6 WAYS TO RESTORE STAR TREK TO TV
For a time, Star Trek was like the Olympic Torch or the fire at JFK’s grave. No one wanted to let it flame out.
A letter-writing campaign saved the original show from cancellation in 1968, though that bitter-sweet 3rd season would be its last. Come '73, Star Trek: The Animated Series filled the void, featuring voiceover from the actual cast, a sexy cat alien, and THIS dude with three arms. In 1979, creator Gene Roddenberry salvaged a failed TV revival and regurgitated it into Star Trek:The Motion Picture. This begot numerous sequels, and of course Trek's long-awaited return to TV with The Next Generation. Many spin-offs later, so-called “modern” Trek enjoyed an impressive 18-year run, but fizzled out with Enterprise and the box-office boner-cide that was Star Trek: Nemesis.
With his 2008 rebootification, J.J. Abrams' retrofitted the entire Star Trek continuity and managed to wow fans both old and new. After the disappointment that was Into Darkness, the whole franchise may need to dry-dock for an overhaul.
The below collection of proposals – derived from comics, novels, games, rejected pitches and scripts – embrace the “Abrams-verse” (read: When J.J. shot canon out of a cannon). Against the backdrop of reimagined continuity, you may end up with some interesting ideas, like…
1) STAR TREK: SECTION 31 begets STAR TREK MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE
Since this unofficial counter-intelligence wing of Starfleet featured prominently in the events of Into Darkness, it’s a great place to start. Section 31 was first introduced in DS9 and later became a clunky mini-arc on Enterprise. It inspired source material behind licensed novels and even a rad audio series, where Section 31 manipulates key events throughout Trek history.
There’s inherent fun in the premise. Imagine Mission: Impossible set in the mama-fudgin' future. Section 31 agents infiltrating the Orion Syndicate or destroying a Klingon moon or just ensuring Kirk’s testosterone levels are up – there’s ample room for intrigue and subterfuge, to say nothing for gadgets and gizmos.
Conversely, over-reliance on tech has long been blamed for Trek's latter-day long languid slide into lacking or lazy. Transporters, once a cost-cutting measure to avoid the practical concerns of landing a starship, became an awesome story device and later a crutch for resolving plots. Holodecks went from having a wondrous magical quality to being a ridiculous excuse to play dress-up.
HOW TO TWEAK IT? Play down the tech, play up the espionage and characterization. Forbes culture writer Alex Knapp once pitched an interesting take on this. It involves an undercover Starfleet agent who infiltrates Section 31 and becomes a reluctant participant in its morally dubious dealings.
What if part of Section 31’s machinations include rebuilding the original timeline? The ship Spock Prime used to boot-scoot-n-boogie continuity has to have files on the “established” history of Trek proper. With intel like that, Section 31’s attempts to course-correct allow endless potential for plotlines and reality-merging.
Let’s face it, it’s sad to assume that Kirk never fought Spock during Amok Time (because Vulcan blew up). Or that Nurse Chapel never joined the 5-year mission (because Kirk sexually harassed her). Or other ponderables, like Data never robo-banging Tasha Yar.
2) STARFLEET ACADEMY becomes STARFLEET MEDICAL
An inside look at Starfleet Academy is not a new idea, and now constitutes a significant chunk of the 2008 rehashish. Explored in novels, games, fan films and a 19-issue comic book featuring Nog.
Also, it's been rejected as a viable film or show several times. In 1990, movie producer Ralph Winter floated the notion of following Kirk, Spock and McCoy as cadets. Known as Star Trek: The First Adventure, it meant from-scratch recasting... an idea that wasn’t very popular with the original crew. To keep everyone happy, they filmed The Undiscovered Country instead.
In 2003, Bill Shatner approached UPN with a similar origin story meant for TV and containing interstitials framing each episode. Essentially the format would be: old Kirk and old Spock reminisce about their cadet days, presumably in a holographic convalescent home.
Then 40 minutes of a younger cast doing the heavy lifting. Right around this time, Enterprise was taking it up the torpedo tubes from critics and viewers alike. Fearing oversaturation, Paramount's answer was "no". Shatner’s take eventually became the hardback novel Star Trek: Academy, where Kirk first meets Spock in a strip club.
HOW TO TWEAK IT? Chuck aside using any of the original crew. Even if the movies didn’t have that covered, there’s already a certain staleness to the idea. An Academy setting could still work perhaps favoring non-human characters with a lot on their shoulders as they struggle to fit in. More on that later. For a fresher suggestion, what about Star Trek: Starfleet Medical? Eh?
From M*A*S*H to St. Elsewhere to E.R., the doctors-saving-lives formula has been done to death, and with good reason: It works. Whether it’s sexy interns at a learning hospital or a crotchety pill-popper with a genius for solving medical mysteries, these shows thrive.
