After co-creating Star Trek: Discovery four years ago, Alex Kurtzman was tasked by CBS (now ViacomCBS) to oversee the rebuilding of the Star Trek Universe on television. Now the executive producer is talking about how he sees the franchise fitting into today’s changing world.
Why Star Trek is relevant today
Star Trek is in its 55th year, making it one of the older and more enduring franchises. As a guest on the official Star Trek podcast The Pod Directive, Alex Kurtzman offered his view of why Star Trek matters now more than ever:
“I would say that in this particular moment in time where everyone is rethinking a lot of the assumptions that they made about the world and the systems that are in place in the world, Star Trek speaks to those in a way that I think no other franchise does. It’s always been incredibly relevant, but it’s really relevant now…
Given the state of the world, no matter what side of the political line you’re on, nobody can disagree with the fact that we are as close to a civil war as we’ve ever been since the Civil War. And this [Star Trek] gives you a roadmap to the possibility and the potential of human beings and what we can accomplish if we stop thinking the way we’ve been thinking. Because if we keep thinking this way, we’re not going be around. And I think that’s the beauty of Star Trek is it actually gives you a positive for the future.”
At another point during the same podcast, Kurtzman pointed at Trek’s unique relationship with science as a key differentiator:
“I think one of the things that singularly defines Trek is that science is the solution to the problem. It’s always the combination of science and humanity, and then taking the humane approach and understanding where the intersection is between those two things. And then on top of which, the bridge crew—who everybody sort of associates with as a family—has to work together using their different skill sets to solve a problem with both science and empathy. And I think that’s Star Trek.”
A variety box of Star Trek colors
Things for Trek have progressed over the last few years, with the launch last year of the highly serialized and more cerebral show Star Trek: Picard along with the animated comedy Star Trek: Lower Decks. Later this year we will see the debut of the kids’ animated show Star Trek: Prodigy. And next year, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds promises a return to classic episodic Star Trek storytelling. Kurtzman talked about his approach to building out the Star Trek Unvierse with a variety of different styles:
“I think that some of [the Star Trek shows] are rollercoaster rides. Some of them are more meditative. Some of them are hilarious. Some of them are interesting explorations of the state of humanity. And some of them are just about the pure joy of seeing the world through the eyes of children… Our universe wants to be different color crayons in the same box… There’s a common thread between all of these things. But if all the shows are the same, we’re failing, right?
My hope is that this sort of misnomer that Trek is only for people who know Trek—the whole point is yes, of course, it’s for those people first and foremost—but it’s also for people who have never seen it and don’t know anything about it. Because if we don’t also get those people in, then ten years from now, twenty years from now, we’re not going to have new generations of Star Trek fans.”
Why Star Trek shows aren’t a fit for network TV
Of course, all of the new Star Trek series find their home (in the USA) on the Paramount+ streaming service. When asked if he thought Star Trek could work on traditional broadcast television, the executive producer was skeptical, explaining:
“We now live in the streaming age where the expectation is significant in terms of scope. And as the line between movies and television seems to have evaporated, we could not produce these shows on a network budget. It just would be impossible. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It just means that the story has to be built in such a way where you wouldn’t be going, ‘Oh, god, I feel like I’m not getting what I should.’ It has to be specifically best told on network television, in the same way that there are certain stories that are best told in two hours in a film. And [there are] certain stories that are best told over seven to twelve years of serialized storytelling. So it’s really what’s at the emotional core and what is the built-in longevity of a particular kind of story, and where does it best fit. So, I would never dismiss it. But I would be very vigilant about making sure that it was necessary on [network] television, and not just another show that we can do there.”
And about that musical episode…
Alex Kurtzman has previously mentioned one of his hopes is to do a musical episode of Star Trek: Short Treks. Currently, there are no plans for more entries in the series of Trek shorts, but Kurtzman laid out the criteria that need to be met to make such a musical Trek work:
“Nothing would make me happier [than making a musical Star Trek episode]. I’ve thought about this. And if we ever did [more] Short Treks, that would be the perfect format for it. The thing is, if you’re going to do a musical, it would have to be as brilliant as “Once More, With Feeling” From Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has to have a concept that makes a musical necessary, or you have to come up with a really, really good reason for people to start breaking out in song. And we have yet to really explore that. But nothing would make me happier. I would die to see that.”
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