Whether you like J.J. Abrams’ take on the Star Trek universe or not, there’s no question that his two films have put Trek back in the pop culture conversation in a major way. Abrams stepped away from the upcoming Star Trek 3 to helm Episode VII, the first film in a major new Star Wars push in the aftermath of Disney’s purchase of George Lucas’ iconic franchise. There’s a new trilogy, new spin-off movies, and even new TV series. That’s the same approach Disney and Marvel have used to great success, building a cohesive movie universe that’s also expanding into the TV landscape. But what about Paramount and CBS’ space franchise? Given that Star Trek started on TV and has continued through four spin-offs, you’d think the big-screen success would have led to a new series on the small screen. But when asked about the subject J.J. Abrams’ response about why it hasn’t happened is sort of stunning: he says CBS isn’t interested.
The folks at Entertainment Weekly were grilling Abrams about his latest hit, Fox’s excellent Almost Human, when the subject turned toward Marvel’s hit-or-miss Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Given that both Marvel and DC are trying to conquer the TV landscape with multiple projects in development, EW asked the same question fans have been asking for ages now: when the hell are we getting a new TV series? Abrams said:
I have been hearing for as long as I can remember that CBS, who has the rights to the series, has just been saying they’re not interested. That’s the word I’ve been told. [A CBS Studios rep replied: “We love the Star Trek franchise, its fan base and the many possibilities for its future when the time is right.’]
If that’s true, it’s a shocker for sure. Everybody’s all about expanding the brand these days. Even the Universal classic monsters have a cinematic movie universe in the works. So why in the world would getting a new Trek series on the air not be a high priority?
For one thing, it’s another way to get more eyeballs on the Trek brand, and that’s doubly important since the new movies have attracted some moviegoers who hadn’t previously been fans of the franchise. But perhaps even more importantly, it could serve as an olive branch to long-time fans who don’t like Abrams’ movies. The new timeline is obviously here to stay for a while at least, but the problems with the films largely came down to writing issues, rather than there being anything fundamentally broken with its version of the Trek universe. Even if it was set in the new timeline, a new TV series, under the right leadership, could return to doing what televised Trek has, at its best, done really well: telling smart, human stories that explore themes and questions more complicated than the films’ focus on action and popcorn entertainment.
Of course, Hollywood in general and Abrams projects in specific are often shell games, full of mysteries, secrets, and misdirection designed to keep fans guessing and wondering what will come next. So could Abrams’ comments about CBS’ apparent disinterest in returning Trek to the small screen all be sleight-of-hand to disguise more concrete plans that might be in the works? Certainly. Unfortunately, I think it’s just as likely that Abrams‘ statements are accurate and CBS is sitting on its hands. After all, the last Trek TV series was the disappointing Enterprise, which ended decades’ worth of Trek having at least one series on the air.
It’s bound to be intimidating to put your job in the crosshairs by being the guy who takes the risk to put a new Trek series on the air. What if it’s a dud? ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has proven that a successful set of movies doesn’t necessarily guarantee a blockbuster hit TV spin-off.
It’s inevitable that Trek will return to the small screen at some point. For now, it remains a waiting game for fans.