Star Trek’s Civil War: Part 4
Star Trek’s Civil War Part 4 — The Viacom Power Struggle, Moonves’ Downfall, Kurtzman’s Growing Influence, And The Future of Trek.
Greetings fellow Star Trek fans! This is the fourth and final part of my examination surrounding the mismanagement of the Star Trek franchise by the corporate entities which own it. If you have not yet read parts one, two, and three, please do so by clicking these links:
Star Trek’s Civil War: Part 1
Star Trek’s Civil War: How Infighting, Corporate Rivalry, & Incompetence Is Destroying The Franchise — Part 1
Star Trek’s Civil War: Part 2
Star Trek’s Civil War Part 2 — Star Trek’s Revival And Subsequent Downfall
Star Trek’s Civil War: Part 3
The Star Trek Civil War Part 3 — Viacom’s Breakup & Licensing Explained
The first article in the series was meant to establish the history of Star Trek and its rise to prominence in the late 80s and early 90s. It was also meant to shed light on its ultimate downfall at the hands of Viacom and their failed attempt to launch the UPN network, which ultimately destroyed the franchise on television.
The second article examined Star Trek’s rebirth on the big screen under J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company. It also looked at how the very man who breathed new life into Star Trek also sabotaged it through his lack of interest and the downfall of the cinematic reboot, which lead to the re-launching of Star Trek on television streaming services and the chaos surrounding the production of Star Trek: Discovery.
The third article looked at the company that owns Star Trek — Viacom — and how its break-up caused even further mismanagement of the Star Trek franchise that led to Bad Robot and J.J. Abrams abandoning their ambitious plans for the property. It also explained how movie licensing works, and how the complicated licensing structure run by CBS Consumer Products division negatively impacts the Star Trek franchise and the influence it had in the failure of the cinematic reboot and the issues surrounding Star Trek Discovery.
This final article will document the turbulent power struggle within Sumner Redstone’s media empire and the effects it had on both CBS and Viacom. We’ll also examine the role Les Moonves has played in the (mis)handling of Star Trek, and his ultimate fall from grace from sexual harassment allegations. We’ll take a look at the growing influence of failed uber-producer Alex Kurtzman over the new incarnation of Star Trek on CBS All-Access, and what could potentially happen to the franchise should CBS and Viacom merge into a single company once more.
Though this article is very long, this is the conclusion to the documenting of the gross mismanagement of this beloved franchise. It is meant to fill the reader in on the current state of affairs surrounding Star Trek (at the time of its writing) and the possibility of course-correcting how the franchise is being managed. If you’ve come this far with me in my chronicling of this farce of how Star Trek has been handled over the past few decades, then you will no doubt find this conclusion just as interesting (and, I’m sure, frustrating) as the accounts that came before it.
So without further ado, let us wrap things up…
The Viacom Power Struggle and Civil War
If you have read the other articles in this series, you are probably amazed at the level of drama, conflict, and strife present within the companies which handle Star Trek. Indeed, sometimes the stories behind the business-end of the entertainment industry can be even more astounding than the fictional tales they produce. But trust me when I say…
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
That is because you most likely have not heard of the details surrounding the power struggle that occurred after Viacom split into two separate entities. Though I have touched on the rivalry between CBS Corporation and Viacom Inc. in previous articles, I have yet to outline the full extent of the drama which played out behind the scenes since 2006 between Sumner Redstone and his potential successors as they all vied for control of Redstone’s media empire. It’s about as close as one can get to a real-life Game of Thrones scenario nowadays.
The start of the epic power struggle that plagued Viacom can be traced back to the year the company split. As previously mentioned in former installments of this series, when Viacom was divided into two, Les Moonves was granted control over CBS Corporation and his rival, Tom Freston (the founder of MTV), was given control of the new Viacom Inc. However, Freston did not last long in his position. Just 8 months after Viacom officially split in January of 2006, Sumner Redstone had fired him.
The sudden and shocking move was attributed to Viacom’s stock price, which hadn’t performed as Redstone had wanted it to. Viacom’s stock had dropped 15% since the split — something that wasn’t good for a company which was meant to be a “growth stock”. By contrast, CBS Corporation’s stock, shepherded by Les Moonves, had seen its stock price increase. The falling stock price of the new Viacom signaled to Redstone that investors didn’t support Freston, and Freston’s removal was meant to convince investors that Viacom’s growth prospects would change under new leadership.
