The coronavirus pandemic cancelled a number of events, but one of the biggest from the point of view of ViacomCBS and the team behind Star Trek has been Comic-Con. In the past the company has used events like this – as well as Star Trek: Las Vegas, which has been postponed to the winter – to make big announcements. Star Trek participated in Comic-Con @Home – the online socially-distanced version of the event which is taking place this week.
Obviously a glorified Zoom call isn’t going to be the same as an in-person event. But overall, I think most of the participants from actors to behind-the-scenes crew did the best they could, and I don’t have any major criticisms on that front. I’m not someone who would be able to attend Comic-Con or any other similar convention due to disability, so in that sense I don’t feel I personally lost out in any way from Comic-Con going digital this year – I’d have watched recordings of the panels anyway.
In terms of news, the biggest has to be the official announcement of the animated series Star Trek: Prodigy, which looks set for a 2021 release. This kid-friendly show is being produced in collaboration with Nickelodeon, and though we knew it was in the works the title hadn’t been officially revealed. So it’s nice to know it has a name and that we can expect it on our screens within the next eighteen months or so. Many shows aimed at kids can still have a lot to offer for adults – I enjoy Phineas and Ferb, for example – so I’m not at all concerned that it’s the first Star Trek show to take this approach. I would note that Star Wars has been successful with this format with two shows – Clone Wars and Rebels – both of which had appeal outside of their target audience of kids and young people.
The second bit of news is that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds seems to be getting along well in production. They have ten “stories” that they’re working on – note that they said “stories”, not “episodes”, which may mean some are multi-episode arcs. This would fit in with the show following Discovery’s model of having anywhere between 10-15 episodes in its first season. While I still don’t think we’ll see Strange New Worlds before 2022, due to a combination of the pandemic and Star Trek’s already-crowded production and release schedules, it’s nice to know that the show is being worked on and that pre-production is continuing despite the massive disruption across the industry.
On the more technical side, I felt that the moderator of the discussion, Dominic Patten, did a good job. It won’t have been an easy task to manage a series of discussions with such a large number of participants who are all dialling in remotely, but there were no major problems that resulted and he asked interesting questions and was pleasant to listen to. There was a major technical screw-up on the part of ViacomCBS/YouTube, however, as the video was blocked at least here in the UK for quite a while when it premiered. This seems to have been done automatically by YouTube’s copyright protection algorithm, but it shouldn’t have happened – between ViacomCBS, Comic-Con, and YouTube that problem should really have been anticipated and prevented.
So now we come to no-shows. There was no international release date for Star Trek: Lower Decks, nor any discussion of any international broadcast at all. I’m incredibly disappointed by this, and at this stage now that we’re less than two weeks away from its US/Canada premiere I have to assume that it won’t be getting a simultaneous release internationally. We could speculate about why that is – perhaps ViacomCBS were charging too much for the broadcast rights, perhaps other Star Trek series haven’t performed as well on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and other channels meaning those companies weren’t interested, etc. But we don’t know the real reason why yet. I’m sure Lower Decks will eventually get an international release, but as I wrote when I looked at this issue recently, in 2020 I don’t think companies can really get away with splitting up the releases of their biggest shows. Lower Decks will end up not being talked about by millions of potential viewers, and will undoubtedly end up being pirated. ViacomCBS needs to do better – there are millions of Trekkies outside of the United States who are excited to see this show, and not giving it to us is a self-inflicted wound. If Star Trek is to survive in the long term it will require a collaborative effort on the part of fans in the US and elsewhere to support it and keep it going; decisions like this one – and the lack of any news or discussion at all from the company – show a huge part of Star Trek’s audience that ViacomCBS thinks we don’t matter.
