Is CBS Deliberately Trying To Kill Off ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ By Making Audiences Pay For It?

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: CBS)

Star Trek: Discovery is finally here, and who could have guessed?! It’s actually pretty fun!

Turns out, there are lots of people out there who love the idea of watching fraught political thrillers set in outer space, especially if they feature strong women of color in the central roles. It almost feels bizarre that this had to be proven in 2017, rather than being taken as a given, but, here we are.

Audiences by and large like Star Trek: Discovery, and the debut two-parter has been proven to be a pretty solid start for the show.

Except, of course, for one big problem. If there’s been one major criticism that fans have levied against Star Trek: Discovery thus far, it’s the fact that they can’t actually watch in – not without paying through the nose for an additional online streaming service, that is.

Fans eagerly watched until the end of the first episode of the show last night, before being informed that hey, actually, you’re not allowed to watch any more of this for free. The rest of the show is on CBS All Access, a premium service that you have to pay for separately.

If this idea feels unbelievably dumb, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, it’s all part of CBS’s master plan for the show. While some elements of CBS’s executive body are tentatively on board with the new show, the controlling majority of its Higher Ups are annoyed that Star Trek: Discovery exists, and they’re trying to get it cancelled.

Or, at the very least, they’re deliberately blocking it from airing on television.

This isn’t speculation – at least one executive has said so in no uncertain terms.

Sarek in Star Trek Discovery
Source: CBS

Back when it was first announced that CBS wouldn’t be airing Discovery on television, instead holding it hostage behind a $10 a month paywall, the company’s “Interactive CEO” (whatever that means) Jim Lanzone argued that this was the only logical course of action – after all, when has anyone actually wanted to watch sci-fi on television?!

Said Lanzone:

“Sci-fi is not something that has traditionally done really well on broadcast. It’s not impossible, for the future, if somebody figures it out. And things like Lost and Heroes have had parts of, you know, sci-fi, but historically, a show like Star Trek wouldn’t necessarily be a broadcast show, at this point. And so, you kind of look at the other networks we have, CW and Showtime, it just fit the with the digital audience and having that digital Star Trek audience.”


Apparently, according to the guy in charge of CBS’s online content, Star Trek: Discovery can’t possibly air on a broadcast station because audiences hate watching sci-fi on TV.

Yeah, sure. That makes sense.

Except, of course, for every single sci-fi show that’s proven a phenomenal hit with TV audiences in recent years.

Not to mention the fantastic popularity of the Star Trek property in movies. Or the growing love of this kind of entertainment that the Star Wars revival has achieved.

Perhaps the best argument against Lanzone’s comments are the two biggest shows that HBO have going at the moment.

Sure, Game of Thrones isn’t sci-fi (unless you believe some wacky fan theories), but it is a classic nerd show, filled with Lord of the Rings inspired high fantasy drama, magic, dragons, and big budget sword battles.

It’s a show that proves that if you make a show that looks like a movie, audiences are going to go nuts.

HBO’s next big hit, Westworld, is a sci-fi show through and through, and people love that just as much. There is clearly absolutely no logic behind arguing that television audiences don’t like sci-fi.

But, then, this move from CBS isn’t entirely about the genre that Discovery falls into. In reality, the network’s executives are locking the show behind a digital paywall because they don’t want to have to make it in the first place.

Michelle Yeoh in Star Trek

Negotiations over Star Trek have been challenging to say the least. Discovery’s original showrunner, Bryan Fuller, departed from the project after a lengthy battle for creative control over the kind of show Discovery should be.

It seems that while some people involved with Discovery are very eager to bring the show to life, a lot of the big decision makers at CBS think that it’s a terrible idea. Lanzone is probably not alone in assuming that the show won’t perform well, and negative attitudes surrounding the project have likely been exacerbated by the hefty size of Discovery’s production budget.

This is not a cheap show, and many at CBS feel that the project is far too risky. Now, faced with actually releasing the thing, they’d rather see it flop in order to back up their own entrenched opinions than give it a fair shot.

Hence why audiences must pay for it separately; if the show’s viewing figures are too low, Lanzone and his fellow haters get to say that they were right all along – even though the true reason for low viewing figures is the paywall that’s locking earnest audiences out of being able to enjoy the show.

Not everyone at CBS wants to see Discovery fail. Those who’ve been opposed to its large budget and risky storytelling, though, are eager to be proven right should the show fail to recoup its costs.

This is a lose-lose situation. If audiences (quite rightly) refuse to pay for the show because it’s an obvious cash-grab, the show will get cancelled due to lack of support. If we all pony up $10 a month, CBS will expect us to keep paying for it for the rest of our lives.

Here we are, people. This is the true Kobayashi Maru.

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