Interview: ‘The Orville’ Producers Talk Epic Scale And Big Cameos In ‘New Horizons’ Season

The third season of The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s homage to Star Trek: The Next Generation, arrives next week under the name The Orville: New Horizons. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to writer/executive producers (and Star Trek vets) Brannon Braga and David A. Goodman, along with director/executive producer Jon Cassar. The group discussed how the move to Hulu has opened up new possibilities, offered some hints on what’s coming to up in the ten-episode season, and discussed the possibility of a fourth season.

Note: A couple of episodes from New Horizons were provided to the media ahead of the interview and so there are some minor spoilers discussed.

David, in your last TrekMovie interview, you spoke about how you fulfilled a number of goals for the show in season two. So, what were the big goals for season three?

David Goodman: I think they were Seth’s goals, and I think that one of them was we’re moving to streaming. It was his decision to move to Hulu and he wanted to keep ratcheting up the epic storytelling. And I think that we’ve done that in season three. The episodes are more epic in scope. We’re building our universe, but we’re still focused on our characters. So we had those goals but we continue to tell the stories that The Orville fans are expecting, but then also make use of the fact that we’re on a streamer and that now an episode can be an hour, or even an hour and a half, and letting those stories that we are breaking breathe and let them go to their natural conclusions. And so that that was probably the biggest goal. It was a creative goal, and we have absolutely met it.

So episodes can actually run as long an hour and a half and you don’t bother doing it as two-parters anymore?

Brannon Braga: That’s right. I think one of them runs as long as one hour and twenty-five minutes. I actually hadn’t thought of that, but that’s a great observation that there aren’t any two-parters now. [laughs] They are all eighty to ninety-minute episodes.

Jon Cassar: If you add up all the runtimes, it is the equivalent of 16 episodes.

What other opportunities does the move to Hulu give you?  

Jon Cassar: From my end, the time alone is huge. It’s not just the fact that you could do an hour and twenty-minute episode, it just means visually, you’re just in a different space the way you shoot a show. Because like a feature, it’s the same thing. A feature could be an hour and a half, it could be two hours, or three hours, whatever the story is. But the great thing about features that are so different than television is they have that visual time between scenes. So they have the time to do what we call “shoe leather,” where it’s just visually telling the story. And in our case, we use it when we go to a new planet. It used to be like one or two shots flying in. Now there’s five or six and you get to really see what this planet looks like. And that’s world-building. And that means even when we get there, you’re seeing way more than you saw before because we have time for it now. And even if you tried to do it on some TV shows, the words take priority. So when you’re trying to hit that 42-minute mark, you’re going to cut out this beautiful establishing shot, you’re not going to cut dialog. So that’s a big difference visually from what you’re going to see because of the freedom of time.

Director Jon Cassar and Lt. Talla Keyali (Jessica Szohr) on The Orville: New Horizons (Photo by: Kevin Estrada/Hulu)

When the series debuted it leaned into the humor, even being presented as a sci-fi comedy. That changed a bit in season two and it appears to be evolving more in season three to be almost akin to your average Next Gen episode. So, is it not a dramedy anymore?

David Goodman: I would slightly disagree because I think our characters are funnier than the TNG characters. In comparison to previous seasons of The Orville, I agree. We’re not leaning as hard on the comedy as we used to. But this show still has plenty more comedy than the standard TNG episode did. And I think it’s because our characters are more flawed. In some ways, they are more down-to-earth. They’re less heroic naturally than the TNG characters. And so the conflicts that they get into end up being sometimes more humorous. So I agree that we’re not leaning into the comedy, but this is still not a standard sci-fi show. We still have plenty of character comedy, it just comes out more naturally than it used to.

The first episode gets a bit dark, so does it vary a lot episode by episode, with some being much lighter?

David Goodman: Any episode where Gordon is the center of the story is probably going to be funnier, but actually there are definitely moments with all of our characters where we get funny. But it’s probably not the full-on comedy episodes that we used to have.

