The Franchise's FutureBy Julia Houston
Posted at July 20, 1999 - 5:00 AM GMT
If there's one fault I see in Trekkers and non-Trekkers alike, it's the way everyone seems to want to take Star Trek so very, very seriously. Small continuity errors are "horrible" or "just turn the whole thing into a laughable excuse for entertainment." An actor who's a little stiff at the beginning of the series "ruins everything." The re-use of one special effect from an old film in a new film "proves that Star Trek is a rip-off and should be abandoned in disgrace."
Now, Star Trek is quite a venerable piece of entertainment, and I respect everyone's opinion just like any PD-lovin' Trekker should, but sometimes, instead of the usual lament, "Can't we all just get along?" I want to stand up in the middle of the crowd and cry from my soul, "Can't you all just lighten up?"
Lately, discussing Star Trek's future on the 'net has brought out nothing short of visions of the Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen -- Berman, Braga, Moore, and Greed -- seem poised any moment to descend upon the next Grand Slam Convention and lay waste to every last Trekker hope while the seas boil red as blood wine and the broken forcefields release the souls of the damned Trekkers who actually prefer Babylon 5.
If the past is, in fact, anything to go by, Star Trek will continue to change, becoming in some ways more commercial, and in some ways less. They'll cancel Voyager eventually, and they'll introduce a new series, which will eventually be cancelled and replaced as well. And this will continue until the new shows stop making money. Then the reruns will go on and on. We all know Gilligan's Island will run forever, don't we? Star Trek reruns will too.
As for the movies, there will probably be one more TNG film, then a DS9 film, then a who-knows-what film. If these stop making enough money, we'll see Star Trek made-for-TV films.
I think it's inevitable that somewhere in there the franchise will have to take a break or two, not providing fans with new material for a few years so that everyone gets hungry -- and therefore less picky and demanding -- for new material. I think Paramount has also learned the lesson not to have two new shows running at the same time for more than a season or so, as this encourages divisiveness among fans. I also think it quite likely UPN's story will convince producers that Star Trek only works in syndication.
The books will doubtlessly thrive and multiply without much break because they're so cheap to produce and the franchise has a pretty steady, solid market for them. I think we'll see more of this technique of branching the books off with original characters targeting specific demographics. "Naomi's Adventures with Flotter" may, I'm afraid, be inevitable, as may be "Ensign Dirk's Star Command," and "The Imzadi Series."
The conventions will go on, naturally, though I think we might start seeing more conventions that are not solely Star Trek-based, but cover many shows, including X-Files and Xena.
As for Star Trek on the Internet...hmmm. I think fan-based pages will continue to thrive, and in so doing reflect the various interests and causes of Trekkers, just as they do now. Some court may eventually find some way to enforce laws against fanfiction, but I hope not. It's quite possible that Paramount will realize all the sites actually provide them with tons of free publicity and issue some pictures that are "authorized" for use on private sites.
In any event, it's certain that Tekkers and Trekkies will continue to bicker, that DS9 fans will call Voyager fans bad names, some people will never like anything as much as TOS, Klingons will stay popular, and that Jean-Luc Picard will just get sexier and sexier until he dies.
And now I can stop and point out that why we're hearing all these gloom-and-doom prophesies about The Future of Star Trek is because they're so much more interesting than what I've just said.
My pointing out that Star Trek will continue as long as it makes money isn't, in fact, an argument at all. It's a simple, and somewhat dull, fact. I don't offer my predictions to be superior to anyone; I offer them knowing full well that even the staunchest gloom-and-doomer will probably agree with me, right before they announce, "That's not the point."
The true "point" will, of course, depend on the gloom-and-dommer we talk to. Someone will say that Gene's "vision" will be/already has been lost. Someone else will say that "it's all about money instead of entertainment." Someone else will bemoan the loss of character development, or romance, or being avant-guarde, or giving us a direction for mankind, or something else. And all these things are important, and all these things have been damaged at some point in the last thirty-three years of Star Trek's existence.
So what's my point, then?
My point is that the act of predicting the future of Star Trek is just like any act of looking at the Big Picture: you can either accept the practical prediction that the whole thing will go on until it stops making a profit, or you're stuck on some smaller point whose future cannot, in fact, be assured. The whole exercise forces you either to emotionally detach yourself and watch the money, or to fret over some sort of personal cause which, since it's not Paramount's cause, will always seem to be in grave danger of destruction.
Looking into the future, just like grand overviews of the past, always blot out the very thing that makes watching Star Trek -- or anything else -- worthwhile in the first place: unpredictability.
Who knows what might happen with Voyager in the future? Since they've fired all the writers, the show might totally stink or be as great as it has been in the past with such episodes as "Timeless" and "The Chute." Trekkers no longer distracted by DS9 might suddenly flock to the show, or UPN might go down in flames, taking Voyager with it. The Paris/Torres romance may find new life, or Paris might suddenly discover he's pregnant with Neelix' love-child. Who the hell knows?
And as for that new show, well, I don't much care for that "Flight Academy" idea, but then, I didn't like the idea of TNG when it was just about to come out. I'm a typical Tekker indeed in my reaction to new ideas, for, indeed, Star Trek fans have proven themselves time and time again their own worst guides. We tend to resist things that are fresh and unexpected, clinging to the old as we sneer suspiciously at new characters, new aliens, and new situations. Once these new things become familiar, however, we tend to dress up like them and have our pictures taken.
And at this point, anyway, "Flight Academy" is only a rumor. And rumors are fun.
Which brings me full-circle, because predictions are fun, too, being an attempt to control the uncontrollable future.
That is, predictions are fun as long as we remember that they are only predictions. Taking them as the Truth is simply bound to depress us and make us anticipate the worst.
So (unless you're having too much fun with those Apocalyptic visions) let us all stare into the unknowable future without putting on our blinders or lamenting things before they've actually left us. Let's anticipate new surprises as possible sources of future joys and be happy in the knowledge that Star Trek currently makes a honkin' mountain of cool cash. And let's remember that our personal views of Star Trek cannot be taken from us, nor, thanks to syndication, can they ever be made to disappear...even if that Paris/Neelix love child turns out to be none other than Wesley Crusher.
Julia Houston is the Star Trek Guide at About.com, where she runs her regularly updated Star Trek Fans page.