New Mission for ‘Star Trek’

Space saga sequel for streaming customers only

“Star Trek” nerds, set your phasers to stunned!

The famous space franchise is boldly going where it has gone before — back to the small screen. Only this time it won’t be seen by those with conventional TV hook-ups.

Monday’s announcement that “Star Trek” will return to television with a new show debuting in January 2017 ended years of speculation about the franchise’s return to its roots. Little is known about the new show. Will it be a sequel like “The Next Generation”? A prequel a la “Star Trek Enterprise”? Will it follow the timeline established in the newer movies? Or is William Shatner, at 84, going to don the skintight shirt and snug yoga pants again and reprise his role as Capt. James T. Kirk?

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What is known is how the series will be distributed to fans — through CBS All Access, following a preview airing on the standard CBS Television Network. All Access is CBS’ answer to Netflix, a subscription service where viewers can watch streaming shows on demand. For about $6 a month, subscribers can dip into the CBS vault and watch everything from repeats of “The Amazing Race” to “The Young and the Restless.”

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While the move may seem risky, it follows the history of the “Star Trek” franchise and banks on our collective nostalgia all at once. While the original series with Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock aired on NBC for three seasons, it was canceled due to poor ratings. But the show saw new life because of reruns. Suddenly, people who never watched the series when it aired live were enthralled with this “Wagon Train to the Stars.”

That success in finding new viewers was clearly on the minds of Paramount executives in the 1980s when they launched “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” one of the first shows ever to premiere in syndication. The show was a hit — at least by the lowered bar of syndication expectations — and even garnered an Emmy nomination in its final season. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” followed in those syndicated footsteps.

It may be what All Access needs to generate excitement — and subscription dollars — into its offering.

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For “Star Trek: Voyager,” the franchise tried a different tack — launching an entire network with a franchise show as its anchor. (Paramount tried to launch its own network with “Star Trek: Phase II” in the late 1970s, but that eventually became the beginning of Trek’s movie franchise.) “Star Trek: Enterprise” followed suit on UPN in 2001. It lasted until 2005, and the entire network went off the air a year later.

With the success of Netflix and Amazon Prime, with their series “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent,” “Star Trek” and CBS aren’t exactly breaking new ground. But it may be precisely what All Access needs to generate excitement – and subscription dollars – into its offering. That was clearly on the minds of the studio during the announcement.

“We’ve experienced terrific growth for CBS All Access, expanding the service across affiliates and devices in a very short time. We now have an incredible opportunity to accelerate this growth with the iconic Star Trek, and its devoted and passionate fan base, as our first original series,” Marc DeBevoise, CBS Digital Media’s executive vice presidentand general manager, said in a media release.

How the fan base will react to having to pay extra for a show in its beloved franchise is yet to be determined. But if Marvel and Netflix can resurrect Daredevil from oblivion, CBS All Access could soon be moving at warp speed.

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