Brannon Braga: There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this season. And there are episodes that have more humor than others. The first episode out of the gate deals with some pretty hardcore subject matter. And we’re happy that we were able to take our time with it and do it properly. But on this show, the comedy has never undermined the drama, because we want the stakes to be real. And it took us a while to find the tone and I think we’ve come a long way since the first season. And now it does lean more into the drama of it all, and I think always Seth’s intention.

Have you changed your balance when it comes to the episodic structure and serialization for the new season? Because the first episode did catch up on some things from season two, for example. But is the focus still planet of the week?

David Goodman: I think that even if you came to The Orville: New Horizons fresh and you had never seen The Orville, you can watch the first episode because it’s important for us to be clear. It’s not a fully serialized show in that sense. You can watch that first episode having never seen The Orville and understand what’s going on and not feel left out. So this is never going to be a fully serialized show. On a fully serialized show, you can’t watch the first episode of season three without having watched every episode of seasons one and two. So we still do planet of the week, but we also put things in that are for those fans who’ve been watching all the way through. It is a balance.

David Goodman: But we included flashbacks so if you had not seen [the season two episode] “Identity,” you are you have characters telling you what happened. And as an audience member, you’re getting to experience it.

From The Orville: New Horizons (Photo by: Hulu)

Now that you are on Hulu, were there things you did this season that you always wanted to do, things that could only be done with the freedom you now have?

Brannon Braga: It was exciting to break out these stories–and we weren’t really thinking of the impact on Jon at that point [laughs]–with abandon. The freedom in terms of their scope, but it’s also a very emotional season. The show, I think, has always been successful in being quite moving at times. And we really care about these characters. And we think the audience will too. It’s epic in its emotional scope as well as its cinematic scope.

Is it fair to say that the character conflict is heightened this season?

Brannon Braga: It is heightened. As we were saying, everything is heightened, on every level. The addition of the Charly character [Anne Winters] is indicative. She’s there because she suffered a traumatic loss and is angry about a Kaylon on board.  That’s going to give you immediate conflict. That’s part of the reason that character was created by Seth.

Jon Cassar: I think you guys set up right away that the people on the ship were polarized. It was just not okay with everybody. So that made it interesting. And again, probably realistic in that kind of scenario. Especially with a Kaylon still on board.

Charly Burke(Anne Winters) on The Orville: New Horizons (Photo by: Michael Desmond/Hulu)

Another core component of the show has been social commentary. Any hints on issues you might be dealing with New Horizons?

David Goodman: The Moclans still end up being the source for those kinds of commentaries. They’re representative of a bunch of things that we’ve talked about over the years, and they still are. It’s more about using the tools in our toolbox and our characters, and what are those issues that affect our characters? And then we can get into sort of metaphorical or allegorical stories that might touch on current issues, but I don’t know that we’re going to spoil any of that.

Speaking of spoilers, any chance we’re going to get any more Star Trek actor cameos?

David Goodman: Let me think, I can’t remember. We have a lot of great cameos this year. One, in particular, is not a Star Trek cameo, but cameos are a big, big part of the show. I think there are some fun surprises in these episodes

Jon Cassar:  We do have one big cameo from a big sci-fi franchise.

Are you talking about Bruce Boxleitner from Babylon 5?

Jon Cassar:  You guys know that because you saw him in the picture they released, so that’s not much of a surprise. [laughs] But that’s not the big cameo we are talking about.

David Goodman: It’s even bigger.

Jon Cassar: Way bigger.

President Alcuzan (Bruce Boxleitner), Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), Speria Balask (Lisa Banes), Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber), Charly Burke (Anne Winters), and Capt. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) in The Orville: New Horizons (Photo by: Michael Desmond/Hulu)

I know this is a tough subject but how did you deal with the death of Norm Macdonald? Was he able to finish his voice work for the season?  

