Star Trek Just Canceled Its Most Underrated Show — But It Could Come Back Better Than Ever
Star Trek: Prodigy is over. Or is it?
The economic realities of the streaming wars have hit the final frontier, hard. For fans of the animated children’s show Star Trek: Prodigy, the news that the Nickelodeon series will be yanked from Paramount+ and that Season 2 will also not air on Paramount+ was a shocker. For those in the entertainment industry, Prodigy’s unceremonious cancellation was just one more example of the increasingly unsustainable streaming economy. Just like Warner Bros and Disney, Paramount cut Prodigy and several other shows to save money and receive tax breaks. But, the future of Prodigy might be brighter than it seems and its cancellation could, maybe, be temporary.
Unlike certain canceled Disney+ shows (like Willow) Star Trek: Prodigy is unique insofar as its second season was already in production well before the surprise cancellation announcement came on June 23, 2023. And, according to showrunners Dan and Kevin Hageman, as well as executive producer Aaron J. Waltke, the entire series, including Season 2, will be shopped around to other outlets. But, if Prodigy is a Paramount+ show, how does that even work?
Paramount+ isn’t the same as “Paramount”
Although CBS All-Access rebranded as Paramount+ in 2021, that didn’t exactly mean that there was suddenly just one big happy fleet. For nearly a decade, the film and TV rights to Star Trek were separated between Paramount (Viacom) and CBS Studios, which reconnected in 2019. From 2017 onward, the live-action Star Trek shows are still produced by CBS Studios but streamed on Paramount+ after 2021. However, within those shows, there are individual studios: Secret Hideout produces all the new shows, including Picard, Strange New Worlds, and Discovery. Prodigy is also produced by Secret Hideout, in association with Brothers Hageman Productions and Nickelodeon Animation Studio. (Lower Decks is a Secret Hideout production, but also produced by Titmouse Inc.)
So, there are several legal cooks in the kitchen behind the scenes. But the salient point is this: The one thing you won’t find in terms of actual production credits on any of the new Star Trek shows is “Paramount+.” That’s because “Paramount+” is not a production company, it’s a streaming service, which means it’s basically a channel. Yes, Paramount (Viacom) holds the copyright to the Star Trek brand overall, but that manifests itself in several different complicated ways. Analogously, NBC did not make Star Trek in the 1960s; NBC was the network it aired on. The studio that made Star Trek: The Original Series was Desilu, which, later was purchased by Gulf+Western and became part of Paramount. To be clear, that version of Paramount was not a channel, but a studio. The idea of Paramount being its own streaming service is a fairly new idea. That said, Paramount did think about launching its own channel in the 1970s, Paramount did launch UPN in the 1990s, and currently has a streaming service AND a cable channel called the Paramount Network, which is not a streaming thing, at all. In fact, the Paramount Network is totally separate and apart from Paramount+.
But, how is any of this good? Well, what if Prodigy — and some other Trek in the future — is better off not on Paramount+?
Star Trek: Prodigy could air somewhere else
Since the bombshell announcement of the cancellation, several people who have worked on Prodigy have clearly expressed their hope that the show gets picked up somewhere else. In fact, Aaron J. Waltke made a point of saying that some headlines were “misleading,” and that Season 2 of Prodigy will be completed. Prodigy showrunners Dan and Kevin Hageman echoed this sentiment saying “We have faith this show will be picked up by a new home.”
What does that mean? It’s pretty simple: Another streaming service platform would pay to have the rights to air Prodigy, and possibly, kick in some money to keep it going. The most dramatic example of this happening in recent memory was when The SyFy Channel canceled The Expanse, which was then brought back by Amazon. While the future of Prodigy would likely not be as big budget as The Expanse, the analogy is useful in one way: The viewership for The Expanse post-Amazon relaunch was way bigger than when it was on the SyFy Channel.
On Twitter, Prodigy writer Erin McNamara put it like this: “I’m optimistic this is gonna lead Prodigy to a bigger platform,” and added, “Let’s think of this as ‘cute cancelled’ - the small, temporary version of real cancelled.”
Clearly, there’s no downside if Prodigy was picked up by a streaming service with a larger reach than Paramount+. Back in 2017, when Star Trek: Discovery launched, it streamed on Netflix in the U.K. and other global markets. If Prodigy hit Netflix in the U.S., that would very much expand its audience. Despite the poor state of the streaming economy, Netflix is likely to continue to dominate the streaming market for years to come. This isn’t to say Prodigy is actually going to end up on Netflix, but if it did, it’s reasonable to think the show could have a much longer life. (Kevin and Dan Hageman’s animated series Trollhunter was a huge Netflix staple, so maybe seeing Prodigy over there isn’t a huge long shot? Maybe?)
If Prodigy did well outside of Paramount+, it could be an interesting development for the entire franchise. Could we be looking at a future where the final frontier expands beyond its current home network? If so, the future of Star Trek on TV could end up surviving not because it's all in one place, but because it's beaming into multiple streams at the same time.