboot of Star Trek until I watched the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise and realized that the show runners eventually got that show on track despite themselves and managed to create a series that better captured the essence of what Trek is supposed to be about than anything since Next Generation‘s heyday. I still like Abrams’ work, but it definitely feels like an alternate universe… which it is. One that Paramount can easily retcon as soon as it suits their purposes. Everyone in Trek always tries to right broken timelines, so there’s an unspoken Damocles sword hanging over the films.

Like the films or not, the entire Trek concept is being sadly squandered by the movies. Not because they’re bad or false or anything, but because they barely scratch the surface of things. We care about movie-Kirk and movie-Enterprise because we like the versions of those things that were developed over the course of 80-odd television episodes in the ’60s, not because the movies have made them particularly compelling. What Trek really needs is a new TV series. But not a typical Trek TV series. We don’t need seven seasons of 26 episodes apiece, the first 50 episodes of which force us to suffer through the producers, writers, and actors trying to get a handle on the whole affair.

No, what we need is Trek in the mold of an AMC or HBO premium series like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, or Mad Men. A series conceived from the beginning to uphold a higher standard of writing, of acting, and of planning. A few short seasons — no more than 13 episodes per season — that follows a clear plot arc in service of a definite conclusion.

Most importantly, it needs to focus on characters. Not big galactic conflicts, not dopey cultural snafus, not first contacts. Those things should be present, but they should exist in the background in service to building the characters and the tensions and conflicts the primary cast experiences. The writing should be grounded and interesting. No stupid technobabble allowed; or at the very least, any technobabble that appears should be constrained and consistent.

The question then becomes, what would the setting be? Trek takes place in space, usually on starships, which makes for a nicely self-contained bubble for the cast. But I think the standard approach of a Federation starship on a mission of exploration probably doesn’t lend itself to good internal drama, especially when the Federation’s starship crews are meant to be the best of the best of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian species, all rising above conflict and strife.

So maybe we look beyond the best of the best and explore life around the edges. Maybe we explore the life of a human captain in uncharted space, caught in a much larger plot? Or perhaps this theoretical Trek series revolves around a non-human. In any case, there would need to be a hard edge to the story. Place the protagonist into difficult, potentially compromising situations. Not a gritty and mature edge for the sake of being capital-B-badass, just a premise that would create genuine tension and legitimate stakes in a sense that’s rarely seen outside of the Xindi and Dominion arcs of Trek. At the same time, I wouldn’t want them to use those plotlines as the template, because using war as the premise feels like familiar territory.

One possibility: Set the series during a Federation/Romulan war… not an all-out conflict, but rather a cold war. Make the lead character a Vulcan who chooses to seemingly betray the Federation behind the scenes, providing tactical information that keeps the sides even. Why? Because she finds a bloodless stalemate more logical than a situation in which either faction gains the upper hand and one side or the other presses the advantage. Is she doing the right thing? Maybe, maybe not, but the “good guys” wouldn’t take too kindly to it. And the “bad guys” would probably find her useful only as long as her information was on-track.

Oh, yeah, and one other thing.


No effing time travel. That crap ruins stories. Keep it real. Make everything count. No cosmic reset buttons. This is a universe where people carry handguns that can disintegrate your entire body in the space of a second. Let’s make it feel dangerous.

Either that, or make a cartoon focused entirely on the weird adventures of M’Ress.

24 thoughts on “Prospectus for a worthwhile Star Trek TV reboot

  1. I really enjoy the new Star Trek films for the concept-spectacle that they are — but a quality TV story-arc would be better in every way. Just need more people watching Star Trek TV episodes on Netflix, until some critical mass is reached similar to House of Cards.

  2. “We care about movie-Kirk and movie-Enterprise because we like the versions of those things that were developed over the course of 80-odd television episodes in the ’60s, not because the movies have made them particularly compelling.”

    If you mean because the time was there to flesh everyone out beforehand, sure; if you mean audiences remembering them… well, I’ve never watched the original series (or much of any other), but have enjoyed the film versions regardless.

    • Same here: I never really cared much about the classic series (I grew up with Next Generation, though), but I really liked the movies. And that is mostly because of the inter-character dynamics. The Final Frontier might not have the most convincing plot nor dialogue, but that camping fire scene still manages to warm my heart. In those movies one can sense, that the crew members have gone through a lot together (and that the writers and actors knew them quite well). So, yes the series background works in the movies’ favour, even for those who did not watch too many of the series’ episodes.

