STAR TREK: DISCOVERY vs. THE ORVILLE – Should CBS be worried? (Part 1)

Before I begin, please note that the title of this blog is the question “Should CBS be worried?” and not the statement  “CBS should be worried.”  I’m pondering, not preaching.

Also, I want to mention up front that I personally enjoyed the new trailer for Star: Trek Discovery and am looking forward to at least checking out the new series.  People seem to think I’m just another Discovery hater/detractor.  Not so!  I am very much keeping an open mind.  But I’m not blind to the reality of the situation either, and that’s what this blog is about.

(And yes, I know that this is a site about fan films.  But it’s also a site about Star Trek…and it’s my blog, so I can editorialize whatever I want to.)

Last week, all of the major networks unveiled trailers for shows that will premiere during their upcoming 2017 season.  Naturally, Star Trek fans were eagerly expecting to see their first extended glimpse of the new STAR TREK: DISCOVERY series…coming to the subscription-based CBS All Access.

What fans weren’t expecting, however, was a new Star Trek-ish series from FOX starring and produced by Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, Ted) and directed by Iron Man‘s John Favreau.  Titled THE ORVILLE, this new hour-long series looked more like the Star Trek of yore: bright sets, colorful uniforms, chest emblems with division insignia, sleek and over-lit starships (some filmed from actual physical models!), and a token alien species or two with big bumpy foreheads.  The Orville is obviously meant to be a campy tongue-in-cheek comedy, but the production values, sets, costuming, make-up, and visual FX looked like…well…WOW!

For two days, fans were aflutter with comments about this surprise new sci-fi series.  And the comments were nearly all positive, with many Trekkers suggesting that THIS was the Star Trek we’d wanted all along (minus the implied parody, of course), and wondering why CBS just didn’t get it.

Then, last Wednesday, CBS had their turn to say, “Hey, we DO get it…and here’s what OUR new Star Trek will look like.”  But did they really get it?

What fans saw looked like yet another reboot: a never-before-seen Starfleet uniform style (set during a time frame in Starfleet history when uniforms had already been established as looking like those worn in the first Star Trek pilot episode “The Cage”), never-before-seen aliens, a darker and more futuristic-looking bridge filled with (don’t make me say it!) lens flares, a new transporter effect, and let’s not forget a brand-new (or is that ancient?) look for the Klingons.

It was a lot for fans to take in.  On the one hand, it was unquestionably Star Trek.  We see a communicator and a tricorder, we see Spock’s father Sarek of Vulcan, we see a starship with a saucer-shaped hull and two nacelles, and we see that familiar USS Enterprise arrowhead chest insignia…even though the starship we see isn’t the Enterprise. (In the original TV series, it was established that each starship crew wore a uniquely-shaped insignia on the chest of their uniform.  It wasn’t until the Trek motion pictures that Starfleet adopted that familiar arrowhead emblem on all uniforms to honor the completion of Captain Kirk’s historic 5-year mission.)

On the other hand, this wasn’t Star Trek the way fans expected it to look if it was indeed set only a scant ten years before Kirk.  Some fans suggested the new series should have been set after the end of Deep Space Nine and Voyager so it could look more futuristic and not worry about canon.  Others suggested just biting the bullet and calling it an alternate universe reboot.

(To be fair, CBS seems to be reluctant to call the new series a reboot because, among other reasons, fewer products are licensed for rebooted Star Trek.  The Kelvin-verse merchandise has generally sold poorly—usually relegated to the bargain shelves at Walmart—and there have been relatively few licensed products from that franchise.  On the other hand, a wide array of prime universe products continue to sell well.  It’s worth noting that Discovery has only just signed up its first licensee, McFarlane Toys, and even that licensee is holding back on releasing anything from Discovery.  Their first two licensed Trek figures next spring will be Kirk and Picard…no one from Discovery.  That’s worth noting,)

Anyway, getting back to the two trailers, the one constant seemed to be that genre fans were not feeling nearly as psyched about Star Trek: Discovery as they were about The Orville…and the numbers bear that out.

