Since the launch of Star Trek Discovery three years ago, CBS has expanded what it is now calling the Star Trek Universe of TV shows to include several live-action and animated shows. In a new interview, the man in charge of it all discusses the philosophy behind the growing slate of Trek coming to CBS All Access and beyond.
Expansion not just for expansion sake
As part of his Emmy campaign for Star Trek: Short Treks, executive producer Alex Kurtzman talked to Deadline about the shorts and his expanding universe of TV shows. Kurtzman gave an overview of his approach to differentiating the shows:
There are quite a few, and I think the idea for us is that it isn’t just about expansion for the sake of expansion. It’s actually about exploring different corners of the universe, in the same way that the Short Treks explore different corners of the world of Star Trek, the idea being that each show should have its own unique identity, and you should not be thinking that you can get from one show, what you can get in another.
Everything has to feel different, unique, special and specific, and yet you want it all to be of a piece, and tie into the larger Trek universe. So, it’s been a very coordinated effort, on a lot of people’s parts, to make sure that the shows feel different, and are about different things, and are saying different things, and feel different, and look different, and sound different. So, that’s been really fun and really rewarding.
An obvious example of this approach can be seen in the recent launch of Star Trek: Lower Decks. As the franchise’s first half-hour animated adult comedy, it is differentiated by the two current live-action shows: Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard. While both of those shows share a serialized format with darker tones, Discovery is more focused on Starfleet action and adventure with Picard being more intimate and personal at a slower pace.
As for what is to come, last week Kurtzman outlined the approach to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the live-action show set on Pike’s USS Enterprise that goes into production next year, saying it will return to Star Trek’s roots of more episodic and optimistic storytelling. The show promises to return to the planet-of-the-week stories, making Kurtzman’s new comment about “exploring different corners of the universe” literal.
Kurtzman has also said that work is still ongoing for a Section 31 series. It’s likely that the Discovery spin-off starring Michelle Yeoh as an operative for the secretive Starfleet organization will have more of an espionage show vibe. The final show that CBS has confirmed is Star Trek: Prodigy, a CG-animated series targeting kids set to debut on Nickelodeon in 2021.
Roddenberry’s vision in the era of COVID
When talking about guiding inspirations for the Short Treks, Kurtzman spoke specifically about “Children of Mars,” and how it tied into the first season of Picard, as to how it exemplified how the shorts are trying to express Star Trek’s core message:
So with, for example, “Children of Mars,” which I wrote with Jenny Lumet and Kirsten Beyer, and was directed by Mark Pellington, we said, “Let’s do a silent film. Let’s see how much story we can tell with no dialogue, and let’s use this as a setup to a major storyline in Picard that would typically have felt like backstory.” By allowing the event to be experienced through the eyes of children in a totally surprising way, where you don’t actually realize what you’re watching until you get to the very end, and you see this extraordinary connection that emerges from people who, up until that moment, had really been enemies, I think it’s profoundly moving. But it also speaks to the core essence of what Star Trek is, which is about people overcoming their differences to come together, and recognizing that in the face of tragedy, and in the face of triumph, we really are all the same.
Certainly, when you think about analogies to what we’re experiencing now globally, with coronavirus, everyone’s realizing that nobody is immune, and therefore, we’re all in it together, and I think that’s something that Star Trek has been saying for a really long time. It’s been speaking to that very fact since its inception, and I think all of these shorts, in one way or another, look to capture the spirit of what Roddenberry was trying to express.
Recently Kurtzman has talked about how there are currently multiple Star Trek writers rooms actively working remotely through Zoom. In the years to come, we will see what impact, if any, working in the era of coronavirus pandemic has impacted the storylines for these Star Trek series.
Keep up with the Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.