CBS ALL ACCESS releases its version of a fan film: SHORT TREKS (editorial review)

WARNING: there will be some spoilers LATER,
but I will give you ample advance notice.

Going in, I wasn’t certain what to make of the first of CBS All Access’ SHORT TREKS, four “mini-episodes” of Star Trek to be released once a month leading up to the January premiere of season two of the Discovery series.

I’ll be honest, part of me was ready to hate it.  It’s no secret that I was mostly disappointed and frustrated with nearly every episode of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season.  And these Short Treks seemed to be just a way to “lure” fans into paying extra money to CBS not for 4 or 5 hours of new Trek episodes each month but for only 10 or 15 MINUTES of these brief vignettes.

Adding insult to injury for Trek fans outside of the U.S. and Canada (which are getting to see these four short films on the subscription services All Access and Space, respectively), Netflix has decided NOT to offer Short Treks…at least for now.  TrekMovie has some theories as to why (which you can read here), but basically, CBS offered and Netflix passed, as the latter service is more geared toward binge-watching behavior and accepts short films in batched packages, not one at a time.

So Short Treks was carrying a lot of baggage right out of the starting gate, for me and others.  Some fans have even been suggesting recently that CBS ripped off the concept of a short stand-alone vignette from fan films themselves.  To them, I say: so did Battlestar Galactica with “The Resistance” in 2006, “The Face of the Enemy” in 2008, and “Blood and Chrome” in 2011.  The Walking Dead has done numerous short-film webisodes also.  In other words, just because CBS had the idea to make mini-episodes, that doesn’t mean they “stole” the idea from fans…or from Syfy or AMC.  Sometimes a good idea is just a good idea.

But to me, at least, the first Short Trek, an episode entitled “Runaway” which debuted October 4, felt a lot like a fan film…especially now that CBS’s guidelines are limiting the run-time of Trek fan films to no more than 15 minutes.

The question is, though, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

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CBS has SHUT DOWN fans creating a free VIRTUAL REALITY Enterprise-D Walk-Through!

Well, $#*&!

One of the most mind-blowingly exciting and immersive fan projects EVER has just received a Cease and Desist letter from CBS.  And I’m not just speaking in hyperbole here.  The STAGE 9 project was virtually (pun intended) guaranteed to get an “OMG…I can’t believe this exists!” from Trekkies who discovered it.

It wasn’t a fan film but rather a virtual reality recreation of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D…not just from the outside but also from the inside!  What began back in 2016 as just a simple art project by a Trek fan in the UK trying to make a really nice 3D recreation of the TNG bridge quickly grew to so much more!

Using the fourth iteration of the Unreal Engine from Epic Games, an open-source way for anyone to design and build their own virtual reality simulations for first-person shooters and the such, a number of developers from around the world hopped on board with this U.K. artist to improve and expand what the newly-dubbed “Stage 9” project had to offer.

New version by new version, more decks and destinations were added to the virtual walk-through: the observation lounge, Picard’s ready room, the hangar deck (a very BIG hangar deck!), sickbay, transporter rooms, battle bridge, Picard’s quarters (with Ressikan flute!), Data’s quarters, Worf’s quarters, engineering, ten forward, nine forward, other crew lounges, flight deck control operations, the arboretum, the brig, science labs, computer core, holodecks, phaser range, and endless corridors.

But that’s not all!

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PICARD TREK…what is CBS thinking???? (editorial, part 2)

Yesterday, I began discussing the explosive news that hit Trek fandom like a warp core breach over this past weekend: SIR PATRICK STEWART will be returning to play Jean-Luc Picard in a brand new Star Trek television project.  It’s not known yet if this will be an ongoing series, a mini-series, or just a made-for-TV movie or pilot.  No scripts have been written, and indeed, there are no real details yet detailing whether this will be Captain Picard, Admiral Picard, Ambassador Picard, or just some bald guy who used to fight the Borg now running a small winery in eastern France.

But one thing is for sure: CBS is now committed to the project because it’s been officially announced to both Trekkies and the world at large.  Nearly all major entertainment media magazines were carrying the news on their websites within 24 hours.  It’d be tough for CBS to back out now.

But is this a good thing?

