Fifty years is an enormous milestone, especially when you’re talking about the relatively short history of television shows. So why on Earth and Vulcan did CBS and Paramount fail to capitalize on Star Trek’s 50th anniversary?
Do you know how the two mammoth companies acknowledged this beloved, decades-spanning, money-generating franchise? Late in the afternoon, CBS released this:
A video “celebrating” 50 years of Trek, which only acknowledges The Original Series, The Next Generation, and the reboots. That’s just insulting.
Of course, CBS and Paramount have had the whole year to celebrate Star Trek’s anniversary and done virtually nothing with it. Paramount, which owns the rights to the movies, had the chance to make Star Trek Beyond into its own Skyfall, another movie that was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its franchise. Certainly, cowriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung peppered Beyond with enough callbacks to the original TV shows that it could have easily worked as an anniversary film, had Paramount marketed it as such.
Early on in Beyond’s production, it actually seemed like Paramount was planning exactly that. In 2014, Paramount announced that the film would premiere in 2016, coinciding with the 50th anniversary. And it stuck to that date, even through a director change and several rejected scripts. Everything should have lined up for Beyond to take advantage of the anniversary.
But then something changed. The first trailer for Star Trek Beyond was released in December, 2015. Nothing more was heard about the film for ages, until Paramount announced it would premiere a new trailer at a special “fan event” on May 20, 2016. And while the cast and crew were willing to talk about Beyond in terms of the anniversary, nothing in the promotional material for the film mentioned it. The closest thing to an acknowledgment we got was a poster which clearly invoked The Motion Picture:
Even stranger, the movie’s release date was pushed back from July 8 to July 22, when they could have pushed it even further and actually pegged it to this week’s anniversary. Then they could have also used San Diego Comic-Con to bring out the cast to promote it, especially since they didn’t have anything the previous year.
What did we get instead? A commercial which revealed one of the big twists of the movie and was so bad that the writer/star said not to watch it.
CBS, holder of Trek’s TV rights, didn’t do any better capitalizing on the anniversary. It announced a new series—for its digital channel CBS All Access—in November 2015, announcing Bryan Fuller as the showrunner in February 2016. Since then, information has come out in tiny drips. We’ve learned the time period (10 years before The Original Series), the timeline (the Prime Universe), and the ship (a video of the USS Discovery released at Comic-Con). We’ve also got some idea about the characters from Fuller, but we still don’t have a cast, which is bizarre especially given the show’s supposed to be premiering in five months.
We expected a cast announcement at Comic Con, which is a perfect place to bring out an ensemble for the first time (ask Marvel). When it didn’t happen, we expected it as Star Trek: Mission New York, the 50th-anniversary convention co-produced by CBS’ Consumer Products. Still nothing. (Although Mission New York had other problems, in that it felt like something thrown together at the last minute. It couldn’t fill New York’s Javits Center at all, which put a forlorn, empty cast over the event.) And yesterday, during the actual 50th anniversary of the franchise? Still nothing.
At the Deep Space Nine panel at Mission New York, in response to a question about that show taking place on a space station, Armin “Quark” Shimerman said, “Starships do not make Star Trek. Hope makes Star Trek.” It was a moment that brought thunderous applause to a convention center that, from the outside, looked empty. It’s proof that the people who made Star Trek and the people who love Star Trek are in sync with each other, even if the studios can’t figure out how to harness it.
Fifty years ago, Star Trek was, basically, a failure. Maybe it does best when studios aren’t obsessing over it.