The introduction of Mr. Spock last season on the sleek CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery may be the first in many new frontiers for the fabled franchise now that the Paramount-owning Viacom and CBS are boldly going toward corporate reunification.
Taking a page from the now Fox-expanded Disney book, new ViacomCBS kingpin Bob Bakish made very clear just now on today’s investor call that the Star Trek and the Mission Impossible franchises have significant potential to leverage “across all the companies’ platforms.” Soon-to-be CBS CEO Joe Ianniello hit the drum hard himself when he added with an international angle that “scale is becoming more and more important all the time.”
With no lingering licensing barriers, the lucrative property created by Gene Roddenberry is now under one ownership for the first time since Star Trek: Enterprise came to an end in 2005. It was, of course, the very next year that CBS and Viacom were split off into two separate companies. Up until the latest big screen Star Trek offering from Paramount seemed to go into suspended animation last year, CBS Studios were not initially able to use characters on their All Access shows that could also appear in the movies.
As CBS All Access heads towards launching the much hyped Star Trek: Picard next year, the Trekverse may now be poised for an intensified expansion. Already in the pipeline are multiple animated series, more short films, and a Michelle Yeoh-led Discovery spinoff, and at Comic-Con International the Trek braintrust was openly hinting about the possibilities of a Mr Spock series starring Ethan Peck (grandson of Gregory Peck).
The new multi-platform possibilities of corporate upsizing may mean Trek could soon be making a giant leap in its aspirations, not unlike the one in the 1980s and 1990s that elevated Star Wars from a blockbuster film franchise to the ubiquitous, wall-to-wall cultural force that it represents today. As we all know, money has a way of enhancing a proposition. In that vein, the Star Trek braintrust has already acknowledged that the animation push is viewed as a way to enhance the brand’s toy business and to win the hearts, minds and allowance money of kids – another page from a now Disney-owned that Lucasfilm used to masterful effect to build fan allegiance for characters that weren’t in the original film trilogy.
While it may not be the Marvel Universe just yet, the greater Trekverse has the potential to eventually rival the Disney-own comic giant in both legacy and currency – especially with Shari Redstone’s developing strategy of creating a great global footprint. The challenge will be creating a wider pantheon of recognizable characters that goes beyond the familiar core of Picard, Spock, Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Uhura, Lt. Commander Data, Lt. Commander Worf, and about a dozen others.
Trek fans will be enthused to hear about the expanding frontiers but the news won’t yet . quite stir the kind of excitement that the Disney-Fox headline evoked from Marvel fans. That’s because Marvel’s characters had been scattered across Hollywood by years of one-off deals that created the cinematic equivalent of a superhero diaspora (Spider-Man at Sony, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four at Fox, Blade at New Line, etc.) That’s not the case with Trek, which has been far more cohesive in its canon and more historically adept at crossovers.
At this very early stage, we hear that Trek will fall under the fiefdom of the David Stapf-run CBS Studios — as we await who truly rules what and whether a fourth Star Trek movie in the latest reboot round is truly coming in an R-rated form from Quentin Tarantino or another imported auteur.
As shareholders and fan boys and fan girls know, the upside franchise possibilities of Viacom and CBS latest remarriage aren’t restricted to Federation space, either.
Star Trek: Discovery and Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone are already the linchpin franchises for CBS All-Acccess and it’s not hard to envision a small-screen revival for Paramount’s Mission: Impossible, another classic 1960s brand that naturally lends itself to episodic television. That revival could be especially enticing for a modern show with a budget for stunt work, make-up effects, and CG spectacle — all aspects of the brand’s film successes.
A little history: The original Mission: Impossible was created by Bruce Geller as an espionage procedural that aired from 1966 to 1973. The brand was brought back to television (along with original star Peter Graves) for a 1988-1990 updating of the concept, which follows the high-risk, geo-political adventures of the IMF, a covert team of highly specialized spies.
Under the Paramount banner, the IMF is bigger than ever.
Tom Cruise has starred as Ethan Hunt in six Mission: Impossible films since director Brian DePalma first brought the spy saga to the big-screen in 1996. Heading toward its 25th anniversary, the feature film series is aging quite well — the most recent installment, last year’s Mission: Impossible Fallout, earned $790 million worldwide, which makes it Cruise’s highest-grossing film ever (albeit that’s a ranking that does not include adjustments to account for inflation).
Also intriguing to consider: The Paramount library also includes the powerhouse Transformers franchise (with six feature films to date and close to $5 billion in worldwide box office) as well as major-league animated properties from DreamWorks (Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda) and the studio’s own homegrown animation hit, the Oscar-winning western Rango.
Or as Jean-Luc Picard would say: Engage!