After all, in an interview on StarTrek.com back in 2010, Sir Patrick himself said of Next Gen: “I remain very proud of the work that we did, very proud of the series and the movies, but I do not wish to return to it.”  In a convention appearance around that same time where I saw him, Stewart explained that he felt he’d thoroughly examined every aspect of Picard creatively as a actor and was okay moving on.

Is CBS just desperately going back to a well that’s already been mostly tapped…rather than working to create something fresh and new?  Are they relying on Patrick Stewart as “stunt casting” to help draw in more viewers?

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PICARD TREK…what is CBS thinking???? (editorial, part 1)

The Star Trek world was rocked this past weekend when news arrived from Las Vegas that not only will there be a second new live-action Star Trek series going into pre-production (rather than just being proposed), but it will feature none other than Sir Patrick Stewart himself reprising his role of Jean-Luc Picard!  I’ve seen the word “nerdgasm” bantered about over the past 48 hours, and I must admit to being more than a bit excited myself over the news.

I was also intrigued (although not necessarily surprised) to find that some fans had more…shall we say…pessimistic reactions.  One friend of mine wrote me, “To be honest, this terrifies me and is the worst thing they could have done. They will build up unrealistic hype over it and finally break the backs of the majority of the deep fandom with disappointment.”  Interestingly, he didn’t say this because he thought Star Trek: Discovery was/is terrible.  In fact, he added, “I was hopeful with Discovery and it turned out somewhere between ok and good…”

Conversely, it seems that a lot of Discovery detractors are using this news to cross their fingers and predict/hope/pray that “this time, they’ll get it right.”  And many Discovery supporters are thinking, “Hey, it’ll be another great new Trek series AND it’ll have Picard…win-win!”

I probably fall more into the former group, but in my mind, there’s a much more interesting question to ask: What is CBS thinking???

I do not mean this in a “What in the world are these clueless idiots possibly thinking?” kind of way.  Instead, I’m really, truly curious what is going through their minds right now.  And I’d like to share some conjectures with you…realizing that this is purely speculation on my my part.  But I think it’ll be a fun little thought experiment…

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A funny thing happened to STAR TREK: DISCOVERY… (editorial)

Okay, San Diego Comic Con 2018 is now in the history books, and nearly every Trekker is now talking about Season Two of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.

Fans now know that, in addition to Anson Mount playing Captain Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn (who played the shape-shifting Mystique in the early X-Men films) will play Number One, and yes, we will be seeing Spock at some point this season.  Other new characters, like Tig Notaro as Chief Engineer Reno, are also being added (not sure as regulars or guests stars), plus at least one actor whose character died during Season One will be returning in some undisclosed way.

In addition to the debut of Season Two of Discovery sometime in early 2019, four “Short Treks” (about 10-15 minutes each) will tell stories focusing on the histories of established characters like Tilly and Saru plus a new character named Craft, and a fourth featuring Harry Mudd (played by Rainn Wilson, who will also direct his mini-episode).  Reportedly, one of these four shorts will be released each month leading up to the January premiere of Season Two.  Whether these “Short Treks” will be exclusive to CBS All Access (and Netflix outside of America and Canada) or posted for free on the Internet has not been made clear yet.  Personally, I think they should be posted publicly to draw in more viewers to the subscription service…but what do I know?

(Side/snide note – for any fan filmmaker who’s been complaining, “You can’t tell a decent Star Trek story in less than 15 minutes…” well, CBS is about to either prove you right or wrong.  Stay tuned!)

But by far, the most excitement came from this intriguing Season Two trailer.  And for the 1% of you out there who haven’t seen it yet, here ’tis…

Not bad, huh?  But there was something oddly familiar about it…

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COPYRIGHT HOLD is LIFTED by CBS on fan video criticizing STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

Last week, this was going to be a very different blog!  Last week I was going to report on how CBS was enforcing a copyright hold on a fan-made video that was critical of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.  The fan had tried to monetize the video on YouTube (showing ads), and because there were clips from Star Trek episodes (from multiple series) in the critique, it got automatically flagged for a copyright hold.

The fan, who goes by her YouTube account name PsychoSpider, challenged the copyright hold claiming an exemption for Fair Use.  Ah, fair use!  Ever since AXANAR fought back against CBS and Paramount when sued for copyright infringement, numerous fans (including yours truly) became “armchair experts” in the fair use defense.  In short, there are certain cases where it’s okay and even legal to use someone else’s intellectual property without first getting their permission.  And one of those cases is when the person is using copyrighted material for purposes of criticism, even when the criticism might generate revenue.

