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'Star Trek' showrunner Alex Kurtzman talks about toxic fandom

The legendary Jean-Luc Picard is back on our screens and that's a good thing. In fact, that's a great thing, but having such an enormous, impassioned audience — every single one of them with an opinion — is a tough crowd to cater for. 

From the moment it was first announced that CBS was going to bring "Star Trek" back to our screens in November 2015, fans had reason to be excited once again. After all, it had been over 10 years since we last saw a new episode on our televisions, and even then, that was the soul-crushingly disappointing series finale of the underrated "Enterprise" in May 2005. 

During that time, Disney bought Lucasfilm and breathed life back into "Star Wars," plus fans of that franchise at least had a couple of animated series to keep them going until December 2015, when "The Force Awakens" arrived on cinema screens. And "Star Wars" fans are a demanding bunch too, as was seen when the polarizing final sequel "The Rise of Skywalker" was released at the end of last year.

The reaction resulted in the widespread adoption of a new term, "toxic fandom." It can be generally summarized as a state of possessiveness and entitlement that leads to a feeling of superiority among a fan community. Even though the concept had existed for a long time prior, this was the first time it had been seen on such a scale.

Video: Heather Kadin, Alex Kurtzman talk 'Star Trek: Picard' and 'Discovery'
Related:
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Abandoned on Vagra II, Armus was a by-product of a procedure in which a "race of Titans" brought out from within themselves all negative attributes that had bound them to destructiveness.  (Image credit: CBS)

Toxic fandom can take two forms: Fans may rant that any change is bad and nothing will ever be as good as the original, or they may refuse to acknowledge criticism even though it's supported by reasonable argument. 

It's sometimes easy to overlook weak dialogue, poor writing, excessive exposition, too much technobabble, uneven story flow or a plot that strains belief, simply because we're overwhelmed to see our favorite characters back on our screens. It's important to maintain standards for writing, storytelling and production… — now more than ever, because we have to pay for the streaming service to watch our favorite shows. These shows are big business, each episode costs upwards of $8 million, and we're paying for it.

Space.com spoke with "Star Trek: Picard" executive producers Heather Kadin and Alex Kurtzman about this at the series premiere in Hollywood on Jan. 13.

"We always read feedback. I think it's invaluable," said Kadin. "I think to read feedback and obviously, if one person has a specific reaction to one thing, yes, that's that one person's opinion and is a point taken. But I think there's a lot of value in seeing that a group of fans react to a decision we've made in a positive or negative way, because I think ultimately there are people who have been fans of this show for 50 years … and who feel an ownership of this show beyond what we're doing with it. 

"So I think to not listen to those reactions and listen to those criticisms, positive and negative, would be to do our own selves a disservice," she said.

Related: The 'Star Trek: Discovery' cast is full of Trek fans

Star Trek fans gather at the premiere of the 2009 film "Star Trek," at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California. (Image credit: Frank Trapper/Corbis/Getty)

"The fans have kept 'Star Trek' alive for over 50 years. Their voice has actually been the most pervasive of all, and I think it truly belongs to them," Kurtzman added.

"That's not just lip service. We really do pay attention to what they say and we end up either tacking in certain directions based on that input. But I think hearing [criticism] is part of the conversation. If you're a fan, there's always going to be debate about 'Star Trek.' I think generally 'Star Trek' fans are a really good bunch," he said.

"I don't perceive them as toxic, actually. I think there's a difference between debate and toxicity. Debate is essential. My feeling is that if you're at a 50/50 split, you're probably doing well. It's when you're at 90/10 that you're in trouble. So generally, my feeling is that we listen, we try and incorporate what they have to say — and we're writing as fans ourselves, so it would be foolish of us not to do that."

Unnecessary foul language and hateful remarks with no justification are exactly the sort of thing that prompted Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber in "Discovery") to recently announce that he would no longer post production updates about Season 3 of "Discovery" on Twitter. 

