TV Legends Revealed: Was Viacom Sued For 'Ruining' 'Star Trek'?

TV URBAN LEGEND: A video game company once sued Viacom for, in effect, ruining the “Star Trek" franchise.

There’s a delicate balance between artistic freedom and the more commercial aspects of show business. One of the more shocking examples was when CBS wouldn't continue with “Cagney and Lacey” unless one of the leads was replaced with a more "feminine" actress. However, even more on point with today's legend is when Neil Young was sued by his own record company for breach of contract because executives claimed the singer/songwriter was intentionally not making "commercial" music.

A similar situation unfolded with video game publisher Activision sued Viacom, claiming the company was “ruining” the “Star Trek” franchise.

In 1998, Activision, known for its games based on “Star Wars,” Marvel Comics and James Bond, acquired a 10-year license to produce titles inspired by “Star Trek,” owned by the media conglomerate Viacom (the parent company of Paramount Pictures). At the time, there were two popular “Star Trek” TV series on the air, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager.” In addition, the most recent franchise film, “Star Trek: First Contact,” had been a hit. However, just five years later, though, in 2003, Activision canceled the contract and sued Viacom for millions.

At the heart of Activision’s case was the belief that Viacom had mishandled the franchise to the point that the property was no longer popular enough to sustain video games sales, and that the lack of “Star Trek” product made it difficult for Activision to mine material. As noted, when the licensing agreement began, there were two popular TV series, a hit movie and plans to make a sequel. However, by the time Viacom canceled the deal in 2003, there was just one TV series and no plans to produce another film (2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” was a box-office disappointment).

Activision actually wanted monetary damages for lost sales with its previous video games, as the company believed it was the fault of Viacom and the “Star Trek” franchise that sales were low.

Activision went after Viacom hard, claiming that:

through its actions and inactions, Viacom has let the once proud 'Star Trek' franchise stagnate and decay. Viacom has released only one 'Star Trek' movie since entering into agreement with Activision and has recently informed Activision it has no current plans for further 'Star Trek' films. Viacom also has allowed two 'Star Trek' television series to go off the air and the remaining series suffers from weak ratings. Viacom also frustrated Activision's efforts to coordinate the development and marketing of its games with Viacom's development and marketing of its new movies and television series.

Viacom, naturally, argued this was simply the case of a company regretting a contract and trying to weasel its way out of the deal.

The case continued until 2005, where the matter was settled between Activision and Viacom. The monetary side of things was negligible, but it seems as if Activision got its biggest wish, to end the agreement. Viacom and Activision stated they would continue to work together, though, on other projects, and they have in the years since.

Amusingly enough, after the debut of the blockbuster “Star Trek” movie reboot in 2009, there was yet another “Star Trek” video game controversy: The 2013 release of “Star Trek: The Video Game” (developed by Digital Extremes and co-published by Bandai Namco Games and Paramount Pictures) didn’t go over so well, leading even director J.J. Abrams to to speak on the topic:

The last game, which was obviously a big disappointment to me, was something that we were actually involved in from the very beginning and then we sort of realized it was not going in a place where we were going to get what we wanted, so we dropped out and they continued to do it despite... y'know.

To me the video game could have been something that actually really benefited the series and was an exciting, fun game with great gameplay and instead it was not and was something that I think, for me emotionally it hurt, ‘cos we were working our asses off making the movie and then this game came out and it got, this isn't even my opinion, it got universally panned and I think that it was something without question that didn't help the movie and arguably hurt it.

The disappointment eventually led Abrams to get into the video game business himself.

Anyhow, the legend is...


Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of television and check here for more legends about specifically Star Trek!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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