Last of The Next Generation
Does the finale of Star Trek: Picard mark the end of peak sci-fi?
Paramount+ closed out the three-season run of Star Trek: Picard last week, with a finale fitting for the crew from The Next Generation. Now, it raises questions about where Paramount+ will take its premier franchise and whether similar questions apply to other studios.
In this issue:
Streaming brought Star Trek back
But Star Trek production has stalled
Similar forces could impact other franchises
Bringing Star Trek back to the small screen
When Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) decided to make Star Trek a core pillar of its streaming service in 2017, Discovery was supposed to revitalize the TV franchise. The show struggled until a season 3 reboot set it on a more fan-friendly course.
The reaction to Discovery led Paramount+ to launch Strange New Worlds. A prequel to the original series, the show combines the optimism of 60’s-era Star Trek with 2020's production values. This approach made the show a critical and popular hit.
Looking at the current slate, Picard is over, and Discovery ends later this year. Strange New Worlds wrapped filming on its second season, which should hit Paramount+ in late 2023.
So what do Star Trek fans have to look forward to?
Is Star Trek lost in space?
Like other big media companies, Paramount told investors that tentpole franchises are the development priority. But that doesn’t sync with what’s known about Paramount’s film and TV production plans.
On the movie front, Star Trek is on hold. The fourth entry in the “Kelvin Timeline” reboot launched by JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof was supposed to start filming last year. Instead, its director left and Paramount pulled it from the production slate. It may take until 2024 or later to get Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Zoë Saldaña, and the other Star Trek movie stars in one place again.
The TV situation isn’t any clearer. Paramount only has one new show in production, the young adult series Starfleet Academy. The long-rumored Discovery spin-off anchored by Michelle Yeoh will instead be a single Paramount+ feature film. That leaves Strange New Worlds as the only live-action series for traditional Star Trek fans.
Have we passed peak sci-fi?
A couple of years ago, it looked like Star Trek fans were in for a treat with multiple streaming series in production. Now the mood is darker. Paramount+ and its competitors are focusing on profitability over subscriber growth. That means placing fewer bets and prioritizing safer productions. Star Trek fell victim to the new realities of streaming economics. Other genre franchises face similar headwinds but are on steadier courses.
Although Disney’s leadership says they will be "careful" about its production schedule, the Star Wars franchise has enough Disney+ projects in the pipeline to keep fans happy. Besides future seasons of Andor and The Mandalorian, the Rosario Dawson-led Ahsoka and Jude Law-helmed Skeleton Crew will release in 2023. However, we may not see as many new shows in later years.
Marvel TV production is also slowing down. This year will see a new season of Loki and the premier of Samuel L. Jackson’s Secret Invasion. But already-produced Disney+ shows like Echo and Lionheart are getting pushed back to 2024.
Similarly, DC Universe fans have seen their TV options dwindle as shows on the WB and HBO Max got canceled. Warner Bros. Discovery placed the franchise in the hands of James Gunn and Peter Safran. They plan to add four new live-action shows, but none will arrive before 2024.
Our takeaway: Don’t worry, the future’s always out there
I think the past few years have spoiled science fiction TV fans like me. As studios used their franchises to flood content into their new streaming services, we almost had more content than we could watch. Now, we have to “settle” for one or two shows a year from every franchise. And you know what? I’m thrilled!
Let’s hear from you. Which is your favorite sci-fi franchise?
What's your favorite sci-fi franchise?
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