Social media certainly hasn't helped. Imagine how much worse the outcry would have been when news got out that the character of Starbuck was being regendered in Ron Moore's "Battlestar Galactica." And looked how that turned out: only the best sci-fi ever written for television. 

One old article that pops up every now and again claims that fans were outraged over the announcement of casting on "The Next Generation," and while there was some outrage, some quotes from within the article are claimed to have been taken out of context. The article comes from the June 9, 1987 edition of the weekly tabloid magazine "Globe," so yes, it's entirely possible that they were indeed taken out of context, especially when you realize the individual being quoted was none other than Shirley Maiewski, a woman who is often called the "Grandma of Trek" and has been one of the show's biggest supporters since Day One.

That's not to say it doesn't exist; a great example is near the beginning of the truly amazing documentary, "What We Left Behind: Star Trek DS9" the cast read out some quite unkind comments and reviews that were written about "Deep Space Nine."

Ultimately, it is still all about opinions and we should all respect that, even if we don't agree. 

As someone who has quite strong opinions on science fiction film and television, nothing makes my eyes light up more than when in a queue at a Comic-Con for example, someone offers an interesting and unusual opinion — that's different to mine — and we have the chance to talk about it. Live long, prosper and debate sci-fi responsibly.

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  • TNG-Black & White Zenith
    I'm an ancient fan from back in the early 70's - I was among the group that essentially saved Star Trek by watching endless reruns of TNG to the point where I now drive my wife insane by saying the dialogue before scenes play in the orginal series while enjoying NETFLIX. I was one of those kids who spent endless hours ingesting gallons of soda and high salt snack foods while others were actually having teen age years they could look back on with fondness at having dated the opposite sex and having wacky adventures that are now fodder for retro TV series. That said, it now gives me the "bones" to comment on the new iterations on CBS All-Access. I was quite excited when Discovery was announced, and then gut-punched when all it turned out to be was some War/CrazySpore/Non-retro Retro mess with a dollop of tortuous Klingon thrown in for add'l pain - I still have not watched the latter half of the first year, and frankly don't want to even start the second - B/T/W, no slam on the actors - they are really superior - weighed down with confusing garbage. PICARD was better, and seeing the other TNG actors was awesome - ( I want me a "7of9" space cowboy/bounty hunter series really bad - pretty, pretty please ! - and "7" occasionally calling on her "Fed" buddy Will Riker to occasionally get her out of a jam ) - hey, maybe even have a "7" ongoing LGBT non-binary partner character. But please don't make me endure any more A. Kurtzman writing forays - he and whoever else is creating this stuff needs to have a real knowledgable Star Trek fan or team thereof help out with canon questions, oh, and maybe, just maybe with some real science input - no more Red Angel time travel horrifically complicated overblown nonsense. Oy Vey ! ......oh, and I want some prequel Romulan Warrior Nun stuff too.....those gals looked bada**
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    “During that time, Disney bought Lucasfilm and breathed life back into "Star Wars," plus fans of that franchise at least had a couple of animated series to keep them going until December 2015, when "The Force Awakens" arrived on cinema screens. And "Star Wars" fans are a demanding bunch too, as was seen when the polarizing final sequel "The Rise of Skywalker" was released at the end of last year.


    The reaction resulted in the widespread adoption of a new term, "toxic fandom." It can be generally summarized as a state of possessiveness and entitlement that leads to a feeling of superiority among a fan community. Even though the concept had existed for a long time prior, this was the first time it had been seen on such a scale.”

    I am sorry but that is self serving hokum.

    They didn’t breathe life into it as rather they twisted it into their own feminist manifesto as the cost of a coherent story line and universe.

    It’s not “toxic” fandom, it’s fans rebelling at what hot garbage they served up.

    “Rogue One” was the only new film that didn’t have an agenda and kept the spirit of the original movies. It’s easily the best of the new films.

