Star Trek Rebooted

What would STAR TREK be like if J. Michael Straczynski (BABYLON 5) and Bryce Zabel (DARK SKIES, MANTIS) got their hands on the franchise? My friend Bryce has posted on his blog an unsolicited STAR TREK treatment that he and Joe wrote back in 2004. You can read it here. The two of them were developing a pilot together and, in the process, started talking about everything that’s wrong with STAR TREK:

Admittedly, it takes a lot of nerve to offer to resurrect the "Star Trek" franchise when nobody has asked you to do that, but that’s just what prolific writer/producer J. Michael Straczynski and I did […] we started talking about the state of the Trek universe and, before we could stop ourselves, we’d banged out a 14-page treatment called "Star Trek: Re-Boot the Universe."

[…] I  have no real clue why we felt compelled to write what we wrote but, looking back, I think it’s because we had all these ideas and being writers we just felt compelled to write them down. Then, once that happened, we felt compelled to share them. Like buying lottery tickets, I guess.

It strikes me as a very fan-ish and geeky thing to do, especially considering the incredible success Paramount has had milking the franchise in movies, television, and publishing (and that STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, the fourth STAR TREK series, was still on-the-air at the time).  It’s not like they were talking about a dormant property like, say, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Then again, Bryce and Joe certainly had the credits, experience, and talent to make their pitch merit at least cursory consideration by the Paramount brass. But Bryce doesn’t say whether they submitted their proposal to Paramount or not and, if  they did, what the studio’s reaction to it was. I’d actually be just as curious to know what their agents’ reactions were to the unsolicited proposal…

25 thoughts on “Star Trek Rebooted”

  1. Word of the treatment surfaced about a year and a half ago, with JMS making a very short play to get his fan base involved with pushing the deal. About 24 hours later, he posted the following:
    Actually…belay everything I just said.
    In the 24 hours between the time I composed the prior note, and sent
    it, and it made its way through the moderation software, two things
    1) I heard from a trusted source that Paramount is giving the Trek TV
    world a rest for maybe one to two years, depending on circumstances, no
    matter who would come along to run it. So it’s not right to have folks
    putting in time doing something that ultimately would be pointless, I
    don’t think that’s a proper use of anybody’s time.

    You can read the first message and the followup at these URLs.

  2. Trek Treatment by Masters of Science Fiction is On

    Now with word that J.J. Adrams has been brought on board to helm the next feature film, Bryce has released their treatment to the public. I haven’t read it yet, but I already know that the real loser in this deal is Paramount, not Straczynski and Bry…

  3. Trek Treatment by Masters of Science Fiction is On

    Now with word that J.J. Adrams has been brought on board to helm the next feature film, Bryce has released their treatment to the public. I haven’t read it yet, but I already know that the real loser in this deal is Paramount, not Straczynski and Bry…

  4. How is posting an unsolicited treatment different from posting fan fiction? This isn’t a sponsored tie-in, so I don’t see why you would consider this any better.

  5. I guess the difference might be that an unsolicited treatment, especially written by somebody as experienced and well-known as Straczynski, has the very real possibility of becoming something other than an unsolicited treatment.
    You do raise an interesting point, though, at least in my mind. If Lori whats-her-name and her Star Wars fanfic selling is at one end of the copyright violation spectrum, where does this one fall?

  6. “How is posting an unsolicited treatment different from posting fan fiction? This isn’t a sponsored tie-in, so I don’t see why you would consider this any better.”
    If Joe Schmoe in the Hearland is sitting in his darkened basement and hits on the idea of self-pubbing his USS UBERPHALLUS stories set in the STAR TREK universe, he’s in for a lawsuit.
    If a well-known science fiction producer posts his unsolicited treatment of something presented to Paramount as a possible revamp on their one-time flagship franchise, with JMS’s cred and a TREK project on the horizon, it’s free PR.
    Unless Paramount makes him take it down. I doubt they will. Look how much Harlan Ellison’s done with his version of “City on the Edge of Forever,” which he really doesn’t own.
    More PR to feed the cash cow, because Paramount knows someone will read it.

