Sometimes, there are more forces than just “what's the next story?” at play when a studio is deciding what to do with one of their major franchises. “Star Trek” is one of the few homegrown assets that Paramount has in its arsenal, co-owned with CBS, and any decision they make about the franchise has to be run through several different viewpoints.
When they were trying to figure out how to follow up “Star Trek Into Darkness” once JJ Abrams left the series, they heard a lot of ideas, and there was a period where Roberto Orci wanted to take over the film franchise himself, which makes sense considering his involvement in the first two films under Abrams. At the time Alex Kurtzman was still Orci's producing/writing partner, so if Orci had ended up in charge, Kurtzman would have been a big part of that.
Whatever ended their partnership, it appears that Kurtzman is still going to be part of the “Trek” family as the main creative force behind a new “Star Trek” television series. Word from HitFix sources is that this will use the broad ideas of the Kurtzman/Orci pitch for “Star Trek 3.” The rumored storyline dealt with the Enterprise, the Vulcans, and a new alien race all competing to find a time travel device that would let the Vulcans go back and save their planet. Part of the attraction was the chance to put William Shatner and Chris Pine in scenes together, but it was also a reset button again that allowed them to try some other alternate timeline stories.
Is that where Kurtzman's going to take his TV series? We know that when Simon Pegg took over the development of the film after Orci and Kurtzman were forced off the film by the studio, his focus became very specific, and the films turned to the most fertile possible ground for the ongoing franchise: the five-year mission. When I first saw the original series as a kid, my first take on it was that the mission was the most exciting part of the idea. The Federation stuff suggests a pretty great future for humanity and Earth, and I like that, but it's fine as backstory. What made “Star Trek” so exciting was the idea of an ongoing mission of exploration where they know that they're going to meet new races and see and experience things that no other humans from Earth have ever seen or experienced. That's where they're heading with the film franchise now, and that means Kurtzman has to looking at a very different narrative engine for whatever it is he's doing. Besides, just from a budgetar point of view, whatever it is that Kurtzman's doing is going to have to be much, much smaller.
I'm not sure I believe there's enough demand for a new “Trek” show to support an entire subscription service. I made some crack about CBS and Hulu last week on Twitter, and I got schooled about how there's a reason that CBS has never tried to strike a deal with Hulu. I think CBS is playing a losing game, though. People don't really want to subscribe to 90 different things. They want to subscribe to things that make it easy. “Movies.” “TV.” “Music.” “Books.” If those were the subscriptions I paid every month, it would make me very, very happy. It would require the rights packages to be negotiated differently, but it would be better for consumers overall. Intentionally holding your material back from something like Hulu or Netflix to try to sell it yourself seems shortsighted if you can't create enough content to make your service distinct. HBO Now makes sense to me. CBS All-Access does not, in any way.
While they're looking at using the new “Star Trek” series to anchor this subscription service, they need the movie franchise to work. Paramount has contracted in the past decade, and they've had a hard time managing some of he things that felt like easy slam dunks. “Star Trek” is theirs, something they control even if Bad Robot opts out. According to the story in today's Hollywood Reporter, they've already set a 2019 release date for a fourth film in the series. When a studio's shelf starts to get thin, tentpoles become actual tentpoles, with the successful ones holding up a studio. “Transformers” is another of Paramount's few reliable tentpoles at the moment, and the pressure that puts on each of the movies is pretty staggering. While “Star Trek Into Darkness” was a major financial success, it really didn't establish a model for storytelling that they could sustain, and that's crucial. It is important that “Star Trek Beyond” works because if it does, it'll lay groundwork for the studio to be able to rotate filmmakers in and out of the series, with the studio serving as the ultimate auteur behind the thing. It's no accident that Justin Lin was brought in to direct this one. He's been such a big lucky charm for Universal and the “Fast and Furious” series that Paramount's got to be hoping that will rub off on them as well.
Will the series play into the same continuity, or will it stand as its own thing, its own take on the property? Only time will tell.
“Star Trek Beyond” is set for theatrical release on July 22, 2016.