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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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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Why can’t STAR TREK to be more like LOST IN SPACE?! (review editorial, part 2)

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!  LOST IN SPOILERS!

In Part 1, I looked at some of the striking similarities between the two franchises LOST IN SPACE and STAR TREK.  And then I shared how my seven-year-old son and I absolutely LOVED the first season of the new Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, while I personally have been mostly disappointed with the new Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access (which I don’t let my son watch).

Yesterday, I provided an overview of why Jayden and I enjoyed LiS so much.  It made us cheer.  We rooted for the characters and wanted to see them get out of trouble and win.  On the other hand, during the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, I found myself caring very little about any of the crew or nearly all of the other characters on that show.

But enough with the generalities!  It’s time to provide some specifics of what I think LiS is doing right that Discovery is failing to do.  So let’s dive right in…

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Why can’t STAR TREK to be more like LOST IN SPACE?! (review editorial, part 1)

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!  LOST IN SPOILERS!

Like Star Trek, LOST IN SPACE recently returned to television after a long absence with a new series…available only through a paid subscription service.  Both shows are “darker” than their original versions, very expensive to make (about $8-$8.5 million per episode), and both are produced entirely in Canada (Star Trek: Discovery in Toronto and Lost in Space in British Columbia).

Both series debuted to very strong viewership numbers.  When the first two episodes of Discovery premiered on the CBS network, 9.6 million people watched.  When LiS debuted on Netflix, Nielsen estimated that 6 million people watched it in the first three days alone and that 1.2 million binge-watched all ten episodes during that time.  More viewers—such as myself and my 7-year-old son Jayden, watched LiS several weeks later over the course of many nights.

While it’s not known how many people are watching Discovery (CBS keeps those numbers locked up tighter than the gold in Fort Knox!), estimates are that about 300,000-500,000 subscribers view Discovery on All Access with more watching on Space TV in Canada and on Netflix in other countries around the world.  And despite mixed reviews from both critics and fans, both series have now been renewed for a second season.

So those are their main similarities.  But what about their differences?  And what is it about those differences that leaves me so much MORE enthusiastic about the new Lost in Space than I am about Star Trek: Discovery?

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The ENTERPRISE, the DISCO-PRISE, and the GOLDEN RATIO! (mind-blowing editorial)

Don’t get me wrong: I actually like some aspects of the new old U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 that briefly appeared in the season finale of Star Trek: Discovery.  (For convenience, I’ll be calling it the “Disco-prise” since “Second-prise” is just plain silly!)

Now, the J.J. Abrams version of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the 2009 reboot Star Trek movie, that one I hated.  I think it is a visual travesty, and we shall not speak of it further.

But the Disco-prise, it’s mostly okay with me.  I don’t even mind those strange “tail fins” that seem to have been added to the back of the nacelles for no apparent reason (you all realize that there’s no air resistance in space, right?)  I sorta like the design…but I definitely don’t love it.

On the other hand, the original U.S.S. Enterprise, designed by WALTER MATT JEFFERIES in 1965 (and altered slightly in 1966 when the Star Trek TV series was picked up for broadcast)…now THAT ship I LOVE.  There is not an angle of that magnificent space vessel that I can’t look at for hours or draw from memory.  In my opinion, that iconic starship is perfect, a profoundly elegant work of art!  (I feel the same way about the refit U.S.S. Enterprise first seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.)

So why don’t I love the new Disco-prise?  It’s not a bad design, but for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, it just didn’t seem like the work of art that the original was.  And about three weeks ago, I finally discovered the reason…

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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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