While it’s true that the official trailer for Discovery has been viewed on YouTube nearly 5 million times, which is more than the 4 million combined totals for the official trailer for The Orville plus the HD version of the same trailer, the good news for CBS ends there.  (By the way, for comparison, superheroes and mutants win the race hands down with more than 15 million views for the two trailers(regular and HD) for the new X-Men TV series from Marvel on FOX, The Gifted.)

The thumbs-up/thumbs-down ratings on Youtube for the Discovery and Orville trailers tell an interesting story.  And while a simple click on a button icon is certainly not a reliable predictor of viewing/subscribing behavior, it also cannot simply be discounted entirely either…especially with tens of thousands of clicks.  Plus, it’s a very similar—almost direct—comparison with many of the same parameters: number of views of the trailers, release date of the trailers, likely demographic viewing group, etc.

And the numbers have stayed pretty consistent for the past week (which is why I didn’t write this blog immediately; I wanted to track the trend line).  For The Orville, thumbs-up have remained pretty consistent on both trailer pages at about 87%, with thumbs-down straddling 13%.  Discovery, however, has seen an equally consistent thumbs-up percentage around 68% versus 32% thumbs-down.  (For comparison, The Gifted has around 85% thumbs-up and 15% thumbs-down…pretty close to Orville.)

So YouTube viewers dislike Discovery at a percentage about two and a half times MORE than those who dislike Orville.  Should CBS be worried?

Why CBS should NOT be worried

Is this a “Chicken Little” blog, sounding a red alert when there’s no real danger to the ship?  Some fans have said so in tones ranging from calm to militant.  From what I’ve seen over the past week, their arguments break down mainly into the following three categories:

  1. Y’know, 68% isn’t all that bad.  It’s not like it’s just 50% or that more people disliked rather than liked the trailer.  Sure, Orville did better…but by barely 20%.  And Orville is launching with a fresh start and no expectations.  The Discovery trailer is competing against 50 years of established Star Trek history and canon and a fan base with a LOT of strong opinions.  (Man, is that an understatement!)  In other words, the bar is being set far lower for Orville, and if you grade on a “curve,” then Discovery is actually doing pretty well, all things considered.  Also, with millions of Y0utube views, what do the mouse-clicks of a few tens of thousands of users really tell us?
  2. Trek fans were dreading The Next Generation back in 1987 before it debuted.  “How can Star Trek be Star Trek without Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest???”  Then came Deep Space Nine, and fans were dubious again.  “A space station???  You’re going to boldly stay in one place???”  Voyager was going to leave everything familiar in the Alpha Quadrant and the Federation behind.  And Enterprise was going BACKWARD rather than forward.  Every new Trek had its doomsayers, and things generally turned out all right.  This has all happened before, and it will happen again.  So far, Discovery is in good company!
  3. The trailer from last week wasn’t intended to impress the fans; it was intended to impress the advertisers.  The advertisers don’t care how close Discovery hews to 50 years of established Star Trek.  They want to see the characters, the sets, the costumes, the uniforms, the aliens, the visual FX, the pacing, the action, and the dramatic conflict.  The trailer was cut in a way to show them all of that.  Another trailer could be cut in a way to give the fans something to cheer about, but this one wasn’t for the fans.  (And hey, at least there was no Beastie Boys soundtrack!)

Next time—do I even need to say it?—why CBS should be worried!

