Interview: Jonathan Frakes Talks “Ambitious” Picard Show And ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Growing Its Beard

Earlier this week we posted the first part of our extended exclusive interview with Star Trek: The Next Generation veteran Jonathan Frakes, focusing on directing last Thursday’s episode of The Orville. In the second (of three) parts of the interview, Frakes talks about his work on Star Trek: Discovery and the upcoming Picard show, featuring Sir Patrick Stewart.

Excited to work on ambitious Picard show

You said you were working on the Picard show, can you say what episode or episodes?

I’ve been booked for they call the “second block,” which is episodes 3 and 4.

Hanelle Culpepper is booked to direct the first two…

Yeah, they are doing it in blocks. There are going to be ten episodes, with five blocks … She is about to start shooting, and then I start prepping after she starts shooting for a couple of days. I am so looking forward to it, I can’t tell ya.

Are the blocks for logistic reasons or are there five mini-arcs?

No, I read the first two and it is not that. It is a ten-episode movie, as Patrick put it one time. I think it has to do with amortization. It is a very ambitious approach to television, in the first season.

Obviously, we can’t get into spoilers, but how do you feel fans will feel about the show and how it fit with TNG and carrying on the legacy however many years later?

Eighteen years later. I think the fans are going to be thrilled and excited and surprised. I have had the privilege of reading the first couple of episodes and I have spent some time with Patrick who is so engaged [laughs] Sorry. It’s wonderful. It’s smart. I’m excited about it. He is obviously more excited. His announcing of it at Las Vegas—which I believe was his idea—was very smart. You know he is 78, and he is going to be carrying the show on his shoulders, his considerable shoulders.

I’m excited for him and personally, I feel so blessed to back. It’s so ironic that I spent so many years trying to expand where I was working and I was lucky enough to get onto other types of shows. The directing has been a mitzvah for me—to learn another craft. And now I am deeply ensconced in the world I was in 31 years ago—and I’ve got to say—incredibly grateful for it, between The Orville, and Discovery and Picard. And hopefully the Empress Georgiou show.

Jonathan Frakes with Sir Patrick Stewart at Calgary Expo in 2017 (photo: Calgary Sun)

Why Discovery has grown the beard

Have you already started talking about working on the third season of Discovery?

Yes. I’m booked for episode three and another one later in the season.

Do you feel in the second season, that Discovery has grown the beard?

Oh, excellent question. I do. And beautifully phrased I might add. There are few people who understand the importance in the Urban Dictionary of Riker’s Beard. I have had to explain it to some people and I am so proud of it. I think Discovery has done it and I think a lot of has to do—like on our show, we didn’t get there until the third season, even though I grew the beard—the settling in of both sides of the camera: the writing and the actors … The show feels to me like it is very much on the tracks now and running with real strength.

One of the things that has been incredibly successful is how complicated Burnham’s backstory and history is, and continues to reveal. A lot of it is Sonequa [Martin-Green]’s brilliance in seeing glimmers of it. That character is so complex and so complicated and so damaged and so intriguing and so intelligent, that has made that show for me. The casting of Sonequa to head the show was genius.

Jonathan Frakes on set directing the second season episode “Project Daedalus” (photo: Twitter/Hannah Cheesman)

More to come

The third and final part of TrekMovie’s interview with Jonathan Frakes will include our discussion about his time on Star Trek: The Next Generation and what he thinks about the state of the movie franchise.

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Denny C

Production was slated to begin today (Monday, 4/15) so I would expect more details on the new show soon. Full cast, series title and actual premise are still unknown.

Professor Spock

Hopefully they reveal the title soon when they start production.

DeanH

I would not be surprised to see the title come out soon, but there really is no rush until they start to heavily promote the new show. Considering it won’t be released until probably December, I can see them making a grand announcement with a “Coming in December 2019” trailer – perhaps at Comic Con in July or at STLV in early August. Since Picard was announced with a lot of fanfare at STLV, that seems to make a lot of marketing sense.

Spock's Brother

We may see a title announced with the DISCO finale. Gotta keep the excitement going.

