How the J.J. Abrams Reboots Kept 'Star Trek' Off TV For 12 Years

Getty Images / Sean Gallup

When Jean-Luc Picard was in command of the starship Enterprise, characters from the various TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and even Voyager could move to the silver screen at warp speed. But in the 21st century, the division between movie Trek and TV Trek became stricter than the boundaries of the Romulan neutral zone. In fact, the reason why there wasn’t a new Star Trek TV series sooner than this year’s Star Trek: Discovery was because the reboot movies specifically prevented it from happening.

On Tuesday, Entertainment Weekly released the digital version of their cover story about the long road to Star Trek: Discovery coming to CBS. For years, Trekkies have debated about the merits of the newer Trek feature films which began in 2009. Some feel that those three movies are at best nostalgia-laden love-letters to original ‘60s series, and at worst, generic action movies using the Star Trek brand. Fans who tend to dislike the Abramsverse reboot films will generally assert that Trek just works better as a TV series. So, why couldn’t the two mediums co-exist? From 1987-2002, there were Star Trek films in the theaters along side Star Trek TV series on the small screen. Select cast members — like Kate Mulgrew as Janeway — from the various TV series even occasionally showed up in the later Next Generation era feature films. For a time, all versions of Star Trek, great and small, were one big happy Starfleet.

Admiral Janeway (of the TV series 'Voyager') calls-up Captain Picard in feature film 'Star Trek: Nemesis'.

But, as EW points out, all of that changed in 2005 when parent company Viacom separated Paramount Pictures from CBS. According to their article: “Following the breakup of Viacom in 2005, Paramount Pictures got the Trek film rights and CBS landed the television rights. The film division was given the priority to reboot Trek as a big-screen franchise (which was successfully achieved by director-producer J.J. Abrams, starting with 2009’s Star Trek), while CBS was under embargo to hold off releasing a new series until January 2017, six months after the launch of Star Trek Beyond.”

When talking about the huge creative forces behind the franchises we love, fans have a tendency to use the word “they,” referring to the studio or producers who green light movies and shows. So, in the case of Star Trek, it’s important to realize there was more than one “they” involved in the making of Trek after 2005: CBS and Paramount Pictures. And because Paramount Pictures was in command, CBS couldn’t make a new TV show until now. Apparently, as soon as Enterprise was canceled, Trekkies wrote CBS, begging for Star Trek to stay on TV in some form. “I was inundated with letters and literally money from fans, saying, ‘Please don’t let this go away,’” CBS Television Studios president David Stapf told EW. So, after Enterprise was canceled in 2005, it’s not like the powers-that-be didn’t want to make a new Star Trek TV series. They — meaning CBS — couldn’t.

In the ‘60s, a similar letter-writing campaign saved the original Star Trek from cancellation when it was still on NBC. Obviously, this didn’t work in 2005 because the Trek ball was taken out of CBS’s court in favor or the Paramount-produced Star Trek films, which resulted in J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek reboot, and its two sequels; Into Darkness and Beyond.

The cast of 'Discovery'


This isn’t Abrams’s fault of course. Regardless of who had directed and produced the new Trek movies, it sounds like CBS still would have been prevented from making a new show. But now that the embargo has been lifted, Star Trek: Discovery will bring back the mega-popular sci-fi brand back to its TV roots as millions of Trekkies hold their breath, hoping that the franchise will indeed live long and prosper once more.

Star Trek: Discovery hits CBS All-Access on September 24, 2017.

See also: Why Star Trek Canon Feels Like Homework

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