Terry Matalas predictably misses the point about fan backlash over new Star Trek shows

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Terry Matalas and Rod Roddenberry speak onstage at STAR TREK UNIVERSE during New York Comic Con 2022 on October 08, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for ReedPop)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Terry Matalas and Rod Roddenberry speak onstage at STAR TREK UNIVERSE during New York Comic Con 2022 on October 08, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for ReedPop) /

Terry Matalas doesn’t agree with fan backlash over newer Star Trek shows, predictably.

Throughout the history of Star Trek, there have always been some fans who resisted change. Whether it was The Next Generation not earning the original series’ fans’ respect because it wasn’t William Shatner and company, or it was Chris Pine taking the chair of the Enterprise in 2009’s Star Trek reboot.

Some fans have always resisted change. Even now, with Majel Barrett being replaced as the ship’s computers in Picard season three, there are fans who want the long-dead actress to be used for the computer’s voice. So it’s understandable that some people would push back against fan complaints. The only problem is, complaints about the quality of newer Star Trek aren’t misguided, nor is it unfair.

Picard showrunner, Terry Matalas believes fans are doing what fans keep doing, but isn’t realizing that this time isn’t like the other times. This time, fans have a valid observation about shows like Discovery and Picard not being true, authentic Star Trek.

A fan voiced their complaints on Twitter that fans were (presumably) seeing Picard’s third season as the return to “real Star Trek”. Matalas agreed, with the misguided histrionics that fans always rejected new Star Trek shows. That’s a lie. Deep Space Nine’s debut had nearly 20 million people watching it. That’s more than what The Next Generation had. The Next Generation had just over 15 million people watching its premiere. Voyager had even more at 21.3 million people checking the debut out.

Burnout caused fans to turn away from the product, not the quality. Those three shows, and even Enterprise, all mirrored the original show in most ways. From the stories of what one must do when there is no clear right or wrong, to the submarine conflicts, and the wild alien life forms, it was nearly 20 years of sequels to the original series.

That’s why each new series did better and better until the burnout occurred. 25 seasons will do that.

The newer Star Trek has decidedly stepped away from what worked and started doing what didn’t. Gone was the questioning of morality and what was right and wrong, and in was shoehorning complicated concepts that writers forced people to identify as correct. Gone was the story of the week and in was complicated, continuing narratives across a season. Gone was an optimistic future where hope reigns, and in were bleak, dreary, and cold dystopian futures that turned fans away. Gone was the original Star Trek concept and in were “Rick and Morty” and “Logan” clones.

Star Trek by all accounts got away from what worked, and through three series and a mini-series, failed to get people to buy in. Then Strange New Worlds came and changed everything.

Star Trek is Star Trek and no, there should not be many different versions

Star Trek is Star Trek. It’s a captain, a ship, and trying to understand alien races. It’s a simple formula. Shows like Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks have rejected that formula and in turn, became shows that the fringes of the fandom latched onto. They are decidedly not Star Trek in anything other than the name. They carried no principles, they accepted none of the responsibilities and they sought to subvert expectations at every turn. They made boneheaded decisions that made no sense and changed long-established lore to shoe-horn in tacky and bad gimmicks.

Spock has an adoptive sister no one ever heard of? Check. Picard having his “soul” downloaded into a natural robotic body that will die of old age? Check. Turning Q and the Dominion War into punchlines for a passing joke? Checkity check-check.

Star Trek is a brand, it’s well-established brand and it has a brand identity. When you defy that brand identity, you defy a majority of fans. It’s why Strange New Worlds is such a hit; it stopped rejecting what fans wanted and started giving it to them. It was the only Star Trek show to be among the highest-rated and most-watched shows when it premiered.

Clearly, fans have spoken, and loudly, about what they want their Star Trek to be. Star Trek. Deviating from that will only incur backlash. Why shouldn’t it?

When Metallica changed their sound with St. Anger, fans had issues with it. When Pepsi and Coke changed their formulas, fans had an issue with them. When Sci-Fi changed its name to SyFy, even The Big Bang Theory dunked on them, and honestly, SyFy hasn’t recovered since. Pizza Hut tried to change its name to The Hut, and it failed so bad they changed its entire slogan to make sure “pizza” was always front and center.

What’s the lesson? When you establish a brand identity, don’t mess with it. If you want to make a terrible Rick and Morty clone, go ahead, you don’t need to slap Star Trek’s legacy all over it. Shows like Picard and Discovery did hurt the brand image. That’s not a debate.

Paramount+ is among the least subscribed services compared to other media giants. Of all the bigger media empires, Paramount+ may even rank dead last. You’d think with CBS and Viacom as your back catalog, and airing NFL games live, you’d be able to deliver better subscriber numbers. Nope. Part of the reason why is that non-sports fans have no reason to invest. Why would they? Most of the new original programming isn’t attractive and that includes most of the Nu Trek.

Casuals didn’t show up for Picard and Discovery but did for Strange New Worlds. Why? Because even casuals know what good Trek is.

So no, fans didn’t always reject new Star Trek, and no, this isn’t the same as the 90s. There’s a difference between giving something new a chance and changing what worked into something new. Fans needed to give Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise a chance, as they were all, formulaically speaking, the same show.

Picard, Discovery and Lower Decks weren’t even the same style show to one another, let alone the Star Trek fans knew and loved.

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