Lt. Commander JJ

Yeah I think we’re going to see a “start of production” teaser similar to the one they had for Discovery season 1 at the end of the DISCO finale.

Tiger2

I’m pretty sure they are all scrambling for another title now that their original one, Rise of Picard, oddly feels derivative. ;)

El Beau

My bet is the premise will remind us of the two-parter Gambit. A small ship, Picard running around looking for rare artifacts, but of course getting pulled in to various intrigues both large and small.

Lukas

One of my favourite 2 parters. Doesn’t get the credit it deserves, had the right balance of character moments, tension, drama, action.

FrostUK

Gambit was so good. I loved it when Data took command.

Professor Spock

I watched Game of Thrones last night. It was great. Star Trek: Discovery was trying too hard to be like Game of Thrones in season one. Discovery is now a traditional Star Trek show in season two. Star Trek and Game of Thrones don’t mix. They are two different things. The Picard show shouldn’t be like Game of Thrones. People die a lot on that show to the point that I’m not afraid of death anymore. Death is not so bad after all.

VZX

I agree that season 1 of Disco seemed to try to be GoT, especially with the Klingons and the Terran Empire. It didn’t work.

I am not sure that Discovery has grown its beard yet, or if it will.

TG47

I thought that it was starting to grow its beard earlier in season 2.

Now, I’m worried that it’s running high-speed off the rails rather than ‘getting on track’.

Frakes last directing opportunity on Discovery was Project Daedalus…which while well produced, acted and directed had some flaws that have been magnified in the following episodes.

Not sure he’s got the current take on that.

His comments on Burnham as a character are interesting…

His honest assessment that she’s a flawed character with a very complicated backstory is helpful… and one gets the sense that this is attractive to writers, actors and directors…

But Frakes is promoting the franchise, so he can’t acknowledge that there are ongoing issues where the writers are giving Burnham unearned progress… people are following her unquestioningly instead of challenging her and helping her grow.

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the key reasons that the Spock-Burnham, Amanda-Burnham, Burnham-Burnham and MU Georgiou-Burnham interactions have stood out this season, is that they are the only ones that the writers permit to challenge or contradict her.

Only family are allowed to say no to Michael. She is only growing through family.

It’s really weird that her colleagues don’t challenge her…or when she rejects a direct order as in Project Daedalus there are no consequences.

Perhaps this is changing …we saw colleagues refusing her goodbyes in E13 and Pike’s insistence that she couldn’t hare off after Georgiou in E12. But it’s a pattern in this season, and it’s clearly off-putting to fans.

In the first season, Georgiou, Saru, Lorca, Tilly, Stamets and Sarek challenged her. And it led to growth in the character, particularly as a leader.

I’m thinking this has been the problem and the missing piece in Season 2.

Then there’s the rest of us fans who are enjoying the ride and looking forward to season three.

Thorny

I thought GoT was just okay last night, not great. I know, GoT season premieres are usually spent re-establishing characters and where they are in the storyline, that sort of thing. But this season is only six episodes and I expected they’d have no time to lose and would jump right into the story, but it was a poorly-constructed episode. The Umber kid and the Nightswatch guys scene was not set up well. Sam’s revelation to Jon was a let-down. Sam was great struggling to contain his emotions after learning about his father and brother, but ten seconds later he’s over it and telling Jon who Jon really is. Terrible pacing.

Denny C

If they had wanted to do a Klingon show they could have just done a Klingon show. All the elements have been in place for years.

I wouldn’t want Trek to be anything like “Game of Thrones,” except in terms of the quality being comparable. Currently, “Thrones” is so vastly better than “Discovery” that it’s not even fruitful to make a comparison.

You know what could make for a terrific “Thrones”-style tale set in the Trek universe, though? A series set on ancient Vulcan that told the story of the rise of the movement toward logic. Maybe even told the tale of the breakaway of the Romulan culture.

You’re welcome, CBS.

DaveCGN

I’m sure we’re gonna see the first picture “accidently” leaked after the final episode of Discovery. If not as final scene in Discovery as cliffhanger when Burnham pops up in Picards timeline. ;-)

Danpaine

If she’s a part of the Picard show I’m going to be beyond disappointed. The Trek universe is now supposed to revolve around one character, really? So shallow and small.

