Next May CBS is bringing back a television style Star Trek series for the first time in over a decade with Star Trek: Discovery. Instead of being on a broadcast network or anywhere that can be seen on television, the series will be offered on CBS’s new streaming platform CBS All Access.
Recently CBS Interactive CEO Jim Lanzone said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka that there is a reason for the show appearing on the streaming platform rather than on TV.
“Sci-fi is not something that has traditionally done really well on broadcast,” Lanzone said. “It’s not impossible, for the future, if somebody figures it out. But historically, a show like ‘Star Trek’ wouldn’t necessarily be a broadcast show, at this point.”
The biggest problem with this reasoning is that it’s ridiculous.
While the original Star Trek was cancelled, the four series that followed all had good runs on television. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were in syndication but both Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise aired on Paramount’s UPN network for 7 and 4 years respectively.
While Enterprise struggled a lot in it’s four years with ratings, peaking some in the last two, that is something more likely attributed to the fact that the show could never fully figure out what it wanted to be. That includes the fact that it was a prequel that also wanted to be a sequel with it seeming to have tech more advanced than the Star Trek: The Original Series, which takes place almost a century later.
None were the ratings juggernaut that something like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead are now, both on Cable and not broadcast networks of course, but realistically almost none of the long-running or popular shows that are on TV right now are or ever will be. So does that mean that those shows shouldn’t be on TV?
Now if this was a wholly original science fiction series, the argument could be made that it would likely have a hard time finding an audience on broadcast networks. Many of those networks are notorious for pulling the plug quickly on shows that do not catch a lot of eyes on a sustainable basis in season one.
Cable networks, both basic and premium, tend to have more leeway with their shows in most cases. Not all, there have been some one-hit/one-season wonders on cable channels as well.
The thing is though, this isn’t some original concept series that has to be built up. This is Star Trek. A property with name brand recognition that just had a feature film out this summer and celebrated it’s 50th anniversary two months ago.
There are still entire conventions centered around the franchise.
People would tune into CBS, The CW, or wherever to watch the show. In fact it probably would be well at home on The CW, which CBS partly owns, alongside all the other genre shows like the DC Shows and Supernatural, Vampire Diaries and all the rest.
Lanzone went on to mention that if they go digital the rules of the FCC no longer count against them and they could include nudity and swearing, claiming that the showrunners jumped at that idea.
The giddy nature of wanting to be able to show nudity and invent future cursing for Star Trek shows that something about the fundamental nature of the series escapes them. Star Trek has survived as a pop culture icon for 50 years without showing naked people or having filthy curse filled rants.
You want sex and cursing in your science fiction, go watch the awesome Battlestar Galactica reboot. It works there.
None of that is needed in Star Trek.
Lanzone and the rest of CBS can say whatever they want about this move to digital, but it’s a cash grab. Simple as that. It costs $6 a month, $10 if you want no commercials, for people to join CBS All Access and all they will get is Star Trek: Discovery, a spinoff of The Good Wife called The Good Fight and a bunch of reruns of other CBS shows.
That means they get money from the advertisers and the subscribers. Double dipping. Everyone else has a streaming service and CBS wants in on it.
What makes it even more egregious is that in the rest of the world they get to watch the show through Netflix. Only in the United States are you required to go pay for another streaming service with next to nothing on it just to watch this one show.
Own up to what you are doing CBS. Don’t try to bullshit your way out of this. You want to build a streaming service. That’s fine, others have them.
Don’t pretend that you are doing this because you are scared the series might fail on TV and you totally want to see it live so you are putting all this money into a streaming service to make it live.
In fact putting it on this pay service is likely to end up killing the show because if they don’t get enough subscribers to make the service cost effective there is little hope that the show would then jump to broadcast networks.
Star Trek belongs on television where it can be viewed by the masses, and nothing CBS says will ever convince me otherwise.