That leadership came in the form of Philippe Dauman, who replaced Freston as president and CEO of Viacom.
Dauman was a longtime associate of Redstone. The two were said to be so close that Dauman was considered to be a “surrogate son” by the aging billionaire. At the time of Dauman’s appointment, Redstone praised Dauman as being a “more aggressive, more entrepreneurial, more ‘go and git it’ kind of guy” than Freston had been.
Indeed, Dauman had a reputation for being an “attack dog” — an approach he’s credited with learning from decades at the side of Sumner Redstone, who was notoriously litigious and combative. Dauman was Redstone’s protégé, and in keeping with his mentor’s teachings, Dauman wanted total control of all things at all times.
In 2015, Sumner Redstone was 92 years old and reports were circulating about his declining health. Despite his advanced age, Redstone had held onto his position as chairman of both CBS and Viacom’s respective boards. Though he had reigned for a long time over both companies, when it came to the question of who would succeed him as chairman, he made an official statement saying that his eventual replacement would not be determined by him, but would be chosen by the members of each company’s board.
Not long after Redstone set the stage for his retirement, a former lover and longtime companion of Redstone’s, a woman named Manuela Herzer, filed a lawsuit seeking to have Redstone found mentally incompetent after she was kicked out of his mansion and removed from his will. Herzer’s lawyers requested medical tests to determine Redstone’s competency, and while these demands were dismissed by the court, questions over Redstone’s mental capacity were raised among investors.
This lead to the board members of Viacom and CBS being sued by investors who believed they were protecting Redstone at the expense of corporate shareholders. The lawsuits included Redstone, his daughter Shari Redstone (who was a board member of Viacom), as well as Dauman and Moonves. Due to this lawsuit, a judge ordered an exam of Sumner Redstone to determine his mental fitness.
Among the legal woes he now found himself involved in by investors, Sumner Redstone stepped down from his positions as chairman of Viacom and CBS, necessitating a vote for his replacement. CBS’s board voted unanimously to elect Moonves as their new chairman. However, over at Viacom, the only board member not to vote for Dauman to become chairman of Viacom was Shari Redstone.
Dauman was not only chairman of Vicaom’s board at this time, but he was also a director for the trust of National Amusements Inc., the Redstone Family investment vehicle that holds controlling shares of both Viacom and CBS. This position as Viacom’s chairman, Viacom’s CEO, and National Amusements trust director put him in a position to be Sumner Redstone’s direct successor. After his election, Dauman considered selling a minority stake in Paramount Pictures to raise money after a series of huge flops for the studio which negatively affected Viacom’s stock price. While this was going on, Sumner Redstone gets the lawsuits against him dismissed in court.
Once the lawsuits are cleared up, Shari Redstone — who had become her father’s primary caregiver — has Dauman removed as the director of the trust that governs National Amusements, which controls Sumner Redstone’s 80% voting stake in Viacom.
Sensing that Shari’s opposition to his position as chairman of Viacom’s board, along with his removal as director of the National Amusement trust, are actions to eventually remove him from his position at Viacom, Dauman sues, claiming Sumner Redstone is mentally unfit and being manipulated by his daughter. This prompts Shari to push an attempt to have Dauman removed from Viacom’s board, siting Dauman’s plan to sell a minority stake in Paramount as justification for his removal.
With Dauman’s future uncertain with Viacom, talk of merging CBS and Viacom into a single company heat up, with Moonves as the frontrunner to head the combined companies. However, Moonves resists the move, sensing it is better to keep CBS away from the drama that is emerging within Viacom that is steadily driving down the company’s stock price.
As Shari Redstone made moves to oust Dauman, Dauman ratcheted up his legal bid to seize Viacom for himself. He filed a lawsuit to have Sumner Redstone declared mentally incompetent. Though Redstone’s attorneys tried to get the suit dismissed, the judge ruled in favor of Dauman, stating Dauman’s claim that Redstone was mentally incompetent was “plausible.”
A parallel lawsuit was brought by Frederic V. Salerno, Viacom’s lead independent director and ally to Dauman, asking for an evaluation of Sumner Redstone’s mental health. This suit also was not dismissed, putting pressure on Shari and Sumner Redstone as the prospect of more medical examinations lorded over the ailing billionaire, giving Dauman and his allies considerable leverage. For a time, it appeared as though Dauman was going to prevail as his legal maneuvers began to bare fruit and he was supported by the members of Viacom’s board who were loyal to him.