Joe D

I think that straw would break the camel’s back. That would be beyond stupid and so one-dimensional. It’s a big galaxy, and room enough for both without them meeting each other.

Armsman

^^^
Says the guy looking forward to a new Star Trek series that essentially also “revoles round one character…” ;)

Lukas

Yeah except he’s a character who’s loved by 99% of the fan base and respected as an actor by pretty much everyone.

Michael Hall

Which isn’t really germane to his point.

Danpaine

The universe doesn’t revolve around Picard, never did, and they never wrote him that way. This show will literally be about him though, even though we know very little so far. It will center on him. It’s not like Discovery is called Star Trek: Burnham (though it may as well be).

She would have no idea who Jean-Luc Picard is, but he would know everything about Michael Burnham. Remember that Sarek mind-melded with Picard and experienced Sarek’s pain.

Corylea

I’d say Discovery has some stubble, but it’s not a full-on beard yet. :-)

Afterburn

Never understood the metaphor. Certainly the show got a lot better in Season 2, but it really didn’t come into its own and become great until Season 3– maybe we should use the metaphor “The Uniform’s Collar.”

Jeff

Does the “Picard maneuver” (straightening of his shirt, meaningfully) come in before or after the beard?

Lukas

Came in season 3 with the uniforms collar haha.

Michael Hall

For my money, with the huge exception of “The Measure of a Man” TNG season 2 isn’t really much improved over season 1. Season 3 was the great leap forward.

TG47

While there were some wincing duds,and several workmanlike efforts, there were a could other season 2 episodes that are among my favourites.

Q Who showed a flash of brilliance by challenging the ‘we’re ready for anything’ smug complacency.

Emissary was an intriguing approach to move Worf beyond a grumpy Klingon and begin an exploration of Klingon identity, as was Riker’s exchange on a Klingon ship in A Matter of Honor. They were the flip side of the ‘what does it mean to be human’ question in the measure of a man.

But Discovery is a greater challenge because the flashes of brilliance suffer more when the overall season arc is struggling. One can’t easily just watch the good episodes and pass off the rest.

Afterburn

I’ll disagree, only in that Season 2, the average episodes is more watchable. Not very good, but at least watchable. Season 1 I can think of maybe 3 episodes i’d ever CHOOSE to watch.

S2 had at least 4 very good episodes in Measure of a Man, Elementary My Dear Data, Contagion, Time Squared; a lot of very average episodes and only a handful of dreadful ones. The show still wasn’t great, but it was much improved.

alphantrion

While there are some quality episodes in season 2 of TNG, I think the biggest dud was having a clip show for the season finale. I know they had to do it because of the strike but couldn’t they have moved one of the better episodes for the season finale instead of choosing that clip-show monstrosity.

Professor Spock

What do you mean… maybe you have a point.

Professor Spock

The Picard show will start to reveal itself soon since Discovery is done on Thursday this week. We are back to the future.

GG1701

Looks like Frakes has lost a few pounds in that first picture. Hmmm, wonder why that is. Cameo, perhaps???

alphantrion

Someone needs to chase Picard around if he is indeed a fugitive as the rumors suggest. Might as well be Riker.

Or maybe his doctor told him to lose some weight.

Clint Stutts

Interesting comments on Burnham. She’s what ruins the show for me in so many ways. I actually liked season 1 quite a bit, even though it didn’t really feel like Trek. Season 2 has been pretty bad. It has become apparent that they either need to hire some science consultants, some writers with scifi experience, or both. Having Pike on the show was the highlight of the season, even though the writers haven’t really let him be a captain. He’s constantly undermined by Burnham and others, and it seems as if he’s just there to say, “Hey, look! This is supposed to invoke nostalgia and make you excuse bad writing!” Having Pike on there made me realize that if they wanted to have a show set before Kirk, they really should have just done one centered around Pike, Spock, and Number One. Nobody asked for another prequel show, but if you’re going to do one, do it in such a way that it doesn’t jack with the universe like Discovery has. Overall, Discovery has been a mistake. I watch it just to keep up with what’s happening, not because I really have to see it. If they’re going to do what I think they’re going to do in the season 2 finale, I think they’ve realized Discovery has been a colossal mistake as well.

