50 years later, Star Trek sets a high bar for TV

The Seattle EMP Museum opens a Star Trek-focused exhibit Saturday, one of many events in 2016 to celebrate 50 years of devoted fandom that producers wonder how to replicate in a digital age. 

Elaine Thompson/AP
EMP Museum curator Brooks Peck steps through a Jefferies Tube as he leads media members on a tour of displays for the exhibit, "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds," for a 50th anniversary celebration of the "Star Trek" franchise at the EMP Museum in Seattle. The exhibit opens on Saturday.

Tricorders, tribbles, and Trekkies are converging in Seattle for an EMP Museum exhibit that celebrates the 50-year anniversary of television's most ongoing mission.

"Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds" opens Saturday with costumes from all five Star Trek captains, a replica of the Enterprise bridge, and a mock spaceship corridor littered with escaping tribbles, The Seattle Times reported. 

This exhibit is limited to those who trek to Seattle, but Star Trek's 50th anniversary is inspiring discussion far beyond the Northwestern enclave of geek culture, as producers debate what makes and sustains a hit in a changing media landscape.  

Could today's TV viewers' binge-watching and Netflix habits yield a hit that, 50 years after the fact, inspires a museum full of garage-fed set pieces? Today's media market demands a different type of complexity, The Christian Science Monitor's Molly Driscoll wrote of "Game of Thrones":

"Thrones" is very much a show of our current TV age and one that may not have been able to succeed in a time before DVRs and binge-watching. Fans are asked to remember hordes of minor characters and plotlines that kicked off in season one and were possibly not referenced again until years later.

In the past, while a viewer was watching TV, "the baby was crying, the doorbell was ringing, the phone was ringing, you were probably out of the room making dinner," says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. "It really had to be easy to consume. But that's not how we have to watch television anymore. If the phone rings, you push pause." 

Pressure is up as producers deal with the increasing fragmentation of digital audiences, and pre-showing series tests include everything from how much scenes offend people to focus group marathons that test whether they prove "bingeworthy," The Wall Street Journal reported, as industry gurus search for the magic combination to create another phenomenon parallel to Star Trek.  

If the mission fails, this year will produce enough Star Trek tributes to satiate the most nostalgic of fans. 

Fans can convene for Star Trek: Mission New York Sept. 2-4 for all the autographing, behind-the-scenes tidbits, and cosplay they could desire, and to commemorate the original fan gathering in 1972. Trek Talks – TED Talks with an edge toward scientific innovation and cultural diversity – begin in July. The San Francisco ComicCon, also in July, will show off 50 years of Star Trek-related art, including pieces from the late Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), USA Today reported.

"We are talking about one of the most influential franchises of all time, but also one of the most beloved with arguably the most passionate and invested fan base in the world," Liz Kalodner, executive vice president of CBS Consumer Products, told USA Today.

Star Trek will also be going boldly into entirely unexplored story lines, as the new film "Star Trek Beyond" is expected in the summer of 2016, and a new CBS TV series is set for a 2017 launch. 

The new series does not star Captain Kirk or his crew, but rather follows other characters who might, if things get rocky, bump into Captain Kirk on an Enterprise mission, The Monitor reported.

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