What will the Discovery decision mean for Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and the rest of Star Trek?

The fallout from the atrocious and unfair Star Trek: Discovery decision rumbles on. The ViacomCBS share price continues to tumble in the wake of their truly awful decision to piss off most of the fans of their biggest franchise, the rollout of Paramount+ continues at a snail’s pace with no specific launch dates even entering the conversation, and unfortunately we’re now seeing some divisions in the fandom itself, with North American Trekkies pitted against those of us in the rest of the world as arguments break out over the series. What a stinking mess.

At time of writing, both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Discovery are “Paramount+ exclusives” all across the world – meaning the shows are locked behind a paywall that fans can’t actually pay for because the incompetently-managed streaming service hasn’t launched in the vast majority of countries and territories. I feel even worse for Trekkies in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia in some ways, though, because although Paramount+ has already arrived there, Discovery Season 4 still hasn’t been made available. If you needed any more evidence that ViacomCBS is one of the worst-run corporations in the entire entertainment industry, look no further than that arbitrary nonsense.

The logo of the mediocre streaming service at the heart of all these problems.

But Prodigy and Discovery aren’t the only Star Trek shows in production at the moment. In 2022 Trekkies have been promised Star Trek: Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Lower Decks Season 3 at a minimum. In the wake of the truly selfish and awful Discovery decision, however, I can’t help but feel very nervous about each of those shows. Will Trekkies around the world be able to enjoy any new Star Trek in the months ahead? Or will we see repeat after repeat of the Discovery mess?

Strange New Worlds seems all but certain to be denied any kind of international streaming deal. If you’re hoping to see the series hit Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might as well forget it – it’ll be a Paramount+ exclusive for sure. What that means in effect is that anywhere in the world without Paramount+ will miss out on Strange New Worlds. That feels like such a sure thing right now that I’d put money on it.

Don’t bet on seeing Captain Pike on your screens next year. At least not through the usual channels…

Currently, Picard Season 2 is scheduled for a February premiere. If the season runs for ten episodes, as Season 1 did in 2020, it’ll conclude sometime in late April or early May, meaning that Strange New Worlds could debut anytime around then – and certainly well before the middle of the year. At present, the UK and parts of Europe are promised Paramount+ in “early 2022” – which could be before the Strange New Worlds premiere, but it could also be long after the show has kicked off in the United States. And unfortunately, many countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world have no planned launch for Paramount+ at all, which means it could be 2023 or later before the service launches there. If it survives that long.

I simply don’t believe the promises ViacomCBS has made of an “early 2022” launch. Paramount+ has been so poorly managed and so incompetently handled by the corporation that a delay to these plans feels inevitable, so I’m not betting on the service launching here before the end of 2022. But even if, by some miracle, ViacomCBS actually manages to launch Paramount+ on time in Europe, that could still mean Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2 won’t be broadcast simultaneously with North America.

Picard could well be pulled from Amazon Prime Video before Season 2.

As mentioned, Paramount+ has already arrived in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia – and it isn’t exactly brand-new, they’ve had it since March. But despite that, Discovery Season 4 isn’t being shown there at the same time as it’s being shown in North America… so even being very generous to ViacomCBS and assuming that the incompetent morons manage to get Paramount+ to the UK and Europe in “early 2022,” that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be able to watch any of the new shows on the damn thing.

As I discussed the other day, ViacomCBS paid Netflix a large sum of money to ensure that Discovery Season 4 wouldn’t be available around the world. If they had done nothing, the show would’ve come to Netflix under existing contracts and licenses – but the corporation chose to intervene, hoping to boost sign-ups to Paramount+ (though the backlash may have actually cost the platform subscribers thanks to a fan-led boycott campaign). What’s to stop ViacomCBS from doing the same thing with Amazon Prime Video, the current home of Lower Decks and Picard?

Will Amazon Prime Video lose its Star Trek shows, just like Netflix?

One of the stupidest and most offensive things about the Discovery decision is that Paramount+ is unavailable across most of the world. If ViacomCBS had pulled Discovery from Netflix because Paramount+ had already launched and they wanted to keep their own shows on their own platform, it would still be frustrating, and the timing would still be awful, but at least there’d be a vague logic to it. But because Paramount+ isn’t even available, the decision has locked the show behind a paywall that no one is able to pay for. Which, as I’ve argued on more than one occasion, means you have the absolute moral justification to pirate the series.