Marcelo

Regardless of your thoughts on Burnham the character, Sonequa Martin-Green is unimpeachable. Her performance of that character adds so much depth and nuance even when the writing isn’t all that great, and she has been an absolutely stunning ambassador for Trek in this new age, a genuine and warm personality who can absolutely anchor the franchise on her shoulders.

ML31

If anyone has ever doubted that every character is somebody’s favorite they should read this. All their doubt would be removed.

Michael Hall

Even though that post was primarily about the actor, and not the character.

TG47

My thought also Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, a wonderful actor and great leader of the company, can’t fully compensate for a character that’s losing coherence and is written in a way to find a new part of the audience to turn off week by week.

ML31

While not exactly the same thing, TG47, Patrick Stewart had the charisma and acting chops to make a boring character completely watchable. Great actors can overcome bad characters. It’s rare but can happen.

ML31

Michael, while the comment praised SMG it very much had “I love the character” subtext to it.

J_Randomuser

Here, here!

Corylea

With the exception of Shazad Latif, the actors on Discovery have been so strong that they’ve been able to mask some of the weakness in the writing … but not all of it.

This show desperately needs a few real science fiction writers to help the others up their game.

Steve C.

Your opinions are bit dated I’m afraid. You are stuck in the past where the lead of the show was always a barely-flawed stoic captain, and the show was centered on his/her adventures. Discovery purposely sought to make the storytelling more complex by featuring a character like Burnham who, although flawed, is a good person and vastly more realistic in many ways than the sterile good guys we have been force fed in Star Trek for decades. A prequel show featuring established, prime characters will never happen because there is no real peril. We already know their fates. Discovery is popular with mainstream audiences, and is moving forward without the close-minded, older fans like yourself. Thankfully

Clint Stutts

Have you even watched any of the other Trek shows? It’s not centered around a captain and his/her adventures. It’s centered around an ensemble cast that you come to know and love through good character development and it centers on THEIR adventures. On Discovery, it’s laughable how little I care about the bridge crew. I actually laughed out loud when Pike came on the bridge and they did a roll call. I was like, “We’re in season two and I finally got some of their names”. And then I forgot their names a few minutes later. They tried hard to make Airiam matter by giving her a bit of a back story right before they killed her, but it was too little too late. I had been thinking it would be nice to get to know her character and find out her capabilities, her history, etc. But they killed her. And then on the last episode when everybody was recording their goodbyes, I realized I didn’t care because I forgot their dang names again and I know nothing about them. My only hope for Discovery is that in season 3 the group that wants to go with Burnham gets treated more like an ensemble cast, because centering the show mostly around one character isn’t working.

As for a Pike prequel show, of course there will be real peril and it doesn’t matter if we know their fates, or at least the fates of Pike and Spock. They wouldn’t be the only characters on the show, after all. Plus, we all inwardly know on just about any show that the main characters aren’t going to get killed off, and we still get real peril. What we really want are good Trek stories in the Trek universe.

As for Discovery’s storytelling being more complex, it comes off like the studio boss let a kid write a Star Trek story, dropped it off at the writers’ room and then said, “Only fix the grammar. Otherwise, this is good to go”. They’re using writers with no experience in the genre, and it shows. Plus, it seems like none of these writers are really paying attention to what previous writers did on just a few episodes prior, because they’re breaking their own continuity.

ML31

Cliff, I am right there with you regarding how forgettable many of the recurring characters are. Yes, the spinoff Treks have been very ensemble. But here is the thing… TOS was basically three characters. The others didn’t do a whole lot yet we remembered ALL of them. So what did TOS do that Discovery does not? The main thing I can think of is competent writing.

alphantrion

TOS gave all the other characters a chance to shine though, that is why they are all so well remembered. Even in small bits, like Sulu’s fencing scene for example, a very short need but it told us exactly what we needed to about the character, or Uhura’s singing, Scotty’s fondness for alcoholic beverages, small character bits but necessary. Discovery writers should take a note from this, they don’t need to take a lot of screen time to develop the other bridge crews if they only manage to get the focus away from Michael even for a short time. Don’t worry, Michael would still be there when they cut back to the character. It’s like the writers are trying too hard to write for Michael and as a result it comes off as unnatural.