  7. Well,
    I went ahead and read it, and it seems to me more of a professional sales concept for a pitch meeting, or, barring that, an undergraduate report written for an English SF class. It didn’t have that fan-fic feel to it, particularly (to me), and seemed less like they were trying to tell a story than develop a concept.
    I would also note that he responds to your question with an agreement that there is that element of geeky fan-fic to it.
    I remember reading Straczyinski’s columns in Writer’s Digest in that period and how one of the biggest challenges to his getting Babylon 5 up and running was the fact that Paramount et al were developing Star Trek (oh hell, I want to say SG-1, but what was the one on the space station)? The Star Trek universe was such a damned “happy” place. I remember being fairly thrilled at the beginning of Star Trek Voyager because they had to incorporate a crew of rebels involved in a civil war within the federation, and I thought: Wow, finally some internal conflict! But, no, they turned into one big happy family. A real missed opportunity, I thought. They could have had just as many problems keeping civil war from breaking out on the ship as they had heading home, but for some reasons didn’t want to portray them that way. Coulda been great though…
    Mark Terry

  8. Lee Goldberg calls this “very fan-ish and geeky,” but he doesn’t call it fan fiction. He’s on record as being strongly against fan fiction, and I still don’t see how this is any different.
    Sales potential, author, quality, style–why should any of these matter, if fan fic is such a menace? This is unauthorized use of a copyrighted universe. Or is it okay if a friend does it?

  9. Professionals write specs all the time, Mark S, it’s part of the business and an allowed practice. You see, these two writers have deals and agents and all the trappings of authenticity, so when they write a spec, it carries a certain amount of professional balance behind it — basically, it’s a resume. Fan fiction, on the other hand, is written by people who live in their parents’ basements whacking off to photoshopped pictures of Buffy and The Borg engaging in tongue Olympics. They generally finish off by wiping their capes across their groins and smelling the sweet, sweet nectar of their obsession, before running off to catch the 2 oclock bus to the mall, where their shift at Orange Julious is about to commence.

  10. I understand what a spec is and why it’s allowed practice. But once you post a spec online, rather than submit it directly and privately, how is it better than posting fan fiction?
    What if I’m not an established pro, but rather an aspiring writer? Is it still okay to post my spec online? I don’t see the distinction here.

  11. The naivete of these fanficcers astounds me. I can’t believe they can’t see the difference between two established writer/producers posting their TREATMENT (essentially, a sales pitch) and Lori Jareo writing a “Star War” novel of her own and selling it on Amazon.
    I don’t think Lee would argue that a fan posting a “pitch” on a blog or website for a new take on “Space 1999” is the same thing as fanfiction…which is an actual STORY using other peoples characters and concepts. A pitch is essentially a request from a writer to the rights holder suggesting ways that the rights-holder might want to utilize the characters and concepts that they own.

  12. //and I still don’t see how this is any different.//
    Once when Louis Armstrong was asked to define jazz, he replied, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”
    Sums it up nicely, I believe……

  13. Is the honest distinction here: treatment vs. fully-fleshed story? So an aspiring writing could post a 14-page treatment and that would be okay? Or an established writer could post a full spec script and that would be wrong?
    Also, I didn’t mean the rare case when someone tries to charge for fan fiction, as with Lori Jareo. I meant the vast majority of what’s out there, which is offered for free.
    I appreciate all of your perspectives on this, and I’m particularly curious what Lee has to say on the matter.

