Monthly Archives: January 2016

TV’s Golden Age… or too much of a Good Thing?

Last week, I made passing reference to Television’s “Golden Age,” an often-invoked, but still rather unofficial designation for the TV-viewing time we find ourselves in. Yes, I know some people still want to cling to the 50s being a golden age, but while my adoration for some skits of Your Show of Shows and episodes of I Love Lucy is second to none, please. TV is currently rocking.

One of the side effects of this embarrassment of storytelling riches is the possibility we have reached a state of “peak TV.” In fact, Slate’s Willa Paskin seems to contend that the current state of TV means we have passed the Golden Age. I think we’re still in a Golden Age, but perhaps as with so many ages of prosperity, the seeds of the age’s demise are being planted now, if for no other reason than we can’t see it all as Josef Adalian notes in his Slate piece.

Recommended Reading: Star Trek DS9 is still a worthy watch

Amidst all this talk about the current “Crisis of Infinite Star Treks,” I came across this remembrance/article from Max Temkin about my favorite Star Trek incarnation: Deep Space Nine (DS9).

I have now watched the entire series three times: first, when it was broadcast. Second, in the early naughts on DVD, and most recently with its debut on streaming Netflix. Some episodes, like “Necessary Evil,” have been ones I’ve watched more than three times.

Is DS9 still “a worthy watch?” Yes, I think it is, but that need not always be so.

If fanboys and fangirls of all stripes are honest with themselves, a lingering fear is always that they will return to their beloved works, the works that gave them such joy in their youth, and they will find the magic gone.

I don’t think this is a case of life emulating 1 Corinthians 13:11 (“When I was child, I spake as a child, etc. etc.). Comic books, “genre movies,” and the like are not, in and of themselves, childish things — despite what some insecure muggles would have you believe. But at the same time, as with any art, not all art can speak to you at different ages. And some art is very much of its time and does not age well (e.g. certain WWII Looney Tunes). Consider works like King Lear. If you encounter the play when you’re young, the idealism and heroism of Cordelia and Edgar may stand out (or perhaps Edmund if you’re feeling naughty). As you get older, you begin to better understand Kent and even foolish Lear. Good works have layers and can say many things at once — and I would also suggest that good works can leave hints and thoughts of a wider world beyond the stage or screen. This world may be too terrible or nuanced for the restrictions of censors, sensibilities, or timeframe… but when you encounter the work again you see them and fill in the blanks.

I find this phenomenon happens frequently in TV and movies. Restricted by things such as the Hays code and the MPAA ratings system, innovative directors, showrunners, and writers found ways to have all the complexity of human life hinted at through the filter of a PG rating or network broadcast TV show. Now, in this “golden age of TV,” we forget that dialogue didn’t used to be so full of profanities, that clothing didn’t used to be so optional, and that people’s throats were not slit with such reckless abandon.

All this brings us to Star Trek, in its many incarnations.

Star Trek, at its best, wrestles with some weighty ideas: a storytelling approach that television can excel at. As I rewatch the many Star Trek series (yes, streaming Netflix is quite the enabler here), I am continually impressed by how well the various series hold up. Yes, there are dated references and sensibilities here and there as may be expected. But overall, I am impressed by how well so many of the stories hold up because of their commitment to the characters and the concepts.

All of this factors into the groundbreaking nature of DS9 when it first came out.

So for those Star Trek fans out there who may not have watched the series closely when it was first broadcast, it’s on streaming Netflix now, waiting for you.

And to warm you up, check out this fan-created “DS9 20th Anniversary Trailer.” Heck, fans of the series should check it out too. Tell me it doesn’t give you a few Trek-related chills.

Oh, Star Trek Fans: We’re So Doomed

It’s one thing to have too many choices, something we arguably have in today’s world. It’s another thing to have choices violently cut down.

Imagine if Baskin Robbins decided their Thirty-One-Derful world needed to be Thirteen. Or Three.

In my previous post on this subject, I noted that I was okay with the different –in some cases radically different– flavors of Star Trek. My issue was that a whole set of flavors, ones that I traditionally associated with Star Trek, appeared to be out of stock, at least on the Big Screen.

Let me extend this ice cream example futher. Growing up, I loved going to our local Carvel’s ice cream shop (yes, I know many of you only know them as the brand of ice cream whales in your local supermarket freezer, but there used to be stores). Besides standard chocolate, vanilla, and Rocky Road offerings, they had  pumpkin, banana, and black cherry ice cream. They were wonderful flavors. Any kid likes ice cream. Certainly I like chocolate and Rocky Road, but those other flavors were ones I didn’t find anywhere else (those guys Ben and Jerry weren’t on the scene yet).

