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Star Trek: Discovery is boldly going where no series in the franchise has gone before — onto a streaming service beyond the prudish content restrictions of broadcast and syndication. Showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg say the CBS All Access series will go a bit further than their Star Trek forebears when it comes to showing grown-up content but says they still plan to keep the show family friendly.
“Every writer’s impulse when you get to work on the streaming shows with no parameters is to go crazy,” Harberts said. “But then you look at things like: How does nudity play on Trek? Eh, it feels weird. How does a lot of [profanity] on Trek? Not so great. Are there moments where it merits it that we’re trying to push here and there? I would say we’re trying to push more by having the type of complicated messed-up characters who aren’t necessarily embraced on broadcast.”
Nudity and Trek are indeed a potentially perilous combo. Previously, director J.J. Abrams received some flack for a brief shot in Star Trek: Into Darkness showing Alice Eve (who played Dr. Carol Marcus) in her underwear. (In the wake of that film’s 2013 release, co-writer Damon Lindelof joked the controversial scene was gratuitous and unnecessary — and also noted that Abrams’ Trek films featured Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk in various stages of undress.)
Still, there will be more edginess on Discovery than on, say, The Next Generation. “I’m not saying we’re not doing some violent things or doing a tiny bit of language,” Harberts said. “But what’s important to the creative team is the legacy of the show — which is passed down from mother to daughter, from father to son, from brother to brother. We want to make sure we’re not creating a show that fans can’t share with their families. You have to honor what the franchise is. I would say we’re not going much beyond hard PG-13.”
One could argue that this was also the strategy adopted by the biggest new genre hit of the last year, Netflix’s Stranger Things, which kept its content fairly tame despite being a horror tale on a streaming service without restrictions.
As Harberts suggested, Star Trek: Discovery will have other kinds of grown-up subject matter — such as life-and-death stakes and flawed characters unlike those we’ve seen in Starfleet before. Yet the show still aims to hold true to creator Gene Roddenberry’s ideals of a utopian future where people try to put aside their differences to work together to solve intergalactic issues.
Star Trek: Discovery is this week’s EW cover story where we go behind the scenes of the upcoming CBS All Access drama (premieres Sept. 26).