In the world of comic books in the United States, fans have categorized the different eras of stories. According to the comic book expert Alex Grand, these categories are based on the time they were printed and the characters featured. For example, the “Golden Age” of comics started in 1938 with the first appearance of Superman.
This era lasted until 1947. Later, fans enjoyed the Silver Age of comics when Stan Lee and Marvel Comics came onto the scene with their heroes. That era lasted from 1956 to 1969.
The Golden Age of Comics Books
Interestingly, “Star Trek” can also be divided into eras of popularity. The first era of Trek, which could be categorized as the Golden Age, would undoubtedly be 1966 through 1969, the time of the broadcast of “The Original Series.” That show, featuring the stars William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock, laid the groundwork for everything which followed. After the cancellation of TOS, the show entered a phase that saw increased popularity despite no new episodes. This dormancy of Trek lasted until 1973, when “The Animated Series” started.
Then, in 1979, “Star Trek” found its footing. Thanks to the box office success of “Star Wars,” Paramount used their space franchise to get a piece of the action, so to speak. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” triggered a time where every few years, there was a new Trek movie in theaters, and in 1987, “The Next Generation” debuted on television. Trek would be on TV without interruption through 2005, when “Star Trek: Enterprise” was canceled.
Fans and experts might call 1979 through 2005 Trek’s Silver Age. Author, producer, and host of the “Inglorious Treksperts,” Mark A. Altman, has even started to refer to those two eras as such.
Famously, “Enterprise” was canceled, ending the Silver Age. At the time, the executive producer of “Star Trek,” Rick Berman, said that this all happened because of “franchise fatigue.”
The Lost Era of ‘Star Trek’
“The fact that we’ve done 624 hours of ‘Star Trek’ over the last 18 years, there’s a point at which you can reach a sense of overkill. It’s probably good to lay fallow for a while to rejuvenate,” Berman told USA Today (as reported by TrekToday).
That rejuvenation started in 2009, with the release of J.J. Abrams’ version of “Star Trek” in movie theaters. Since then, fans have enjoyed two additional “Star Trek” feature films, three new live-action series, two new animated series, and a handful of one-off Trek stories here and there. And there’s a new J.J. Abrams’ Trek film in the works, with 3-4 more Trek television series possibly in development.
Notably, each age of Trek can also point to a different type of delivery for the stories. For “The Original Series” and “Animated Series,” fans tuned in to NBC television. “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager,” and “Enterprise” were viewed as first-run syndicated shows, meaning that no specific network carried them. That would change a bit when UPN (United Paramount Network) launched in 1996. The new era of Trek is available only on the streaming Paramount+ network.
Taking the name from the era of comics which followed the Silver Age, the current Trek renaissance could be labeled the Bronze Age. But like the Silver Age, according to Berman, people grew tired of all that Trek. Could that happen today? Could there be too much “Star Trek?”
Heavy asked an expert on streaming television for his thoughts. John Cassillo is an analyst and contributor at TVREV, which covers the competition between the companies vying for control of streaming TV. Those are Amazon, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Disney, Discovery, Paramount, and a few others. Cassillo recently wrote that Disney was in danger of “spoiling the value” of the Marvel and Star Wars brands by oversaturation and poor quality. We asked if Paramount was in danger of this sort of thing with Trek.
“In some ways, I’d say no, just because the [Star Trek] movie and TV franchise was always a little more focused on volume than Star Wars or Marvel were until very recently,” said Cassillo.
“That doesn’t mean everything will be a hit for Star Trek,” said Cassillo. “But having several shows going at once allows them to explore different branches of the ‘Star Trek’ universe’s story. Some of those will be for everyone, and others won’t.”
Disney+ and the Streaming Wars
“Admittedly, I’m not into Star Trek myself, but from the outside, it seems like the fan base has been more supportive of this approach than, say, Star Wars fans have been,” said Cassillo.
Cassillo noted that Paramount is not doing the wrong thing with Trek, as all their competitors use a similar formula for their brands and properties.
“Any franchise today needs to be multi-platform, and multi-platform means having a multitude of on-ramps into the franchise at various ages,” said Cassillo. “So, for the likes of Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel, DC, etc., the only way you’re setting yourself up well in both the long- and short-term is by finding ways to develop content for all ages and genders.”
“Having kids interested in your content from a young age only increases the opportunity they’ll be fans as adults, and you could argue it’s easier to make them fans earlier than later,” said Cassillo.
Paramount’s Expansion of the ‘Star Trek Universe’
This is precisely what Paramount+ and Nickelodeon are attempting to do with the launch of “Star Trek: Prodigy.” And Cassillo said he does not see “Star Trek” with many different shows as a genuine problem.
“For the most hardcore fans, there’s probably no burnout,” said Cassillo. “Even if the interest in each show varies, they’ll watch, so it’s a success. For those that pick and choose, having weekly content all year is fine, too, as long as you don’t feel like you’re lost when you come back into the fold — this is a bigger issue for Marvel, really, than the other big [properties] right now.”
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