It's often said as something of a mantra: JJ Abrams saved the franchise.
Those who repeat that must either have a short memory or possibly they weren't around or of age forty years ago. After the original series ended its run in 1969 it went into syndication and it's in those dark days of the '70s that Star Trek's
franchise really got going. The franchise was sustained by an increasing number of new fans finding the show through widespread syndication, grabbing up tie-in merchandise (books, models, toys, etc.), writing and sharing fanzines (self-publications) as well as conventions ever growing in size and number. Besides a relative handful of tie-in books the only other bone we were thrown was the short-lived animated series. And all of this based on reruns of a mere seventy-nine episodes.
Fans kept the franchise going without any Internet to maintain instant contact with other fans and with practically zero support from Paramount and the-powers-that-be. Strong fan interest (and the success of Star Wars
in 1977) is what finally pushed Paramount to get new Star Trek
going again. The ensuing films were never really blockbusters, but they made enough to keep the films coming until Paramount was finally convinced to get Star Trek
back on television with The Next Generation
and therein garnering a new generation of fans.
It could be argued TNG eventually led to the over-saturation and even fragmentation of the franchise with each subsequent spin-off. After essentially ignoring the show for years TPTB grew hell-bent on milking it dry. It also seemed to foster this sense that Trek was everywhere (sure felt like it) and it might continue indefinitely. But over-saturation, weakening ratings and poor films led TPTB to finally closing it all down.
Did this kill the franchise? Interesting question because things have changed greatly since the ‘70s. Back then there was little of decent science fiction (on television) to really compete with Star Trek
and that stayed true for twenty years. It was the success of TNG that spurred the arrival of new SF on television. The franchise also grew with the rise of the Internet, something earlier fans would have died for in the ‘70s. Fandom could spread and shared in ways that couldn’t have been imagined before. Mass-market media has also changed greatly---some of it good and some not. In the day there were only reruns because the home video market didn’t exist yet. Today you can watch whatever you want anytime you want. There’s also a fragmentation aspect because there is a lot of other genre stuff besides Star Trek
to watch and get into.
So when TPTP shut it all down after over-saturation was the franchise in peril or dormant or even dead?
No, because fans keep it going
and TPTB continue to make money off tie-in merchandise of pre-existing shows and movies. As long as there are fans varying from casual to diehard (watching, collecting, communicating and sharing) the franchise is alive.
JJ Abrams didn’t “save the franchise” because fans were/are still keeping it alive. Setting aside whether one likes Abrams’ films or not all he did was create another version of Trek and pull more money into it.
At any point after TNG (if that’s all we’d gotten) the fans would still be here collecting, creating and sharing stuff along with discussing, debating and even arguing over the episodes and films. THAT’S what keeps the franchise going.
JJ didn’t save a damned thing.
Maybe it's this perception that unless something big and new is in your face then nothing is happening. Short attention span has led to anything more than a few years old is ancient and instant gratification has reached a new high (or low).