Paramount’s cack-handed marketing strikes again…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for unreleased Star Trek episodes, including casting information for Strange New Worlds Season 2 and Picard Season 3. Spoilers are also present for Picard Seasons 1-2.

Today has been First Contact Day – the 5th of April is the date in 2063 when the Vulcans will arrive on Earth, as depicted in the film First Contact. First Contact Day has become somewhat of an “event” in the Star Trek fan community, with an entire digital broadcast being dedicated to it last year. This year there was nothing quite so big on the schedule, but there were still teases and hints from Paramount Global that the corporation would do something to mark the occasion.

I’ve given up on hearing anything about an international broadcast for Strange New Worlds, so that never seemed like a realistic prospect – though it’s probably the biggest request from non-American Trekkies at the moment. But I admit that I was curious about the prospect of some kind of announcement. There are other Star Trek projects being worked on behind-the-scenes, after all… could we be set for an announcement of something like the Starfleet Academy series, perhaps?

No, as it turned out.

No news about a Starfleet Academy series today.

Instead, what we got was the second announcement in a row from Paramount Global’s marketing department that just feels exceptionally poorly-timed. A couple of weeks ago, Paramount Global had clumsily dropped the news that Strange New Worlds Season 2 would feature the character of James T. Kirk in an unspecified capacity; an unnecessary overreaction to a single leaked photograph from the show’s ongoing production.

That announcement sent fans into overdrive, and Star Trek’s social media channels were overwhelmed with toxicity for a few days, as the threadbare announcement left many things unclear about Strange New Worlds – a series which hasn’t even aired a single episode yet. Announcing Kirk’s return to Star Trek was premature to say the least, and the way in which Paramount Global handled it left much to be desired.

A promotional photo of James T. Kirk in Strange New Worlds Season 2.

The corporation had a solid couple of weeks to learn lessons from the fiasco surrounding Kirk’s role in Strange New Worlds… but, as evidenced by another announcement put out today, their inept marketing team has learned absolutely nothing. To commemorate First Contact Day, Paramount Global released a teaser for Star Trek: Picard Season 3, announcing the reunion of most of the main cast members of The Next Generation.

The teaser trailer was smooth and well-composed. Unlike the first tease for Season 2 (which was shown off at last year’s First Contact Day digital event) it showed off a couple of clips of what at least appears to be actual footage from the new season. And the announcement that closed it out was clearly designed to get a lot of fans excited. But here’s the thing: we’re only halfway through Picard Season 2 right now, so the new teaser for Season 3 not only feels wholly unnecessary at this moment, but it opens up a lot of questions about the series that Paramount Global isn’t interested in addressing.

Picard holding a familiar combadge in the teaser.

I confess that I’m intrigued by the prospect of a reunion. The Next Generation was my own “first contact” with the Star Trek franchise and my way into becoming a Trekkie in the early 1990s. I’ve been a fan for more than three decades off the back of that series, and I always felt that there was scope for Picard to show us at least a glimpse of what other members of the crew of the Enterprise-D were up to. We’ve had some of that already across Seasons 1 and 2.

But I was also keen that Picard shouldn’t try to be “The Next Generation Season 8.” There are new characters, new storylines, and other new elements in play, and for the series to do justice to all of that – and to do right by the new characters – it had to keep its focus there and avoid the gratuitous overuse of classic characters. Season 1 generally struck the right balance in that regard; Season 2 has already sidelined two major new characters and, thus far at least, has underdeveloped and regressed a third.

The main cast of Star Trek: Picard.

The Season 3 announcement made no mention of the current Star Trek: Picard cast. While we now know that Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and Marina Sirtis are joining the crew, we don’t know what that means for Evan Evagora, Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Isa Briones, or even Jeri Ryan. Part of the fun of Picard has been seeing the Admiral working with a new crew, and I feel like we don’t know some of the new characters as well as we ought to at what is now the halfway point of the series’ three-season run.

Those new characters should be given the chance to become the next generation of fan-favourites. In thirty-five years’ time, it’s my firm hope that a new group of Trekkies will be talking as excitedly about the return of Elnor and Dr Jurati as we are about Worf and Dr Crusher. In a series that already has a limited number of episodes remaining, it’s hard to see how there will be enough time to deal with some pretty heavy stories and make sure each of the new characters gets enough screen time, especially if the entire crew of the Enterprise-D is reuniting.

What will become of characters like Elnor in Season 3?

