Although it’s practically a family show today compared to everything else one can find on television, believe it or not, the 1960s version of Star Trek was quite racy.
In fact, one of the biggest battles creator Gene Roddenberry had with NBC was whether or not women on the series can show their belly button. Apparently even that level of nudity was unheard of when it came to the networks.
Roddenberry would get his revenge later when his broken pilot, Genesis II, aired as a television movie in 1973 showing not only actress Mariette Hartley’s belly button, but a second one above it as well.
A lot has changed, of course, and with Star Trek: Discovery earmarked not for a broadcast network but instead a premium subscription service, there is something fans have just begun to realize: There is no Federal Communications Commission around to tell CBS All Access what to do.
That’s because the FCC only controls the airwaves, not services like cable and streaming. That’s one reason why even basic cable shows like The Walking Dead can show a level of gore, nudity and cussing even ABC couldn’t even imagine in the middle of the night when most kids are in bed.
So will Discovery take advantage of the fact that there are no belly button censors around? Jim Lanzone, the chief executive of CBS Interactive, appeared on Peter Kafka’s Recode Media podcast and hinted there could indeed be some elements in the new Star Trek series one would never see on a broadcast network.
“The showrunners were like, ‘Oh yeah, we could do that. Of course, the response is, ‘As long as it serves the story.’ But yeah.”
The showrunners, by the way, are Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts. They replaced Bryan Fuller when he pulled out because of scheduling conflicts with other shows like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for Starz.
When Kafka asked about naked aliens and humans, Lanzone cautiously responded “Theoretically.” And, of course, the big question: Swearing?
“Whatever future swearing, 300 years in the future, would be.”
Of course, “future swearing” is nothing new, and has been a way for writers to get around censors. The original Battlestar Galactica, for example, used “frack,” “felgercarb” and “golmogging.” When Syfy would reboot Battlestar Galactica in the early 2000s, it would keep only “frack,” modifying the spelling to the four-letter “frak.”
Joss Whedon used his own future swearing in Firefly, having the characters cuss in Mandarin. As part of his future western, Whedon had the two major superpowers left as the United States and China. So while English might be a common language, so is Mandarin, which gave Whedon leeway to toughen up his series without having the censors kick it off a broadcast network.
Other streaming services like Netflix have taken advantage of no FCC censors, creating language and nudity similar to what can be found on premium cable outlets like HBO. However, before you get excited about space boob, space bum or space johnsons, one thing to remember is that CBS All Access will still be selling advertising for those not willing to pay the higher monthly premium.
That’s the primary thing keeping a lot of the cussing, nudity and violence scaled back on basic cable channels – there is only so much advertisers will allow their products to be associated with, before they are scared off. Of course, they have come a long way in the last 20 years as viewing audiences become more accepting of heavier content – but that will indeed limit what Discovery will have and what it won’t have.
And let’s not forget, even though women wore mini-skirts and teased belly buttons in the 1960s (and Kirk, and later Riker, slept with the first woman they found at every stop), Star Trek is still considered to be a family show. Even minor cussing is rare: Kirk’s “double dumbass on you” was pretty extreme, even for 1987’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Other expletives have made their way in, including Data’s very appropriate exclamation in 1994’s Star Trek Generations when he realizes the USS Enterprise’s saucer section is about to crash.
Discovery was set to premiere in January, but production delays have moved the show back to May. It’s still expected to air its premiere episode on CBS itself, and then will be aired weekly on CBS All Access.
No casting for the show has been announced.
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