  14. I don’t see how anyone could confuse a treatment which, as “mishima” rightly pointed out, is a sales pitch and fan fiction, which is actually writing & distributing a story or novel featuring characters and concepts you didn’t create and don’t own.
    Bryce and Joe didn’t write a story and post it on the net. They wrote a proposal to the copyright holderssuggesting a different way that the copyright holder could exploit their franchise. Bryce and Joe didn’t go out and do what they suggested…they were offering their services and their creative vision to the copyright holder. It would then be up to the copyright holderwhether or not to authorize Bryce and Joe (by hiring them) to carry out their vision. Bryce and Joe didn’t utilaterally go out and do what they were suggesting themselves without the consent of the copyright holder…which is, of course, what fanficcers do.
    If two fans wanted to post a treatment/proposal suggestng a new take on, say, PLANET OF THE APES or BABYLON 5, to the creator/rights holders of those properties, that’s not fanfic. Actually writing it up as a story or a novel and distributing it on the net is fanfic.

  15. I don’t buy the rationale that because the treatment was written by pros, it’s ok to post it to the web. Treatments are written for the purpose of landing a deal – not for landing fans. TV execs don’t scour the web looking for new material.
    If we as a society expect copyrights to be respected, then we have to do just that – respect them. Being a published author doesn’t change the rules. If you’re posting something to the web that you know you’ll have to remove if asked, then you’re violating a copyright, whether or not the owners of the property ever get around to asking you to do so.
    A similar line of logic would suggest that if I put my hand on a stranger’s ass on a bus, they *might* ask me to stop, and if I plan on stopping if they complain, then I’m not really violating them. If I’m a famous movie star adored by millions, who has a much greater chance of picking an ass that wants to be fondled, does that make it more ok?

  16. Lee,
    I get that these two pros took their idea and presented it to the copywrite holder. But the copywrite holder turned them down. Now, they’ve posted it on the net. Now anyone can see it.
    Originally, it was very different from fan fic. I get that.
    What is the difference NOW?

  17. Mark — can’t you read? Lee answered your question. I’ve italicized the key points so you don’t miss them in your cursory glance.
    “If two fans wanted to post a treatment/proposal suggestng a new take on, say, PLANET OF THE APES or BABYLON 5, to the creator/rights holders of those properties, that’s not fanfic. Actually writing it up as a story or a novel and distributing it on the net is fanfic.
    Have you read the treatment? It’s not a piece of FICTION (as in FAN FICTION). It’s a pitch. There’s a difference between the two. Can’t you grasp that? It has nothing to do with whether the writers are “pros” or not. It has everything do with whether you have taken the characters and used them in a story or novel…hence the term fan fiction.

  18. Personally, I wasn’t too impressed with their proposal, as it basically repackaged the franchise and churned it out another way. Considering this was one of the complaints that started them down the path of creating the treatment in the first place, one has to wonder…

  19. Lee, thanks for the response. I believe it stops being just a pitch when it gets posted publicly, even though it’s not a fleshed-out story or novel. But I can accept that you don’t consider it fan fiction.
    And mishima, I hope you realize that the Mark you last responded to wasn’t me.

  20. Mark Siegal,
    I don’t think it stops being a pitch when it’s posted on a blog — it will always be a pitch. Only now it’s a rejected pitch.
    I think Bryce was simply posting it as a piece of TREK trivia, a curiosity of sorts, and to show readers outside of The Industry what a pitch might look like.
    Keep in mind, Bryce was president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and is a very respected writer/producer. He’s just doing the blog for fun. I’m sure he posted the treatment simply as some interesting fodder for his blog, not as some grab for Paramount’s attention or to stoke a groundswell of support from Trekkies.

  21. To the Other Mark,
    Although I don’t like “mishima’s” nasty tone, he’s essentially right about the distinction between posting a treatment and fanfic.
    The treatment isn’t a piece of fiction. The characters aren’t being exploited without the creator/copyright holder’s consent. Posting it doesn’t change that.
    I could write up a proposal on how I think GUNSMOKE could be updated as a new TV series in the DEADWOOD mold and post it on my blog. That wouldn’t be fan fiction. Because I haven’t gone out and written what I’ve suggested. Instead, I am proposing to the rights holders an approach that they could choose to take with their property.

