Why did Star Trek's new mastermind want to kill production of classic Trek products?
J.J. Abrams and his production company Bad Robot have been very good for Star Trek from a business standpoint. Even if you don't like the movies, you can't argue with the financial results of their work, but according to TheWrap's sources, things could have been much, much bigger. Back when they first took over the franchise, Bad Robot had plans to turn Star Trek into a major transmedia experience, telling their stories across films, television, comics, videogames and more. So far we've had a few comics and we've had a videogame or two, but apparently the company wanted to really push things to warp speed and make Star Trek an inescapably massive multimedia franchise once again. So why didn't they?
Well, Star Trek rights are tricky business. They're split between Paramount Pictures (which distributes the new films and owns the rights to the old ones) and CBS (which owns the rights to the original 1960s TV series, as well as merchandising rights). Ever since CBS left Paramount's parent company Viacom seven years ago, the two companies have had to work in semi-harmony when it comes to new Trek projects, including Abrams' films. And apparently that's where Bad Robot had a problem. According to an "individual" who knows the situation, Paramount wanted to make Abrams and company happy, but it also allowed CBS to have a say in what new Trek projects were produced, and apparently CBS wasn't too keen on some of the ambitious things Bad Robot wanted to do.
"J.J. just threw up his hands," TheWrap's source said. "The message was, 'Why set up all this when we'll just be competing against ourselves?' The studio wanted to please Bad Robot, but it was allowing CBS to say yay or nay when it came to what was happening with the Star Trek products."
It seems Bad Robot did some market research and found that the merchandise being produced to promote its rebooted Star Trek universe was actually the victim of brand confusion with the merchandise CBS was (and is) still producing to promote the original Star Trek series. In an effort to better push the new stuff (and probably raise awareness that they wanted to make more toys/comics/TV shows and other such goodies), Bad Robot went to CBS and asked them to cease production on original series products so consumers wouldn't have to choose between buying something with William Shatner's face on it and something with Chris Pine's face on it. But CBS wasn't about to give up the $20 million it earns from Trek merch every year, and in response Bad Robot put many of its transmedia plans on hold.
The companies seem to be playing nicer these days, though. All those big multimedia ambitions might be done, but there is a new Trek videogame to enjoy, and though reps from Bad Robot and Paramount haven't yet spoken about the dispute, CBS seems to be happy with how things are going.
"As the merchandising rights holder for Star Trek, CBS Consumer Products has ongoing relationships with all our partners, including Paramount," a spokesman for CBS Consumer Products said in a statement. "We have worked closely with them for the last five years to create merchandise to enhance the movies and satisfy fans. We are all looking forward to a successful opening of Into Darkness.”
But while the dispute may be over, the consequences of it may be just beginning. According to TheWrap, the inability to do everything he really wanted with Star Trek may have been one of the biggest factors that drove Abrams over to the Star Wars franchise, where it looks like the Walt Disney Company will be more than happy to accommodate all his merchandise-friendly multimedia ambitions for stuff like TV shows, theme park attractions and more.
“Disney has always been oriented to multi-platform revenue stream situations,” Seth Willenson, a film library valuations expert, told TheWrap.
So, if you're a fan of Abrams' work in the Trek universe, and you were hoping to get more of it, it looks like you can blame CBS.