      • Yep, exactly. The new films are coasting off that same grace, but the characters they present haven’t actually shared those experiences.

  3. I’d love a new Star Trek series. The movies have been decent, but they’re J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and not the Trek I grew up watching and loving. Deep Space Nine is my favorite of the Trek series, so more of that would be welcome.

    With the lack of decent science fiction on television, I’m not sure I want a new Star Trek as much as I want a new series in the vein of Babylon 5. I’ve been watching it again lately and I’m still impressed at the story they pulled off on such a tight budget.

  4. I would be happy with another stab at an animated series, even if it was (sigh) CG. The film cast could theoretically reprise their roles without nearly as many constraints on scheduling and the audience would have more than four hours to actually build a real connection to those actors as those characters.

  5. This sounds a bit like Firefly too. Maybe a blend of Trek, Farscape, and Firefly. You know we would watch that one.

    • Yeah, I almost referenced Farscape. But the big difference is I’d ease off on the wildly nonhuman characters and overall outlandish look/tone of the show — Farscape is super off-putting to most people because of that.

      • Soooo… yeah, Babylon 5, basically. Only ideally without all the rough spots in the first couple seasons and the last one.

      • I’ll have to take your word on that. B5 always looked kind of unbearable to me.

  6. While I agree that character focus is tantamount to an enjoyable Star Trek, I disagree that a season long story arc is the way to go. Something about the episodic structure of the original and TNG is much more appealing to me in that universe. Some of my favorite moments from the original series is that final minute when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy gather around the captain’s chair for one final zinger (The interplay between those three is something I miss in the Abrahms version). I find this sort of “monster of the week” format comforting, in that, at the end of the day, I don’t have to worry about any broad reaching implications. I do like that in particular shows, just not in my Star Trek.

    • I’m not saying that’s the only way to do good Trek. I’m saying that’s the way to make the series work as a premium cable series.

  7. I’d be very interested in a show about a Vulcan-maintained Cold War between the Federation and Romulans. The slow burn and the resonance with past and present Cold Wars has lots of potential. I wonder what the main set would be for this show. An unglamorous transport ship? A building on a border planet? The interstellar UN?

    As you say, it wouldn’t be Star Trek as we know it. It would be Star Trek as it can and must be.

    Thanks for doing mine!

    • I had trouble imagining characters for this show, but I can imagine one: A hot-headed counter-spy who wants to destabilize the Cold War for personal gain, maybe a Klingon free agent. The overt rivalry would be between the Federation and the Romulan Empire while the show focuses on the rivalry between the Vulcan and Klingon spies, and all four parties would have different interests.

      • Or rather, a Ferengi free agent. Vulcans and Ferengis both can juggle numbers, but with very different purposes, perhaps even diametrically opposed purposes.

      • Except it can’t be Ferengi, because the Federation doesn’t know jack about them (somehow, considering how big of players they seem to be by DS9) until TNG. I guess (like the Borg) the Ferengi incident in Enterprise was just filed away in some storage cabinet somewhere, and everyone forgot about it.
        I guess it could be a Ferengi if they never actually meet any of the Feddies. That

  8. Damnit, why’d you have to write this? :) The whole time I was reading it I was being reminded why I don’t read speculative fiction set in present Earth. I wish for the things I’m reading to be true, but too soon realise that they only exist in the writer’s head.

  9. Awesome post! I actually voiced similar thoughts to Richard Arnold ( at the last Trek convention in Chicago. Just what are the odds for a new Trek series, and what kind of show should it be?

    As I put it in my question, there have been two successful new movies with ‘Star Trek’ in the title. Many people have been revisiting the series’s better moments on NetFlix. TV production values have dramatically improved, as you said. There have been plenty of significant global political events for the writers to allegorize. There’s now enough distance between modern audiences and the Trek fatigue that grew from ‘Voyager’ to ‘Enterprise.’ (Side note, I’m one of those guys who gave up on Enterprise early and didn’t get to the good stuff until recently…) In other words, the iron is hot.