David Goodman:  Norm did, he had finished his recording. Obviously, we’re heartbroken at his death. It was an honor to get to work with him. He is one of my comedy heroes and such a brilliantly funny, man and such a delight to work with on the show. He added so much to Yaphit’s character. If there is a season four, I don’t know how we deal with it, I’ll be honest.

There has been some speculation about season four. What would you say are the factors needed to make another season possible?

David Goodman:  Okay, so let me just let me just pull this little anecdote out of my ass. There was a show I worked on that was canceled twice. They said it would never come back. But the audience found it on DVD and three years later, it came back. That show was Family Guy. Every show can come back. It’s all up to the audience. 20 Century Fox at that time didn’t think anybody was watching on the network and they cancelled it and the fans were like, “We want more!” And so the company said, “We’ll give you more.” It’s all about business. So if the fans and the audience shows up on Hulu, they’re absolutely can be a season four.

Just to be clear, the show isn’t currently canceled.

David Goodman:  The show is absolutely not canceled.

Jon Cassar: Definitely not.

David Goodman:  Absolutely not. That is definitive.

Brannon Braga (left) and David Goodman (right) on The Orville set with star Seth MacFarlane (Photo: David Goodman)

New Horizons next Thursday

The Orville: New Horizons premieres Thursday, June 2, 2022. New episodes will be released weekly only on Hulu in the USA. Internationally The Orville is also on Star on Disney+ in select markets.

Check out the recent trailer…


Keep up with all The Orville news and analysis on TrekMovie.

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The cast is great but I’m surprised there is very little diversity on this show. Only white and black actors, wish there is more diversity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this show. MacFarlane and Braga are very talented. It is so refreshing to see a different “Star Trek” show. Just wish I see a more accurate representation of our country, our future.

Can’t wait to watch the upcoming season!

Becuase it is the 80s take on diversity… one POC was fine, two POC ultra-progressive, but the leads mostly remained caucasian. This show is not supposed to be a contemporary product. It’s a deliberate throw-back to days long gone…

That’s a ludicrously silly excuse, and I personally find it offensive if that is really the case. However, I don’t believe that they consciously had that goal when casting this. I think this is all your conjecture, but by all means provide a cited reference that supports this if you can?

The future would actually be mostly mixed race, so almost nobody today would be accurately represented by a realistic scifi series. Casting with diversity for diversity’s sake is a really bad idea. You need to cast the right talent for the right role, and you need to cast an ensemble that has chemistry, ideology be damned. You should, if the framework allows, add diversity & representation & progressive elements to the plot, and The Orville actually had quite a lot of that, more than new Star Trek that just goes for the superficial diversity hiring & fancy haircuts, it seems. PS: But if I had any say, I would add Karan Soni as an Orville regular.

Your argument that modern Star Trek diversity is superficial is offensive. They’ve used diversity to create characters who speak to people who have often been marginalised or whose stories usually revolve their sexuality- as if there is nothing else about them. To say otherwise is a foul tactic and patently untrue.

I think it’s a very fair point to raise Jay.

The fact that the choice for another new character was yet another white person struck me immediately when I saw the photo.

It’s also another American actor. Even TOS tried for more ethnic/national as well was racial diversity.

Now in terms of creating a new character to represent the point of view of (American) humanity traumatized by the Kaylons, I can understand the logic of this creative choice

However, stepping back it’s just piling on an not very representative future.

I’m still looking forward to it, but I’m surprised again that the EPs have such a blind spot and that Hulu/Disney left it unchallenged.

Let’s be honest, TOS’ leads were five Americans and two Canadians. Granted, the *roles* were two, or maybe two and a half, Americans, and the rest not. You cast what you can. Not everything is a result of racism.

While the cast was North American, the intent in TOS was to have racial and ethnic diversity – however poorly Doohan and Koenig delivered their accents.

The Orville casting seems to have made no effort at diversity in the main cast other than the physician and her sons. It’s odd.