Granted, most cases on Grey’s Anatomy and House, M.D. are little more than artful gimmickry. It could be a delicate balance keeping a show like Starfleet Medical character-driven but decidedly sci-fi.
Importantly, it’s not key that the show take place at Starfleet Academy or HQ. It could be on a ship or space station or outpost – just get 7 or so doctors together, slap a comm badge on ‘em and boom! You got a show.
3) STAR TREK: TITAN becomes a comedy series
After Nemesis, even as the suits acknowledged franchise fatigue, Jonathon Frakes dabbled with an extension of the Riker character. His idea (which he never got to pitch) follows married life for now-Captain Riker and Deanna Troi aboard the USS Titan during an age of relative peace.
Sourcing the Pocket Books Titan for material, Riker’s first command would find him surrounded with a diverse alien crew on a no-frills ship on a mission of… wait for it… discovery.
Hardly a standout concept, kind of been there, done that, albeit buoyed by the inclusion of two highly popular characters. Luckily no one’s feelings were hurt when Frakes was given a preemptive “no”, because it was really just something he thought up on the toilet.
Frakes and Marina Sirtis jokingly alluded to the project as “Rikers in Space”. The tone of course: doofy family sitcom, complete with wise-cracking kid and wacky buddies.
A variety sketch show seems like an all-too-easy solution, and somewhat dated. Plus Trek has been parodied so often and so thoroughly that keeping sketches minty fresh would prove challenging.
The result could be increasingly esoteric situations bound to alienate mass audiences. And nobody wants to see Hee-Haw in Space.
But strip away the Rikers, the formula, laughtrack and overall hokeyness and it shows peculiar potential. Who says a comedy approach to the Trek-verse couldn’t work? There’s already a precedent in Seth Green’s long-delayed Star Wars comedy Detours, and now whispers of a DC Comics Universe-based sitcom. Seeing how they fare could be a vetting ground for Trek comedy.
HOW TO TWEAK IT? Obviously, if not done well, this idea could hurt the whole brand; an upset on par with the Star Wars Christmas Special or Joanie Met Chachi. But with careful forethought, there are numerous ways to make it work.
Crib from modern ensemble comedies. Maybe take a cue from modern TV comedies like Community where people from all different walks unite and have zany adventures. Reference Welcome Back, Kotter for a little touch of heart. Make it self-aware and smart. Poke fun at Trek tropes like replicators, forehead makeup and other conventions. Heck, poke fun at actual conventions!
Star Trek is a bottomless source for knit-pick trivia, and its fans may enjoy a clever self-deprecating angle, if done with love. The universal translator alone amounts to at least a dozen “hilarious misunderstanding” scenes just waiting to be written.*
But if you like your Trek best served cold…
Starfleet assets are scattered and out of communication range. Vulcans and Romulans are on the steady march to Reunification. Cardassians are behaving themselves. Even the Klingons have stopped their bat'leth-rattling.
Almost seems like an extremely logical conclusion to Roddenberry’s youthful idealism; his vision for a future where distinctions like race, gender, class and phylum don’t matter, whether black, white, brown, green, bald, transgender, trans-species or TV ugly -- even plants are gettin' a piece of that sweet sweet tolerance.
Singer’s 25-page outline states, “Utopia in practice is stagnation.” Their vision for humanity is one of complacency and sloth. Discovery is a thing of the past. Key Federation members have withdrawn, because of tribbles or something. At this point you may be sarcastically thinking:
“Wow, this sounds riveting, what with the stagnation and the friendship and the lack of conflict.”
Er, luckily one very determined Admiral fights for a new age of exploration, launching the first Enterprise in over 300 years. There’s even a big-bad in the form of the hideous Scourge, but since the premise was abandoned we may never know who or what that is.
HOW TO TWEAK IT? However tempting, making this contemporaneous with the Abrams-verse seems unlikely since we’re talking about a darker, more desperate Federation. Everything in Kirk’s time is too optimistic, and to toy with that would be a diss to G-Rod.
Building on it, though, is another matter. Seeing a weakened, jaded forecast of humanity worked wonders for Babylon 5. Flipping the script could be a wise direction.
Also, placing it so long after the time schism from the new films could be an opportunity to bridge the two universes. Example: As interstellar relatives, Reunification with Romulus would take on new importance after the destruction of Vulcan. It’d be interesting to see the result of progressive integration followed by sexy, sexy breeding programs.
Conversely, it’d be nice fan service to include elements confirming broad strokes of original continuity. When the mood strikes, not too much, merely a quick mention here or there on topics like:
• Who won the Dominion War? Was there a Dominion War?
• Did Voyager get home? What about V’Ger?
• Does the Mirror Universe contain a Mirror Abrams-verse? Do their toilets flush backward?
• The whales.
• What happened in the Nexus, when things happened, then didn’t happen? Did that still happen?
