“Star Trek” as a franchise has a long and storied history of reinventing the norm of television. “The Original Series” set the groundbreaking exploratory mission 50 years ago, “The Next Generation” took it to the next great leap across galaxies, “Deep Space Nine” introduced serialization (also setting the early precedence for future binge watchers, good call there Ira!) and what a cosmic conflict could be, “Voyager” gave us the first main-character female captain, “Enterprise”….was “Enterprise,” and “Discovery” brought everything back to the core of the Roddenberry dream- men and women (and aliens) working together for survival, for betterment, for a future.
The man currently at the helm of the good “Trek” starship (at least on television) Alex Kurtzman recently spoke with Deadline’s Crew Call Podcast about the upcoming slate of series, which includes the return of Sir Patrick Stewart to the role of Jean Luc Picard, additional Short Trek episodes featuring “Discovery” fanfavs Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijn as Captain Christopher Pike and Number One respectively, and two animated shows- an untitled one for Nickelodeon from The Hageman Brothers; and the other, “Star Trek: Lower Decks” from “Rick and Morty” writer Mike McMahan for CBS All Access.
“The spirit of each of these shows has to feel very different,” Kurtzman said of the animated series. “Mike’s show is really for kids, I would say, from 11 to 70. What I love so much about the way Mike is doing is planning things. What you would typically be the ‘A’ story on any Star Trek episode is happening in the background — like huge, crazy, crazy shit is going on in the background [on Lower Decks], and that’s super peripheral to the story that you’re actually focusing on. No [Trek] show has ever really done that before.”
As to the Nickelodeon series, Kurtzman describes it as entirely different than “Lower Decks”:
“The Hageman brothers are doing [an animated] show for Nickelodeon, and that will be entirely different from ‘Lower Decks’… I won’t announce the name of the Nickelodeon show, but that’s a really different show.
That’s a show that’s for kids, younger. Full CG animation. It’s going to be incredibly cinematic. We just started seeing [storyboards] this week. It looks like, wow. It’s on par with Love, Death, and Robots in terms of beauty and lighting and cinema, so it’s a a really different feel, and Nickelodeon has been wildly supportive and I think very excited to bring a new energy to TV, you know, in animation.”
Kurtzman played coy about the possibility of certain voice actors appearing in either of the animated series. [C’MON, “Trek” talent has a grand history of animated series! “Gargoyles” anyone?!]
“It’s mostly new. There may be some that you know, but it’s mostly new.
Animation is in an incredible, glorious renaissance right now. Between [Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse] which just blew everything open and everything Pixar’s been doing for so very long, I think what I’m excited about in the world of animation is to try all these different things to see what feels ‘Trek.’”
Perhaps one of the more interesting reveals about the upcoming Short Treks includes a new director– Oscar winning composer Michael Giacchino, who has scored the three nuTrek films (“09,” “Into Darkness,” and “Beyond”). Kurtzman said there will be six new Short Treks, two of them animated, and Giacchino will be helming one of those.
“We’re doing six more of them. Two of them are animated [and they are] unlike the two animated shows. What I love about the Short Treks is that they are an experimental training ground, a place to experiment with different things. Directors who we’ve never worked with before, tones we’ve never tried before.
Michael Giacchino is doing one of the animated shorts; Olatunde Osunsanmi is doing another one in the animated shorts and he’s our main director on “Discovery” — and again, different animation styles, totally different tones. Aimed at kids, I would say, more than adults, those two.”
And, the most anticipated title in CBS All Access’s upcoming slate, “Star Trek: Picard” which features the return of Sir Patrick Stewart after a 17-year absence from the role of Enterprise Captain Jean Luc Picard.
“We spent a lot of time with Patrick, and you know what? He’s incredibly brilliant just as a human, and very warm, and obviously he knows Jean-Luc Picard better than anybody — and you know, he was really the one who from the outset said, “I don’t want to do this unless we’re breaking new ground. I don’t want to just play the character I played, why come back to that? We did that already.
So it’s been a really wonderful give-and-take in our collaboration with Patrick where he very quickly came to trust that we were both going to do exactly what he said in taking Picard to a new place, but also — and he doesn’t look at himself this way — we’re reverent of him, you know? He’s Patrick Stewart! When we’re in a room with him, his opinion really matters to us, and his happiness really matters to us, and ultimately, we couldn’t do this show the way we’re doing it if he wasn’t excited about it and excited to play it.
I think we’ve found a story that honors everything that people love about the character, but in ways that are not what you expect — and yet, become more and more familiar as the show goes. And that’s what’s exciting. A lot has happened to Jean-Luc Picard in the intervening years [since Nemesis]. There’s been a lot going on and he’s had to deal with some new things, he’s had to deal with some old things, and both of those things kind of come colliding together.
He’s made choices that he’s not necessarily feeling great about — and yet I think the audience will understand exactly why he made them.”
The upcoming 3rd season of “Discovery” is currently in production up in Toronto, along with “Picard” underway in Los Angeles, and the subsequent spinoff series all about Michelle Yeoh’s Philippa Georgiou, “Section 31,” theoretically beginning the second “Discovery” wraps, according to Kurtzman.
“Erika [Lippoldt] and Boey [Kim], who are two of our writers on ‘Discovery,’ are breaking story on [‘Section 31’] right now, and the plan is to shoot that the second we’re done with [‘Discovery’] Season 3.”
All in all, the 5-10 year plan of Kurtzman’s sure seems to be moving ahead at warp factor 10.
“I went to CBS and I said, ‘I think you have a universe here that is very under-utilized, and a fan base that I think is hungry for a lot more.’ And I walked them through the plan of what I saw for the next five to ten years of ‘Trek.’
Part of it was, kind of, premised on the idea that it was going to take time. What I said was, “Don’t expect us to put the first thing out, and suddenly, you know, you’re have 100 million new fans. That’s not gonna happen.” ‘Trek’ has been around for too long for that to happen — but but what we do have is new generations, and what I can tell you is that ‘Trek,’ in general, finds people when they’re about between nine and twelve.
It’s never reached younger than that; it’s never tried to, and to me that’s a hugely missed opportunity, especially because what you’re really trying to do is influence hearts and minds with really positive messages — messages about who we can be as a species and as people and what our future is. So why not start young, you know? And not for a cynical reason. Not because you know, hey, let some more toys, but because if you really want ‘Star Trek’ to reach people, then you’ve got to start young.
And this is where I guess the ‘Star Wars’ influence on me really mattered, because as a kid at four years old, I could imagine myself starting up with a twin suns of Tattooine and wondering what my life was. ‘Trek’ didn’t give me that same thing — it gave me Wesley Crusher, it gave me different characters, but again, those are older characters.
But we are definitely seeing just metric proof that the fan base is growing, and it’s growing younger — and yet, we’re keeping our current fans, and that’s great.”
“Star Trek: Discovery” seasons 1 and 2 are available now for streaming via CBS All Access, and on Amazon here and here. We’ll let you know what we hear about release dates for all the other series as they get announced.