Seth MacFarlane’s upcoming Fox drama The Orville looks a lot like Star Trek. It’s pretty clearly a Trek spoof to some degree (the show plays more like a dramedy than you might expect), with MacFarlane playing a starship captain. The series even shares some credits with Trek, with a veteran Trek producer (Brannon Braga) on board and a few directors with Trek credits.
So a critic asked Fox Television Group chairman and CEO Dana Walden: Aren’t you worried about being sued? Especially since CBS Television Studios, which owns the TV rights to Trek, is about to launch its own Star Trek revival this fall, Star Trek: Discovery.
At first, Walden made a joke about wishing somebody else on the panel (like Fox entertainment president David Madden) would answer the question on her behalf, but he didn’t. So she plowed ahead: “We’re not really concerned,” she said. “We obviously have a big legal team. We vet things, so it’s not like we’re just flying by the seat of our pants out here. Seth’s intention is to do something that clearly pays homage to Star Trek, that clearly was inspired a lot by Star Trek. He talks about The Twilight Zone, a show that examines the human condition in the future and looks at the human condition through little morality plays, but I can’t imagine, especially when you see the direction that the Star Trek franchise is moving, that anyone involved would consider it anything other than a compliment. Most shows have some DNA of previous shows. There are very few shows that I’ve worked on that weren’t slight reinventions of something that’s come before it. It is a certain format of storytelling, it’s a certain act structure, there are certain limitations to what we all do in this storytelling form, so I find it to be flattering and I know Seth holds the Star Trek franchise in the highest regard.”
Typically, creative works are required to have a certain degree of difference from other titles, but there’s typically a fair amount of leeway there — especially for a parody. One title that comes to mind is the 1999 film Galaxy Quest, which was clearly a Star Trek spoof. The Orville is more sincere, however.
CBS had no immediate comment.