The news that Netflix is considering bringing The Killing back from the dead is good news for fans of the dour AMC mystery, and a welcome sign that the company remains committed to content creation, as well as distribution. But when is it going to step up and do the one thing the world has been waiting for since it announced its first original show: Bring back Star Trek?
Okay, perhaps saying that a Netflix-exclusive Trek revival is something that the world has been waiting for is a slight overstatement, but bear with me. I’m convinced this could actually work.
We know that there are talks going on about another potential Trek television series, potentially an animated series, to follow the second movie if it does well. To say that this feels overdue is an understatement; it’s been three years since JJ Abrams demonstrated that there was still life left in the concept, and outside of a comic series retelling stories that the faithful already know the shape of, neither CBS nor Paramount have really done anything with the renewed interest that movie stirred up in audiences.
And let’s face it; Trek is at heart a television show. It started as that and, like Doctor Who, it’s the format and medium that works best for the idea. There’s no core “story” to Trek, no one plot or story arc that makes the idea of it as one, core narrative really make sense. “There are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise,” after all, plural; as much as we care about the characters, what we really want to see are multiple stories, an ongoing mission. Even Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek felt like it was set up for what followed, instead of something complete in and of itself.
Into this landscape, add Netflix. That Netflix is looking to become a content creator is no secret; even once you get outside Lillyhammer and the in-progress House of Cards and Arrested Development, the company has been linked to possible revivals of Terra Nova and The River even before the Killing rumors came up. It’s a move that makes sense for Netflix (this way, it gets to license material out as well as in, after all), and it’s one that the company has, equally sensibly, used sparingly so far, making Netflix originals both an “event” for viewers, while also saving money for the company.
We know that Star Trek has done well for Netflix, since the shows were added last year; CBS boss Les Moonves even called out the franchise as one that worked “best” for CBS on the service earlier this month, so there’s definitely an audience for it. New Trek that is exclusive to the service would only up that audience, I suspect; I can imagine hardcore Trek fans who aren’t already subscribers would happily sign up for access to content that they can’t get anywhere else, while the resulting publicity that “Netflix revives much-beloved brand!” would generate is likely to make non-Trekkies take another look to see what they’re missing, as well.
For the producers of a new Trek, Netflix allows all manner of flexibility that network – or even cable! – wouldn’t, in terms of running time, allowable content or even story structure. If all episodes of a season were made available simultaneously (following the Lilyhammer model), would that allow for more complex, season-long arcs and storytelling? What happens to the narrative when writers aren’t restricted to creating faux cliffhangers every ten minutes to lead into ad breaks? What if storylines break off into individual episodes, allowing audiences to follow their favorite characters/threads and then come back to follow a different movement afterwards?
(Another thought: What if new content was made available in the lead-up to a third movie, with storylines acting as a prologue into it? Or, spinning out of it, afterwards?)
The sticking point, I suspect, may end up being that the money necessary to do Trek on the small screen may ultimately be more than Netflix could afford, and CBS wouldn’t be willing to put up part of the cost itself without an obvious way to recoup the investment upfront. But maybe we could always do a Kickstarter to make up the difference…
Trek on Netflix seems like it has too many wins all around to be an entirely unworkable idea, even if the financial aspect and speed of recouping that money may be a real problem. It allows an amazing amount of freedom for the creators, while also giving the fans something resembling what they want. It may not be a weekly show offering up a five-year mission, but it could be something much more suitable: The franchise moving the medium into the future. Make it so, people in charge.