Successful screenwriter shouts, “Stop making me write Star Trek!”

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Maybe it's the season ... the unwanted cold, the days that are still too short, the post-holiday depression caused by sugar withdrawal. Groundhog Day is still weeks in the future. What will that furry little creep say? Get ready for a whole year of winter.

Maybe it's the economy with its own grim forecasts. (Is there a Groundhog Day for the stock market?) I can't judge, or think about, the stock market and a trillion-dollar stimulus package. But I know that the same Internet-driven machine gun that fired deadly bullets into the music and book industries is now aimed squarely at film and television.

Maybe it was the notable sum of money I spent to attend a viewing of The Day the Earth Stood Still. OK, I didn't have to take my whole family ... and yes, I could have skipped the popcorn and the mints. But still. That was four hours of my life, including travel time, I won't get back.

Maybe it was contemplating a new round of series pitches while making the mistake of listening to the advice of friends and colleagues (rarely overlapping groups).

Maybe it was watching one too many reruns of I Am Legend on my cable TV this past month.

Like Howard Beale in the prophetic film Network, I am leaning out my window and screaming. "Don't make me write Star Trek anymore!"

OK, a confession: I've never written Star Trek. Many years ago I developed a pair of Trek novel proposals, which went nowhere. And I did pitch several ideas to one of the later incarnations of the series—no go. (I may hold the record for longest gap between invitation to pitch and actual arrival at the Hart Building on the Paramount lot ... seven years.)

So it's not as though anyone is forcing me to write Star Trek. (Or even asking me to.)

But Star Trek is just a placeholder for any franchise that has overstayed its welcome. It could be Star Wars. Planet of the Apes. Knight Rider. Terminator. It is any of the time-honored names that have brought box-office joy to studios and intellectual property owners, not to mention a certain amount of pleasure to audiences. (One does tend to lead to the other.) It's I Am Legend coming around for the third time. It's a new Ender novel. It's another turn of the Dune wheel.

The fantasy world isn't immune to this nonsense. True, you don't see writers doing Lord of the Rings: Next Generation under that title ... but there are legions of all-but-in-name sequels.

Seen them all, thanks. Loved them—some of them. Can we move on now?

I understand the impulse. You're an entity, a studio, a network or a publisher, you're putting money into a project and you need to maximize your chances of getting it back, plus a little. So you look to established stars, proven writers and directors—and properties that are presold, that audiences already recognize.

(It also happens to writers. You happen to create a character that finds an audience, and you will be writing that character for the rest of your career, whether you want to or not.)

There's also the argument that the best sci-fi worlds are too large for a single book or movie. And there have been great sequels. Terminator 2. And what about The Godfather Part II? Speaker for the Dead? Star Trek: The Voyage Home?

Battlestar Galactica was a brilliant re-imagining of a series that was no good in its original version. (I'm open to a Hollywood Mulligans program, where producers and studios would be allowed to remake projects that were botched on their first appearance. Go ahead ... take Elaine May's script for Ishtar and do it right, this time with stars who are under 30.)

But I'm not going to be mollified by a few counterarguments. (Ask my family about that.) I've just hit a wall. I am open to being entertained, amused, frightened, intrigued. ... I will watch television, go out to a movie, pick up a book or magazine—

I just want it to be something new. An unfamiliar title. Something that isn't a brand.

I don't want Buffy II. (And let's give Joss Whedon a break. Yes, he's had struggles launching Dollhouse, but at least he's looking for the next project.)

I will make a face if anyone ever makes Lost Again.

I am a fan and admirer of J. Michael Straczynski, and I encourage you to run out and see Changeling, but I wish he would write an original story about an encounter between humans and aliens on another planet ... not Forbidden Planet II.

I don't expect Hollywood or the creative universe to listen to me just to make me feel better.

But it might actually be good business.

It was either George Santayana or Gene Roddenberry who said, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." The Hollywood version is, those who remember history are doomed to remake it.

It's that mindset that gives you a Lost in Space movie. A Land of the Lost movie. Jurassic Park III. The Phantom Menace.

It churns out a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still that might have been moderately intriguing under another title, but as it exists is nowhere near as good as the original.

Remakes and endless sequels are the easy calories of the storytelling business.

They encourage writers to be lazy, too.

So, how does my cranky, undeniably futile bleat relate to business? How does it connect to the economic situation?

By strip-mining past properties we've created our own sci-fi bubble. We've inflated valuable properties far behind their multiples. (Did we need 10 Trek movies?)

And each $100 million remake means two fewer $50 million new properties—or 10 less-than-$10 million projects. That's an economic model that recalls Detroit and the American auto industry.

Setting aside the financial burden, consider how difficult it is for a new property to get noticed, much less watched and appreciated. Big remakes suck up the airwaves. The billboards. They generate so much noise that no other voices can be heard.

And now we have little new, and valuable, to look forward to. To comfort us in this cold, dark winter.

OK, it's a new year ... this is a new SCI FI Wire, so it's time for what Bill Maher would call some New Rules.

Stop making me write Star Trek.

Stop watching it.

Come spring, the sunshine, a happier time. ... OK, then we can all go out to J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, popcorn included.

But not until then.

Michael Cassutt has written fiction (forthcoming in Asimov's SF Magazine) and non-fiction (recently in Air & Space) as well as several dozen television scripts, most recently for The Dead Zone. He also teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.