Three summers ago, CBS announced a five-year deal with Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman to expand the Star Trek Universe for their streaming future. Now with five shows in active development, ViacomCBS is doubling down on Kurtzman with more ambitious plans for their Paramount+ streaming service.
Kurtzman’s new 5-year+ mission
In a Sunday New York Times profile, it was first reported that CBS Studios has renegotiated their deal with Alex Kurtzman. The new $160 million deal has now extended his stay for five and a half years, putting him in charge of the Star Trek Universe through at least 2026. The deal was later confirmed via a press release from ViacomCBS, and is also being reported in the Hollywood trades, including Variety, Deadline, and The Hollywood Reporter.
“From the first meeting I had with Alex, it was so obvious to me that he’s our future,” CBS Entertainment Group president George Cheeks told the Times. “The guy can develop for broadcast. He can develop for premium streaming, broad streaming. He understands the business… When you make these investments, you need to know that this talent can actually deliver multiple projects at the same time across multiple platforms.”
Growing Paramount+ to compete in the streaming wars against giants like Amazon, Netflix, and Disney is a particular challenge for ViacomCBS right now, and this deal is seen as part of their plan to expand the service. Kurtzman tells the Times he welcomes the challenge and sees more opportunities in streaming:
I do believe that the line between movies and television is gone now, and that to me is a tremendous opportunity. For me and for showrunners like me, we can tell stories in a new way. We are not limited by the narrow definition of how you tell a story—something must be told in 10 hours, or something must be told in two hours.
This new deal not only shows a confidence in Kurtzman, but an ongoing commitment to the Star Trek franchise as a key component to the future of ViacomCBS, and its Paramount Plus streaming platform.
“Just getting started”… including a Worf comedy?
When Kurtzman signed his deal with CBS in 2018, Star Trek: Discovery had only streamed its first season, and other Star Trek shows were only in the early development stage. Since that time, his Secret Hideout production company has launched Star Trek: Picard featuring the return of Sir Patrick Stewart and Star Trek: Lower Decks, the franchise’s first adult animated comedy. According to the Times report, Discovery and Picard are among the most-watched original series on Paramount+.
More seasons of Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks are currently in production, along with the new live-action series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds set on Captain Pike’s USS Enterprise and the kids’ animated series Star Trek: Prodigy, coming this fall. Prodigy in particular has been cited as an important show for ViacomCBS, with CBS Studios president David Stapf telling The Times, “It obviously builds fans at a much younger generation, which helps with consumer products. But it’s also a smart way to look at building an entire universe.” We have already seen evidence of this with the recent announcement of Playmates Toys returning to Star Trek with a new broad license.
A couple of Star Trek shows we have heard about before were cited to be “in the works.” The first is the Section 31 series starring Michelle Yeoh, which was first announced in 2019. Since then, a writers’ room was put together; earlier this year Kurtzman cited the global pandemic for keeping it from going into production, saying he still was “very optimistic” about the project. The other show mentioned in the NYT article was one set at Starfleet Academy, aimed at younger audiences. This project was first mentioned in 2018, said to be coming from Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, producers of shows such as The O.C., Gossip Girl, and Marvel’s Runaways. However, there have been no real reports on development in the last three years.
There was also a “weirder” idea mentioned in the Times piece. Kurtzman pointed to a pitch from writer/producer Graham Wagner who wrote the Short Treks episode “The Trouble with Edward” and is best known for his work on The Office, Portlandia, and Silicon Valley. The Wagner pitch “centered on the character of Worf,” and Kurtzman calls the concept “incredibly funny, poignant and touching.” Michael Dorn has actively been seeking a new Worf-centered series for years, but his concept is quite different.
Regarding the future of the franchise, Kurtzman said: “I think we’re just getting started. There’s just so much more to be had.”
Pushing the boundaries
During his tenure with Trek, Kurtzman has moved the franchise into new areas, but he tells The Times he has even more ambitious ideas:
If it were up to me only, I would be pushing the boundaries much further than I think most people would want. I think we might get there. Marvel has actually proven that you can. But you have to build a certain foundation in order to get there and we’re still building our foundation.
And it appears he has a willing partner with CBS’ David Stapf, who tells the Times:
Anything goes, as long as it can fit into the ‘Star Trek’ ethos of inspiration, optimism and the general idea that humankind is good. So comedy, adult animation, kids’ animation — you name the genre, and there’s probably a ‘Star Trek’ version of it.
Find more on the Star Trek Universe at TrekMovie.com.