There’s also the issue of spoilers. Now I know that it always seemed like a reasonable assumption that Picard would survive and that, somehow, he and the crew would make it back to the prime timeline! But we’re literally halfway through Season 2’s story right now, and there are a lot of different directions it could go and different ways that it could pan out. To drop a massive Season 3 announcement at this time was categorically the wrong thing to do, and it risks blunting the dramatic edge of the rest of Season 2.

We now know that Picard will make it back to the 25th Century, for example, which wasn’t necessarily a given in a franchise that loves season-ending cliffhangers. We also know that Picard will successfully restore the prime timeline as of the beginning of Season 3, which again was not guaranteed as of where we are in terms of the story of Season 2. And finally, it now seems that we can safely assume that Season 3 will be the beginning of a new story, not the continuation of an ongoing one.

Jonathan Frakes as Captain Riker in the Season 3 teaser.

All of these things colour how we’ll watch the second half of Season 2 over the next five weeks. And I can’t help but feel that a significant chunk of the show’s tension and drama has been stolen by this ill-timed announcement. There will undoubtedly be twists and turns along the way as Picard and the crew of La Sirena rumble with Q and Dr Adam Soong, but one way or another everything will work out – Picard will make it home, the crew of the Enterprise-D will reunite for one last mission, and then… who knows.

If this announcement had come at the end of Season 2, I’d still have some of the same concerns about the current Picard cast (well, unless they’re all killed off, stranded in the past, or otherwise clearly written out of the series) but at least it would feel like the right time to make it. The halfway point of Season 2 was not the right time for this announcement, just like the timing of the James T. Kirk announcement wasn’t right prior to Season 1 of Strange New Worlds.

The Next Generation main cast will be returning.

It seems to me that Paramount Global knew that they didn’t have anything major to announce at First Contact Day this time around. Discovery Season 5 hasn’t entered production yet, Strange New Worlds has already released teasers and trailers over the past few weeks, and while there was perhaps scope to do something with Lower Decks Season 3 or the second half of Prodigy, it was evidently decided by someone higher up that a major announcement was necessary. I don’t see any reason why that should be the case; First Contact Day this year could’ve been dedicated to the upcoming Strange New Worlds and the second half of Picard Season 2, but there we are.

Maybe I’m still sour off the back of the Strange New Worlds situation, but I’m not as excited by this announcement as I feel I should be. The timing of it just seems incredibly wrong, hot on the heels of another self-inflicted wound with the Kirk debacle. And it opens some uncomfortable questions about the fates of the current main cast members of Picard.

All things considered, I wish that Paramount Global could’ve at least waited until the end of Picard Season 2 before making this announcement. Doing so now doesn’t seem right, for the reasons outlined above. While I’m intrigued by what has been teased, right now I can muster curious interest, tinged with more than a little concern, rather than the outright excitement that this announcement was trying to generate.

Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard, Strange New Worlds, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Worf and the spiral of clickbait

One potential news story that I opted not to cover here on the website was a recent social media post by Worf actor Michael Dorn. In a single Twitter post, Dorn wrote the following: “Just got the news, being summoned back into action. Starfleet calls. #ad”

Well, no sooner had that post hit Twitter than the Star Trek fan community began scrambling to “break” the news of Worf’s return to Star Trek. Websites, blogs, and YouTube shows all jumped on Dorn’s post, using headlines like: “Michael Dorn CONFIRMS Worf’s Return!” As the battle for clicks escalated, Trekkies online began speculating about what form Worf’s return could take, and this too began to grow and spiral out of control.

The Tweet that launched a thousand clickbait articles…

The Captain Worf series that he’s been trying to get off the ground for the better part of a decade seemed to be 100% confirmed, if you believed certain websites and channels. Others were convinced the Twitter post meant Worf would appear in Picard Season 2 or Discovery Season 4. And of course, many outlets reported their wild speculation with minimal caveats as though it were fact.

All of this hype came crashing down within 48 hours, however, when it became clear that Dorn’s Twitter post was nothing more than an advertisement for mobile game Star Trek Legends, an Apple Arcade exclusive title. Legends looks like so many other mobile games released in the last few years, and I have no desire to sign up to Apple Arcade at £5 per month just to play one mediocre-looking title. Even if it does have Worf!

Logo for Star Trek Legends.

Uninspired mobile games aside, I think this whole Michael Dorn saga is yet another example in a very long line of how we have to be incredibly careful how we use social media and how difficult it is to trust even supposedly “reputable” outlets. In this piece I’ll look at the issue as it relates to the Star Trek fan community in particular, but obviously these same broad points can apply to news, politics, and so on.