However, during the protracted legal battle, the culture and atmosphere at Viacom became toxic. As news of Viacom’s legal battles and vicious power struggle grew, its stock price suffered and members of its board began to worry — worries that Shari Redstone fully exploited.
Shari Redstone reached out to Viacom’s shareholders and chipped away at Dauman’s support. Slowly, Dauman began to lose his backing among Viacom’s board, who concluded that Dauman’s actions were harming the company and threatening to damage the board members’ reputations. Eventually, the mounting pressure, loss of support, and prospect of years of litigation and appeals forced Dauman and his lawyers to sit down and negotiate a settlement with Shari Redstone.
In the end, Shari Redstone achieved almost total victory, even if it did come at the cost of expensive litigation and the gutting of Viacom, which had been paralyzed during the fued. Dauman stepped down as chairman of Viacom with a severance package of $72 million and Shari promptly replaced all of Dauman’s allies on the board with those who were loyal to her, shoring up control of Viacom for herself.
However, the battle was far from over. Though Viacom was now securely in Shari Redstone’s hands, the fight with Dauman had taken its toll on the stock price. In an effort to salvage the value of the company, Shari made another serious proposal to merge Viacom back with CBS, the strategy being to save Viacom with CBS’s stronger stock. The plan was met with great interest from Viacom’s shareholders, but the idea of a merger did not appeal to Les Moonves. He argued that a merger would come at the expense of CBS’s shareholders, dragging down CBS’s strong stock with Viacom’s weak stock. Moonves also saw it as a move by Shari to force him out of his position and giving her full control of both companies.
Moonves pushed back against the idea of a merger, but Shari got National Amusements Inc. to instruct both boards of CBS and Viacom to consider rejoining the companies. Faced with this prospect, Moonves began positioning himself and his company to make a power play. Moonves wanted CBS to be the dominant entity in the merger, absorbing Viacom, and putting him in charge of the new company. This meant that Moonves would choose which parts of Viacom to keep and which parts to sell off in the merger. Faced with the prospect of Moonves potentially refusing to allow CBS to merge with Viacom, Shari Redstone was in the position where she was having to agree to let National Amusements contractually vote its shares with Moonves, essentially giving him an 80% controlling stake in the proposed company in order for him to allow the merger to go through.
For a time, it seemed Moonves had Shari Redstone over a barrel. But that time passed once Moonves was caught up in charges of sexual misconduct. It’s theorized that Shari Redstone may have used the allegations against Moonves to undermine him, much like she did with Dauman, putting pressure on shareholders and board members to turn against Moonves and erode his support. Once again, this power play worked, and Moonves was eventually fired from his position.
With Moonves vanquished, Shari Redstone had essentially usurped authority over both CBS and Viacom, wielding her influence over both companies to push for a merger of the two entities, despite the fact that many of the minority shareholders of both companies want them to stay independent of one another. However, unlike her previous attempts at initiating a merger, this time Shari faces no meaningful opposition to her strategy. Moonves is gone, along with the members of CBS’s board who were loyal to him. They have been swept away and replaced by people loyal to Shari. CBS’s interim C.E.O., Joe Ianniello, who presumably wants the job on a permanent basis, is unlikely to try and thwart Shari, which is also true of any of the senior CBS executives who are loyal to him. Meanwhile, over at Viacom, opposition to Shari has long since been silenced. Like at CBS, the board of directors of Viacom appears to be aligned with her, as does the new C.E.O. Bob Bakish, who owes his unlikely elevation to the top spot at the company directly to Shari Redstone.
So why is this significant and why should fans of Star Trek care about any of this?
The simple answer is that should CBS and Viacom merge together into a single entity, that would clear up many of the legal complications surrounding the ownership of the rights to Star Trek. The TV and the movies would once again be under a single roof, allowing the production of new Star Trek shows and new Star Trek movies (along with other media) to be produced easier and quicker, like it was back before Viacom split in 2006.
Whether or not this merger will actually happen is still unknown at the time of this article. What is certain is that most of the major obstacles to the merger have been removed and Shari Redstone is pushing for it to occur. Should CBS and Viacom once more become a single company, that would certainly be a good thing for Star Trek. But the behind-the-scenes drama is still unfolding with the Redstone family, with a California grand jury considering federal tax-related violations against Shari Redstone. Should Shari find herself embroiled in another legal quagmire, that could indeed derail any plans she has for merging CBS and Viacom into one.
As for now, we shall simply have to “wait and see” how all this turns out.
