William Shatner Calls Out Paramount For 'Erasing' Iconic Alpha Male From Star Trek

P. Gardner Goldsmith | January 22, 2024
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At 92, William Shatner has eclipsed the tired, lost era of plastic Hollywood glitz. He has become grounded with fans as a friend, embarked on globe-crossing travel with punk rock icon Henry Rollins, left Earth’s atmosphere in a real space vehicle, taken positions on political matters that cover such a wide spectrum many people find it hard to “pigeon-hole” his views, written novels and non-fiction, and, now, is speaking up for not just the character he began playing nearly sixty years ago, but for the importance of legacies, biological human reality, and canon in storytelling.

The man best known for playing Captain James T. Kirk on the original 1966-69 “Star Trek,” the subsequent cartoon series, and the massively successful film franchise, just acknowledged what many realistic people have noticed when it comes to the direction in which Trek’s parent company is taking the “Federation.”

Shatner, the actor who helped keep the parent corporation Paramount in the green for decades, notes that the boardroom execs, “showrunners,” and promotional pencil-pushers seem to be afraid of James T. Kirk and the character traits he exhibits.

As Gabriel Hays writes for Fox News:

“Legendary ‘Star Trek’ actor William Shatner recently expressed his belief that Paramount will never bring back his iconic Captain Kirk role for upcoming seasons or franchise spin-offs because they ‘feel threatened’ by the character.”

Which sure is strange, because the original “Trek” broke thematic/content ground one might think would cement the character of Kirk as one for "the woke" to admire.

Not only did Gene Roddenberry utilize a cypher of the one-world UN mega-government for his idyllic “Federation” (even utilizing UN symbology for the United Federation of Planets logo), he populated the starship Enterprise with a multi-racial, multi-national cast of strong, admirable men and women.

Roddenberry also introduced the first “white-person-black-person” (or whatever terminology is acceptable nowadays) kiss through the characters of Kirk and Lt. Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols). If folks care nowadays, the first bi-racial kiss seems to have been depicted by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball a decade earlier.

And, even as Kirk and the original crew radiated subtle hints at the changing political and social landscapes of America, the writers, actors, and directors were able to provide the elements of good storytelling: gripping tales, admirable characters, and moral lessons that transcended political pressures of the day.

Storytelling is a delicate mix. Sure, Kirk kissed a lot of ladies across the galaxy, but he always disengaged when he had to make a choice between the immediate romance and the long-term morals. He focused on doing what was right, on the mission of his crew, and the futures of the far-off people he was visiting.

Evidently, it’s the strong, action-oriented Alpha Male that Paramount doesn’t like.

“Shatner – who played the popular Capt. James T. Kirk in the original run of the sci-fi series and movies until the 1990s – told his fans on social media that he doesn’t think he will ever reprise his role in Paramount+’s current Star Trek universe, suggesting the studio’s producers are ‘erasing the past’ of the franchise.

The 92-year-old actor mused on the subject when X users asked him about his feelings on Paramount+ making a movie with actor Patrick Stewart reprising his role in the universe as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.”

And it’s not a knock against Mr. Stewart or his iconic character from “The Next Generation” to observe that the Trek producers of the later era intentionally strove to make his Jean-Luc a more “thoughtful” captain who might relegate the physical action to his “Number One,” the second-in-command, Ryker.

None of the figures from Original Trek to “Next Gen” and on are mutually exclusive.

They can stand for their own attributes, and viewers can appreciate them – as long as the characters don’t seem artificial, as long as the stories work for the sake of the tale, and not an artificial, tiresome attempt to push wokeness at the cost of story.

The more that producers and writers tilt the balance of their efforts towards wokeness, the less popular the stories and characters will be.

Sadly, as Mr. Shatner appears to have noticed, many at the top who control Paramount Trek seem more desirous of pushing their socio-political agenda than they are of telling good tales, and they seem intent on memory-holing the titanic figure of Kirk that looms so large over the entire Trek endeavor.

Writes Hays:

“One user asked Shatner, ‘@WilliamShatner what do you think about all the negativity about Sir Patricks announcement there's a Picard movie script in the works?’ 