But this kind of decision could well be repeated. I doubt very much that Paramount+ will be available here in the UK by February, in time for Season 2 of Picard. And on current form, there’s nothing to stop ViacomCBS from doing to Amazon Prime Video what they’ve just done to Netflix – pulling the series from broadcast with days to spare. I don’t think it’s safe to assume we’ll be watching Picard Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video… let alone Lower Decks Season 3, which likely won’t be broadcast until later in the year.

Lower Decks Season 3 could also be going exclusively to Paramount+.

Rather than the Discovery mess being a one-time thing, I think as international fans we need to get used to the idea that, at least for the next year or so, watching Star Trek along with our North American friends may not be possible – or at least may not be possible via conventional methods. Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds Season 1 feel the most vulnerable, but realistically we’ll soon see the entire franchise disappear behind Paramount+’s paywall – regardless of whether Paramount+ is actually available.

I’d like to be proven wrong, of course, but I fear that this is the direction of travel for Star Trek as we move into 2022. This will not be a move free of long-term consequences for ViacomCBS. The corporation’s share price continues its fall, many Trekkies have pledged never to subscribe to Paramount+, and one of the biggest single pushes toward piracy since the advent of streaming will lead many fans and viewers to realise just how easy it is to pirate the latest episodes – making it even harder for Paramount+ to tempt them back in future.

A decision intended to push fans toward Paramount+ has actually led to piracy – and threats to boycott the platform.

As self-defeating as these plans may be, don’t expect to see ViacomCBS move away from them. And if you’re especially unlucky, living in a region of the world that ViacomCBS has apparently forgotten even exists, it may be the case that Paramount+ never arrives – or if it does it won’t be till 2023, 2024, or beyond. Star Trek has always told stories of people coming together – of a United Earth free from borders and division. But the ViacomCBS board haven’t even watched their own shows, or if they did the message went far over their shrivelled little profiteering heads.

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but as I see it, the Discovery decision is just the first of many. Strange New Worlds, which has never had an international broadcaster announced, will certainly be a Paramount+ exclusive. Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 could very easily follow the Discovery model and be pulled from Amazon Prime Video. And the rest of the Star Trek franchise? Currently the older shows are on Netflix, but the films aren’t. However, I wouldn’t bet on being able to watch any Star Trek series next year unless you have the DVD or are prepared to sign up for Paramount+.

The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Amazon’s Wheel of Time series – will it work?

A few months ago I took a brief look at Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series, and that show has been getting a lot of attention, both for its Middle-earth setting and due to inescapable comparisons to Game of Thrones. But Amazon has another high fantasy series in the pipeline, and this second series hasn’t been getting quite as much interest – at least, not yet.

The Wheel of Time is a fifteen-novel epic; a magnum opus totalling almost four-and-a-half million words. It was written by Robert Jordan, with the final three novels completed by Brandon Sanderson following Jordan’s death in 2007, and is now complete. There has been a previous attempt to adapt the series for television, with a pilot being filmed in 2014-15, but it was generally regarded as a badly-made piece of TV so the series was not picked up.

Rosamund Pike as Moiraine in a short teaser.

It seems as though Amazon – and former CEO Jeff Bezos in particular – have been chasing their own version of Game of Thrones almost since that show premiered in 2011. Greenlighting two major television projects simultaneously is both a bold, expensive move, as well as one that could spell doom for one of the shows if there’s a clear preference from viewers.

Lord of the Rings on Prime – or whatever its final title will be – was a massively expensive commitment from Amazon, with the rights alone reportedly setting the company back $250 million. That’s before even a single frame had been shot, a single prop created, or an individual actor hired. The rights to The Wheel of Time were positively cheap in comparison!

A blade of some kind seen in a separate teaser.

Game of Thrones proved hands-down that a television show in the high fantasy genre based on a series of books that, let’s face it, most people will never read can be a resounding success, and I would assume that The Wheel of Time is about as well-known today as A Song of Ice and Fire was circa 2010-11. In short, there’s no reason I can see why Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time should fail to find an audience, particularly if the series is well-marketed.

Amazon Prime Video, which will be the series’ home when it’s ready to be broadcast, exists in an unusual space for a streaming platform. It’s tied to Amazon Prime, which offers a range of other benefits alongside the video streaming platform, notably free next-day or two-day delivery on many items Amazon sells on their main website. Unlike Netflix and Disney+, Amazon’s diverse business model is less reliant on streaming, and thus the success of any individual series is less important than it would be for a traditional broadcaster. At least in theory!

The Wheel of Time will be available to stream via Amazon Prime Video… when it’s ready!

