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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

14 Comments

  1. gatchamandave
    April 8, 2014 @ 11:19 pm

    Do you agree with the essay at the end of the official book on Phase II that had it gone into production it would have killed Star Trek stone dead as a show that had failed twice, Josh ?

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  2. Adam Riggio
    April 9, 2014 @ 1:43 am

    It seems as though Star Trek: Phase II faced this limitation from the start. I discussed in a comment on Devil's Due that the franchise couldn't really progress with the original crew remaining the focus. The stereotypical conceptions of the characters weighed down the show too much; the popular conception of Kirk and the rest of the crew was very different, and often in opposition, from how Shatner and the other actors portrayed the characters at their best.

    If To Attain the All is any indication, this gravity also applies to Star Trek the franchise itself, and is held by its creative figures. With Roddenberry remaining at the helm, his own conception of Star Trek continued to reassert itself, even though that idea only got in the way of Star Trek becoming its best. In Thy Image may have been an absolutely brilliant script, but it was twisted away from all its potential through Roddenberry's instincts for what Star Trek was.

    If the subsequent development of the later scripts of the season were any indication, Roddenberry would have killed Star Trek with these witless adventure plots. Though I have to admit that the idea of crossing Star Trek with Legends of the Hidden Temple could certainly have had some potential for an episode. To put the matter in my own terms, your analysis over the last year has shown that Roddenberry didn't have the philosophical potential to make Star Trek what it could be. However, he had the marketing potential to make most fans of the show believe that he was its heart and soul. Still, we have to admit that it's only when Roddenberry gets out of the way or is shoved out of the way that Star Trek can attain its own potential.

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    April 9, 2014 @ 5:56 am

    Warning: Lengthy, divergent ramblings ahead.

    I'm actually on the fence about that particular statement: I'm not 100% convinced by the Reeves-Stevens' argument here for a number of reasons.

    (For anyone playing along at home, in 1997 Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens wrote an officially-licensed book chronicling the production history of Star Trek Phase II and collecting scripts and summaries for each of the 13 accepted episodes, which is obviously where I'm getting all the information for this section of the blog from.)

    The thing is, the Reeves-Stevens are writing from the perspective of 90s fandom, where the general consensus was that Star Trek was a wonderful Phoenix of a thing that had come back from the dead, become unimaginably successful (but only with true believers) and was here to stay indefinitely, if not forever. The idea of Star Trek following a different path to success was almost unthinkable already, before you get into the fact Star Trek's biographers have (or at least had) a tendency to lean on various aspects of teleology and essentialism.

    They're making the argument that had Phase II gone into production, it would have followed the same path Star Trek Voyager did, with a huge audience for the premier and then a massive viewership dropoff immediately afterward, and with the additional burden of being too similar to the Original Series, not to mention the competition it would have faced from popular 70s sitcoms and procedurals.

    They're thinking that the premier of a new Star Trek show is always a "singular event" that brings the nation together, while the rest of the show's run is really only for the die-hard Star Trek fans. Well, even though that happened to Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Voyager is superficially similar to Phase II in a number of ways, they're manifestly not the same thing and the reason for that is explicitly because one show was made in 1995 and the other was made in 1978.

    See, 1995 was the beginning of the period where Star Trek went from being "popular" to being "oversaturated". What nobody remembers, and especially nobody writing in 1997, is that Star Trek: The Next Generation was not a niche, cult property: It was a massive, mainstream phenomenon and regularly and reliably the most popular, most talked-about show on television throughout its run. So, actually, was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (though people remember that even less), at least at first.

    The reasonStar Trek Voyager saw such a massive audience dropoff after its premier is that it had too much competition, but not from other sci-fi-fantasy shows (though it is true the market, especially the syndication market was different in 1995 than it was in 1987), but from other Star Trek. This was the period where Rick Berman memorably (and correctly) pointed out that DS9 was struggling in the ratings due to the way syndication works and the general glut of Star Trek on the air because

    "Trek is up against not just other sci-fi shows, but other Trek shows. DS9 has to play against repeats of Next Generation, the original Trek, Voyager and even repeats of DS9."

    This is the problem with mid-90s Trek in a nutshell, which is also responsible for the general thematic drift those shows experienced and the reason they became niche shows again: Next Generation and early Deep Space Nine established Star Trek as an iconic, relevant and beloved fixture, but Voyager broke the base, both at a creative and financial level.

    (cont'd)

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    April 9, 2014 @ 5:57 am

    The Dominion War was introduced partially in an effort to make DS9 distinct from Voyager, and that drove away the mainstream audience DS9 inherited from TNG because it was bloody depressing, mean-spirited, nihilistic and fanwanky. As for the hardcore Trekkers who never liked DS9 to begin with because it wasn't set on a starship and didn't have 'splosions (and who Paramount mistakenly believed was their target demographic), they were perfectly satisfied with Voyager because it was a watered-down TNG with more action scenes and fanwank. But the thing is…this also meant they were the only ones watching Voyager. In the meantime, nobody's watching DS9 because the Trekkers are over at UPN and the mainstream audience is watching The X-Files, Xena and reruns of Trek in syndication from when it was actually good.

    So obviously this is going to be a major theme once we reach the 1990s, but the point is Star Trek Phase II wouldn't have had those problems because it would have been, for the majority of people, the first new Star Trek they would have seen in a decade. We shouldn't be comparing it to Star Trek Voyager, if anything we should be comparing it to Star Trek: The Next Generation: A potential bold reinvention and reintroduction of the franchise.