26 thoughts on “STAR TREK: DISCOVERY vs. THE ORVILLE – Should CBS be worried? (Part 1)”

  1. …yeah, no. cbs has blown it by going with kutzman and the (fake) nu-trek aesthetic / style =(

    nu-trek is fine for your popcorn munching droolers, but REAL Trek fans want better

    it’s just fantasy flash in the pan – which works for dummies (real Star Trek fans are NOT dummies)

    you can just see kurtzman going: “…wouldn’t it be cool to see a starship emerge from a cloud in a planet’s atmosphere?” (no matter HOW stupid it is) =(

    1. Well, there was that really cool shot of the USS Ares emerging from the cloud in Prelude. Of course, with the two ships looking so similar, it was almost the same shot. 🙂

      1. …IIRC, that was more of a nebula (space cloud?), rather than an atmospheric one? =P

        …anyway, yes, the Ares version is way cooler and not stupid 😉

  2. If STD had been just a generic Sci-Fi series,other than a few logos,
    I would have seen it as interesting.
    It would pass for a show similar to Killjoys or the expanse on Sci-Fi channel.
    I wouldn’t have guessed it was Star Trek.
    CBS may actually sink a viable show by trying to fit it into the Star Trek Universe.

    If the Orville had been a Star Trek show set after Voyager, I would have believed it.
    The show fits nicely with Star Trek, Galaxy Quest, Andromeda type of series.

  3. The Orville does look like something that I could MAYBE have some fun with, but Discovery, I don’t know… P

  4. When you say “The Orville is obviously meant to be a campy tongue-in-cheek comedy”, I think it worth noting that Seth MacFarlane said the trailer overly focused on the comedy side and that in reality the show will feel a lot deeper (see

    That might mean that we should envision the show as comedic rather than as a comedy, with the comedic elements rather spread out (which suits me fine), but we shall see.

    1. I wrote most of that blog BEFORE I read the article about Seth M.’s comments. Even so, I stand by the “tongue-in-cheek” description simply because of scenes like the marble spitting, the urination once a year discussion, the stepping-in-the-blob-crewman gag, and the banana comment. But hey, it’ll be different than other stuff out there. It won’t be the absolute farce that “Galaxy Quest” was (God love it!), and it won’t be dark and brooding like the rebooted BSG (gods love it!). And it certainly won’t be like “Discovery,” but it might be like “Star Trek” just enough to gain a fan following. Then the biggest challenge will be coming up with a nickname for “Orville” fans–like Trekkies or Trekkers. So far, the best I’ve come up with is “Orvillagers.”

      (Yeah, I don’t like it either.) 🙂

          1. Duckers? Duckies?

            The first time I heard about the show I thought immediately of Orville The Duck from the 1980s.

            How about Quackers?

  5. I, myself will keep an open mind. Remember my analogy about the group that would be a tribute band if wasn’t for that one original guitar player. Is it Really the original band or not? They still sound great!

  6. The trailer comedy was for me cringe-worthy – I was turned off by it. I like comedy (TOS Harry Mudd, for example) but what we saw was enough to have me decide to forget the show until I read the excellent piece Jack posted a link to. Now I’m willing to give it a bit of a chance.

      1. Oh the irony there!

        Seth (also known as Set) Egyptian God of storms, desert, evil, chaos and war.

        1. We also had a guy named Seth working for my brother and me at 2-Lane Media during the mid-90s. He came to work late a lot. We eventually had to let him go. I hate firing people.

  7. I was never one of those people who doomed DS9 or enterprise, even though that campy soft rock will forever haunt trekkies everywhere. So when I say that CBS doesn’t understand it’s own fanbase, it’s because they don’t. yes their were darker elements and themes in some of the later trek but i believe that was only to highlight that even in dark times the light of the federation and it’s principle shines through. todays market however is flooded with dark scifi, we got the return of the x-files, the expanse which is all about the dark depths of humanities struggles with itself, dark matter and killjoys which is suppose to get a cross over soon. So seems to me the market is flooded with dark scifi, so why produce something that has to compete with this market when they could have produced what their fanbase wants which is more in keeping with established canon and A) set yourself apart from what is already saturating the market, and B) has an established fanbase. Oh wait Orville beat them to it. It’s like someone got tired of waiting for CBS to do just that and saw an opportunity to snag it out from under them without facing the 9th circuit. Next person to interview Seth should ask him how closely he was paying attention to the Axanar case.