(Don’t just take my word for it!  Read about Fair Use on the website of the U.S. Copyright Office.)

One of the reasons that Fair Use exists for criticism is because it is generally assumed that a copyright holder would be unlikely to ever grant permission to someone to use their intellectual property only to complain about it.  So Fair Use was created to try to balance the opposing forces of copyright protections and freedom of speech.  It’s not always an open-and-shut case, but in general, critical speech is protected even when copyrighted intellectual property is used.  The problem is, you usually have pay a lawyer lots of money to get a court to agree with you.

That wasn’t an option for PsychoSpider.  Instead, she simply filed her hold challenge, claiming Fair Use, and waited.  It didn’t take long for CBS to respond with a big, fat “NO!”  She tried again, and again her challenge was rejected.  She would not be allowed to monetize her video on YouTube.

I was all ready to write a blog about this outrage.  I’d interviewed PyschoSpider, contacted CBS for an official comment (didn’t get one), and was nearly ready to hit “Publish.”  And then something totally unexpected happened…

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LEAKED scripted scene from the season two premiere of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY!

BIG, HUGE, ENORMOUS, GIGANTIC SPOILER ALERT!!!

Now THIS is exciting!  I don’t know whether the producers of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
intentionally leaked this snippet of the script for the first episode of season two or if it just “sneaked” out the door somehow.  But it provides an intriguing look at the direction the creative team will be taking going into the second season.

As has been reported elsewhere, the writing team for Discovery re-assembled at the beginning of last month to begin breaking down season two.  Co-creator Alex Kurtzman, who will be directing the first episode of season two, recently explained, “Breaking story is, in some ways, the easier and faster thing; it’s the ability to execute on it that’s much harder. We want to take the right amount of time and don’t want to rush.”

But with production on the first episode set to kick off later this month, the first script needed to be completed quickly.  Jonathan Frakes, who just confirmed that he will be directing an episode later in season two, commented, “I just read the first script of the second season and the outline for the second script and it’s on fire now.”

Indeed!  And from this leaked scene, I think he’s right.

Granted, there’s no guarantee that the following snippet from the season two premiere script will make it into the actual episode exactly as initially written.  Dialog can get changed, segments added and cut, etc.  But if this leaked scene does make it into the finished episode, I think we’ll all be very surprised and even enthusiastic about the new direction of the series now that the Klingon War is over.

Naturally, the most exciting thing about this leaked snippet is that fans get a glimpse into how the series will be handing the character of Captain Christopher Pike of the USS Enterprise who, like Sarek, Amanda, and Harry Mudd, has already been seen in canonical Star Trek history.  Will Captain Pike hew closely to his original version (like Sarek does), or will he be a radical departure (like Harry Mudd)?

Wonder no more!

I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to post this, so read it fast before I get an e-mail on Monday morning from someone with the initials of “C.B.S.” telling me to immediately take it down.

Enjoy this sneak peek into season two…

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STAR TREK: DISCOVERY’S “Secret Scene”! (editorial)

Over this past weekend, at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY show-runner AARON HARBERTS released what he referred to as a “secret scene. ” He told the audience, in what I thought was a strange comment, that they decided to cut the scene out of the season one finale because it would be “…more exciting to bring it to a place like [WonderCon].”

Um, yeah.

By now, many of you have probably viewed the two and a half-minute “secret scene” (complete with a full minute and a half of credits…which seemed odd and unnecessary to me).  If you’re in the U.S., you can view the clip below…

And in a case of international legalistic inconvenience, those folks in Canada can only watch it here, and the rest of the world can see it here.

Almost immediately, fans started talking excitedly about this “new” scene and what it means for season two.  And not surprisingly, a whole bunch of folks e-mailed and/or IM’d me to ask what I thought about it.  I guess all those Discovery blogs I’ve written have marked me as some kind of fan barometer or something…or maybe they were just hoping I had some interesting insight or that maybe I’d find some fun way to trash the scene.  Who knows?

