The man in charge of the Star Trek Universe on CBS just gave an update on the future of the franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Short Treks, and even the Section 31 series.
Kurtzman gives a progress report on Star Trek Universe
In an interview with Gold Derby to discuss the Emmy nominations for Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Short Treks, including his own as executive producer of Short Treks, Alex Kurtzman described what it’s like heading up the Star Trek Universe: “It’s exhilarating, it’s terrifying, it’s wonderful, it’s joyful. This is the job you dream of having when you’re a kid.” The extended Zoom interview (which you can watch in full below) offered a lot of insights on his approach to crafting the various Star Trek shows.
As the interview wrapped up, Kurtzman gave a progress report on how the pandemic has been impacting work on the Star Trek Universe:
I think everybody in the world is dealing with some issue of logistical challenges from COVID, from the minor to the radically extreme. We have been running all of our writers’ rooms on Zoom. The silver lining is that we have actually been able to get quite ahead in scripts for upcoming seasons of Discovery, and Picard, and Strange New Worlds—which is going to be shooting next year—and Section 31.
There is a lot to unpack from that statement. Firstly, the third season of Discovery is almost done with post-production (more on that later), so any writing for Discovery would be for the fourth season—hence, his use of the phrase “upcoming seasons.” CBS has yet to announce that the show has been picked up for season four. There have been some hints that Canadian production is planning to get started on season four, but at this point, it is still unofficial. Kurtzman’s comment indicates that his team is at least planning for it.
Kurtzman also says that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will begin production in 2021. A few weeks ago at Comic-Con@Home, he revealed that ten stories for the first season of the show set on Pike’s Enterprise have already been broken. This new statement shows a level of confidence that the team will be ready with scripts and production and can start next year, indicating that the show will likely premiere in 2022 on the new All Access (which will be rebranded by then too).
One last tidbit from that statement is the mention of the Section 31 series. First announced a couple of years ago, there hasn’t been a lot of news for this new Star Trek show lead by Michelle Yeoh. It has been speculated that it was moved to the back burner, but Kurtzman’s comment indicates that at least it’s still simmering. In 2019 Kurtzman had said they planned to go into production on it after the third season of Discovery wrapped, which happened this past February. Yeoh’s character of Mirror Georgiou is in the third season of Discovery, having jumped forward into the 32nd century with the rest of the crew. Assuming the Section 31 show isn’t set in the far future, it remains to be seen how Yeoh’s character finds her way back in time.
As for Picard, it has been known the second season of that show was supposed to go into production in June, but the pandemic lockdown put that on hold. Kurtzman talked broadly about their approach to getting the various shows back into production in the COVID era:
We are planning on going back into production. A lot of time has been taken coming up with a big plan on how the sets and the stages are going to be run. That is still being iterated right now. Obviously safety being everybody’s number one concern. Everyone is working on that real diligently because everybody wants to go back to work. But nobody wants to do that in a way that is unsafe.
COVID moved Discovery’s season three premiere
Kurtzman also gave an update on how the pandemic impacted Star Trek: Discovery‘s third season:
The thing that I think we are very lucky about is we wrapped Discovery ten days before the lockdown happened. The challenge that imposed is it slowed post [production] down quite a bit. It slowed visual effects and editing. I am now editing with my editors and we are both on our laptops. Obviously the visual effects companies took a very hard hit and it took a minute for them to get back on their feet after everything that happened. When it comes to recording music, you can’t have musicians in an orchestra in a room anymore, so each musician is individually recording their instrument and sending it to Jeff Russo our composer and Jeff has to mix them together as if they are all sitting together in a room. So all of that takes a lot longer.
That being said, everybody’s been heroic about it. I think it’s given everybody purpose. We get to keep working and keep occupying ourselves during this very difficult and challenging time…We’re almost done. We are done editing and we are still doing work on the mixes and visual effects, but it will all be coming out soon.
The new season of Discovery is now set to debut on October 15. Kurtzman confirmed how COVID has juggled the schedule for 2020:
I can’t wait for people to see it and I am so sad people couldn’t see it in the spring when it was originally supposed to come out. But that is what COVID did to us.
This confirms earlier reporting on Star Trek: Lower Decks debuting earlier than planned, when season three of Discovery moved from the spring into the fall. According to Mike McMahan, this schedule juggling is the reason why an international streaming partner for Lower Decks wasn’t in place in time for the show launch in the USA and Canada.
Update on second seasons of both animated Trek shows
While the COVID pandemic has had a big impact on live-action shows, Kurtzman noted that the two animated series haven’t been slowed down:
The good news for the animated shows, is those shows have been barreling ahead, full steam ahead. Both Lower Decks and Star Trek: Prodigy. The animators obviously are working and the writers are just finishing season two of both shows. There is a two-plus year lead time from concept to actually airing it. Though shows get to keep going forward.
When Lower Decks was announced, CBS revealed it had a two-season order (which is common for the animation industry given the long lead times to create the animation). This also confirms that Prodigy also has a two-season order, even before it’s 2021 premiere.
Learning lessons from Short Treks, hoping for more “experiments”
As the interview was focused on Emmy nominations, including his own for Outstanding Short Form Series, much of the discussion was about Star Trek: Short Treks, which Kurtzman described as “an amazing experiment.” He said Short Treks has allowed the team to try out “different tones and different styles,” but he added that he strives to keep it all within the core of the franchise:
To be able to do those kind of things, maintain this vision of Star Trek which is this hard-won optimism that is so essential to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. What people love about Star Trek is what he established and we can never go away from that. But I think that the fun us… [we] get to experiment with how far you can go and still feel like Star Trek.
He specifically talked about how the Short Treks allowed the team to experiment with humor and animation, both of which are at the core of the new series Star Trek: Lower Decks. Kurtzman said the long process for animation, which takes longer than live-action, has been a learning curve for him, which he has applied to Lower Decks and the upcoming Nickelodeon series Star Trek: Prodigy.
He also outlined how Short Treks has helped them set boundaries for comedy in Star Trek, pointing to the episode “The Trouble with Edward”:
It was definitely very risky because it was the first real broad comedy ever done in the world of Star Trek… We started talking about how far you can push it in terms of Star Trek and comedy and what point does it break and at what point does it offend people. One of the things we certainly applied to that that we also applied to Lower Decks is you can never punch down on Star Trek. You can never make fun of it. Star Trek actually has a long legacy of sort of winking at itself, but if you feel like you are making fun of it, you take the joy out of it.
When asked if there are plans for more Short Treks, Kurtzman said, “Thanks to the Emmy nomination I’m really hoping so.” He also outlined some ideas he would like to experiment with in the future:
There are so many different forms that these shorts can take. I would love to do a musical for example… I would love to do one in black and white and figure out what that means. I could probably think of fifty different ways we could tell stories and fifty different crevices of the Star Trek universe to explore that may not be the right kinds of crevices for the larger shows, but we always think of the Short Treks as these are the scenes that are just as important as what’s going on in the main shows, but you wouldn’t actually have time for. These are the moments you can drill down on. So, I would love to [do more Short Treks].
Some fans may take note at the mention of doing something in black and white. In May Star Trek: Voyager stars Robert Duncan McNeill and Garrett Wang talked about how they were seriously interested in reviving the Captain Proton stories from Voyager. And in her recent TrekMovie interview, Voyager star Kate Mulgrew said she would love to play Queen Arachnia again.
Watch the full Kurtzman Gold Derby interview
Keep up with the Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.