I'm going to take a "case study" approach to this question. Various science fiction franchises have been re-booted over the years. Consider two that succeeded--the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica
and the new Doctor Who
. These two have succeeded admirably in ways that (for example) The Bionic Woman
did not. Further I would point to the BBC's Sherlock
as an excellent way to refresh an idea that was getting stale.
What these three have in common, at least IMHO, are a few factors:
1. They look at the premise and take it seriously. BSG for example is about an entire civilization all but destroyed trying to survive and re-invent themselves. The original never really examined what that meant, the trauma involved or the consequences. DW tells the story of an immortal lone wanderer in time and space, sometimes accompanied by the mortal, primitive friends he makes and takes with him in his amazing vehicle. SH focuses on a friendship between a social misfit and supreme genius, who then meets a man who somehow becomes his only friend. Keeping the focus on what the story is about remains key.
2. They all referenced the past versions, while not copying them slavishly. Each of the three demonstrate respect for what-has-gone-before but proved unafraid of going in a totally new direction, making a choice utterly at odds with the past. Most obviously in DW, the relationship between the Doctor and his Companions deepened, to the point where such became an integral part of the Doctor's character arc.
3. An interesting trend all three have shown is the blend of a season-long arc in which stand-alone episodes fit. Indeed, the latter can usually work without the arc, although season finales in particular seem to depend on the arc. Lots of shows follow this pattern, which can be a tricky balance. The creators of Supernatural
for example felt The X-Files
ultimately leaned too much on the arc. I once saw a writer for Buffy
note that shows can become over-burdened with their own mythology, especially after five years. Good point.
4. Plus, each of the three gave us genuinely compelling and complex characters, ones with the quirks and flaws and sometimes startling virtues that feel "true." And in doing so completely went against stereotypes. One is hard-pressed to find a more interesting first officer on any ship-based t.v. show than Tigh of BSG for example. Likewise the BBC has brought us the most interesting Watson I can ever recall--not the least because he misses the excitement of combat, yet feels conflicted about it.
I strongly feel that if a new Star Trek did those four things, it could prove a very exciting and successful program:
Take its own premise seriously.
Respect the past, but don't feel at all bound by it.
Balance the stand-alone stories with the overall arc.
Offer genuine, fascinating characters.
As far as specifics go, let us examine life aboard a starship for a second. You're living inside a machine that keeps you alive. Nothing, absolutely nothing, must be allowed to seriously compromise that machine. Safeguards around that machine should be awesome and discipline on board ship would have to be airtight. Violating such discipline means perhaps killing hundreds of people. The lives of people in Starfleet should reflect that. One of the most mind-boggling things in Abrahms' ST remains the lack of clear chain-of-command--a wildly unacceptable state of affairs in a restaurant much less a heavily armed spaceship!
Along the same line, a ST that simply follows the past is just a retread. I found Sisko's ruthless decision to commit terrible crimes to save the Federation one of the most powerful things in the entire franchise. Likewise I would frankly like to see stories that explore what prejudices the Federation might still struggle with--an idea barely touched upon in any Trek
yet, and then usually resolved in a formula.
When it comes to characters, I frankly found the most interesting ones were often watered down or little-used in most Trek
s. Not always, but the tendency towards blandness is there. Two really strong dynamics that to me seemed utterly wasted in TNG were (a) Ryker's initial view of Data as nothing but a machine, and (b) Ro Laran, such an interesting and compelling character she seemed out of place! Yet had she been a regular, replacing the platitude-spouting Deanna Troi maybe, the show would have been far more of a genuine pleasure to watch and less of a not-unwelcome chore. Just a quick list of favorite characters from other shows, to give an idea of what I mean:
Toby of The West Wing
Jessica of True Blood
Olivia Dunham of The Fringe
Lumen Pierce of Dexter
Bialr Crais of Farscape
Spenser Reid of Criminal Minds
Ben Linus of Lost
Mind you, I'm not saying any of the above should be transposed into a new Trek
but rather this shows the level of complexity which would grab audience's attentions. And this isn't about angst or failure, but about struggle to achieve something difficult. What nearly all the above characters have in common is a genuine desire to do the right thing, but who don't find that an easy or comfortable effort. Yet none of them stop trying, a fact I find heroic.
Just my couple of pennies. Okay, fistful of change.