Moonves’ Fall From Grace
If there is one person who can be cast as “the villain” in the story of Star Trek’s mismanagement, it is no doubt that of Les Moonves, the former CEO of CBS Corporation. No other individual was responsible for keeping Star Trek off the air and neglected for such a long period of time other than him. In fact, he was directly responsible for ordering the cancellation of Enterprise, ending Star Trek’s 18-year run on television.
In 2006, not long after Viacom had split into two companies and Enterprise had been cancelled, Doug Mirabello, a former assistant to long-time Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman, posted on the Something Awful forums saying:
“The TV side (CBS, not Paramount) is now technically in control of the franchise’s future, and Les Moonves hates all things Sci-Fi.”
When it came to the CBS Corporation, there was no one more powerful than Les Moonves. He was the guy in charge. The captain of the ship. The final shot-caller. And though under his leadership CBS became the #1 primetime network on television, his well-known dislike of science fiction kept CBS relatively free of shows from that genre (and the sci-fi shows that did appear on CBS never lasted long before being cancelled).
Les Moonves started off wanting to be an actor, playing “tough guys” in forgettable TV roles before giving up on being a thespian and switching careers. After breaking into the business side of the entertainment industry, he worked his way up within 20th Century Fox Television, becoming the vice president of movies and miniseries, as well as running their first-run syndication and pay/cable programming department. From there, Moonves joined Lorimar Television and in 1988 became their head of creative affairs. After becoming president of Lorimar in 1990, he went on to become president/CEO of Warner Bros. Television when Warner Bros. and Lorimar Television merged. During his stint as CEO of Warner Bros., he green-lighted the hit shows Friends and ER, among many others.
1995 was when Moonves made the move to CBS Entertainment, where he came onboard as the company’s new president. In 1998, he became president and chief executive officer at CBS Television, then was promoted to chairman and CEO of CBS in 2003. When Sumner Redstone split Viacom into two separate companies in January of 2006, Moonves was appointed the President and CEO of the newly formed CBS Corporation.
Moonves’ position made him one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, ranking in the top 5 on The Hollywood Reporter’s Most Powerful People In Entertainment listing (he was ranked #4 in 2017). He was also one of the highest paid executives in the industry, earning $69.3 million in 2017 (Nearly twice the amount of Disney chief Bob Iger). This massive salary was not unfounded, however. Under Moonves, CBS Corporation, which was supposed to be the “value” company for investors, posted 29 consecutive quarters of earnings-per-share growth while growing both revenue and operating income. This made CBS Corporation a Wall Street darling with a healthy and growing stock value.
It cannot be said that Les Moonves is not a shrewd businessman. He not only outlasted his rival Tom Freston, the man who inherited the “preferred” growth company of the new Viacom, but successfully positioned himself to be the “kingmaker” in the internal feud that was occurring between the Redstones and Dauman. All the while planning to take CBS into a new era with his proposed streaming service CBS All-Access. But despite his business acumen and his talent at green-lighting popular TV shows, Moonves has displayed a fairly consistent track record when it comes to Star Trek — that being one of disdain and exploitation.
Speaking at a Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, & Telecom Conference, Moonves was attempting to calm the nerves of investors who were concerned about the constant pushback of Star Trek Discovery’s premiere date and the exiting of the show’s creator, Bryan Fuller. At this conference, Moonves was quoted as saying:
“There are millions and millions of Trekkies out there. We know for a fact that the other versions of Star Trek — there were seven other series, some of them were great and some of them were terrible — they all did really well on Netflix. That gave us great confidence that this was the right choice to put the full court press on All Access.”
Though this quote may seem innocuous, it gives us a great deal of insight into how Moonves viewed Star Trek. Firstly, it’s well documented that Moonves was not a fan of science fiction in general, and chances are he never really bothered to watch much of the “seven other series” (there are only five, six if you count The Animated Series. However, there are seven Star Trek licenses, if you include NuTrek into the mix). It would be no surprise if he considered anything other than The Original Series and The Next Generation to be “great”, as those are the two most profitable shows (and licenses) in the franchise. We can pretty much guarantee that he thinks Enterprise was “terrible,” simply due to the fact that he’s the one who ordered its cancellation. But it’s also likely that he lumps Deep Space 9 and Voyager in the “terrible” category as well.
