The showrunner behind the new Star Trek TV series just revealed a lot of fresh information about the new series, including that the upcoming series will focus on a female lead character — likely played by an actor with a “level of diversity” — who will be a lieutenant commander on a starship.
At the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, writer-producer Bryan Fuller took questions from critics. Star Trek is being rebooted for the small screen next January as Star Trek: Discovery, which will launch on CBS and then exclusively switch to the network’s streaming service CBS All Access. Another Trek series previously had a female lead: Voyager, which ran from 1995 to 2001, starred Kate Mulgrew.
- In a teaser video, Fuller compared his Star Trek to a “novel over 13 episodes,” which hints at a very serialized storyline instead of an episodic one.
- Fuller on the premise: “There’s an incident and an event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never been explored. To do this series, we’re telling a much more serialized story, to dig deep into a very tantalizing storyline. And we have a character who’s on a journey, and in order to understand something that is alien, she first has to understand herself.” The event is something that was referenced in the original series, but not the Romulan War (“close,” he says) or Section 31 (but that could play a role) or Kirk wrestling with the Kobayashi Maru test. It’s only been referenced, never seen, he said.
- On selecting a diverse cast: “Star Trek started with a wonderful expression of diversity in its cast … our lead of the show is going to be subject of that same level of who’s the best actor and also what can we say about diversity on the show. We haven’t cast her yet, so we don’t know what level of diversity she will be, but that’s forefront in our minds. We’ll probably have a few more aliens than you typically have on the show. We wanted to paint a picture of Starfleet where we’re going to have new exciting aliens and also new imagining of existing aliens.” Fuller noted some of the changes might upset hardcore fans used to seeing things a certain way. “We’re producing the show in 2016. We have to update the style of the effects, the style of the sets, the style of the makeup.”
- Fuller says he spoke with Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, while thinking about how to cast this role. “It was interesting to send her outlines and start talking about the character and get her perspective on what it’s like for a woman in the sciences now when we still have a lot of issues with women and race, and how that’s going to be 250 years in the future when the world gets its s— together and equality is a thing that’s more accepted.”
- The star won’t be the captain but rather be a lieutenant commander, “with caveats,” he said. “We’ve seen six series from the captain’s point of view; to see a character from a different perspective on the starship — one who has a different dynamic relationships with a captain, with subordinates, it gave us richer context.”
- Gay characters? “Absolutely we’re having a gay character,” Fuller said. He noted that as a gay man working on Voyager, he had a file full of hate mail when there was a rumor a character on his show was going to be gay. So he was determined if he ever did his own Star Trek show, he would have a gay character. “We’ve come a long way since then. I feel like actually gay rights have come a lot further in that time than race issues and women’s issues.”
- Somebody asks if there will be robots. Fuller says, “Yes.”
- Star Trek: Discovery will be set in the “Prime Universe” (so in the timeline of the original shows, not the J.J. Abrams reboot films), about a decade before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission. “We can redefine the visual style,” he said. “We get to play with all of the iconography of those ships and that universe. Since we are doing this series in 2016, and all of the other series have been produced [at a time that] isn’t as sophisticated as we are now with what we can do production-wise, we’re going to be reestablishing an entire look for the series — not only for the series, but for what we wanted to accomplish with Star Trek beyond this series.”
- On including familiar characters from the original series: “There’s so much about the history that once we get through this first season and establish our own Star Trek universe with the crew that going to be reimagining a lot of Star Trek elements, we’ll be looking in the second season to open up to more familiar characters and how they can feed into the [show]. First and foremost, I think we really want to convince you and establish the greatness of the [new] characters that are going to be introduced.”
- But he’s tempted to include the character of Amanda Grayson (Spock’s human mom). “That character could factor in, but there’s much to be told about that.”
- On Star Trek vs. Star Wars: “Star Trek is us and where we’re going,” he said. “That sense of hope is something that can’t be undervalued, particularly where we are today.”
- On how much Star Trek will push the content envelope since it won’t be constrained by broadcast standards: “Well there’s a reason we call it S.T.D.,” he said, mocking the show’s initials. “We’re going to have a broader spectrum to explore those issues, but it’s still Star Trek. It will probably be slightly more graphic content. We discuss language every day. Is it appropriate for somebody to see a bridge blow up and say ‘Oh s—.’ I imagine we’re going to shoot scenes a couple of ways and see what feels more authentic in the editing room.”
- Will the Discovery look like the Enterprise? “Saucer section, the cells, and the design that we leaked early on has changed considerably. But it’s still very much inspired by those [Ralph McQuarrie] illustrations.”
- Marc DeBevoise, president and COO of CBS Interactive points out that he expects Star Trek: Discovery to get about 15 million viewers for its series premiere on CBS. He noted that Star Trek TV shows tend to average 2 million to 5 million viewers for their first two years as reruns on Netflix. “We think this is a pretty good bet for us to make to grow our subscriber base next year,” he said.
- One reporter noted All Access shows will have commercials for new programming, so “Why do I have to pay you $6?” he asked. In other words: Why pay a premium for content that has advertisements? “The value is the depth and breath of the service that you can’t get anywhere else,” DeBevoise says. Another critic accused them of asking people to effectively “pay for CBS twice.” DeBevoise countered: “This original content is not on CBS, this is extra value.”
- Earlier Wednesday, CBS was hammered by critics during its executive session for having six new fall shows starring white male actors. But Fuller’s idea to seek out a diverse cast isn’t a reaction to the recent surge of CBS diversity criticism. The former Hannibal showrunner first enthused about the idea of a black female captain in a hypothetical Star Trek series back in 2013. “I want Angela Bassett to be the captain, that’s who I would love to have,” he said. “Captain Angela Bassett and First Officer Rosario Dawson. I would love to do that version of the show and that’s in the future to be told.”