CBS Considering New Animated Trek Series For The Web
December 13, 2006
by Anthony Pascale
Star Trek may be set for a comeback into yet another arena, this time in the 2nd dimension. TrekMovie.com has learned that there is a new animated Trek project under consideration at CBS, but it has yet to get the green light. The series would most likely be broadcast on the web and be made up of ‘Clone Wars’ like 6-minute mini episodes. The yet-to-be-named project was originally pitched by long-time Trek producer David Rossi (well known to TrekMovie.com readers as a producer on Trek Remastered) along with his producer/writer partners Doug Mirabello and José Muñoz. Rossi sat down with TrekMovie.com for an exclusive look at how he and his partners hope to create a different kind of Trek set in the 26th century.
The idea for a new animated Trek started back around the time that Star Trek Enterprise was cancelled. Rossi and his partners didn’t buy into the notion that Star Trek ‘needed a rest’. "We wanted to spark a little life into Star Trek and to keep it alive in people’s eyes," explains Rossi. They knew CBS and Paramount weren’t going to be keen on a new (and very expensive) live action show so they decided that animation was the way to go. Their first notion was to do a show set in the Original Series era (but not on the Enterprise), however that notion didn’t sit well with the people at CBS. Rossi then took the advice he got from LeVar Burton on how ‘Star Trek should always be about moving forward and what is next in the human adventure.’ So the team came up with the notion of taking a big leap forward and setting a show 150 years after the time of Picard and Star Trek Nemesis, but in a very different and somewhat dark Trek universe. CBS were more open to that idea and over the last year and a half have asked the team (now formed into Zero Room Productions) to flesh out their idea. Although CBS have not committed to the series, they have asked the team to develop test artwork and scripts for 5 mini episodes.
Test art shows that this Trek is kind of scary
Trek’s darker future…with a spark of hope
The Zero Room team felt that the time was right for a new approach to Trek. The setting is the year 2528 and the Federation is a different place after suffering through a devastating war with the Romulans 60 years earlier. The war was sparked off after a surprise attack of dozens of ‘Omega particle’ detonations throughout the Federation creating vast areas which become impassible to warp travel and essentially cut off almost half the Federation from the rest. During the war the Klingon homeworld was occupied by the Romulans, all of Andoria was destroyed and the Vulcans, who were negotiating reunification with the Romulans, pulled out of the Federation. The setting may seem bleak and not very Trek-like, but that is where the show’s hero Captain Alexander Chase comes in. Relegated to border patrol, Chase is determined to bring the Federation (and a ship called Enterprise) back to the glory days of seeking out new life and new civilizations.
The parallels with the real world are obvious. The view is that to be relevant Trek cannot skirt around issues. Rossi explains: "couching big social issues in allegories so they are more palatable is kind of passé now. Today shows deal with these issues head on, so we decided to make the entire show an allegory. The premise is an allegory for the post-9/11 world we live in. A world of uncertainty and fear." In addition to the attempt at relevance, the Zero Room team want to incorporate other modern techniques. The show will have an overall ‘arc’ related to the mystery of who perpetuated that ‘Omega’ attack which sparked the Romulan War (turns out it wasn’t the Romulans…ooops). As one might imagine, all of the above back-story is quite a lot to get across in animated mini episodes, but that is where the web comes in. On StarTrek.com there will be a special sub-site for the show with crew logs and detailed histories of the Federation to get viewers up to speed on what has been going on since Picard’s day. The team also want to tackle the issue of how Trek does not usually lend itself to the action-oriented world of animated shows like Star Wars: Clone Wars. "We won’t have long diatribes, we are utilizing a clipped kind of writing and the editing is frenetic," explains Rossi. The overall approach is hoped to make the show have a wider appeal than Trek’s last foray into the world of animation.
Captain Chase…bringing back the old days
A conflicted ship and crew
This new animated series would take place again on a ship called Enterprise, but the old girl has seen better days. Captain Chase’s Enterprise will be a ‘Bismarck Class’ heavy cruiser from the Romulan war and a bit out of date. Her mission will be merely patrolling the border, but Chase chose the Enterprise for a reason. As a student of the Federation’s glory days, he wants to have the Enterprise reclaim her legacy. Although they are not ready to share artwork, Rossi says the ship will be very different than familiar saucer/hull/nacelle designs while still being recognizable as a ‘Star Trek’ ship. Her crew will be a collection of humans and aliens including a chief engineer named ‘Mr. Zero’ who wears an environmental suit to survive. Life on the ship will mirror that of the Federation itself. "The Captain is more forward thinking and wants to go out and do some exploring but half the crew will be against that and want to just protect the border," says Rossi. Leading the ’stay the course’ faction will be Chase’s first officer, Commander Barric Holden who wants a command of his own and be a bit resentful of the his new captain. Rounding out the ‘big 3′ will be Lt. Kaylen Donal, a tough-as-nails security chief whose team of red shirts are all linked with Borg technology implants called ‘Biomechanical Utility Grafts or ‘BUGs’. The Zero Room team want to see this security squad kick some butt and not just be cannon fodder. Rossi draws the distinction with previous security personnel "they aren’t the hapless pajama wearing guys who get vaporized every time…these are going to be very thoughtful clever bad-ass soldiers."
Cmdr. Holden and Lt. Donal fill out the ‘troika’ for the new animated Trek
A new look and a look back
When choosing a style for their new animated series, Zero Room chose a 2D style that was both modern and yet nostalgic. The designs are influenced by the work of Darwyn Cooke who made the recent retro-cool New Frontier comic series. "Although the show is set in the future the designs are founded in TOS, it is a throwback that is also looking forward," explains Rossi. From the designs of the uniforms to the phasers there is certainly an Original Series feel to the work, possibly harkening back to their original idea to set the series in the TOS period. Jeff Parker, an accomplished comic book artist currently working on Marvel’s on X-Men, has done most of the character design work. In addition to Jeff there are some others artists who have done work on the project and Zero Room are looking to expand the team as well. [If you are a 2D artist interested in getting involved, Zero Room do take submissions. Inquiries can be sent to email@example.com]
a nostalgic look for the uniforms and props
So what is next?
One thing that should be made clear is that it is entirely unclear if, when or how this animated series will be seen. If the project gets the go ahead it will most likely be seen on StarTrek.com, however the show would be made in a way so it can be also shown on broadcast TV as well as DVD. This is somewhat similar to the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series which was shown on StarWars.com as well as the Cartoon Network and then put out on DVD. One of the big hurdles seems to be the convoluted nature of the Trek license sharing deal between the former Viacom partners CBS and Paramount. Apparently when your name is not J.J. Abrams it is a bit difficult to work a new Trek project through the system. Currently the project is in a holding pattern and may remain so until the release of Star Trek XI in 2008. If CBS and Paramount want Star Trek to compete with other franchises like Star Wars, Superman, and Batman, then it makes sense for it to have an animated component.
Only time will tell if this project will see the light of day or end up like ‘Star Trek Phase II’ and other ‘Treks that could have been’. TrekMovie.com asked veteran Trek designer and historian Mike Okuda what he thought of the project and he was very enthusiastic. "The concept offers fresh, exciting characters and stories, and the visualspromise to be cool. I hope it happens," said Okuda.
more sketches from the new animated Trek
EDITOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank David Rossi for taking the time out to talk to TrekMovie.com about this new project, especially since this week he and his lovely wife Lili welcomed a new Trekkie in the world. A big TrekMovie.com welcome to Dave and Lili’s new daughter Frankie Lu Rossi.