Peter Macon and J. Lee are black. Jessica Szohr is a quarter black, if we’re counting beans. Chad Coleman is black; so is Ron Canada. And I know “diverse” doesn’t actually mean “diverse,” but the rest of the cast is pretty diverse as well.

What do you mean? There was a Scot, a Russian, a native of Tanzania, a Vulcan, a Japanese and two Americans.

I meant the *cast*. They weren’t exactly going to cast a Russian actor or African actress.

I dunno. I don’t look like any of these people.

I agree re. the lack of diversity. For a futuristic scifi show, its not even realistic – disappointing.

I admit, this show has been off the air so long, I have basically lost interest. Not completely, it just didn’t matter if it came back or not. But now after seeing the trailer and reading some of the interviews I am getting a little interested again. The episodes really do sound big and ambitious. I since I have Hulu so I plan to watch the first episode at least and go from there. But I really doubt I would’ve subscribed just to watch it unless I heard really positive word of mouth after it started.

I kind of feel its done after this season but hope I’m wrong. It does sound like the show is going to tell some deep and more serious stories. And we need more space opera shows on the air, not less!

“I kind of feel its done after this season but hope I’m wrong.”

As I understand, it is the final season. The show has not been officially cancelled but the cast been released from their contracts. I doubt it’ll return. Mainly because P+ now embraces that traditional Star Trek formula themselves and they know they can only avoid legal action by fizzling out silently.

Oh well that’s too bad if true. I was never a huge Orville fan but I liked it. I didn’t love season one but season two was a VAST improvement IMO in the way season two of Discovery was compared to season one.

Maybe if the response is big enough for Hulu it will return but I won’t hold my breath. As far as ‘legal action’ if this was a real issue, it would’ve never gotten on the air. Studios take that stuff very seriously, especially when you are pouring millions on a show, why even take the risk? And when was the last time you heard a show or movie sued over so-called plagiarism and actually won? And how many of those cases involves two studios? It’s very very very very rare for a reason. This stuff is probably way more complicated than the average person thinks it is and as long as they are not using direct titles or characters, it’s probably not easy to win.

Way bigger? So Shatner shows up as the giant floating head?

It might already be in the trailer: “…and may the Force be with you”. So my bet is on Mark Hamill.

or Liam

Just don’t see bigger as equating to better, especially on this show, where smaller and more intimate moments used to be what made it worth watching. The show has got too much in the way of VFX already, and the way they are pushing on that — doing the fly-in-and-through-the-ship shots and such — isn’t helping the show’s credibility at all for me. Seeing 300 fireballs in space isn’t a whole lot more interesting than seeing 30 or 3, especially when they don’t even seem to have much variety in look.

I feel the same way. My favourite from last season was not Identity. It was Home. I think MacFarlane knows what he wants, but doesn’t know what he has.

I only caught a few episodes of this series and the season finale where they are attacked by some alien race. To me, the series plays like a Star Trek copy from the idea of exploration and a federation of sorts. Actually, maybe its too close to Star Trek. If I were Paramount, I’d sue. Just saying.

Sorry, but that’s just like saying “water is wet”… The Orville doesn’t just feel like a Star Trek copy, it IS a Star Trek copy disguised as a Star Trek spoof. MacFarlane wanted to do a real Star Trek show, a next Next Generation but it was rejected in favour of DISCO. So he took the idea to another studio, inserted some funny moments and voilá: The Orville.

I guess the only reason why CBS didn’t sue them was their intial intention to take Star Trek in a very different direction. But now as they try to embrace the very same spirit with SNW and also the spoof angle with LDS, I guess this might be on the “horizon”…

That one Orville trailer alone has more depth & heart & good vibes & natural ease than all of Kurtzman/Abrams Trek combined.

👆😀👍

Just not.

I have enjoyed The Orville for what it is, but wouldn’t put it above Secret Hideout Trek.

I feel that The Orville doesn’t get as a hard a critical ride from Trek fans because it’s not officially Trek, and especially because it’s not part of Prime Universe Continuity.