    Basically the film makers should know that if they pass gas the viewers will notice. The only thing toxic was what made it to the screen!
    Reply
  • TNG-Black & White Zenith
    Lovethrust said:
    “During that time, Disney bought Lucasfilm and breathed life back into "Star Wars," plus fans of that franchise at least had a couple of animated series to keep them going until December 2015, when "The Force Awakens" arrived on cinema screens. And "Star Wars" fans are a demanding bunch too, as was seen when the polarizing final sequel "The Rise of Skywalker" was released at the end of last year.


    The reaction resulted in the widespread adoption of a new term, "toxic fandom." It can be generally summarized as a state of possessiveness and entitlement that leads to a feeling of superiority among a fan community. Even though the concept had existed for a long time prior, this was the first time it had been seen on such a scale.”

    I am sorry but that is self serving hokum.

    They didn’t breathe life into it as rather they twisted it into their own feminist manifesto as the cost of a coherent story line and universe.

    It’s not “toxic” fandom, it’s fans rebelling at what hot garbage they served up.

    “Rogue One” was the only new film that didn’t have an agenda and kept the spirit of the original movies. It’s easily the best of the new films.

    Basically the film makers should know that if they pass gas the viewers will notice. The only thing toxic was what made it to the screen!


    I have ABSOLUTELY no issues with women coming front and center in these franchises - I'm married to a proud feminist and make no bones that women have gotten the shaft for a long time, along with folks of color. That said, putting forward a female as the main protagnist means that the character needs to be well written - loading that person up with the need to be soft and squishy and a hard as nails fighter seems disrespectful ( an example in the new Discovery being all that emoting over Michael Birnham's half brother "I love you, SPOCK...".?!? ) - But, well written female LEAD roles can be done, and we have seen it in Star Trek before - KIRA from DS9, Captain Janeway, even Uhura ( with the teeny, tiny amount of screen time she was given - smart, capable, sexy - when she wasn't forced to say crap like "I'm scared captain " Ughh ! ) Actually, Star Wars has/had a main leading lady in Princess Leia way back in 77' .....til' they sexed her up in that slave costume ? Same with folks of color.....I really enjoy watching Dr. Daystrom's unraveling in "The Ultimate Computer" or the younger african-american doctor that was shown in a couple of the TNG episodes ( probably the only human character who got to beat the tar out of Spock without ending up knocked across the room - to wake him out of his self-healing stupor ...."hit me harder" ) wonderful stuff and a WAY underutilized actor.
    In fact, that would have been a great spin-off from the original seies - McCoy and Dr. ( Umbenga ?) assigned to some remote Federation outpost running a clinic on the edge of nowhere - the curmedgeonly old doctor with a heart of gold, and the young, brash doctor of color working together and encountering the challenges of alien cultures, frontier medicine, Federation red tape, and generational and cultural differences - sort of a space Marcus Welby, MD. Now all I need to do is go back in time to 1969, and convince Gene R. to NOT make "Pretty Maids All In a Row " and to pitch that Oh-So-Hip gritty medical outer space drama with white/black,old/young, human/alien conflicts and adventures....that would have perfectly fit the "Mod Squad"/"Young Rebels" / "Streets of San Francisco" vibe.....
    Reply
  • maxx steele
    Alex Kurtzman is just really bad at Star Trek. They need to remove him and everyone else running is right now and let them create a new, original scifi series. Star Trek isn't one of those properties, you call a "platform" so that you can ignore it's foundation and do the opposite of what it represents.
    Reply
  • johnmiller
    Admin said:
    "There's a difference between debate and toxicity. Debate is essential."

    'Star Trek' showrunner Alex Kurtzman talks about toxic fandom : Read more

    All these Hollywood types like Kurtzman are so weak. They are give absolute and complete control over an entire franchise to do with as they wish. Then, when the criticism comes down, they whine and whine.
    Reply