Podcasting Notes: Gimme That Star Trek

Category: Gimme That Star Trek
Last article published: 14 July 2020
This is the 48th post under this label
Show: Gimme That Star Trek
Premise: Siskoid and his co-hosts discuss Star Trek! Any show. Any medium. Any topic. Boldly going where many have gone before!
Available: Fire and Water Network, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Feedburner
Number of episodes to date: 41 (plus special announcements)
The first was about... What If the Cage Went to Series? a thought experiment with guest host Gene Hendricks, released on September 6th, 2016.

How it all began
This one's become somewhat legendary at the Fire and Water Podcast Network. Star Trek's 50th Anniversary was coming up in a week, when one of my Network partners said something about our poor planning or else we might have started up a show about Trek. 24 hours later, I had announced my intention to start Gimme That Star Trek, figured out the theme and format, and fellow super-Trekkie Gene Hendricks had volunteered to be on the first episode. On September 3rd, I put out a trailer which already announced half a dozen shows and guest hosts, the first episode was out on the 6th, in time for the Anniversary on the 8th. This got me a reputation for working superhumanly quickly, but I will admit I find start-ups easier than maintaining a show. There's a lot of energy that comes from creating something new.

But I really don't feel like I started from scratch. The Network had a show called Give Me Those Star Wars, hosted by Ryan Daly, and ever the team player, I thought of it as the "brand" to be emulated. (Likewise, we often talk about doing a Doctor Who show, and I really think it should be in the same style as well.) So the somewhat lackluster title is a play on Ryan's show (where the title is an SNL joke). He starts the show with a questionnaire, so do I. He ended it with Star Wars news, I do something similar. He has Shagg crash his intro, I asked Shagg to do the modified "Space..." speech. But the most important influence on the Trek show is Give Me Those Star Wars' focus. The show was all about finding new and interesting angles from which to come at the franchise, some silly, some insightful, some from the perspective of the expanded universe... Not only is that what I liked about it, it fixed my main problem. See, there are a LOT of Star Trek podcasts, and mine had (all joking about "where many have gone before" aside) to set itself apart. I could not do an index show, as there are too many of those already, and been there done that on this very blog (yet, see below). What I consider MY brand is a mix of entertainment and insight, and as Trek has strong philosophical underpinnings and a LOT of material, it seemed like it would be easy to generate a variety of episode ideas. Of all the ideas original pitched (by me and others, some of which have yet to make it on the show), the Cage idea had the virtue of being about Trek's origins (perfect for an Anniversary launch) and was the boldest in terms of "what can this show be about?"; I jumped on it.
The Process
One thing I wasn't doing in 2016 (about a year into my podcasting) is working with guests. I had co-hosts on my shows, but none of my Network shows normally featured guests per se. When you're going to let guests drive the show's content, you have much less control. You can try to produce your own ideas, then try to find the right guest to match the idea (not easy - it's probably true to say you have the guest in mind first, then find something that fits their wheel house), or they will be pitching ideas, and you become an editor, choosing or refining ideas so they follow the show's ethos. Consequently, a lot of the first year's episodes molded what the show could do based on those pitches. Spotlights on alien species or specific characters, for example, might not have been part of the formula without guests really wanting to discuss their favorites.

Other recurring features had different origins. The bracket fights, for example, were born out of my participation in a similar episode on Ashford Wright's Doctor Who-related Straight Outta Gallifrey. The Full Series Reviews were an attempt to create less work for myself (ha!) by re-purposing reviews on the blog for the listening community, also adding guest voices across these 4-hour monsters. Turns out, it takes a lot longer to record and edit these things than it is to reach out to potential guests. But now I was kind of stuck doing them periodically. A recent bout of tendonitis means I've had to push back the next chapter (I have to avoid long edits), and maybe that's killed this type of episode.

Diversity remains what's most important to me, which is why I'm more likely to green-light topics that actually cover more than one of the series. I know it shouldn't bother me overmuch, but I just hate it when I'm forced to do two back-to-back TOS-centric or TNG-centric shows in a row. I try not to. At the same time, some shows are just more popular than others, and those are the ones people want to talk about or hear about. But it still rankles that I haven't yet been able to get a good pitch for Enterprise alone (that's going to change in the Fall). The push for diversity has created some of my favorite episodes however. Here I want to mention the Cooking Show (ep. 22) with Amelie Montour, in which we actually made recipes from the Star Trek Cookbook on air. I feel like the Table Read from a few months ago was also an experiment of that ilk. Then there's bringing in non-Trek experts to relate their interest TO Trek, like Josée Robichaud and Jane Eyre as it relates to Janeway's holonovel (ep.3), or epidemiologist Mathieu Chalifoux's take on DS9's "Babel" (ep.38). I also like to mix Big Picture episodes (Trek's philosophy, the Shakespeare Connection, the Federation's so-called utopia) with very tightly focused topics (beards in Trek, alien weddings).
The big break-out episode was undoubtedly episode 4, in which I discussed Trek's secular humanism with Dr. G, Man of Nerdology. It got a LOT of comments, and even to this day, a new subscriber might give me a shout-out about it. This was Gimme That Star Trek at its most cerebral and insightful. It might also have lost it a few early adopters on account of its discussion of religion. Gimme That Star Trek's audience is perhaps the most vocal, opinionated and insistent on more content of all my shows. Listeners are largely undaunted by the longer episodes, giving me feedback on the long-ass review shows to prove it, and of course complaining about the results of the equally-long bracket shows. In fact, I think I'm done with that format. While I had ideas for a couple more, the difficulty of putting these together is too high for the amount of grief I get after each (plus tendonitis).

In terms of guests, the show started off strong with everyone and their mother wanting to be on the show, but after the first wave, it's become harder and harder to get pitches that aren't consistently about TOS and TNG. Too many podcasters in my circle kind of stopped there, or if they continued through the modern era, don't have much to say about the later shows. And this has an effect on...

The Future
Making sure the show offers the variety I want it to has decreased its output. I'm probably now closer to 8 a year than truly monthly. And that's had a perverse effect on diversity. With fewer shows in a year, the recurring features seem to be bunched closer together, making for an overall LESS diverse show. That's another good reason to drop the bracket fights. One thing I'll say is that writing these notes has inspired a few ideas (or reminded me of them, at any rate) and that I should put things in motion myself. It's easy at first, everyone wants to be one the program, and all the ideas are new. You get complacent. Later, not only do you need to do more legwork, but you're also more finicky, because you have a better understanding of your mission statement.

What I've decided to do is re-commit to GTST and draw up a plan for the next year and try to stick to it. I've got a list of cool topics, it's just a matter of finding the right guests to talk about them. I've engaged the impulse engines, we'll see if I can manage to go to warp.


Andrew said...

And now "The Cage" is going to series, kind of.

Not really a podcast kind of guy, but it'd be interesting to hear/read your take on the "Strange New Worlds" series (when it airs) vs. your ideas in that episode.

Siskoid said...

You'll certainly get to read them (whether cross-referenced or not) since I am still committed to reviewing every piece of filmed Trek.


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