Clint Stutts

Yeah, after I posted that I watched an episode of TOS during my lunch and realized that very thing. It’s based around Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. That fact gets muddied because of how the Trek movies were done. But even though Scottie, Chekov, Uhura, and Sulu weren’t the main ensemble, I still cared what happened to them and I knew their names and jobs. I agree it is the writing. There’s so much invested in Burnham, and for me she just can’t carry the show. If I could go back in time and start Discovery all over again, I’d want our Georgiou to live and be given command of Discovery. Then I’d want her to retrieve Burnham from imprisonment and bring her aboard to redeem herself, starting out as an ensign. I think that would have been an incredible dynamic to have on the ship. It would go well with writing that makes us care about the currently forgettable bridge crew :) I would ditch the spore drive stuff since it’s stupid and was probably plagiarized from Anas Abdeen anyway. After the Klingon war, I would have Discovery go…discover things for crying out loud.

Tiger2

All sounds great! Happy Frakes will be directing the early episodes. And not a shock he will be back next season of DIS as well. As for the Picard show (please give us a REAL title soon!!!) I wonder will there be a different director for all the ‘blocks’ now? If so that sounds pretty cool. Every one has their own two hour block of the story.

Anyway its all amazing. I will admit the last third of Discovery this season has been somewhat of a let down with all the revelations but I understand what he means that the show did grow its beard this season too. It definitely improved by a wide margin IMO and I did generally enjoy second season of Discovery, which is EASILY ten times better than season one. The show at least feels like Star Trek again even if it is a bit too much of melodrama, convoluted plotting and fantasy thrown in. And even if the finale turns out bad it does sound like they are going big next season so I’m staying pretty positive on the show, ESPECIALLY if this was all designed to take them into the future. That and the Picard show will finally break the prequel syndrome and give us a completely unwritten future. And I’m happy to see the TNG era reborn as well! I can’t wait to hear everything that has taken place since Nemesis and (hopefully) see some of my favorite characters in this period show up again.

I just can’t believe we are now getting what we are getting and it makes me excited for the future, literally.

Young Picard

Here’s to hoping CBS gives the Rikers (Will/Deanna) at least a one-shot show on CBS All-Access, assuming the production costs are possible.

Meonthissite

Sad to see them destroying Roddenberry s legacy!

Yeah, time to bring back the mini-skirts, go-go boots, and playing a little grab-@$$ with the female crew. Retro Trek to the rescue.

Gary

Discovery is more like a soap opera and its leaving this Birth Trekkie disappointed.

Vincent K Britton

It worries me that he speaks so positively about STD, it is a terrible series I wish would just end. I Deeply hope the Picard Series will be more like real trek….. and a future a Pike Series too.

Mark Z

Interesting with the director blocks. Doctor Who has done that for quite a while. I like the idea, let the director immerse themself in the universe.

Not just Doctor Who. Many modern shows do that. And it seems to work pretty well!

Trekfan

Love Riker!

JAGT

To me, DISCO had grown a mighty fine beard up until (and including) “If Memory Serves”… after that, someone seems to have taken a razor to the show… “ST: Insurrection”-style

JAGT

But thinking about it, the TNG S2-comparison is still quite apt there. TNG S2 set off to shake things up quite a bit, but in the end, roughly 50% of the episodes suffered from the same weaknesses that a great percentage of S1 episodes suffered from.
So I guess the only thing left to do, as far as DISCO is concerned, is wait for S3 to improve on an already improved show.

Olaf

“One of the things that has been incredibly successful is how complicated Burnham’s backstory and history is, and continues to reveal. A lot of it is Sonequa [Martin-Green]’s brilliance in seeing glimmers of it. That character is so complex and so complicated and so damaged and so intriguing and so intelligent, that has made that show for me. The casting of Sonequa to head the show was genius.”