To take this quote a bit further, the fact that he considered some of the Star Trek series terrible, yet they did “really well on Netflix”, shows that he believes Trek fans will watch anything with the Star Trek name attached to it regardless of quality. And it’s this mentality that has permeated CBS’s handling of Discovery since the beginning. To Moonves, Star Trek is a vehicle to drive licensing revenue and to exploit its fans. Not a show that’s meant to be taken seriously.
In short, his philosophy was: screw making a quality show, the brand will carry anything CBS puts out.
Indeed, with Moonves at the helm of CBS Corporation, it was very likely that little if anything would ever change regarding how Star Trek was handled. But then, in 2018, something happened to offer some hope. Les Moonves, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, heir apparent to the Redstone empire, and ultimate ruler over all things Star Trek…
In August of 2016, Ronan Farrow wrote an article in The New Yorker magazine detailing accusations against Les Moonves of harassment, intimidation, and abuse from six women. Numerous claims stated that Moonves sexually forced himself upon women, and that he would retaliate against those who rejected his advances by using his position and clout to harm their careers. This article appeared not long after another powerful Hollywood figure, Harvey Weinstein, was also toppled by Farrow’s reporting.
Over the course of five months, the sexual abuse scandal surrounding Moonves grew. Moonves attempted to fight back against the charges (going so far as to allegedly attempt to pay off victims for their silence, according to some reports), but as CBS investigated the allegations internally, more credible examples of abuse and misconduct came to light. The final straw came when Farrow published a new article with six more women claiming to be victims of Moonves. It was then that the CBS board (possibly encouraged by Shari Redstone) demanded Moonves step down from the company he’d led to prominence for 15 years. To add insult to injury, Moonves received no severance payment, with the CBS board denying him his $120 million golden parachute.
With Les Moonves now out of the picture, there is an opportunity for an executive with integrity to take his place. One who could treat the Star Trek brand (and fanbase) with the respect it deserves. However, there is also an opportunity for another, possibly even more unscrupulous executive to step in and continue Moonves’ practice of abusing and exploiting Trek.
For the time being (at least at the time this article was written), Moonves has been replaced by one of his former top lieutenants, CBS Corporation’s former CFO Joe Ianniello, who is acting as interim CEO until the CBS board can vote on a more permanent replacement. However, Moonves’ replacement may not be considered until CBS and Viacom are merged into a single company once more. This means Ianniello may be in the CEO position for some time. His thoughts and views on Star Trek are currently unknown.
Hopefully, he’s a better friend to the franchise than Moonves was.
Alex Kurtzman Takes Control Of Trek
In June of 2018, it was reported that co-showrunners of Star Trek Discovery, Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, had been removed from the show. The duo had been hand-picked by former executive producer Bryan Fuller to lead the production of Star Trek Discovery, but apparently there were a number of issues that ultimately led to their dismissal.
In addition to mismanaging the show’s budget, Berg and Harberts were accused of abuse from Discovery’s writing staff and multiple writers complained about uncomfortable working conditions to CBS’s HR department. This allegedly lead Harberts to further threaten the writers, telling them to keep their concerns an internal matter.
The complaints were investigated and ultimately led to the dismissal of Berg and Harberts from the show. Also gone from Discovery was Akiva Goldsman, who had already left the show after the first season due to personal conflicts with Berg and Harberts. With the original producing trio now gone, Alex Kurtzman stepped up to assume the role of showrunner for Discovery.
Though some may not be familiar with Alex Kurtzman the man, they will no doubt be familiar with his work. On the movie front, along with his partner Roberto Orci, he wrote films such as The Island, The Legend of Zorro, Mission: Impossible III, Transformers, Eagle Eye, Watchmen, Star Trek, and Cowboys & Aliens. On the TV front, he was a writer and producer on such shows as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias, Fringe, Hawaii Five-O, Sleepy Hollow, and Scorpion.
As is plain to see, Kurtzman has been involved in a great many successes in his career. Much of this success is due to his strategic collaborations with a tight-knit group of Hollywood elites, which include J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof (LOST), Adam Horowitz (TRON: Legacy), Edward Kitsis (Once Upon A Time), Andre Nemec (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol), Josh Appelbaum (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Jeff Pinkner (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), and Bryan Burk (Cloverfield).
