When Creative People Put The Cart Before The Horse

Posted: April 29, 2012 by J. Marcus in Science Fiction, Television, Uncategorized, Up on The Soap Box
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Do you know who Bryan Fuller is?  According to his IMDB page he is an accomplished figure in television.  He’s not a Joss Whedon or a Steven Bochco or a Stephen J. Cannell or a Glen Larson or a Danny Thomas, etc. But he has been attached to some big-name shows in the past like Star Trek: Voyager, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me and Heroes (plus the underrated show Wonderfalls).

He’s currently working on the Munsters redux show called Mockingbird Lane and an attempt to bring Hannibal Lecter to television in a series called Hannibal.  I’m not sure how well either are going to be received, but at least he’s keeping busy.

Now I’m not here to talk about him because we share a birthday (albeit a few years apart).  No, I’m bringing this man to your attention because he wants to bring another sci-fi epic to the small screen… Star Trek.

That’s right.  This man who has experience on two prior Star Trek series wants to get together with Bryan Singer and J.J. Abrams to bring Star Trek back to television.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding the Hannibal series, Mr. Fuller talked about a possible television return for Star Trek:

“Bryan [Singer] and I are big fans of Trek and have discussed a take on what we would do, and we would love to do it,” Fuller says. “I don’t think anything is going to happen in any official capacity until after the next movie comes out. And I’m sure it would be wisely under J.J. Abrams’ purview of what happens. He’s the guardian of Trek right now.”

Why do I think this is a colossally bad idea? Mainly because—and you can call me old-fashioned here—I think if you’re going to do Star Trek on TV, it should have Kirk, Spock, etc.  Yes, yes you can all get your panties in a twist and call back that delightfully successful program, Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that’s kinda the point, isn’t it?

TNG took place after the events of the original series and therefore could work independently of the original-series films happening at the same time.  Since Mr. Fuller would want J.J. involved, I think we can safely conclude that this show would take place in the J.J.-verse.

“Well Mr. Smarty-pants, there have been successful Star Trek shows without the Enterprise crew in them, so why can’t it work here?”

Glad you asked… Simply because once you go down that road you start to make the same mistakes of the past.  Notice how each of the Star Trek spin-off shows had diminishing returns for Paramount.  Many would conclude that this was simply because the public had grown tired of Star Trek.  To a certain extent, they are absolutely right.  On the other hand, maybe it’s because the charm of Star Trek was not simply the technology and hope for the future (although they certainly had their allure) but was, in fact, the characters themselves.

Unfortunately, over time, the writing on the various Trek shows devolved into a large amount of technobabble designed to bring about the MacGuffin-of-the-week, in order to get the writer out of a story that was a good idea executed badly.

Critics of the original Star Trek will always point to bad special effects and what they consider to be “Christmas tree lights-mounted in cardboard sets”.  These people are, in layman’s terms, snobs.  If you think I’m being petty, check out this quote from Star Trek set designer Matt Jeffries from Star Trek: The Magazine:

Gene [Roddenberry] called me one day and said there were some navy officers that wanted information on the bridge and why we did it the way we did. So they came in – a commander and a lieutenant – and we treated them to lunch, and I showed them the drawing and pulled the blueprints for them, and they got to look at he bridge itself. We got a nice letter the following week thanking us, and about a year later another thank-you letter saying that the information had led to the design of a new master communications center at NAS San Diego. And they would like to invite me down to see it, but unfortunately it was classified. I didn’t bother to tell them that I still had an ultra top secret clearance from work I had done when I was in Washington before coming out here!

But I digress. The real key to the original series was the interplay between the characters.  They were friends, but, and this is key, they also bickered and fought.  That last bit fell away a little in TNG.  By the time you hit DS9, that had been fixed a little too well, with most of the characters outright hating eachother.  Of course, that got reversed pretty quickly, but by then the stories were getting gutted by other considerations. Voyager introduced a hyperactive amount of technobabble which basically undermined the storytelling.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with Enterprise was that it was completely not what Trekkies were expecting from a prequel show set in the Star Trek universe.  But again, I digress.

In 1991, Paramount Pictures released Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in time for the show’s 25th anniversary.  The first teaser trailer for the film had Christopher Plummer narrating a series of images from the original crew’s 25-year history:

For one quarter of a century, they have thrilled us with their adventures, amazed us with their discoveries and inspired us with their courage.  Their ship has journeyed beyond imagination.  Her name has become legend.  Her crew… the finest ever assembled.  We have traveled beside them from one corner of the galaxy to the other.  They have been our guides, our protectors and our friends…

Image Courtesy of Paramount Television

Was this cheesy?  Kinda, but it made a very valid point.  We spent time with these people.  Not as much as we may have wanted to, but it was quality time.  We watched Kirk play the mediator in the sometimes hostile arguments between Spock and McCoy.  We learned about Scotty’s love for his work and how he was the miracle worker we always needed.  We got to spend time with Sulu who was not only a history buff but a botanist and accomplished fencer.  We got to watch the hot-headed Chekov grow into a responsible officer who never lost his ability to dream big.  And we spent time with the lovely Uhura who was always professional, but had a soft spot for furry animals and would spend her free time gracing the crew with a song or two.

We also fell in love with the Enterprise.  She never let us down.  She was beautiful when we met here and made even more graceful after her refit.  She was as much a character on that show as the crew.  And the pain we felt when she died could only have been properly erased when she was brought back like a phoenix from the ashes in the following film.

My point in all of that is simply to say that, love it or hate it, Star Trek has always been at its best with Kirk, Spock and company.

And now, back to Mr. Fuller’s enterprise.  I don’t know that you can have a show running concurrently with a film franchise.  I doubt the film’s actors will consent to be on the show, which means that either the crew will be recast (which would make the whole thing even more confusing) or the show would have to deal with another crew (which, as I just explained, I think wouldn’t work).

If the film franchise hadn’t been kickstarted in 2009, I would wholeheartedly support Mr. Fuller’s efforts with a few provisos (mostly in style).  The fact of the matter is that these characters have been wonderfully established in the past.  While I disagree with a few minor tweaks made by J.J. and company, I do think they made the right choice in going back to the beginning.

And while I wish that Star Trek could make a triumphant return to television, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

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