LIFESTYLES: What Is Star Trek and What It Isn’t

By D. Lanier Shook       May 28, 2013

On Saturday I was privileged to hear NPR’s On The Media host Brooke Gladstone give a overall review of the history of Star Trek. I’m going to encourage everyone to click here and listen to the twelve minute audio. If you’re a fan of Start Trek this will be a nostalgic trip into the past. If you’re not a fan of Star Trek its a chance to learn everything you needed to know about Star Trek without watching a single episode.

Ms. Gladstone’s program made me consider the way I think of Star Trek. Since Star Trek: Into Darkness just released I felt this was an appropriate time to discuss how the phenomena known as Star Trek has changed our technology and society. I realized that to me — as a fan and a writer — Star Trek means three things: television, technology, and culture.

Since Star Trek is awesome on the big screen I’d like to thank J.J. Abrams for what he’s done. But the big screen isn’t where Star Trek was born, it isn’t where it developed, and it’s not where it lives.  Budget constraints and time are the reasons I believe the small screen is the best place for any storyline to grow. Twenty two episodes per season let writers and producers develop a franchise better than even the longest feature film. Is there any way that Lost could have become the phenomena it did on the big screen?

When I think of Star Trek I think of technology. William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, and Scott Bakula have done incredible jobs bringing Star Trek to life, but to me the soul of the show has always been the technology. Warp drives, transporters, replicators, photon torpedoes, and holograms aren’t just what made Star Trek unique. They are visions of the future that continue to change our lives every day.

But I also think one of the biggest reasons for Star Trek’s longevity has been it’s deep development of various alien cultures. Seriously, its a show where the faithful can discern between a Bajoran phaser and a Klingon phaser. In many ways, the willingness to invest resources and screen time to these cultures are what has made Star Trek unique among other space operas. Without the long storylines devoted to the Klingons, Cardassians, Bajorans, and Ferengi the franchise wouldn’t be what it is today.

Of course the billion dollar question is where does Star Trek go now? On one hand sci-fi fans can enjoy a better variety than ever. Dr. WhoSanctuary, Grimm, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Primeval, Torchwood, Once Upon A Time, Battlestar Galactica, 4400, and Farscape are only a few of the wonderful sci-fi shows available to us. And the development of technologies like TiVo, Netflix, and even DVD box sets hit advertising revenues, which fund all these great shows.

Personally I think that the impact of the Stargate franchise should not be underestimated. Not only did this show have many qualities that Star Trek offered, it also featured the distinct “ancient alien” theme. As much as we’d like to, sci-fans just don’t have the time to watch absolutely everything that appeals to us.

As a writer looking to help shape science fiction on the page, the Internet, the small screen, and — hopefully — the big screen, there are lessons I can draw from Star Trek. Appeal to the faithful isn’t enough, you have to appeal to your casual audience as well. (Kudos to J.J. Abrams for this.) You need to keep costs low and the story value high. But above all else, please get Star Trek back on the small screen.

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