In fact, Kurtzman had been involved in so many huge blockbusters that in 2011, Forbes magazine referred to him and his former writing/producing partner Roberto Orci as “Hollywood’s Secret Weapons.” From 2005 to 2011, the movies he had worked on had grossed a combined total of over $3 billion dollars at the box office. However, despite being well-regarded in the industry, Kurtzman was often criticized as being a bad writer with good ideas by audiences. He was known for poor dialogue and nonsensical plotting but was skilled at crafting high concept ideas into blockbuster films and TV shows. He also had a reputation for having little-to-no artistic integrity, often making any changes to a script that the studios wanted without any pushback.
As Kurtzman’s reputation as a writer and producer grew, he wanted to branch out into directing and made his directorial debut with a film called People Like Us, starring Chris Pine. The film was made on a shoestring budget (by Hollywood standards) of $16 million and distributed by Touchstone Pictures. People Like Us only made $12.6 million at the box office, $3.4 million less than what it cost to make. However, the film was seen more as a way to help Kurtzman get his “foot in the door” as a director than an attempt to make a financially successful movie, so the fact that it failed to break even in theaters was not much of a factor. It was purely made to give Kurtzman the directing experience he needed to handle bigger-budget pictures.
After Star Trek: Into Darkness, Kurtzman parted ways with his long-time partner Roberto Orci, with Orci choosing to focus on the Star Trek franchise while Kurtzman chose to move to Sony studios to focus on the Spider-Man franchise. Kurtzman had written The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and was slated to write The Amazing Spider-Man 3 as well. In addition to that, he was set to help develop a cinematic universe based around the character of Spider-Man and his rogues gallery. Kurtzman was among a group of writers hired to work alongside producers Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, and Marc Webb who were overseeing a series of films based on The Sinister Six and the individual villains who made up that team, as well as Black Cat and Venom.
In addition to serving as a writer for Amazing Spider-Man 3, Kurtzman was going to be the writer and director for Venom as well. But other creatives, such as Jeff Pinkner, Ed Solomon, and Drew Goddard were working on their own films under the supervision of Arad, Tolmach, and Webb.
As Kurtzman’s involvement with the Spider-Man films inched forward, another massive opportunity fell into his lap — one which was set to give him a “superproducer” status akin to the one J.J. Abrams wielded in Hollywood. In late 2013, Universal hired both Kurtzman and Orci to help them develop remakes of Van Helsing and The Mummy. In fact, it was Orci and Kurtzman who first proposed the idea of spinning Universal’s library of classic monsters into a cinematic universe similar to what Marvel had done with their stable of characters. In essence, the duo was proposing that instead of doing simple remakes of The Mummy and Van Helsing, they should use these projects to set the groundwork for a larger monster-based franchise.
Universal liked the concept, but things got complicated when Kurtzman and Orci parted ways. Though Orci abandoned the Universal projects to work on Star Trek, Kurtzman remained attached due to a development deal with the studio and Universal paired him with Chris Morgan, the man behind Universal’s most successful franchise at the time, that being the Fast & Furious films.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened in May of 2014 and was a huge disappointment, both with audiences and the box office. With total production and distribution costs of $570 million, Amazing Spider-Man 2 only netted Sony a profit of $70 million (a 12% return on investment). This is also the time where Marvel, taking advantage of Amazing Spider-Man 2’s poor box office numbers, approached Sony about partnering up on the Spider-Man license. The proposed deal ensured that future Spider-Man films done with Marvel would give Sony 100% of the box office while Marvel got the merchandising profits. This arrangement effectively killed Sony’s then plans to create a Spider-Man based cinematic universe, thus freeing Kurtzman up to focus on his projects at Universal.
Kurtzman’s attention was now entirely on the Dark Universe. Though he was overseeing a number of TV projects (including Star Trek Discovery), his real focus was on assuming directing duties for the reboot of The Mummy, which was set to launch the Dark Universe for Universal. As Kurtzman got deeper into pre-production on The Mummy, Chris Morgan was overseeing development on Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and Van Helsing.
However, Kurtzman’s sophomore foray into directing did not turn out as he had hoped. Reports indicate that Tom Cruise essentially took over directing duties on the film due to Kurtzman’s inexperience with such a big budget production. It’s also been reported that Cruise was rewriting the script on set, unhappy with Kurtzman’s version of it. Kurtzman, who had a reputation of bending to any and all studio executive’s demands, apparently deferred to Cruise, allowing the actor to basically run the production for him.
The Mummy reportedly cost upward of $300 million to produce and market. The film greatly underperformed, grossing only $80 million domestically and taking in only around $400 million worldwide. (And though that seems like it made a profit, it needed to recoup at least $600 million to break even.) The financial loss that was suffered on The Mummy by Universal was large, but the brutal reviews it received by critics and from audiences put all of Universal’s plans for their cinematic universe in doubt.
