There have been some split opinions on the recent unification of Viacom and CBS. While it’s safe to say that most fans here are happy that the Star Trek IP is back under one roof, the stance some have against megacorporations taking over what media is out there is understandable. But that’s not what this is about. What this is about is what this all means for Star Trek moving forward. There’s a lot of speculation that this will all be the start of something that gets Star Trek back on track as far as canon and visual design is concerned, which has led to confusing statements and questions. So let’s set the record straight.
Star Trek was all under one roof, both film, and television shows, up until 2005, when Viacom split from CBS. This split separated the IP of Star Trek, with CBS retaining all rights to the television shows, and Viacom (Paramount) retaining rights to the films. Each also had the rights to continue making shows and films respectively, as Paramount did in 2009 when they made the first reboot film. This is where things might get a little confusing, because as we all know, this film set in motion an alternate timeline, and this timeline (known as the Kelvin Timeline) has been met with a mixed reception. But the only thing you need to take away from this point was that Paramount was under no obligation to make this film separate from the original timeline we know. As far as we’re concerned, it was written as such by choice. There was no small print forbidding them from moving forward with a film in the original timeline. Had they wanted to do another film in this timeline, they had every right to do so. Why am I making this point? Well, most of the conjecture we’re about to touch upon dates back to events that came from this film. From the visual aesthetic differences, to the timeline itself.
Let’s fast forward a bit to 2017-2018, with Discovery’s release, and a little controversy that came along which pinpointed how the Enterprise we saw in the original series did not mirror that of which we saw in Discovery at the end of the first season, a series taking place 10 years earlier than the original series. This eventually led to a claim that the design was legally required to be 25% different by an artist and designer of the show named John Eaves. However two days after this claim was made, the showrunners and CBS themselves clarified that the design choices were not legal, they were creative. Eaves, who admitted he wasn’t the best person to refer to on the subject, was asked to design an Enterprise roughly 25% different. To date, there has been no small print rule saying that it NEEDED to be 25% different. Again, this was a creative choice from the showrunners. But it led to a bunch of speculation that Discovery wasn’t allowed to use the original design.
With this recent merger, there’s speculation that the Enterprise will now resemble more of what it looks like in TOS, but there’s a very big problem with this thought… CBS owns TOS, and always did before all this started. After the split in 2005, CBS retained the rights to TOS and there’s plenty of evidence to support this. When CBS All Access launched, all five major Star Trek shows were available to stream, and still, are available to stream; including TOS. When CBS remastered the Original Series in 2006, they were able to do that, because they owned it. My Blu-ray set of the Original Series proudly displays the CBS logo on the box, and when I load the disc into my player, and it reads the disc, the CBS logo will display again. To put it bluntly… CBS owned everything TOS. And if the producers of Discovery wanted to use the original design specs for the USS Enterprise, they had every right and privilege to do so. There was nothing legally stopping them. They chose not to, deciding to portray their own interpretation for their show. I’d go as far as to say that if the producers of the Kelvin films wanted to use the original designs, they probably would have been able to do it. But again, chose not to.
Whether you like the final outcome of what they created with this or not, they are within their rights as showrunners to exercise a little creative freedom in this area.
Now we’ve all heard the crazy theories out there about how CBS is lying about how Discovery is set in the original timeline, and is instead set in an ever so slightly different timeline, or the Kelvin Timeline, and we’ve all heard the theories about some secret agreement that no one is aware about between the two companies to distinguish the film universe from the television universe, and I’m sure a good chunk of you are as sick as I am of hearing it all. It really is amusing that so many will try to spin an elaborate web of claims that point out that all is not what it seems with Star Trek, and that what they say isn’t true, and it’s all humorous of how needlessly complicated it all turns out to be… over a television franchise.
Frankly, sometimes, the answer is more simple than it would seem, and while I stand by the stance that you are free to like and dislike various aspects of Star Trek as you choose, I would also give caution to be wary about just how attached you are, because if you buy into these theories, and spread them, it only comes across as fan entitlement. And many of these fans who spread these claims are aggrieved fans who are unhappy that Discovery, or even the upcoming Star Trek: Picard isn’t the Star Trek show they wanted. All these claims that people spread about legal requirements of the Star Trek designs and whatnot are all conjecture, and speculation with little to no evidence backing it up, when there are mountains of evidence backing up the contrary. It’s kinda why many groups on social media do not allow Midnight’s Edge, Doomcock or other related controversial video channels to be shared. These same people are trying to claim that everything some people are upset about is the result of a byproduct of legal complications from the 2005 split, and since the two have now reunited, many are hoping these things will go away.
And it’s just not that complicated. Viacom never owned TOS. This merging just means that maybe soon, you’ll be able to stream all 13 movies of Star Trek on All Access, from The Motion Picture, to Star Trek Beyond. Star Trek: Discovery is still doing its own thing, and will continue to do its own thing. It’s under no requirement to be bound by things set in its own fictional universe. It makes no sense trying to tie together that Discovery is actually part of the Kelvin Timeline, since the visuals are so similar, or that this merger will set the record straight that it’s in its own timeline apart from the timeline we’re all familiar with. The showrunners and producers call those shots. And it’s getting ridiculous that so many will continue to deny the obvious because to be blunt, Star Trek isn’t established history. It’s free to bend visuals as it pleases. It’s free to add to its own continuity, and it’s free further develop the universe in a way that may challenge the average viewer or fan. Star Trek, and the people who make it, are free to make design choices in this fictional universe, and are only bound by the Star Trek canon in the ways they choose.
Now with all this said, I need to emphasize that you are free to like or dislike how they approach these creative decisions. You’re free to like or dislike the entire show for that matter. But if you buy into all this speculation jargon and conspiracy that unfortunately gets so much attention, I only hope that one day you truly see how ridiculous some of these claims really are. This merger won’t change anything aesthetic about the shows or films being made. And anyone telling you different is mistaken. There’s no other way to say it.