    In that regard, I think we should look at the calibre of the scripts. When it was good, Phase II was much, much better than TOS and when it was bad, it was at least as bad as TOS' lows. Would this have been enough to keep the show going? Probably, considering how many people watched and loved TOS and were willing to forgive its most unforgivable moments. Star Trek likely would not have gotten as big under Phase II as it did under The Next Generation, but then again nobody ever expected Star Trek to get that big in the first place.

    And it's at least possible Phase II would have inspired the same amount of fan literature that Star Trek: The Motion Picture did, what with a bunch of new characters and relationships to explore and a huge gap between it and the end of TOS. And really inspiring people to dream and create is what's most important about Star Trek.

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  5. Josh Marsfelder
    April 9, 2014 @ 6:06 am

    And this is the other side of the coin: Even if Star Trek Phase II proved to be successful, it may well have continued to keep Star Trek shackled to the iconic conceptions of the original crew. Something else was needed to allow the franchise to transcend its roots.

    Then again, you mention "Devil's Due", and as I try to hint in that post, even Star Trek: The Next Generation might not ultimately have been enough to do that…

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  6. gatchamandave
    April 9, 2014 @ 11:47 am

    Wow, thanks for your lengthy, heartfelt reply, Josh. Much appreciated.

    I happen to think we do have a perfect model for what would have happened to Phase II that is contemporary with the period in question. Battlestar Galactica.

    I agree with Reese/Stevens that audience figures would have dropped, because that's the nature of television – everyone that is remotely interested tunes in for the premier, then they gradually drop away as other interests come along and the show, whatever it may be, eventually attains a base line of committed viewers. Not just fans, but people who just happen to like this particular show. That's what happened to the '79 incarnation of BSG. But, nevertheless, that can cause network executives to panic…

    Now, if one studies BAG we can see that mid season there is an obvious drop in budget, and script quality. Most obviously there are folks that appear in the credits – Tony Swartz, Maren Jensen – who just aren't there any more. The effects move from specially shot footage to clips from Silent Running and the like. The scripts become ( even more ? ahem…) juvenile.

    I can easily imagine a Hollywood "player" like Michael Eisner thinking " These new folks aren't working – why do we need Decker when Kirk 's there ? Chapel, when we have McCoy ? What's Ilia do that Uhura can't ? As for Xon ? Check, fire them all and with the money saved, maybe I can make Nimoy a lucrative offer…guy wants to direct ? Hell, why not ?"

    Although that last sounds promising…

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  7. Josh Marsfelder
    April 9, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

    Definitely there would have been a dropoff of sorts, I agree. It's, like you say, the nature of television. Though I doubt it would have had as dramatic a dropoff as Star Trek Voyager had for the reasons I outline above: The Reeves-Stevens are taking the experience and history of one show and trying to make it it fit every incarnation of Star Trek ever made or yet to come, which ties into the 90s belief that Star Trek was one big monolithic irreducible thing with one discrete audience, which was already a provably false claim.

    I think you're onto something with the comparison to OG Battlestar Galactica, especially with someone like Michael Eisner in the producer's chair. It would be interesting to see how Star Trek fandom circa 1978 would have responded to Ilia, Decker, Chapel, Rand and Xon and how that would have affected both numbers and the show's general reaction. From what I could gather, Star Trek Phase II met with a considerably warmer reaction than Star Trek: The Next Generation did by jettisoning the entire TOS universe, though we'll probably never know if they could have kept that goodwill going.

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  8. gatchamandave
    April 10, 2014 @ 10:42 am

    Oh my. Have you good people seen what happens if you enter Star Trek Phase 2 on a site that sounds a bit like Yew Tyoob ?

    One might be cynical and think, " wow, the very definition of more money than sense". Or one might think, " wow, how wonderful that some folks embrace Star Trek so enthusiastically".

    Me ? I'm in the latter camp. See what you think.

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    April 10, 2014 @ 11:13 am

    Erm, or you could tune into this blog on Monday…

    Reply

  10. Robert Hutchinson
    April 10, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

    I was wondering why you seemed to be 2 episodes short…

    Reply

  11. Daru
    April 16, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    Sounds terrible, no two ways about it. So glad this never got made, this is one that I am happy that it did not make it to screen. I am something of a Buddhist myself (though not in the strict sense) and this just sounds like the most cynical appropriation of ideas, and ideas with a sound foundation that are then turned back on themselves.

    Really looking forwards to the other Phase II posts coming up, they will be a breath of fresh air after this.

    Reply

  12. BerserkRL
    May 10, 2014 @ 7:35 pm

    Marshak & Culbreath's Triangle seems like it might be a variation on this story. (So, another occasion for me to wish you were doing the Marshak & Culbreath books.)

    That said, I do find Buddhist views of personal identity pretty horrific (Pudgalavada excepted), so I have a hard time sharing your outrage.

    Reply

  13. Plex
    March 29, 2020 @ 8:15 am

    Simple and easy to use UI. Regular software updates. Huge library of add-ons and skins.

    Reply

  14. Vidmate
    March 29, 2020 @ 8:16 am

    Ones it is done then you will have the Kodi app icon on the home screen.

    Reply

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