The Star Trek reboot movies are going full Rocky Road. There’s no chance of pumpkin or banana. The studio’s thought process appears to be that since they’re offering ice cream and their Rocky Road has extra nuts, there’s no problem. We fans point out, “How about something like Chunky Monkey? We get the nuts and the chocolate bits, but we still get that wonderful banana!”

The studio responds, “Look. We’re giving you ice cream. What are you complaining about?”

But while we’re resigning ourselves to what we hope is the best possible Rocky Road from the big ice cream conglomerate, we realize there’s a chance to taste something like that the banana or pumpkin we’ve had before.

I’m speaking in this case, of Star Trek fan productions. Yeah, their ice cream isn’t always consistent, but they clearly love ice cream, especially some of the classic flavors

Take a look at Star Trek Continues, a fan series that aims to continue the original Star Trek’s “five-year mission.” It’s not just the sets: they’re getting the costumes, props, and lighting like the original. I’m not so agog of the old production values to feel this is necessary, the care taken comes through: they love this flavor of Star Trek. And that love and care not coincidentally mean the episodes are better than some other fan productions.

You can also take a look at Axanar Productions’ “Prelude to Axanar,” a 20-minute short that uses a lot of the production design of the original series (actually, more so the original pilot production design you see in The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before) but puts it in modern packaging with some truly cool special effects.

With fan productions like these, it makes the corporate Rocky Road obsession more palatable.

Except that, as of December, CBS/Paramount has decided nobody gets pumpkin spice Star Trek. They’re suing Axanar Productions for copyright infringement.

Okay, a lawsuit doesn’t automatically mean the worst-case scenario, but when you look at the full filing, you see that CBS/Paramount is casting a very wide net. Within that net could be all the fan productions. In other words, all the really cool fan productions, made with love and craft, could go away.

From a purely fan perspective, this feels like the corporate businessman storming out of their store and smashing a kid’s lemonade stand because it might detract from their business and we own the rights to lemonade, damn it!

(Yeah, I switched from ice cream to lemonade. Stay with me.)

I know it’s more complicated than that — and CBS/Paramount absolutely has a right to protect their intellectual property (IP). But they’ve previously allowed fan productions to exist — and I would say their IP and brand has benefited from these homages. Couldn’t they have had their legal department contact Axanar Productions? They’re a multinational corporation for crying out loud. Do they not understand the threat of the big stick can often get them what they want more easily than going forth and smashing with a big stick?

Because make no mistake: fans have noticed. And I haven’t read anything that says CBS/Paramount has no rights, but I’ve read a good deal of “Hey, they’re really going crazy with that stick.”

This is not the press you want, but I’m not sure that CBS/Paramount cares. I mean, one could argue as Cracked does, that they don’t like Star Trek to be Star Trek.

Back to the ice cream, I don’t think they fully appreciate what IP they have on their hands. io9 did a great article recently about ways Star Trek has done film and TV sci-fi right in a way we just haven’t seen elsewhere. Yes, you can get ice cream elsewhere. Yes, you can just take the brand “Star Trek” and stick it on any old ice cream, but Star Trek is more than just a brand name.

And with the lawsuit, it seems like CBS/Paramount is saying, “Nah, we get to say what it is. Also, legally: nyah nyah.”

I keep on talking about this. If it isn’t clear yet that I am a tremendous Star Trek fan whose ardor for the various series would elicit measurable readings on either a Geek or Nerd scale, well, here I am to spell it out. Herefafter, I will call these posts about Star Trek’s future and fandom “Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.” You’re welcome, pop culture mavens.

Recommended Reading: Hostage Negotiation and the Business World

Hostage negotiation has always seemed interesting to me, and not just when Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson are doing it.

Bourree Lam’s interview with veteran hostage negotiator Chris Voss in the Atlantic is fascinating in its own right. But, of course, they’re looking at how his experience translates to the business world, specifically asking for a raise and how to deal with the concept of “fairness.”

Bet you find some ways it can help you as a producer as well.

Recommended Reading: The Unbuilt Three Sisters Bridge across the Potomac

For denizens of Washington, DC, or just those who are interested in how the region has grown, here’s a piece from Ghosts of DC about the proposed Three Sisters Bridge across the Potomac River.

I love ultra-detailed local history because, even as you go through life, constructing your own narrative, there are other stories being written all around you. When I read something like this, it triggers my imagination for all sorts of alternate history about what might have been.

Not a bad thing for inspiring some writing.