  22. I was among the fans of Trek that enjoyed DS9, because of it’s angle against Roddenberry’s “perfect” vision of humanity in the future. I am a Trekkie, but I never bought into that ideal. It seemed too perfect a thing that humanity could ever accomplish. DS9 showed what I liked about Trek. Putting humanity to the test, seeing if all the proclamations of humanity were true. In some cases they were, in others it proves humanity still needs to grow. Which after all, if humanity was perfect, what fun would that be. If there ever was a series of quotes that summed my feelings towards Trek up, it came from “Q-Who?”.
    In response to Picard arguing against Q killing 18 crew members to prove a point…then Picard talking with Guinan.
    Q: “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you had better go back home and crawl under your bed…”
    Q: “…It’s not safe out here! It’s wondrous, with treasures to
    satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.”
    Picard: “Maybe Q did the right thing for the wrong reason.”
    Guinan: “How so?”
    Picard: “Well, Perhaps what we most needed was a kick in our complacency to prepare us for what lies ahead.”
    For me…this is what made me a Trekkie for life. Of course once VOY began, it became clear fairly quickly that there was no real direction, NTM a constant use of the reset button just distracted from the stories, and more and more episodes just started to mean less and less. I much rather would have seen “Year Of Hell” as it was meant to be (a season long arc). For me, VOY all fell apart once Jeri Ryan was added. Don’t get me wrong, she’s hot. But, in what amounted to a blatent grab for ratings, nearly all the remaining stories then started to shift focus to Ryan’s character “Seven of Nine”. After being disappointed (I felt betrayed) in VOY, I was not ready for another Trek. That was my set-up for Enterprise.
    When ENT was announced I was interested simply because of the notion of potential the story could tell. I was expecting a bridge between Cocraine’s time and TOS. It wasn’t long before it was clear that who ever was in control was simply telling a “Star Trek” story in name only. It became clear why B&B wanted (and did) drop the name “Star Trek” from the title. They wanted to create their own story while being allowed to use the fan-base to start with. That alone turned my stomach. And in the ultimate form of a slap in the face to the fans. The finale showed us a bridge to TNG…not TOS as what should have been.
    Of course the fans are who ultimately dictate ANY Trek show. The reason why “Star Trek” reappeared in the title. The reason why Coto was ultimately given a few episodes towards the end. Among others. Which brings me to my point. The high level mark for Enterprise is widely seen as the few episodes Coto was part of during Season 4.
    It proves that a prequel Star Trek can be effectively written and still be within the restrictions of continuity that Star Trek is. Even improve on and effectively create a buzz about a lot of gaps between TOS and TNG…like the Klingon head ridges. Even fix a lot of the crap from previous seasons…like the Vulcans.
    IMHO, it’s down right laziness that states Star Trek must be “rebooted” in order for it to be “saved”.
    I believe a reboot in Trek will end even worse than Enterprise did. Why do I say this? Because the people it will target are already fans of what we know of as Trek. No one who isn’t a fan of Trek is going to be interested in a Trek show, reboot or not. You are not gaining any new fans unless they are kids being introduced (a mistake ENT suffered through in the first 2 seasons). This is the mistake that is constantly made with the movie franchise, and with VOY and ENT. TPTB seem to feel that the only way “Star Trek” can survive is to bring in new fans between 18-32. They just cannot fathom the thought that when a Trek show or movie is made, your audience is already there. You do not need to make the conscience effort to bring in new fans with unnesessary skin and F/X…at the expense of turning off the fans you have. ENT is a prime example of this. And because these unnesessary additions fail, we are suppossed to just junk what has come before…just to see a new Trek eventually follow this same formula? If you think it won’t your not paying attention.
    If it were made, ultimately what will happen is that this new Trek will be bound to what we know as Trek. Even though it will be a reboot. It will be compared to everything that Star Trek currently was, is, and should be. And with that it will fail. I want to see a Trek series done right…not a reboot that shares the same name.


Leave a Comment