Shatner began with a positive response, stating, ‘I think that a new movie with Sir Patrick is wonderful news. And…’ He included a GIF of Snow White gesturing alongside the caption, ‘Haters Gonna Hate.’

In a follow-up, another user asked, ‘But will we ever see Captain Kirk again?’ to which Shatner offered a cheeky response.

‘All you have to do is look at the Paramount+ graphics to answer that question,’ he replied, adding an image of the studio’s Star Trek promotional material which included current characters and iconic ones from the franchise’s past. However, Kirk was not present.”

Well-known liberty-oriented entertainment commentators such as Gary Buechler, of Nerdrotic, and the masked man known as Doomcock, offered responses on “X” that might match many of our own.

Said Gary:

“This is a crime against Star Trek”

Offered Doomcock:

“This is a travesty. Captain Kirk is the heart of Star Trek, and without Captain Kirk, the whole thing is a SHAM. God bless #WilliamShatner and the immortal character he created. My childhood hero. Thank you for all the joy you brought me Bill. You're the best.”

I can echo such appreciation and their acknowledgment of what seems to have plagued “Trek,” particularly because I spent time in the Script Department of “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Related: Star Wars Director's Anti-Man Agenda Sparks Online Backlash

Even then, the Trek managers had infused the franchise with certain elements that leaned too heavily on stolid, politically-correct, “woke-servicing.” We had Captain Janeway, an unlikable, stuffy ship-leader who, for a writer like me, seemed slotted into the position in order to fill what could be a “strong female” position, but who actually radiated artificiality, undermined the storytelling, and signaled too strongly the socio-political agenda of the studio brass.

Regardless of the message, when viewers see studio execs dominating a tale, that undermines the goal of telling an engaging story, and that’s a bad move.

What Paramount is doing with its posters and packaging for new “Trek,” and what Mr. Shatner and others have noticed, thematically tells us that the studio not only is not interested in what many of us loved about original Trek, it signals that they are going to pursue this agenda, to the detriment of storytelling.

Which lets me conclude with this personal "Trek" experience, and its lessons.

On my first day at Paramount, working as the “Writer’s Guild Fellow” at “Voyager,” writer Bryan Fuller offered to show me around the set of the ship. We walked to the soundstage, and I followed him through the halls of a “space vehicle” I’d only seen on TV.

In reality, it was wood, paint, carpeting, lights, and a cement floor beneath, where many generations of actors and carpenters, directors, lighting techs, and more had trod to make their livings and feed their kids. It was a stage, for generations of people to appear, leave, and make room for others.

Eventually, Bryan brought me to the Transporter Room, and he pointed at the “transporter lights” on the floor.

“See those?” he said. “Those lights actually are from the ceiling of the original Enterprise, from the Sixties. They used them on ‘Next-Gen’ as well. We try to keep something of the old series going, on each new iteration.”

I thought that was nice.

But it makes me wonder - about "Star Trek," and more.

Is a franchise like “Star Trek” now just a shell, just wood, paint, and promotional trappings? And could that be a metaphor to American principles and the US Constitution? Are these all simply universally-useable masks that anyone with an agenda can wear, empty tatters of something successful they can fill with their plans? Is "Star Trek" a political tool, rather than an ongoing set of enjoyable tales ensconced in a universe with established rules and principles and stories and characters that made it admirable?

Related: Disney's SEC Filing Admits 'Misalignment' with Audience Preferences

And are we to look at the work of the man behind Kirk and disregard his efforts to promote the series and the importance of good storytelling?

How about the character traits Kirk and Shatner show us in the real world?

Good storytelling can serve multiple purposes. Sure, it lets people indulge in escapism. But it also lets us remember that we are seeing the work of real people, folks like us, who are imparting messages that both entertain and offer moral lessons -- as we all stand on our various “stages” and play numerous roles in life.

Why can’t Paramount acknowledge the fantastic things Kirk and Shatner offered us, rather than silently canceling the character and the work of the actor, in favor of bland, obvious, anti-entertaining wokeism?

One thing is certain, they can try to erase Kirk, but his figure is too potent and likeable to be wiped away. Even in his absence from the Trek PR, he looms larger than everything they throw in front of us.