Star Trek: Discovery, the franchise’s first mission to television since Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in 2005, has been a contentious topic for fans since it was announced the series would be exclusive to CBS All Access. Many wondered why CBS wouldn’t air it on their regular network as well and an executive has given a new reason why: Sci-fi doesn’t work well on broadcast TV. But hey, at least they can have nudity now, right? That’s according to a CBS exec who recently spoke on what the series could delve into considering they won’t be airing on CBS proper.
I’ve had my issues with how this new series was being handled from the start (not to mention concerns as the series started production) but this nudity revelation from CBS Interactive CEO Jim Lanzone, and his thoughts on sci-fi, might take the cake. Looking at the CBS All Access deal one way (as in, in the current streaming service landscape), it’s hard to justify the the $5.99 (with ads!) a month for fans. CBS All Access has a large number of titles available but if you’re only interested in Trek, that’s not an incentive to sign up. You won’t even be able to binge watch the show unless you’re willing to wait until the very end of the season. The deal was sweetened of course when Bryan Fuller jumped on board as showrunner but he’s since had to step down due to his work on Starz’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as well as a reboot of Amazing Stories at NBC. He’s written at least the first two scripts for the new series and worked on the broader arc but it’s still a hit.
Looking at it another way, when you break down the cost per episode it’s actually a small price point if you’re only going to watch Discovery. But for many of us, those small subscription costs start adding up. Netflix, Amazon (and its add-ons for Starz, Showtime, etc), Hulu, HBO Go, Playstation Vue, FilmStruck — the list is growing every day as more networks try to evolve. Also, the show is set to stream internationally on Netflix, which leaves me at least, personally annoyed to sign up for yet another service. But broadcast networks trying to enter the game of paid subscriptions is new, and as we’ve seen with CBS All Access it’s a rocky road.
Speaking with Recode Media recently, CBS Interactive CEO Jim Lanzone discussed the reason Discovery is being offered digitally rather than CBS proper:
Think about Star Trek. Sci-fi is not something that’s traditionally done really well on broadcast. It’s not impossible, for the future, if somebody figures it out. And things like Lost and Heroes have had parts of, you know, sci-fi, but historically they haven’t…a show like Star Trek wouldn’t necessarily be a broadcast show, at this point. And so, you kind of look at the other networks that we have, CW and Showtime, it just fit with the digital audience and having that loyal Star Trek audience. It just made sense that that’s a great place to put it and it’s something unique for All Access that would bring subscribers. At the same time, we;’ve partnered with Netflix for all international distribution and that went a long way towards helping fund it as well. So it’s a different model.
While sci-fi thrives on basic and premium cable networks, I wouldn’t say it doesn’t do well on broadcast. Especially if, given his Lost and Heroes examples, he’s not limiting his thinking to strictly sci-fi shows. What about all of the comic book TV shows? What about shows like Grimm, The 100, Wayward Pines, and Once Upon a Time? Hell, the X-Files! I know CBS is the home to never-ending procedurals, the never-ending Survivor and Big Brother, and the never-ending Big Bang Theory (which, hi, can also fall under the sci-fi category) but they also have series like Limitless, Zoo, and Person of Interest. There’s really no reason they couldn’t have had Discovery on their network. Well, besides trying to make money through a digital platform of course and, perhaps, so Star Trek could boldly go were no Star Trek has gone before — to the land of boobs and cursing.
Host of the Recode podcast, Peter Kafka, asked Lanzone if there could be nudity and swearing on the series since it won’t be airing on television. “[That] was an interesting part of the first meeting with them,” Lanzone said, “Originally the showrunners were like, ‘Oh yeah, we could do that’…Of course, the response is, ‘As long as it serves the story.’ But yeah!” The conversation continued in that vein:
Kafka: So naked aliens or humans?
Kafka: And swearing?
Lanzone: Whatever future swearing, 300 years in the future, would be.
Kafka: I’m much more excited about Star Trek now than I thought I was.
The sporadic “Double dumb-ass on you” is great in something like Star Trek, because it’s sporadic. There’s no definitive here, it sounded more as if they were talking what-ifs, but if that’s really where they’re planning to head with this series I’ll be pretty disappointed. Star Trek is all about being progressive, about science and discovery and exploration. It would be nice if Star Trek continued to be something people of all-ages could consume, like Star Wars, instead of trying to cater to an adult demographic.
Star Trek: Discovery is set to premiere in May 2017 and I think it’s safe to say at this point no one has any idea of what to expect from it.