I’ve read the first couple of novels in The Wheel of Time series, but it was at least twenty years ago and I honestly can’t remember much about the specifics of the story. I do recall the disappointment at not being able to afford the next book in the series after finishing the second, though, but for some reason I just never got around to finishing the series even when I subsequently had the means to do so.

In recent years I’ve debated going back to The Wheel of Time, but in some ways a very long series like this feels like a huge commitment, and spending the money on a fifteen-book set is something that, as someone on a low income, I have never been able to justify to myself. I enjoyed the first couple of books when I read them, though, and from my personal perspective, Amazon’s adaptation provides an opportunity to revisit the world of The Wheel of Time.

Fifteen novels comprise The Wheel of Time.

Comparisons to Game of Thrones keep cropping up, and not only is that inevitable given the nature of the project, I think it’s what Amazon really wants audiences to keep in mind. But Game of Thrones had an ending that was, according to most of the show’s fans, disappointing, and as The Wheel of TIme is now in production, I admit to feeling a slight sense of trepidation or caution at the prospect of history repeating itself.

While Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season had a number of issues with its narrative, pacing, and even production goofs, the fundamental problem – in my opinion – was that it was cut short. There was the potential for Seasons 7 and 8 to be spun out into at least twice as many episodes across twice as many seasons, with writer George R R Martin on record saying he was hoping to see the show run until at least its tenth season. And this is where my concern with The Wheel of Time comes into play.

Game of Thrones is a natural comparison for a series like The Wheel of Time.

Fifteen books means there’s a lot of story to adapt, and even if clever cuts are made to characters and whole narrative arcs, the show will still have an awful lot going on – and the potential to run for as many seasons as there are books: fifteen. But will Amazon let the show run that long? At time of writing, only a single season is confirmed, adapting the first novel in the series. If I recall correctly, the first book – The Eye of the World – was by no means conclusive; there will be many storylines unresolved by just the end of Season 1.

As we’ve recently been discussing, some television shows can outstay their welcomes and run too long. Fifteen seasons would mean that Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time would run longer than 99% of all television shows, catching up to the likes of ER, for example. At one season per year, the series would not conclude until at least 2036 – and I’m just not convinced yet that there’s that much of an appetite for The Wheel of Time.

The Wheel of Time could run for a long time if each book is adapted to one season of television!

So here’s where we are, as I see it: this is an incredibly ambitious project. It’s far more ambitious than Game of Thrones, which only had five books (of a planned six) and some 1.5 million words to adapt, and certainly it’s more ambitious than its sister project, Lord of the Rings on Prime. Amazon’s Lord of the Rings adaptation is based in part on Tolkien’s works – The Silmarillion in particular. But the nature of that book means there’s a lot of leeway for the show’s producers and writers. They could choose to construct a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and run it over the (allegedly) planned five seasons in a way that would feel natural.

In contrast, The Wheel of Time either has to run for fifteen seasons, or condense multiple books into a handful of episodes, as Game of Thrones essentially did in its latter seasons. Both of those options have potential drawbacks.

As we’ve also recently talked about, shows that are cancelled before concluding their stories are incredibly disappointing! And I would hate to see The Wheel of Time end up in that situation. The story of the series – at least, based on my recollection – is engaging and entertaining, with the potential for a television adaptation with a sufficient budget to even eclipse Game of Thrones. That’s what I’d dearly love to see – a fantastic piece of fantasy television. I’m optimistic for The Wheel of Time, but still only cautiously so.

The Wheel of Time on Prime (working title) is currently in production and will premiere on Amazon Prime Video in the future. The Wheel of Time on Prime is the copyright of Amazon Studios. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Previewing Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series

Spoiler Warning: Beware of minor spoilers for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Though disrupted by the pandemic, filming for Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel series resumed earlier this year, and the series currently has a tentative 2021 release date. That could easily slip back into 2022 depending on production-side factors, but I don’t think it’s too early to begin considering what the series could be – and what I’d like to see from it.

The Lord of the Rings was part of my childhood. Not the films – those came years later – but the books. I remember my father reading The Hobbit to me when I must’ve been only six or seven years old, and I later read The Lord of the Rings while still quite young, so it’s not unfair to say they spurred a lifelong interest in fantasy that I still enjoy today. I came to enjoy Tolkien’s works years before I watched Star Trek, so you could even call it one of my earliest fandoms!

The films, which were released from 2001-03, are many folks’ first and only encounter with The Lord of the Rings, and many elements from the films – like the music – which didn’t come from the original books are now considered inseparable from the realm of Middle-earth. The new series has a line to walk between respecting that and trying to do its own thing.