    1. “Next person to interview Seth should ask him how closely he was paying attention to the Axanar case.”

      I would LOVE to ask him that! Now, where did I leave his phone number??? 🙂

  8. “Too much of anything – even love – is not necessarily a good thing.”
    – Captain James Tiberius Kirk

    Star Trek has certainly run its course. After a half a century and the turbulence it endured on its 50th Birthday….well, All Good Things Must Come To An End.

    And it seems – in this situation – that both the fans(including the fan film productions)and CBS/Paramount have issued that death warrant.

    From the fan films, to Axanar, to this…history has repeated itself again and the second wave of franchise fatigue is rolling in. SMH.

    1. Not everyone agrees with you, Blue. You might want to consider qualifying your statements with “I think…” or “It’s possible that…”

      Just a suggestion. 🙂

      1. And maybe what CBS/Paramount is doing with STD is a way of quelling some out of control elements within Star Trek fandom.

        Either way, I’m not concerned whether some fans do or not. I’m just pointing out the following sentiment that is shared by quite a few.

        Some fans like Alec Peters, Vic Mignogna, John Broughton, Michael Bednar, the Farragut Films and Starship Ajax production staffs – if you can call them that – got too big for their britches and their egos. Same goes for David Gerrold. And as a result, rules were broken, lines were crossed, and laws were MAJORLY violated!

        Star Trek fandom and its fan politics have gotten so out of control and given both the franchise and its fan following a HUGE BLACK EYE!!!

        That should say something loud and clear to the Star Trek fan base.

        The fans may have kept Star Trek alive for five decades, but their foolish actions are also killing it slowly.

        1. I disagree. I believe it is Paramount/CBS that has gotten too big for their britches and quelling what should be a franchise that should logically be public domain right now.
          When Axanar happened, CBS’s response should have been the put those guys on the payroll, let them have full use of copyright material and share the profits. Fans get Axanar, shareholders get paid, the Axanar crew gets a paycheck and everyone gets pats on the back for a job well done and incentivized to go forth and do good
          What we got was just badness and hate all around.
          The real culprit is copyright law and the corporations that have turned it into the abomination it is today.
          It was originally meant to last a little under thirty years before the material became public domain. long enough for the author to turn a profit and establish themselves.
          Now copyrights last for the life of the author plus seventy years. Clearly meant to be a cash cow for CBS/Paramount and the like.
          Seriously, who is overstepping who’s britches here?
          Here’s another clue.
          Copyright law is based on Article 1 section 8 of the US Constitution which clearly states to promote the progress of sciences and arts by, and I’m quoting here, “to secure for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”
          Now I will grant you that the “life of the author plus seventy years” is indeed a limit, but I’m doubtful that the current law is promoting the arts an sciences so much as it’s squelching them.
          Axanar should go forward.
          Axanar should get sued
          Axanar should lose the lawsuite
          Axanar should lose on appeal
          Axanar should go to the Supreme court
          The supreme court should strike down current copyright law in favor of the original thirty years.
          Star Trek, Star Wars and everything else we like becomes public domain
          Disney and every major media company in the country goes berserk, pointing fingers at CBS going “You idiots! What have you done?!”
          I get to do my best Heath Ledger Joker imitation while watching part of the world burn.

          1. The Supreme Court would never be asked to strike down copyright law based on the Axanar lawsuit. This case wasn’t asking for the law to be changed or eliminated. The case was proceeding under the assumption that the law was proper and just and was simply not being applied properly in this particular situation.

            Also, CBS would never have hired the Axanar team. That’s not the way Hollywood works. I’m a huge fan of Team Axanar’s project and talents and accomplishments (as you all know!), but even I acknowledge that CBS would never place Star Trek into the hands of anyone that hadn’t already worked in a high-end capacity in the industry for years or decades. Team Axanar made a fantastic fan film. But the NFL isn’t about to draft kids who just won a junior varsity championship.

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