Gene Rodenberry would be proud, I think. Or at least suprised.
With the paradoxically tragic, and yet celebrated, cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise, Trekkies across the globe are finding themselves in something of a time-warp. Today, fans are in a similar position to a previous generation when the original Star Trek was taken off the air in 1969. The parallels between the final throes of the Original Star Trek and Star Trek: Enterprise, are indeed noteworthy, but it is the differences between them that may end up revolutionizing TV SciFi as we know it–Star Trek and beyond.
In a striking demonstration of the kind of disregard that Hollywood all too often shows to some of it’s audiences, Enterprise co-creator and co-executive producer Brannon Braga once referred to some Trekkies as “continuity pornographers” because of online criticisms leveled against him and Rick Berman during the rough and waning years of Star Trek’s latest TV series. Toward the end of Enterprise’s run, Berman himself would cite “franchise fatigue” as a prime reason behind the demise of modern Star Trek, saying that the series should be allowed to lay fallow for a few years until demand for it re-asserted itself. The truth, however, was that enough fans (both casual and hardcore) had become fed up with the increasing variance between the beloved Next Generation model of Star Trek and “Neo Trek” that the fanbase fractured into something akin to a Nerd Civil War. By the time that Manny Coto took the helm, the damage to Enterprise’s viewer base had already been done and the series was inevitably canned.
Now, sadly, there’s no more new Star Trek to watch . . . or is there?
Even before Enterprise was cancelled, fanboys across the country–and the world–had started building up a new cottage industry of Star Trek, turning their backyards and garages into film studios, and their home computers into special effects labs. Though this kind of grass-roots ambition was not new, it wasn’t until home studio equipment became affordable that the movement really began to explode. Contrary to Berman’s “franchise fatigue” explanation–which implied that demand for Star Trek had exhausted itself–fan-made productions are popping up all across the internet, and gaining notoriety among those who believe that Trek still has some steam left in it.
Time and Technology have been kind to the Trekkie. In the years since Star Trek first hit the air, advances in computing technology have made it possible for average people to film, edit, and produce video presentations of a quality that rivals the early years of The Next Generation. Even the vaunted cult hit Babylon 5 can seem archaic in comparison with some of the SFX jobs that characterize scifi fanfilms. With some 3D animation software like Maya, even novices can create epic starship battles and renderings of alien planets that used to be the exclusive prevue of companies like Industrial Light and Magic.
Combine this cheap access to production equipment with simple Trekkie fanaticism and access to a world-wide distribution network (the Internet), and suddenly fans from Shanghai to Mozambique can watch the latest adventures of Captain Garrovick onboard the “Starship Exeter” or Captain Shelby in “Hidden Frontier” with a click of a mouse. No network schedules to work around, no DVD manufacturers to haggle with. Just simple, direct access to the audience.
But the true beauty of this whole new paradigm in fan production is that the internet isn’t just a conduit for everyone with a camera to get their projects in front of people’s eyes. No, in fact, it is the dispersed nature of the internet–millions of websites, and billions of pages–which acts as a sort of democratic mediator that promotes the good content and weans out the bad. It’s a given that not every fan production is going to be a masterpiece (even most TV shows are garbage), but those which show talent and promise are quickly passed around the world-wide-web through word of mouth. Emails and instant messages crisscross the thin spindles of information that connect computer servers across the world . . . and every user who stumbles across an “eShow” worthy of mention, will probably forward it on to their friends who will judge for themselves and do the same.
Eventually, that discussion will manifest itself in hyperlinks on message boards, newsgroups, blogs, mailing lists and news websites (like PlanetFandom). In a kind of Laissez-faire fanboy economy, the projects, actors, editors, costume designers and special effects artists who have talent naturally generate notoriety. This is the same concept that the Google search-engine relies on; the more a site is mentioned and linked to, the higher Google will rank that site when someone searches for a phrase that describes it. Over time, this process of “vote with your mouse” would allow fan-based talent from all across the globe to interact and improve their trade. Eventually, the shows that are worthwhile would grow better known and those which lacked talent would ultimately fall into the dark depths of anonymity.
This process has already see the release of fanshows that rival and exceed the production quality of The Original Star Trek. If left to their own devices, fanboy productions will become more sophisticated and the talented individuals behind the shows will tend to gravitate toward each other. The prospect of ever-improving “TV show” production, specifically honed to the tastes and preferences of Star Trek’s target market should make some studio executives stand up and think. Why risk an untested concept based on a quick studio pitch, when an all volunteer team has effectively done market research, selected qualified talent, and produced and distributed test episodes of it’s show to an internet-savvy target market that is becoming harder and harder to reach through traditional advertising channels?
Ideally, recognition of the talent and value of good fanseries would lead to a kind of two-way communication between a fanbase and a professional production studio, with the lines between “fanboy” and “pro” being blurred somewhat. The more communication that exists between a show and its audience, the more responsive that show can be to the preferences of the viewers. Fanboys now take personal “ownership” or “stock” in the show that they watch, and instead of increasing audience atrophy, viewers become more fiercely loyal to their favorite series, and make it a point to evangelize their show through world-of-mouth. If fans feel they have a voice in the course of a show, they are much more likely to watch and talk about it. It’s the basic Hail To The Fanboy concept all over again.
Refreshingly, all of this has not been lost entirely on Hollywood. Take “Star Trek New Voyages”, for example, which is one of the most popular Trek fanseries online today.
Continuing the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy of the Original Star Trek, this production has managed even to garner the attention of the professional media, as well as flag down an appearance of Walter Koenig and a script by D.C. Fontana. Producers of fan films like “Star Wars Revelations” are now getting to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with actors from “Battlestar Galactica” at fan conventions, so this cottage industry movement hasn’t gone entirely under the radar. As fans, all that we can hope for is that, as time goes on, more producers–and not just of Star Trek–will start to follow the precedent set by George Lucas in allowing people to make fan films without fear of legal action. Eventually, Hollywood and the big studios will have to take notice of us, it’s just good business sense to tailor your product (the show) to its consumer (the audience). The internet is a great tool for discovering those diamonds in the ruff among fandom, and as long as people care enough to keep doing stuff like this, the Federation is almost certain to be boldly going for many years to come, even if new Trek never returns to the air.
Source: Planet Fandom Commentary, Written by: J. Marcus Xavier