There are plans for a new Star Trek TV series. Among the tidbits, two gay leads. Is there a problem with this plan? Sure. As William Goldman noted, in Hollywood “nobody knows anything.” But … in Bar Rescue, a reality series on Spike-TV, bar consultant John Taffer knows quite a lot. With demographic profiles, surveys, even aerial photos of nearby bars and identification of what kind of establishments the competitors are. All that for a reality show. The great “Moneyball” revolution has begun, with ordinary bars, restaurants, and every other small business discovering that computers and simple stat programs (often just spreadsheets) can offer meaningful statistical analysis to make their business a success while others fail. How long can this sort of idiocy, ala “Gay Star Trek” go on?
Not long. Because sooner or later one Hollywood studio will gain dominance by adopting a Moneyball approach.
Goldman believed no one knew anything, and that moreover, no one could know anything. This belief pretty much approximates Baseball management before Bill James and the Moneyball revolution proved this wrong. Making “gut calls” on both players and moves (stealing bases, giving up outs to move a runner up into scoring position, going for “good body” guys who can’t hit instead of “ugly” guys who can) is no longer supportable. The same way that trading by big firms has moved away from “gut calls” and instinct to program trading, computerized searches for micro-advantages in mis-pricing, so too has sports management. Besides baseball (the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, and other teams have adopted all or part of the Moneyball approach), the NFL (particularly the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints), NHL, have adopted a method of statistical analysis to overturn long-held but erroneous assumptions about proper strategy and player selection.
Only Will Smith and his agent have really applied any rigor to figuring out what movies are successful, and which ones are not, and identifying common elements. Such as a Sci-Fi theme, action, comedy/humor, and so on. Early in his career, Smith and his agent sat down and did such an analysis, and came up with a set of criteria that he has mostly stuck to, in taking roles or declining them. Such a discipline has led Smith to become one of the all time box office champions, in terms of leading men. And it was not really that hard to figure out.
So too with TV. TV breaks down into female-oriented (which is most of it) and the few scripted shows that guys still watch. Star Trek, the original series, was famously just a Western set in space. Creator Gene Roddenberry pitched it as “Wagon Train to the Stars” and it even had regular Western character actors such as DeForrest Kelly as one of the leads. The original series garnered so-so ratings on NBC during its run, upon cancellation running for decades with great ratings. Various film revivals made lots of money, and series attempts even with living room sets (Star Trek Next Generation) or female captains (Voyager) or looming angry Black guy leads (Deep Space Nine) did acceptable ratings. The secret to the original series repeat success in syndication was being just a Western in space. That was it. The whole point. Nerdy White guys watched in droves, imagining they were Captain Kirk. A guy macho, but not too much, whom they could conceivably become. Those nerdy guys first started balking at imagining themselves the patriarch of some living room in space (Next Generation), then as some Looming Angry Black guy (lead Avery Brooks, a fine Shakespearean actor, for some reason played the character of Commander, later Captain Sisko like Othello). The last straws were Captains as inept female middle managers (Voyager) and milquetoast nebbishes (Enterprise). The final Star Trek TV series, Enterprise, was canceled in February 2005.
Who watches Star Trek? Gays? Nope, only 2-4% of the population is gay. What about the revival of BattleStar Galactica, which had prominent gay characters? That show was mostly watched by … women. And it had fairly miserable ratings, as it went. Witness the swift cancellation of “Caprica” the follow-on show. Much of the TV business either is too stupid (always a possibility) to realize press and media coverage do not equal popularity (Gossip Girl dominates the media, yet barely ekes out a million in viewers). Or producers and such don’t care, they won’t share in financial success and just want to raise their profile in the industry for their next job.
Nevertheless, a professional management would have on hand:
1. What is the target audience, how much of them can we realistically expect to get, and how much will advertisers pay to be on our show?
2. How much will the show cost, and how expensive will it get over the years?
3. How long will the show realistically run?
4. How much can the studio sell other areas of revenue, DVDs, merchandising, etc.?
A professional management, would know much indeed. It would know the success rate for each type of show, and each type of audience intended. Women are not fond of action-mostly shows, and men don’t watch night-time soaps. It would know how much money would be spent, and how much money would be expected in return.
Proposals such as a Gay Star Trek, would be laughed out of the office. Writers and producers would not even pitch them, for fear of looking stupid. This seems like a monumentally stupid idea, therefore it is almost a lock to go into production.
No one knows anything because they are less motivated than a bar consultant to find out about their business. Who their customers are, what they want, and how much money each type generates. It is astonishing that Warners/DC has not copied Marvel’s formula for exploiting, what must be admitted is second-class super-heroes. With a rich pantheon of demi-gods and mythological heroes, DC is making … Deadman the series, on CW. Along with a flop-tastic Green Lantern, and Jonah Hex. With all that money, why hasn’t there been a plan to have Christian Bale’s Batman, a Superman, a Captain Marvel, a Doctor Fate, a Hawkman, a Green Lantern, a Flash, a Green Arrow, a Wonder Woman, and a Martian Manhunter team-up in a Justice League Movie? Or two?
Why? Because Warners/DC are run by a bunch of idiots. Meanwhile, Disney has largely left Marvel alone, to make decent to good superhero movies. Thor, Captain America, and the second Hulk movie were all acceptable to good comic book movies. Captain America may be the best of its genre. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury shows up in all of them, along with the Iron Man movies, and fans are excited. Marvel is not doing anything difficult, and the formula is pretty cut and dried. Stick to the comic book origin and basics of the character. Choose an actor over a physique, and strike a long-term deal. Use good actors in all the roles, don’t skimp on support. Treat the script with respect, don’t camp or joke it up. Deliver meat and potatoes and the fans will show up — there is a reason these characters have lasted for in some cases more than half a century. Their creators knew what they were doing — just don’t screw it up.
Nope. Instead we’ll get a Gay Star Trek. To match the Gay Christ Allegory of Superman Returns. It will fail, miserably. And execs will say, no one watches sci-fi on TV anymore. Let’s do another soap opera.