Umm, no? Just no! On so many levels, no!

Danpaine

I get how Frakes kind of has to pump up the show, that’s his job, but yeah, that praise made me throw up in my mouth a little.

Olaf

Exactly. And as someone who has been part of the franchise for so many years, and obviously knows his act, as well as his Star Trek, his praise shouldn’t be as high as it is. Yes, there’s light (like the production values and the acting of most actors), but there’s also shadow (in the writing, mainly).

Thorny

SMG is very good in a role that unfortunately seems to have been designed to annoy fans. This “Six Degrees of Michael Burnham” has to end in Season 3. Not every single episode of TOS was about Kirk. Not every single episode of TNG was about Picard. This “everything has to be about Burnham” is way over the top now. The Red Angel being Michael/Her Mother ruined the season for me. Why couldn’t she just have been the one to figure it all out, instead of actually being/being related to it? I feel like next Season her Dad is going to be found to be a Changeling from the Dominion and her great grandfather was Archer’s adopted son…

Olaf

I haven’t seen SMG in anything else, so I cannot fully judge her competence as an actress, but judging solely from what I see on DSC, she’s not a very good one (or one with a whole lot of range) in my book. And yeah, the character has a good share in that, because she’s written so annoyingly, that any actress would have a hard time making the character likeable.

So for me, it’s a little bit of both. I get that Michael was raised (at least in later years, she wasn’t exactly a baby when her parents were supposedly killed) on Vulcan, and aspired to become more like Sarek perhaps, but she comes across as cold and closed on the one side, but then as overly whining and emotional on the other side. It’s just too much of both extremes for me, I guess.

I don’t know, I just can’t stand Michael Burnham, and don’t care for much of the rest of the DSC crew, except for Saru and Stamets perhaps. Pike and Spock on the other hand, gimme more, please! ;-)

And yeah, coming back to your post, the it’s-all-just-and-about-MB-stuff has to end!

alphantrion

I think you hit it on the nail by saying she has been extreme on both sides. I also think that somehow the writers consider that everything being about Michael actually makes the character stronger, while in reality I think it makes the character more weaker because basically the plot goes to her instead of her going to the plot. You don’t make a character strong by making them too in your face or too timid for that matter, you need to find a sweet spot and so far the writers haven’t managed this. They made the character a little too annoyingly in your face but kind of forgot about her endearing qualities.

Olaf

Agreed!

blackmocco

There’s some fair points in here, Olaf. The show has done a pretty terrible job forming a consistent character with Burnham. I find it hard to blame SMG too much. Ultimately you can only do what you can do with what’s handed to you in the script. Turd. Polish. Etc.

Olaf

That’s why I said that I cannot fully judge if it’s her or just the character, because I haven’t seen The Walking Dead or what else she’s played in. Maybe she does a great job playing an unlikeable character, but maybe she adds to that, I simply can’t tell…

ML31

I haven’t seen SMG in anything else either. So yes, judging by this one and only one role, she’s not very good at all. She over emotes and swings from cold Vulcan to emotional crybaby at the drop of a hat. If a director told her, “Tilt your head more and give me more tears” she needed to speak up. If this is her interpretation of the character, then she made bad choices.

Olaf

Very well put!

nasty man

Michael Burnham? – I am your grandfather..my name is George Kirk.
Michael Burnham? – I am your future great great grand daughter. my name is 7of9.
Michael Burnham? – I am your adopter step sister from another mother. my name is Lt Uhuru..
Michael Burnham? – I am your long lost auntie. my name is guinan.

nasty man

Michael Burnham? I am your great great grandfather from ur unknown stepfather/grandfather from an alternate universe travelled to via 358 jumps from the spore drive and then another jump to the mirrorverse then another jump to the kelvinverse before back to the primeverse. My name is KHAN

Vulcan Soul

Let’s hope Picard will be the thinking man’s Trek because they sure have removed any semblance of it from Discovery!

Steven M Tobiaz

I hope the Picard series has a lot of starship battle scenes love seeing that