Star Trek: Picard showrunner Michael Chabon recently opened up to fans on his Instagram account answering a number of questions and providing a look at the behind the scenes direction of the franchise.
Chabon specifically answered one question regarding whether or not Star Trek would return to an episodic format in a future series.
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The question was simple: “Do you think an episodic Star Trek series is in the future? Along the lines of DS9 or ENT.”
Chabon responded, “The market determines which literary forms predominate.”
He added, “That has always been true, and not just on TV. When big-circulation magazines paid good money for short stories, our best writers revolutionized the form. In Germany, magazines wanted novellas; Thomas Mann wrote some of the best ever.”
Chabon continued, “Short answer: when there is a perceived demand for episodic TV, episodic Trek will return, though likely not in quite the same way.”
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I don’t really buy this answer. If market demands were really dictating whether or not Star Trek would have an episodic or long-form narrative, we would have actually seen an episodic Star Trek show that bombed. We haven’t seen that. Unless Chabon is tacitly admitting that the Short Treks are not doing well.
Even without an episodic Star Trek show, we can look at other shows still doing episodic storytelling and see that it is still quite popular. Just look at CBS’s NCIS. It’s been one of the top shows consistently for years now and is still mainly told in an episodic format, although it has incorporated some long-form storytelling.
Another CBS show that is still quite popular that features an episodic format is Blue Bloods. NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been on the air for over 20 seasons.
And maybe the cherry on top is that Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville still features episodic content. The show was just picked up for its third season on Hulu. It’s clear there is a demand for episodic content even when it comes to science fiction.
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And if you wanted some more examples just look at Netflix’s Black Mirror. You could even argue that Netflix’s The Witcher has episodic stories mixed in with its larger narrative with a dip into ethical questions such as the character drive behind Yennifer.
Then there is also the Disney Plus smash hit, The Mandalorian.
The first season was filled with episodic episodes. A sci-fi show which uses linear storytelling via one-off missions that are taking place within an overarching narrative. Though it doesn’t dive into moral or philosophical debates like you see in Star Trek, the success of it and others clearly show a market demand.
So, Chabon’s initial claim about the market determining the format doesn’t look to hold up all that well when actually given the least bit of scrutiny. It’s hard to believe that market demand is the reason why the franchise switched over to long-form storytelling.
But Chabon does give us a peek behind the curtain. He specifically says “perceived demand for episodic content” later in his answer. That means either the head honchos at Star Trek or CBS don’t see demand for episodic Star Trek content, the format the show has primarily used to tell its stories throughout its history. That actually has nothing to do with whether or not there is a real demand for that type of content.
Instead, it appears the bosses of Star Trek and CBS have been captured by the allure of long-form storytelling seen in Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead.
In fact, Chabon would answer another question indicating it’s highly unlikely to even see a one-off ethical or philosophical episode similar to The Witcher’s Episode 3 “Betrayer Moon,” where Geralt must hunt down a Shtriga.
This fan would ask, “Will we get one-off ethical/philosophical eps of Trek once the serialized narratives are done?”
Chabon answered, “If what you’re really asking is, “Will we ever again get to see Sir Patrick Stewart play Jean-Luc Picard in an episodic Star Trek series” –a desire I understand perfectly, and even share, to a degree–I’d say it’s unlikely, even extremely unlikely.”
He added, “There are a lot of reasons, but I think perhaps the most determinative is that for Patrick it would feel like he was repeating himself. At 79, he is constantly seeking challenges as an artist, and how awesome and inspiring is that?”
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It might not actually be Star Trek head honchos, who wanted to eliminate the episodic storytelling for Picard, but actor Patrick Stewart. Chabon claims Stewart would not be challenged by episodic storytelling because he believes it “would feel like he was repeating himself.”
The Next Generation became quite famous for such episodes during its run. Some standouts include Season Six’s “Relics” which saw the return of Montogmery Scott and Season Six’s “Tapestry.”
Deep Space Nine also had its hands in such episodes with Season One’s “Duet” and Season Six’s “In the Pale Moonlight.”
Chabon’s response doesn’t bring a great deal of hope. It appears clear to me that market conditions seem to be more of a cover and the real reason is Stewart’s vision of the direction of Star Trek: Picard.
Though Chabon attempts at the end of the answer to polish it up a bit by saying: “At 79, he is constantly seeking new challenges as an artist, and how awesome and inspiring is that?” I’d have to respectfully disagree, that’s because what we’re getting is basically Jean-Luc Picard as if he were Professor X in Logan. It’s not really a challenge when he’s just taking his movie performance and applying it to Star Trek.
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So there it is, we will not see a return of episodic Star Trek in the near future from those who are running the franchise.
I want to hear from you, what do you think of these storytelling formats? Do you prefer a pure episodic series, long-form storytelling, or a blend of both; such as the Dominion story-arc for Deep Space Nine?