Michael Dorn’s post was designed to get attention. He may have written it himself, but it’s equally likely – in my opinion as someone who used to work in video games marketing – that it was written by the marketing team behind Star Trek Legends. But whoever wrote the actual words, the post was deliberately ambiguous and designed to get Trekkies talking, playing on fan hopes of the return of a major character who hasn’t been seen on screen since 2002.

Worf made his last canonical appearance in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis.

Marketers do this kind of thing all the time; it’s a nostalgia play. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen it in the Star Trek community, either. But because we’re in an age of 24/7 social media use, some of the biggest names in the online Star Trek fandom jumped on Dorn’s comment, seeing an easy way to get clicks – and thus money – for themselves.

Reading the Twitter post, and especially seeing the #ad hashtag, it should’ve been screamingly obvious that this was not connected to a new television show or film. And I have no doubt whatsoever that the social media managers, webmasters, and fan group leaders who began to write clickbaity articles and produce clickbait videos knew that for a fact. But they did so anyway. It was a topic of conversation – and an easy win. Who wouldn’t click on a video or article that screamed “Worf is coming back!” in big bold capital letters? For fans unaware of the original Twitter post, they jumped on such articles and videos hoping to learn that Worf was getting his own show or that he would appear in Picard – the natural implication of such a headline.

Worf having a role in Picard Season 2 was something some fans speculated about at length.

I’m lucky to have my own website, and that means I can cover the topics I want to at my own pace. I did see the Michael Dorn controversy unfold, but two things became apparent very quickly. First was that no one commenting online, no matter how large their website and following, actually knew anything substantial. And second, Dorn’s post had the #ad hashtag, which meant it was clearly connected to a product of some kind. Star Trek Legends turned out to be that product.

As a result, I chose not to cover a “story” that was a bag of nothing. I could easily have penned a short article about the prospects of a Captain Worf series and the potential for Worf to appear in Picard Season 2, Discovery Season 4, or Lower Decks Season 2. Maybe doing so would have driven traffic to the website. But it would’ve felt more than a little dishonest.

Worf in The Next Generation Season 7 episode Lower Decks.

Rumours swirl in the Star Trek fan community all the time – as indeed they do in every online community. But most of these “rumours” are clearly nonsense, based on unverified and often unspecified sources. The truth is that ViacomCBS and the creative team in charge of Star Trek generally do a good job at keeping a lid on leaks. Occasionally a story will leak ahead of an official announcement, but as we’ve seen with some big projects recently, including the new film scheduled for 2023, most of the time that is simply not the case. Yet many social media channels, fan groups, and websites insist on reporting rumour as if it were fact.

When I write speculatively here on the website, you’ll note that I always caveat what I’m saying by explaining that I have no “insider information” nor any “sources.” This is specifically to damp down any theory or speculation that I’m writing about and to clarify that it’s just guesswork on my part. Sometimes it’s educated guesswork, putting together things that seem obvious even if there’s yet to be official confirmation, but even then such a caveat is incredibly important.

Worf is a character in mobile game Star Trek Legends.

It’s easy for a website or social media group to fall into the trap of writing clickbait based on things like Michael Dorn’s Twitter post, but it doesn’t do anything for the Star Trek fan community. In some cases it can be actively harmful – building up hype and expectations that are obviously only going to lead to disappointment. Marketing folks need to be aware of this, as well. As much as Dorn’s post got people talking about Star Trek Legends, they deliberately set up Trekkies for disappointment by allowing Dorn to imply – albeit in a way that should’ve been easy for fans to see through – that Worf was coming back to Star Trek.

But the blame in this case doesn’t lie only with the marketing team at Star Trek Legends, who are, after all, doing their best to market a product. It lies with fan groups, websites, and social media channels who took that obvious piece of marketing and put their own spin on it, building up the hype of Worf’s possible return to Star Trek in order to drive clicks, views, and website traffic.

Worf in a teaser video for Star Trek Legends posted on Twitter.

This is what I mean by the “spiral” of clickbait: a slightly dishonest marketing post on social media appears. Fan websites and social media channels jump on it and take it out of context, in some cases completely disregarding or ignoring the possibility of it being marketing. As the hype bubble starts to build, more outlets and fans jump on the story, talking about it and driving more and more clicks and traffic. What began as a single post advertising a mobile game thus exploded to become a big story online, and it didn’t need to be. From the marketers’ point of view, it’s a rousing success! But for fans, at best it’s a mild disappointment.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find reliable, objective sources of information online, and it’s getting to a point where, unless something is confirmed unambiguously by an official outlet, I don’t trust it.

We all need to be careful what we read and watch, and try our best not to give in to clickbait!

Star Trek Legends is out now for iOS devices via Apple Arcade. The Star Trek franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.