5) ST: CAPT. WORF becomes ST: CADET WORF becomes ST: PRISON BREAK
Given the reticent climate, Michael Dorn was realistic in pursuing a Worf spin-off pilot, so he must have been pleasantly surprised when it gained a bit of traction in 2013. Here’s what little is known about the premise: There’s this Klingon, Worf. And he’s a Captain.
In the above interview, Dorn seems (k)level-headed about the prospects, but there’s a touch of optimism lurking behind his eyes... with good reason: a rabid #WeWantWorf campaign has been raging on social media for years, and there seems to be some legitimate industry interest. But...
Setting aside issues of timeline confusion, simply picking up with Worf where Nemesis left off presents a problem all its own. After Generations, he joined Deep Space 9, only to conveniently pop in for First Contact. Upon DS9's conclusion he was supposed to go be a Klingon Ambassador, but then he’s back in uniform for the Riker wedding in Nemesis! What gives? Updating his LinkedIn profile must be a bitch.
Worf holds a record for the most screen time of anyone who had ever boldy gone before or since. That’s a whopping 272 episodes plus 4 films (5 counting the time he played granddaddy "Colonel" Worf Father of Mogh). So despite what Michael Dorn may say, the character may have run its course. Let us remember him as he was, powerful and mighty.
Because Klingons have a pop culture appeal that transcends the shows, a setting somewhere behind Klingon lines might draw tons of interest, possibly subject to heightened expectations. After all the bat’leth duels and Klingon Hamlet, once the novelty wears off only a strong big picture strategy could keep it going, Worf or no.
But since Worf is more popular than Christmas, why not have our gagh and eat it too? To borrow from #2 above, consider a Worf-centric prequel at Starfleet Academy? Forget about Nog; the first-Klingon-in-the-fleet angle recalls the fish-out-of-water qualities that made roles like Worf, Spock and Data so compelling in the first place.
Remember, Klingons live a long time. If we really wanted to stretch it, Worf’s officer training could be simultaneous to Kirk’s 5-year mission, providing some of that sweet sweet cross-promotional potential. Hell, put it back-to-back with Starfleet Medical on Thursday nights, and you’ve got a bonafide primetime juggernaut!
For fans who dearly want to see more Michael Dorn, here’s a freebie for you: Take an older Worf and throw him into Rura Penthe, the Klingon prison colony. As seen in The Undiscovered Country and Enterprise, this “inescapable” mining moon contains danger, betrayal, and flexible socio-sexual mores. In one swoop, Star Trek: Rura Penthe provides a darkly textured backdrop and removes many of the deux ex machina conveniences haunting other incarnations.
To review: Klingons? √ Popular character? √ Humans? √ Allegorical commentary on the state of the modern correctional system? √ There’s plenty of room for diverse alien life forms, as well as an obligatory prison break, a mean ol’ warden, and a voiceover by Morgan Freeman.
6) STAR TREK Q CONTINUUM becomes… DOCTOR Q?
As recurring characters go, it’s hard to top John de Lancie for his portrayal of Q.
The non-corporeal prankster marshaled in the TNG era with bells on, stirred up trouble at least once a season every season, then rung down the curtain with one final cosmic whoopee cushion in the finale. He paid a brief visit to DS9 (just long enough to learn not to mess with Sisko) and spent a few episodes in the Delta Quadrant trying to throw Janeway the bone. Glimpses into the extra-dimensional Q Continuum were a treat, always using Earth history as a frame of reference to make the incomprehendable equal emoticons:)
The general thrust of the character both on TV and in the expanded world is that Q, for all his power and pretense, is an immature adolescent verging on adulthood. Any attempt to televise further adventures had best observe that motif; otherwise leave him in a support capacity.
6) HOW TO TWEAK IT? Asked about Q emerging in the Kelvin Timeline, De Lancie dismissed reprising the role due to age. Which is a shame because he owned that role, and other Qs of the Continuum struggled to capture the same charm. Re-casting would be a given, hopefully in service to de Lancie’s long shadow.
With that understanding, Star Trek Q Continuum becomes a blank slate for almost anything the creative team wants to accomplish. It’s both beautiful in its simplicity and brain-boggling in its potential. The playground is immense. In true Trek fashion, tackle current social issues through diverse situations.
Pop-ins on various Enterprises or heretofore unseen alien planets. The Tribble-Klingon War. A visit to the Guardian of Forever. The surface of the sun. The whole whale thing. What have you.
For a more serialized story arc, what about repairing the fractured timeline? Q should be aware of it. Hell, if Guinan can sense a temporal shift, surely Q, when on his ADD meds, would know that Nero cut continuity off at the Roddenberries and could go about correcting it.
As a premise, it meets criteria like “different” and “dark” while satisfying several precepts of what makes Trek great. Optimism. Unity. Heart and humor. Space exploration. Self-exploration. Sounds like Star Trek to me.
Or they could reformat altogether, making John de Lancie a judge on a Star-Trek-meets-Star-Search type reality singing competition. Working title: Q the Music.