The Lord of the Rings films are held in very high regard.

Expectations will be sky-high for this series. Not only because of its association with the most famous works of the fantasy genre, but because of the frankly insane budget afforded to the show. Simply purchasing the rights to use Tolkien’s world set Amazon back an eye-watering $250 million, and that was before any work had been done on the show at all; no actors had been cast, no scripts written, etc. The budget for the series, which has been given a preliminary five-season order from Amazon, may top out at over $1 billion. This makes it by far the most expensive television series of all time, surpassing the likes of Game of Thrones, and that alone generates a lot of attention and scrutiny. And speaking of Game of Thrones, despite that show’s controversial and disappointing final season, comparisons will be inescapable. The stakes could hardly be higher.

Our last visit to the realm of Middle-earth didn’t go so well. The first two parts of The Hobbit were decent, even good films, but The Battle of the Five Armies wasn’t spectacular, something caused at least in part by the entire film being adapted from a handful of pages of text instead of a whole book! In a way, the disappointment some fans felt at The Hobbit’s adaptation means that Amazon’s series has even more work to do. It has to convince sceptical fans that they want to come back to Middle-earth, and that there are stories worth telling beyond the first three films.

The Hobbit was a less-enjoyable experience overall.

The series will be set during Middle-earth’s Second Age, which makes it a prequel to the events of Lord of the Rings. Taking a setting several thousand years in the distant past could open up myriad possibilities within the story. And we’ve seen some prequels that go down this kind of route achieve success – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, for example. But the stories of Middle-earth in the Second Age are all background, building up slowly toward the events of the “main” books. The initial rise of Sauron – who is still alive in this era – may prove fascinating to see. Or it may feel underwhelming considering we’ve already seen his ultimate defeat at the hands of Frodo.

Prequels can be difficult to get right. The Hobbit trilogy attempted to bring in characters who weren’t present in the original book in order to “foreshadow” the events of The Lord of the Rings, and it was hit-and-miss. Some elements worked, and some fell flat. Telling a story that serves as a fully-direct prequel to The Lord of the Rings, with characters like Gandalf, Sauron, and the ancestors of people like Aragorn and Legolas could be tricky to get right – there will always be a sense that we’ve seen the main event, and this is just unnecessary fluff.

That’s what happened – in my subjective opinion, of course – with the Star Wars prequels. They took on the less-interesting part of the story, a story that was ultimately wholly unnecessary. We didn’t need a three-film saga depicting the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker to know that Darth Vader was an evil, yet ultimately redeemable, character. Everything we needed to know about Vader was already present in the original films, and the prequels – which had numerous other problems, don’t get me wrong – didn’t feel like they had a purpose or told a particularly compelling story. They did, at least, tell one single story, which is something the Star Wars sequel trilogy failed to do! But that comparison is not a redeeming feature, despite what some like to think.

Legolas in The Desolation of Smaug. The character was not part of The Hobbit novel but was included in the film version.

But we’re off-topic! Prequels can be troublesome and difficult to get right, so one way around that is to tell a story that’s tangentially related to the main event but is otherwise a wholly standalone affair. As strange as it may sound for a show with the working title Lord of the Rings on Prime, the fewer direct references to The Lord of the Rings the better. There’s plenty of scope to see familiar places and races, and if the show keeps to an aesthetic that fits with the films then all of that will be to the good. But where The Hobbit was less interesting was when it ham-fistedly tried to “foreshadow” the events of The Lord of the Rings, so if the new series could find a way to stick to new characters and a storyline that doesn’t stray too much into setting up the events of the earlier films, I think all of that will be to its overall benefit.

Middle-earth, much like the Star Trek or Star Wars galaxies, is a sandbox. It’s a beautifully-created world with a rich lore built up over decades, but the main works set in Middle-earth focus on a relatively narrow slice of that world across a relatively short span of time. Taking us back to the Second Age opens up a lot of possibilities – as would moving forward to a potential Fourth Age! Star Trek demonstrated as early as the 1980s that it’s possible for a franchise to expand beyond its original incarnation and do completely different things. Star Wars has yet to really attempt this, as I noted once, but this is a chance for Middle-earth to do what Star Trek did more than thirty years ago. It has the opportunity to expand beyond Sauron, Bilbo, Frodo, and the Rings of Power.

The kings of Middle-earth receive their rings of power, as seen in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The history of the Second Age is documented, in part, in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. But unlike The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which each look in detail at a few characters across a relatively short timeframe, The Silmarillion is broad, encompassing thousands of years of history and legend within a single work. There are so many opportunities within these legends and this fictional history to either expand upon events it touches on or to create something completely new. There’s certainly the prospect of doing both.