The embarrassment and failure of The Mummy immediately blew back onto Kurtzman and Morgan. Kurtzman’s development deal with Universal ended four months after the release of The Mummy, and Universal did not renew it. The studio went on to cancel all the Dark Universe movies the two producers had been developing and reassigned Chris Morgan back to his Fast and Furious duties.
Kurtzman had effectively killed two huge cinematic franchises by this point. His script for Amazing Spider-Man 2 had helped usher in the end of that franchise, and his mishandling of The Mummy as both a writer and director helped lead to the whole Dark Universe collapsing in on itself. With his production deal at Universal dead, Kurtzman then retreated to the only development deal he had left — back at CBS.
I had mentioned in previous articles how Kurtzman formed a new production company called Secret Hideout after his split with Roberto Orci. Secret Hideout had inked an overall development deal with CBS to produce TV shows and had been producing Hawaii Five-O, Sleepy Hollow, and Scorpion while Kurtzman had been focusing his energies on his other endeavors. Secret Hideout also produced Star Trek Discovery, the first season of which ended in February of 2018, five months after Universal had parted ways with Kurtzman.
Once Discovery’s first season had ended, Kurtzman became directly involved with development on the second season. Though Kurtzman is credited with being a co-creator and producer on Discovery, his involvement in the show’s first season is thought to be minimal, as he was busy with his duties on Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Mummy during their development and production.
But in addition to that, now that Star Trek was the only real brand-name franchise available to him, Kurtzman threw himself into developing even more Trek-based TV shows for Secret Hideout to produce. This is when the ideas for a Picard-based series starring Patrick Stewart and a Section 31 series starring Michelle Yeoh were developed by Kurtzman. It’s also reported that Kurtzman has developed ideas for a limited series based around the character of Khan Noonien Singh and an animated series.
With these ambitious ideas for new original series for CBS All-Access in hand, Kurtzman approached David Stapf, president of CBS Television Studios, about his plans for the future of Trek. By this time, Season 2 of Discovery was in production and Kurtzman himself had directed the premiere episode (which, it should be noted, went far over-budget). Kurtzman was once again on-track to be a “superproducer,” only this time on the television side of things. His presentation to Stapf apparently went well, leading CBS to offer Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout a new five-year overall development contract reportedly worth $30 million. The deal was announced just days after Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts were removed from Discovery and the reins for the show handed over to Kurtzman.
Under the new agreement, CBS Television Studios will have exclusive rights to produce all television content created and developed by Kurtzman and Secret Hideout up to the year 2023. In addition, Kurtzman and Secret Hideout will develop new, non-Star Trek original series across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. CBS Television Studios is also planning to bring on a new executive specifically to oversee the Star Trek projects on the studio side.
Kurtzman wasn’t just thinking up new ideas for Trek shows after returning to his Secret Hideout company, however. He’d recruited a creative team for all things Trek-related, consisting of James Duff (The Closer, Major Crimes), Akiva Goldsman (Discovery), Michael Chabon (John Carter) and Kirsten Beyer (Discovery). He was also able to convince Patrick Stewart to return for Kurtzman’s planned Picard series, the announcement of which was the big news at the 2018 Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas.
It’s obvious that Kurtzman is now passionate about Star Trek and has lots of ideas for new properties to add to the Star Trek library. Despite this, questions still surround his involvement. Not only are his skills as a writer and director questionable, but his track record after splitting with Roberto Orci has been one of massive failure and disappointment. He’s only ever been a casual fan of Star Trek and has proven not to concern himself with respect for canon or continuity. However, he’s also become the driving force for the creation of more Star Trek-related content than we have received in 14 years. Will his efforts with Star Trek be his redemption? Or will his involvement lead Star Trek toward the same fate as The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Universe?
I guess only time will tell.
In researching the history of Star Trek’s mismanagement, I think it’s safe to say that the trend of abusing the franchise did not become systemic until Viacom bought out Gulf+Western in the early 1990s. Before Viacom took over, Star Trek was relatively well-respected within Paramount and the studio’s parent company. That’s not to say there was not drama and internal strife, but it was not as persistent nor pervasive as it became under Viacom’s stewardship. And the decision by Sumner Redstone to split Viacom into two separate companies is pretty much directly responsible for all the issues Star Trek is facing today. Not only did that decision keep Star Trek from developing new TV shows for over a decade, but it also created new and numerous legal complications to making anything regarding Star Trek.