But since I’ve had a bunch of people ask for my opinion, I thought it best to just write it once.  Obviously, I’m not going to put any spoiler warnings here, as the season ended last month and the “secret scene” is right here on this blog.

So here we go…

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Why CBS is NOT “panicking” about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial, part 2)

Yesterday, I began by noting that there were a number of Trek fans who believed that CBS was somehow in a “panic” about the poor performance of Star Trek: Discovery, and that there was some kind of pressure being put onto the production team to retool the series, possibly bringing in the USS Enterprise to somehow replace the USS Discovery…or some nonsense like that.

It’s true that, at best, Star Trek: Discovery is just about breaking even for CBS…or possibly losing a few million dollars.  I didn’t do all the math yesterday as I ran out of space, but I’ll do it quickly here for you.

Since last September when Discovery premiered, CBS All Access has added approximately 500,000 new subscribers (going from 2 million to 2.5 million).  I learned that the majority of those subscribers were actually tuning into the NFL on All Access and not Discovery, but let’s assume that they all joined because CBS added a new Star Trek show.

All Access allows subscribers to watch with commercials for $6/month or without for $10/month.  Let’s average that to $8/month.  Discovery was on for five months:

 [  5 months x $8/month x 500,000 subscribers = $20 million   ]

As I mentioned yesterday, Discovery cost CBS about $30 million to produce (the portion not covered by Netflix licensing).

So how does Discovery break even if it’s losing $10 million?  Advertising.  Also, not all of those subscribers canceled after 5 months, so the revenue continues.  In other words, Discovery is doing just fine as far as CBS is concerned.

On the other hand, the license to stream the NFL on All Access likely cost CBS upwards of $250 million…and there’s no way they didn’t lose money on that deal!  So why keep throwing major bucks into All Access if you’re CBS?  Hasn’t this experiment essentially failed?

And to make matters worse, this is how All Access looks when measured up against Netflix and Hulu subscribers (and this is only in the U.S. alone)…

YEESH!  Sucks to be CBS, right?  So why not put All Access out of its misery?  Why bother keeping Star Trek: Discovery on the air and losing money on the NFL?

There’s a very simple reason…

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Why CBS is NOT “panicking” about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial, part 1)

Like a number of Trek fans, I watch and enjoy the Midnight’s Edge video podcast.  The production values are high, and the updates are interesting and informative.  But they’re also full of rumor, conjecture, and innuendo.

I sometimes feel as though I’m listening to fan “wish-fulfillment” and conspiracy theories, and I occasionally find myself wondering what is true and what is simply something that the creator(s) of Midnight’s Edge WANT to be true.

It’s often really hard to tell the difference!  In their most recent video podcastMidnight’s Edge mentions that, “There were reportedly no Star Trek: Discovery toys revealed at the 2018 Diamond Select ToyFair.”  Note the word “reportedly.”  It’s a relatively careful word.   The “report” they reference was a single tweet from Gabriel Koerner, who was apparently there…

Three days later, however, TrekMovie.com reported that McFarlane Toys was displaying a brand new Star Trek: Discovery phaser at ToyFair.  So perhaps sourcing a single tweet from a roving, non-reporter VFX artist might not be the most reliable way to confirm one’s facts.

And so it was that I took the following quote from the most recent Midnight’s Edge video podcast with a pretty huge grain of salt:

“While CBS displayed confidence to the public, there was rumored chaos and panic behind the scenes, and the latter episodes of the series were allegedly retooled to address fan concerns going forward.  Because from season 2 onwards, it is going to be increasingly important to win back the fans.”

Sounds all juicy and dramatic, don’t it?  Of course, notice the words “rumored” and “allegedly” included in there.  Some fans, dissatisfied and angry about the new series not hewing more closely to TOS and established Star Trek designs, would love to think that there are huge regrets at CBS about the way Discovery was rolled out and handled…and that the higher-ups are putting pressure on the producers to fix this and that.  It’s certainly a compelling narrative if you’re an angry and resentful Trek fan.

It’s kind of like Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files wanting to believe in the most far out conspiracy theories.  And who knows?  Maybe they’re right.  But I seriously doubt it.

So it’s time for me to put on my Special Agent Dana Scully red wig and provide an alternative, more reasonable analysis of the situation currently going on with CBS and Star Trek: Discovery.  Then you can decide whom YOU want to believe…

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