This week’s Trek Bastard was going to look back at the problems at a previous incarnation of Star Trek, but the problems of the present keep presenting themselves. As you may have heard, Star Trek: Discovery has been delayed again, moved off from its premiere perch of this coming May on CBS All Access to parts unknown. Even though the series is supposed to start shooting next week, CBS/Paramount has offered no new release date for the series, which the studio has been pushing for over a year now, and while on the one hand we may be able to appreciate a deliberate pace with development, we’ve all got to wonder if Discovery’s maybe gone off the rails.
To recap, the show was announced in November 2015 with executive producer Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the two J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek movies. Bryan Fuller was then brought on as showrunner and the series was given a January 2017 release date on All Access. As the months wore on, Fuller put together an impressive production crew and writing staff, but as time inched closer to September, the expected start date of filming, there was no cast announcement. The January release was then pushed back to May, and then came the news that Fuller was no longer showrunner. Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts took over that duty with the expectation that Fuller would still have some kind of overseer role, but soon even that was too much of a pressure on Fuller’s schedule as well. Aside from writing the initial episode, and arcing the first season’s 13 episodes, Fuller now has nothing to do with Discovery.
Now some behind the scenes upheaval is to be expected on a major TV production like Star Trek, creators are being bombarded with conflicting notes from execs who all want their cash cow succeed in sometimes contradictory ways while attempting to please their own creative impulses, but this… This seems like a mess. Of course the weight of our own expectations may be unfairly tipping the scales to panic every time we hear about a change in management or a delay, but there’s been more than enough rumour and innuendo to suggest that CBS is too busy looking at the prize instead of keeping their eyes on the race.
Of course, this isn’t the first time there’s been behind the scenes chaos on the set of a Star Trek series. For instance, Geneviève Bujold was originally casted as “Nicole” Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager and shot several scenes of the pilot before realizing the rigours of broadcast television weren’t for her. And then there was the enmity between Gene Roddenberry and many of his staffers in the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, many of whom worked for him on the original Star Trek, but found his Draconian creative control on Next Gen tough to work with. (The whole thing was Cliff Noted in the William Shatner doc Chaos on the Bridge, but there were a lot competing agendas in that one.)
Chaos can sometimes be a potent fertilizer for creativity, and it’s been as true for the Trek movies as it has for the Trek series. The perceived failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture prompted the removal of Roddenberry and the recruitment of the fresh blood that made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan such a smash success. The sudden cancellation of the proposed “Academy Years” version of Star Trek VI led to the creation of The Undiscovered Country, and the recent Star Trek Beyond saw a pretty big shift in creative control when Roberto Orci was replaced in the middle of development with Justin Lin. Volatility sometimes has its merits in the creative process, but like any easily combustible compound, you have to handle it with care.
It’s enough to make me wonder if perhaps we all know too much too soon about the projects we’re interested in. Granted part of the mission of sites like Nerd Bastards is to cover all the latest news about various TV and movie projects, but are we too aware of what’s going on? Think about two recent examples, Suicide Squad and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Both projects were subject to extensive reshoots, and the immediate reaction in both cases was grave concern. Of course, we were right to be concerned about the one, but did concern about the other rob us of some enjoyment the first time we saw it?
It’s a tough question, and one that brings us back to the present query: should we be concerned about Discovery? While we look at the musical release dates, which are continually being pushed back, we might consider that to actually be good shepherding on the part of CBS; they know the show’s not ready so they’re letting the producers take their time to get it that way. As to the change in showrunners, it happens. Every Trek series with the possible exception of the original series, has faced a changing of the guard in terms of who’s directing the day-to-day mission. Granted those changes are after the series has put a couple of seasons under its belt, but showrunning’s a tough gig. (For more information on the subject, consult the documentary Showrunners.)
Adding more weight to the situation of turning any multimillion dollar endeavour and turning it into a commercial and artistic success is that this is Star Trek, and this is the first Star Trek series in over 10 years. In so much as the recent Star Trek movies have been commercial successes, hardcore fans are missing the things that made them love Star Trek in the first place. The normal things that make us excited about a new series from a name like Star Trek are increased exponentially because everybody wants Discovery to be the thing that they need rather than the thing it wants to be, and in the end, Discovery is going to be its own thing regardless of what we want it to be.
In any event, the cast of Discovery, including Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, and Anthony Rapp, report for duty this coming week in Toronto. There’s still considerable weight behind the scenes with Berg and Harberts, two of Fuller’s trusted compatriots from his Pushing Daisies days, as well as Star Trek II and VI director Nicholas Meyer, Fringe writer/producer Akiva Goldsman, and Rod Roddenberry, the true heir to the kingdom. If they can’t make something, at least, decent from the material they’ve been given, then what hope is there? In the meantime, learn to stop worrying and love the chaos. In spite of everything we know about the show, we still don’t know what we’re going to get.