And though the prospect of a merger between CBS and Viacom, as well as the removal of Les Moonves, are promising developments in regards to the future of Star Trek, I am not optimistic that the toxic corporate culture that permeates both CBS and Viacom is going to change anytime soon. They appear to be moving forward with their ambitious plans to promote CBS All-Access, essentially putting Star Trek behind a paywall as a means to exploit the fanbase. Not only that, they are ratcheting up production of new Star Trek projects so that they have content by which to keep Star Trek fans subscribing to CBS’s OTT service, while seemingly abandoning all efforts to continue bringing Star Trek to the big screen.
But more troubling is that no matter who merges with who, or what person is running CBS or Paramount, the fact remains that the licensing practices that have not only hindered the Star Trek franchise, but also preyed on the Star Trek fanbase, are not going to change, ever. This, more than anything, is reason to be cynical about Star Trek’s future. Even now, the movie-side of Star Trek is effectively dead in the water after losing star Chris Pine and Paramount officially shuddering the 4th Star Trek film under the NuTrek license. And those running the TV side of Star Trek don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to making shows that respect the previous series, or the fans.
Is there anything those who love Star Trek can do to save it from further mismanagement and incompetence?
If fans want to send a clear message to CBS about their displeasure with the direction of Star Trek, then the options are simple. Fans must hit CBS where it hurts them the most — their licensing deals. Fans must let the licensees know that so long as CBS insists on disrespecting the franchise with their business practices, that fans will render their expensive licenses worthless. This means a boycott of all Star Trek related merchandise. No toys, no clothing, no conventions, nothing. If the message is sent to the licensees, loud and clear, and those who license Star Trek from CBS are in danger of not renewing their licenses, then CBS will be forced to listen to the complaints of the fans.
When CBS’s crown jewel loses its luster, when after 50 years the studio is faced with the prospect of losing what has been a consistent source of revenue for them, THAT is when those in charge will take action to prevent such a thing. But not before. So long as the licensing gravy train chugs on for CBS, there is no incentive for them to make good Star Trek media.
The other option is to demand that CBS not lock Star Trek away behind a paywall on their All-Access service. The Orville has gained huge popularity because it not only captures the essence of what a Star Trek show should be, but it’s also free to watch. If CBS were to have at least one Star Trek show air on its network for everyone to enjoy, it would do wonders for the growth and health of the franchise’s fanbase.
Third is to insist that Star Trek remain family-friendly. This is not to say that Star Trek can’t tell adult stories, but the inclusion of sex, nudity, foul language, and graphic violence under Kurtzman’s stewardship is a disturbing development. Much like the mandate to make Enterprise appeal to general audiences, Discovery’s changes designed to do the same thing are far less restrictive due to it being subscription based. But the issue here is the long-term health of the franchise. Already, children born in 2005 onward have grown up without a significant presence of Star Trek in their lives. A whole generation of children grew up watching The Next Generation in the 80s, often with parents who grew up watching The Original Series. As it stands now, kids 14 years old and younger have never been exposed to Star Trek on TV, nor have they probably seen the Bad Robot films. Unless CBS changes their pay-wall/adult content strategy concerning Star Trek, an entire generation of children will have grown up without caring about Star Trek at all, thus hurting its future growth potential and staying power.
Finally, fans need to fight back against CBS’s efforts to squash fan-based fiction, art, and films. Though CBS has released guidelines on how to produce fan-made material, the fact still remains that they will aggressively pursue fans through the legal system that they deem are using their licenses without permission. Star Trek grew to prominence due to the lack of copyright enforcement and the support of a dedicated fan community. Star Trek fans will consume EVERYTHING Star Trek, so it is not an either-or-proposition. They will pledge money to a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film, but also turn around and pay to see the latest official Star Trek movie in theaters, then buy every incarnation of it that comes out on DVD and Blu Ray. CBS fails to understand that their licenses will not be adversely affected by fan-generated content. In fact, it will be enhanced by them, just as it was before Viacom took over.
I hope you enjoyed this series of articles. It was a real pleasure to research them and bring them to you. If you would like to read more articles of mine, please be sure to subscribe to me here on Medium and check out the other articles I have published. And if you like, follow me on Twitter @MatthewKadish and join my Facebook group The Evil Genius Guild.
Thank you for reading, and may you live long and prosper!