Defending Flight AcademyBy Valentine Winter
Posted at July 10, 1999 - 5:00 AM GMT
After the completely unfounded attacks on Voyager's executive producer Brannon Braga, I decided never to believe in internet rumors again. I was even thinking about avoiding sites such as TrekWeb and TrekToday forever, unhappy with the inclination of those sites to post every 'news item' that is sent their way. However, over the past two weeks, a rumor has been developing which most people did not give much credibility, but which I believe may well be the most shocking news item of this summer.
I'm talking, of course, about the 'Flight Academy' rumors. In one form or another, reports about a Starfleet Academy series have existed for the past ten years. Star Trek fans used the story to scare each other: "If you aren't nice to the Powers that Be, they will create a Starfleet Academy series!" However, last week 'Starfleet Academy' suddenly seemed to turn from an unlikely bedtime story into a possible framework for the new Star Trek series, after Jeffrey Wells at Mr. Showbiz. In a report entitled Never Been Beamed, he talked about a new "two-hour pilot for a new Trek TV series that may be used as the basis of the next Trek feature," and which is supposedly being penned at the moment by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga.
According to Jeffrey Wells, the current script is being called a TV pilot script, which, if well received, could turn into the new Star Trek movie. As Wells also mentions in his report, Paramoun t chairman Sherry Lansing recently said about the new movie that "they were going to reinvent the Trek franchise and do something fresh and original," adding to that that they've "got a lot of ideas boiling in all of our heads. We want to come up with something different, possibly with new cast members."
After the report was published, many sites slammed down hard on Wells and his 'Flight Academy' rumors, and made very clear that Wells was completely disconnected from reality and that a 'Flight Academy' series would cause them to leave Star Trek forever. When, a few days later, several local UPN stations reported about the 'Flight Academy' series, almost no site reported about it, and even the ones that did only considered it to be "filler news" for during the summer. Strangely, no one thought it surprising that it would be precisely the United Paramount Network to report on 'Flight Academy.' Maybe the people in power at Paramount dropped a subtle hint to their news crews so they could test the waters for the new series?
Around the same time, the New York Post published a report, in which a Paramount spokeswoman said Starfleet Academy had never even been discussed. Naturally, every news site immediately believed this to be the gospel truth, and once again declared 'Flight Academy' to be untrue. Precisely why they would seem to think a Paramount spokeswoman would know everything about a new series which is being developed in the utmost secrecy is beyond me. More strange is the fact that they would believe the 'never ever been discussed' part, which is extremely unlikely: Sherry Lansing's comments would at least lead one to believe that the idea had been talked about.
Obviously, I am not going to base my belief in 'Flight Academy' on internet reports; my Defending Braga article may have made clear to you that those should never be trusted on their own. Instead, I am going to tell you why I believe 'Flight Academy' would be a good idea, and why Star Trek fans should wait before criticizing the series.
First of all, on the business side, launching the new series with a movie would certainly be a good idea. Star Trek movies are still able to attract more people than the pitiful 4 million that watch Voyager each week. And by having the new movie be partially The Next Generation, partially 'Flight Academy,' maybe Paramount will be able to reclaim some of the TNG audience that left after 'All Good Things.' It's been done before: the classic science fiction series 'Battlestar Galactica' also had a theatrical release before the actual television series started.
Secondly, with every new series, Rick Berman and his team have tried to do something different that is still Star Trek. Deep Space Nine was set on a space station, Voyager was set on the other side of the galaxy. For a science-fiction series such as Star Trek, only three settings are possible: on a ship, on a station, or on a planet. We've had the first two done - so why not try the planet setting now?
Unfortunately, there aren't that many other options. Paramount won't want to create another ship series; if they wanted that, they might as well get Voyager home, loose Chakotay, and give the series another five years. It has been suggested that they could set the series in the 25th Century, but how different would that be? Sure, they'd have Quantum Torpedoes Mark II, and they could go to Warp 9,99, but for the rest absolutely everything would be the same.
Of course, their biggest problem will be convincing fans that a 'Flight Academy' series would actually be worth watching, as at the moment every fan seems convinced that 'Flight Academy' would immediately suck. To me, this sounds like precisely the sort of whining that went on before the launch of TNG, DS9 and Voyager. "Star Trek without Kirk isn't Star Trek!", "Star Trek on a space station isn't Star Trek!", "Star Trek with a female captain isn't Star Trek!" and now "Star Trek at Starfleet Academy isn't Star Trek!"
What, precisely, would be the problem with a series set at Starfleet Academy? Some people have suggested that this would be like creating 'Star Trek: Weshley Crusher,' which, admittedly, would not exactly guarantee enjoyable entertainment. But why would a series set at Starfleet Academy automatically mean a teen series? From what we learned in 'Coming of Age,' getting into the Academy is extremely tough. It is not at all unlikely that aspiring cadets would first need to get a lot of extra education and training before being able to apply. Just like in modern air force academies, the human cadets could be at least in their mid-twenties.
And those are just the human cadets. What about the Vulcans, the Bolians, the Trill, the Andorians and countless of other races? Or how about non-coms who, after a successful tour of duty aboard a starship, decided to get into Starfleet Academy and become an officer? Or, last but not least, how about the teachers, such as a certain Professor O'Brien we all know? Presumably, such a series would be based around one 'squad,' and I wouldn't be at all surprised if that squad would consist of members of all ages.
'Flight Academy' would also offer us a look at a part of the Star Trek Universe which we haven't ever been able to see: the Federation itself. Yes, we've seen Starfleet, but how much do we know about the actual Federation? What is its political structure? How do the people live on Earth? What sort of society have we humans formed in the 24th century? We probably know more about how the Klingons live than about how we humans life!
In a way, 'Flight Academy' could be the perfect continuation to Deep Space Nine. That series focused on the political situation between all the big Alpha Quadrant powers, and showed us how Bajor was rebuilt after the Occupation. In 'Flight Academy,' we could see the political situation in the Federation itself, and how it tries to recover from the Dominion War.
'Flight Academy' is a concept which would allow for a lot of character development. I can already think of a few great character arcs: the Vulcan, who came to Starfleet Academy against his parents' wishes, who has to find himself again. The Andorian, aggressive as ever, trying to get control over herself and become a team player. Seven of Nine, just returned from Voyager, following a formal training at Starfleet Academy, despite the attempts by Starfleet to lock her in a research station and the negative reactions from her fellow cadets.
Lastly, and this is perhaps not unimportant either, if after four years the series would need a dramatic change to boost the ratings, the producers could always let the cadets graduate and send them out aboard their own vessel. This could even lead to the producers introducing new characters, in the form of an experienced Captain and other crew members, and getting rid of the unpopular characters.
Just as in my 'Defending Braga' article, I would like to call on all Star Trek fans to be a little more positive about Paramount and its plans for the Trek franchise. They've been right before, when they launched The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine despite strong protests from the fans. Over the past ten years, they have proven that they can make great Star Trek, and I have no reason to believe that a possible 'Flight Academy' series wouldn't be great as well. The format definitely has potential, and I'm more than looking forward to such a series.
Please keep an open mind when thinking about 'Flight Academy' - it may just prove to be a lot more interesting an idea than you think it is.
Valentine Winter is a regular contributor to the Trek Nation.