One of the few things we know about the upcoming series is that it will look, at least in part, at the land of Númenor – an Atlantis-type land that would later vanish beneath the sea. Some Númenoreans would settle in Middle-earth, and these long-lived men would be the ancestors of Aragorn and a few other familiar characters.

The destruction of Númenor is documented in The Silmarillion, and if it’s the case that the show will look at that event (or the lead-up to it) there’s still a lot of scope to expand on the familiar and branch out into something entirely new. In fact, because The Silmarillion is a single book, and doesn’t contain anywhere near enough material for a straight adaptation, the producers of the new series will have to get creative!

The Silmarillion may be the basis for the new series.

Picture Credit: Stojanoski Slave, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of the creative team, there are some very interesting folks amongst the producers and writers. Showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay both worked on Star Trek Beyond, and amongst the writing team are folks with credits on such diverse works as Breaking Bad, Hannibal, and Toy Story 4. The director of the first two episodes has also been announced: JA Bayona, the Spanish director of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Some fans were critical when Amazon debuted the creative team, but let’s try to give them a chance. Though most of their names would not be familiar to the average viewer, between them they’ve worked on some huge and very successful projects. There’s an expression that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – perhaps that’s true here. Having spend this much money, Amazon would surely not waste that on a creative team it wasn’t 100% happy with. Unlike some recent projects, there haven’t been any high-profile firings or departures, which I take as indicative of a project progressing nicely.

On the cast front, none of the main players from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings seem to be returning, at least not at this stage. I do consider cameos at least a possibility, but so far no announcements have been made. The cast that we do know of is led by Robert Aramayo, who is probably best-known for his flashback scenes as young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones. Nazanin Boniadi, who has had co-starring roles in shows like Homeland, also joins the cast along with Tom Budge, Owain Arthur, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, who played the Twi’lek Qin on The Mandalorian, Ema Horvath, Joseph Mawle, who played Benjen Stark in Game of Thrones, Markella Kavenagh, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Daniel Weyman, and Maxim Baldry. What do most of these folks have in common? You’ve never heard of them. And why is that significant (aside from perhaps saving Amazon some money)? It follows a trail blazed by Game of Thrones. Set up a series with a mostly-unknown cast, give them a chance to grow into their new roles and become household names for those roles. It was a successful formula in 2011, and for the most part, people weren’t watching that show thinking “hey, I know that actor!” That was a deliberate choice, and I assume the same is true here too.

Robert Aramayo (seen here as young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones) leads a mostly-unknown cast.

Amazon is positioning this new series as a successor to Game of Thrones. The way the casting has been handled, the amount of money being thrown at it, and the general way they’re working on the series all smacks of being an attempt to recreate the magic of one of the last decade’s most important television series. Game of Thrones built on what The Lord of the Rings films had done, and at this stage, folks who would have balked at the idea of watching anything in the fantasy genre a few years ago will surely be interested to check out what this new series has to offer. The genre has become a major part of our cultural landscape, and The Lord of the Rings films set the stage for that in a huge way.

Other than a single map of Middle-earth in the Second Age, Amazon is keeping a tight lid on this project. There haven’t been any leaks or significant rumours about the series, which is a good thing. It’s always nice to go into a new show unspoiled!

The map depicting parts of Middle-earth in the Second Age.

Despite some positive moves from Amazon, and the huge amount of money involved in this production, there are no guarantees of success. The show needs to be well-written, with interesting characters and a story arc – or multiple storylines – that are interesting and worth getting invested in. Game of Thrones, at least in its earlier seasons, came with that built-in because it was based on an already-successful series of novels. The Silmarillion is indeed a successful book, but as mentioned can hardly be adapted verbatim in the same way as A Song of Ice and Fire was for Game of Thrones’ earlier seasons. In that sense, this show represents more of a risk.

I’m hopeful for some truly awe-inspiring fantasy. Returning to the land of Middle-earth is always a treat, and by filming the show in New Zealand – where the films were all produced – it might just feel like a homecoming. Game of Thrones’ final season was a disappointment to many, but this new series has the potential to help us all forget about that and get stuck into another fantasy story all over again – one inspired by the works of the grandfather of the modern fantasy genre. I can hardly wait!

Lord of the Rings on Prime (working title) is the copyright of Amazon Studios. The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings books are the copyright of the Tolkien Estate. Film versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are the copyright of New Line Cinema and Wingnut Films. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.