It makes no damn sense that ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ isn’t part of CBS’s prime time lineup
I was so glad to hear that CBS was bringing Star Trek back to television. I was even happier when it was announced that The Walking Dead standout Sonequa Martin-Green (a Black woman) was cast as the lead. And now that I’ve seen the first six episodes, I can boldly affirm that Star Trek: Discovery has recaptured the spirit that made prior Star Trek franchises landmark successes. That’s exactly why I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the show is stuck on the native CBS streaming platform CBS All Access.
I’ve been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember. From my childhood, I’ve watched religiously as crews of explorers sought out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no one had gone before. The shows put topics as far ranging as human rights, the perils of war, religion, torture, government/citizen relations, and freedom in real life contexts, forcing viewers to challenge conventional thinking. As awe-inspiring as it was to watch these people traverse space and take on new and unique challenges with each episode, Star Trek has always built its core around pushing humanity forward. Star Trek is about idealism, questioning how much progress we can make if we simply set progress as the goal.
CBS’s new series Star Trek: Discovery falls right in line with that premise. To start, Trek is pushing the limits of television here by casting a Black woman in the lead role of a sci-fi series. Sonequa Martin-Green’s character, Michael Burnham, is smart, tough, vulnerable, and mysterious all at once. She was orphaned as a child when her parents were killed during an attack, only to be adopted by a human woman and her husband Sarek, a Vulcan who leads his entire life based on logic. This upbringing has forged a conflicted woman. She was raised as a Vulcan, trained to rely on logic and not emotion, but she is clearly an emotional being. And despite being a high achiever throughout her life, Vulcans have largely not accepted her. She has become notorious across all of The Federation for both causing the Federation-Klingon War and being the Federation’s only mutineer in recent memory. And on top of all of that, she’s a Black woman. Burnham is instantly and easily one of the most varied and dynamic characters to ever lead a Trek series.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that Star Trek: Discovery is not airing on CBS proper.
As brilliant as Discovery is, it feels as if CBS is treating it as just a means to an end. For a network looking to build a presence in the “streaming wars”, a Trek series looks like an easy win. With its built-in viewership, there is little risk in producing a new show and a high likelihood CBS will be able to grow its user base. What I cannot abide is that the first Star Trek series led by a Black woman is also the first to not air on the traditional network. As if CBS thinks its good enough for the minor leagues but not the majors.
This is a big mistake.
CBS has long been labeled as a network for old white men. It has come to be defined by shows like The Big Bang Theory, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Blue Bloods. Sure, these shows all bring in a lot of overall viewers and are great examples of white hetero-normativity at work, but none of these shows represent the forward-thinking, progressive, or diverse programming future on television.
At a time where complex shows with a range a minorities in leading roles on Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are surpassing traditional network shows in every conceivable capacity, Discovery is just the type of show CBS needs to be competitive again. On the surface, it’s a sleek, action-packed show about science and space exploration. But underneath, it’s a show about redemption, identity, and self-discovery.
The production values are astounding. The writing is sharp and smart. The acting is stunning. Discovery has all of the makings of an award-winner. Why not give it a grand stage it deserves? The platform and exposure that none of the streaming services can compete with?
Does CBS not think that the wider American audience has an appetite to wonder anymore? Are we so pessimistic in this era of Trump that we can’t dream of or believe in more? To believe that would be to go against everything Star Trek stands for.
Based on its roaring success (the launch of the series led to record new user sign-ups in a single day, week, and month for CBS All-Access), Discovery has already been renewed for a second season. And as a lifelong Trek fan, I can only hope that this proof of its worth leads to a larger investment of faith from CBS. The news cycle we face every day is sad enough. The world could use a show that proves you can navigate moral ambiguities, ask complex questions, challenge the unknown, and win.
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