The sad thing is that Lower Decks looks like so much fun. Mike McMahan, who created the show, participated in the panel; he’s clearly a huge Star Trek fan and someone who’s very passionate about the franchise and what it represents. Lower Decks feels like it’s a show that will celebrate my favourite era of Star Trek – the mid/late 24th Century seen in the three shows and four films set in those years. I greatly enjoyed listening to McMahan speak, as well as others involved with Lower Decks. The event even showed an extended scene from the trailer which was absolutely hilarious. The show is lining up to be amazing, as I said when I looked at the trailer a few days ago – but how are people like me meant to watch it?
Also missing was any discussion of a release window for Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. I’d been expecting an announcement for this, I have to be honest. With Lower Decks running weekly from August through to early October, the earliest we could expect to see Discovery Season 3 would be the middle of October – leaving it any later would probably mean the season being split in two with a break around Christmas and New Year, which I suppose they could do as that happened during the first season. With post-production work having been ongoing since filming wrapped in February, it’s very odd to me that ViacomCBS considers the show so unfinished as to not even set a tentative release window – they couldn’t even say “coming in the autumn” or “coming in the winter”. Partly this is a result of the pandemic, which we know has been very disruptive. But partly it’s just bad planning and bad time management on ViacomCBS’ part – Discovery’s third season was nowhere near ready when the pandemic hit, which seems to suggest it was always the plan to make fans wait.
There had been rumours in the online Trekkie community that there would be an announcement of Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season imminently. When nothing significant was discussed for Season 3 I was sure this wouldn’t happen, and I was right – no Season 4 announcement. I don’t think that the absence of an announcement is indicative of there being no fourth season at all, as I feel sure that it will be announced either alongside the release date for Season 3 or during the run-up to Season 3’s premiere; this is what ViacomCBS did for both Discovery’s third season and Picard’s second season, so it would fit the pattern. Some folks have been digging into production job listings, industry journals, and the like and found evidence that Season 4 could well be happening – it’s just a question of making an official announcement.
The still-untitled Section 31 series was nowhere to be seen during the panel. In many ways, Strange New Worlds stole the Section 31 series’ thunder from almost the first episode of Discovery’s second season. Where Section 31 had been met with a very muted response, even from many of Discovery’s biggest fans, Trekkies were clamouring for a Pike-led show. The announcement of Strange New Worlds a few weeks ago was a big deal, and Section 31 seems to have dropped down the priority list as a result. It was said to have officially entered production late last year, presumably targeting a 2021 release, but we’ve had precious little information since. I wasn’t expecting to hear much about it at this event, but that in itself says a lot!
Finally, there was no mention of a fourth Kelvin-timeline film, despite rumours swirling in the last few weeks that there are several feature film projects in consideration. Again, this wasn’t something I was necessarily expecting from this panel, but it’s worth noting the absence. Personally, I feel that the Kelvin-timeline films have probably run their course. We’re now over a decade out from the release of Star Trek in 2009, so the idea of seeing “young” Kirk and Spock in their cadet days or fresh out of the Academy has come and gone. While the alternate reality setting gives producers a lot of leeway compared to productions in the prime timeline, since Discovery’s premiere Star Trek’s producers have been more than willing to shake things up. I would still be interested to watch a fourth film in that series, but I’m not expecting one to be made at this point.
To get back to the panel discussions themselves, I felt that Discovery’s “table read” of the second-season finale was pretty dull and really seemed to be there purely to pad out the event. Most of the actors did a good job delivering their lines, but watching it on a conference call wasn’t very exciting, and the constant switching between screens and zooming in and out created a rather nauseating effect. The Picard panel was more of a friendly chat, but nothing major really came from it regarding the show’s second season – which is of course on hold at the moment due to the pandemic.
So I think that’s really all I have to say. Star Trek: Prodigy is probably the biggest announcement, but aside from a few smaller tidbits of news there wasn’t really a great deal going on. The event seems noteworthy more for what wasn’t present than what was, and while some of that is due to the pandemic situation, other important aspects – like the release of Star Trek: Lower Decks outside of the United States – are decisions taken by ViacomCBS. As enjoyable as it was to spend time with some of the cast and crew of Star Trek, my general impression of the panel is that it was underwhelming.
The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series discussed above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.