    He agreed, Star Trek works best as a TV show about stores of the human condition and spirit, but we won’t see a new series any time soon. The Abrams movies are great action movies, but as you said have little to do with what Star Trek is actually about. They’re expensive movies, designed for broad audiences that Trek fans alone can’t sustain. Actually, Trek fans would account for — at most — only ten percent of the box office receipts Paramount would need for movies of that scale to be profitable, according to Paramount’s demographic data. And, Arnold said, the studio made that point abundantly clear to JJ Abrahms. So, the movies are fun, exciting rides by experienced film crews who know how to make engaging cinema. The fact that they’re able to throw a bone to Trek fans here an there is a bonus.

    Sadly, it’s as good as we’re going to get for some time. Star Trek is the most valuable franchise in Paramount’s ownership, yet the financial failure of ‘Enterprise’ hurt. Arnold also said that Paramount’s current CEO has ‘never seen an episode of “Star Trek,” has no interest in actively producing new TV content, and will not green-light a new series.’ Until there’s a change in management, no new series.

    As for what kind of show he’d want a new series to be, he didn’t answer — to avoid legal conflict and potential fan rage, most likely. I followed up by asking what people could do to show interest in a new series, since writing letters and signing petitions is effectively worthless to studio execs. To that, he just asked Trek fans and collectors to stop buying the worthless Trek novel and other licensed junk that encourages Paramount to remain complacent about their position. Spend the money on quality to show that you want quality.

    Anyway, thought I’d share. Sorry for the long-winded comment. I just found it interesting for me hear the perspective of a guy who’s been directly involved with Trek for so long, whether you agree with his views or not. But hey, maybe there IS some hope, with a newly announced Paramount TV division ( If EarthBound can come back, so an Trek…

  10. Now I’m pretty interested in seeing what other blog posts you have lined up. Seems like we might be getting some wildly diverse content. Also sounds like you have your work cut out for you, but that’s an incredibly cool thing you’re doing here.

    I’m no Trekkie. Before a few months ago, when I saw ST2009, I had never seen more than a minute of Star Trek anything. Couldn’t tell a Vulcan from a Romulan. All I really learned was that Zachary Quinto is a pretty solid actor, and movies with Chris Pine are to be avoided. Really, though, the entire movie was pretty dull sci-fi blockbuster nonsense. It was slick enough, but it certainly didn’t make me want to see more. I’m sure ST fans will tell me how unrepresentative that film is, but…

    Then again, I might see the sequel just to see Benedict Cumberbatch play the lead villain. He’s a tremendous actor, one definitely to keep an eye on, and he knows how to play nasty. The BBC Sherlock series is fairly derivative and unexciting, but he (and Martin Freeman) keep me watching it.

    And yes, please no more time travel. Looper is the only in recent memory that has done anything interesting with it. It doesn’t bother to dwell on the specifics, either; as Bruce Willis’ character emphatically said, “we’re not going to sit here and talk about time travel bullshit!”

  11. How about a series of episodes focusing on one particular aspect of the Trek Universe with characters and storylines isolated to those particular episodes but with cross over characters who unite the entire series and overall story arc. Think The Wire. 5 seasons. One focus on Romulan Cold War, one on Federation Civilian explorers lost in deep space (think Silent Running), one on a Privateer ala Firefly, one set at Starfleet HQ with the somewhat pseudo-fascist politics that begin in Starfleet always implied but nobody ever bothered to comment on in the entire history of Trek and, and one at the Federation Shipyards with engineers and scientists, building the tech of tomorrow . . .TODAY!

    • The Wire was impressive for how much it changed its focus each season while keeping track of everything. For Star Trek to do that, it would have to be able to establish a ship and crew, then in maybe season 3 or 4 make the show more about the people and planets it has met.

      In general, I think it would be interesting for some characters to strongly affect each other without having many chances to meet. Movies like Twelve Angry Men, American History X and Memento had the characters with the biggest disagreements travel in different social circles. Putting people in between them makes their worlds feel bigger.

  12. Those are great ideas, I agree with you, before the reboot of the series with JJ Abrams movies, the only way the Trek story would end up with a Federation – Romulan open conflict. I always wanted a Trek series to deal with the outer rims of the galaxy and what usually happens there, maybe the characters are elite federation agents or federation rangers, which have to take tough decisions and tough calls in order to resolve further conflicts, linked with mercenaries, underground dealers, arms traffic, etc.

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