As human beings, I think that there is a natural instinct for us to “group off”. As children, we identify with our families. Then, when we start school, we identify with our class or teaching groups, that’s taken a step further in some schools which are split into houses that compete for points (see Harry Potter). That’s taken further still when we start competing with other schools, usually in athletic endeavours. Of course this can have negative connection (“my race/faith/sexuality is better than yours”) but generally, everyone has been part of a group that measures itself against the success of similar groups, even if it’s a friendly rivalry. Perhaps this dates back to when we were competing for limited resources, either as tribes thousands of years ago, or when we were pack animals millions of years ago. Whatever the case there is always an element of “us and them”.
This can manifest itself in fandom. Star Trek while unique, has always been the benchmark for Science Fiction fandom. Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Star Wars and even Galaxy Quest have all been compared to the show. The show even competes with itself, as each new itineration of the show is compared and contrasted with what came before.
Perhaps Television Trek’s biggest rival in the 1990s was Babylon 5. Set on a space station, far from home, the story was a series long arc, some of which was centred on a huge galaxy changing war. From that description, there have been a lot of comparisons between B5 and DS9, some of which is justified, the show was actually pitched towards Paramount before Deep Space Nine was even created. The devoted following of both shows was a thing to behold. Joe Michael Straczynski often had to fend off criticism that plot elements were stolen from Star Trek on online forums. Nevertheless if we take a moment to scratch beneath the surface there is plenty to enjoy in both shows, actors, writers and directors crossed over between both. Whereas in Star Trek, humanity is a cornerstone of the monolithic Federation, free of all of our flaws, in B5, humans, newcomers to the galactic community are still motivated by profit, fallible and face the same problems we faced in the nineties (and in the 2010s if I’m honest) both shows have their place. I honestly can’t say if they shows ever competed on first run TV in the US (they certainly didn’t in the UK. B5 bounced all over the place). It was possible to watch and enjoy both.
And so, we enter the next cycle. After watching Trekland Tuesdays (https://www.facebook.com/121273617091/videos/10155464272442092/), and taking part in the Starbase 24 podcast I’ve been made aware of a brewing “war” between fans of Star Trek Discovery and The Orville. The Orville, despite being unaffiliated with Trek, certainly has a huge roster of Trek Alumni. Johnathan Frakes will direct an episode, Penny Johnson appears on the show, and Brannon Braga is a writer. Seth McFarlane, the show’s creator and lead is a proud Star Trek fan himself, having a bit part in Enterprise, and making reference to Trek extensively in his work, particularly on Family Guy. On the strength of the trailers released so far, many who are unhappy with Discovery have adopted the “drama/comedy” show as a true successor to Trek, thus the rivalries start.
So, lets ask ourselves. What are we fighting over? With the exception of Canada, Discovery is going to be on either Netflix or CBS All Access. You can effectively watch the show when you want. By contrast, The Orville has the traditional distribution model, at least in the US in that it will be shown on Fox on a specific timeslot. So, the shows are being made by separate teams, so they aren’t fighting over cast members or production assets. One show is distributed via streaming, the other is shown on cable, so they aren’t fighting over the same timeslot. Likewise, the success of Discovery will be measured by “hits” to CBS action and Netflix. The success of The Orville will be measured by the ratings system used in the markets it’s screened in, so they aren’t competing for viewers.
I think it’s an exciting time to be a Trek fan and the appeal that the franchise continues 50 years after the original, with a new vision for a show and that it has also inspired another creative team to create a show that resonates with the same themes. You are not betraying anyone by choosing to enjoy both.
Just my thoughts.
Be Kind, Be Respectful, Be Trek.