Yeah, if this was official Trek, it would be shred to pieces because most of the episodes are direct rip-offs of previous Treks, You can track back most episodes to individual Trek episodes of TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT, most of the time it’s a combination of 2-3 plots. They wouldn’t get away with this so easily within official Trek canon.

And let’s be honest. The most important reason The Orville has become popular is because it’s a return to Trek’s original episodic format and contents, not because of the quality of its storytelling. This show has been a projection of fan wishes, a poll to show TPTB at CBS / P+ what kind of Star Trek people want, a living petition, a demo tape of what could be again… SNW has finally embraced those needs and therefore there is no continuous need for The Orville beyond S3…

I don’t know if I fully agree with that because SNW so far is basically re-using a lot of previous Star Trek stories too and it’s getting praise for it. I think what is happening with these shows is that nostalgia level is strong because fans missed these kinds of stories.

I’ll be very honest, when Orville and Discovery came out and you saw this almost cult like interest in Orville over Discovery, I didn’t understand it at all? Because to me, the show that is actually a Star Trek show should be the one fans gravitate to. But you saw how divided fans were about Discovery where as the Orville had instant praise. It doesn’t mean everyone liked it, but it was WAY more popular for the people who did compared to people who liked Discovery.

But when I finally watched it for myself then I started to understand because as you said, it just felt more like classic Star Trek again. It was episodic, fun, message-of-the-week and exploration again; all the things Discovery wasn’t. What’s funny about Discovery is that it look like it was trying to NOT be Star Trek of old and go a very different direction and we see how popular that direction was and why we have SNW today.

So I don’t know if people would be more critical of it because people just miss this type of story telling. And I remember the critics here of the show saying it’s basically TNG in comedy form and they said it as an insult. But there is a large segment of fans who wants exactly that. And again, SNW proves that too. It’s not as comedic as Orville obviously but it’s not the dark and edgy stuff Discovery and even Picard tried to be. It’s comfort food in every way Orville is to me, just with less jokes basically.

But as you mentioned to me in my OP, this sound like it is the last year of the show so I guess the passionate fanbase is not enough.

The producers say that the show has definitely not been cancelled…yet.

Clearly though, no one is expecting its renewal.

Joke, joke, joke?

It’s the last season, why not be epic?

When I watch the trailer, the sets, acting and dialogue are all remindful of fan productions.

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression, and my impression of Orville was made that first season, with it’s toilet humor and galaxy-quest-style fake-it-til-you-make-it shtick. And just when the eps started to improve another ep leaning on toilet humor came out, and that was it for me. I don’t hate on the series like some do, I’ll just say it wasn’t my cup of tea. I have other stuff to watch I like more so my time goes there.

This isn’t a unique phenomenon. This is what happened to ENT. Everyone seems to look back fondly on ENT now, but at the time it was actually on there was a lot of the same flak DISC gets, the same hate-the-producer crap current Trek gets, and so forth. By the time they really tried changing the show the fans had moved on, because they couldn’t overcome that first impression. So I don’t see the orville faring better with a variety of actual Trek on with different styles to suit different tastes.

Also, for DISC haters: 1) without DISC there’d be no SNW. 2) Without DISC’s success, there’d be no LD or Prodigy, or Picard. 3) DISC pulls in a lot of viewers, or it wouldn’t still be produced. Studios don’t spend money on shows nobody watches, not after the first season or maybe if the studio is willing to gamble on improvement, two. So hate on it as is your right, but don’t claim to speak for more than yourselves, please. An honest perspective is that most people who watch the show don’t even go to this site, never mind complain about the shows on it.

For what little it’s worth: I didn’t get through this season of Picard, this season of DISC left me meh, LD leans too hard on Trek humor tropes for my tastes, and I’m still not sure about Prodigy, though I think it’s pretty creative. So I’m not exactly a ringing endorsement for the new Trek series. But that’s just me. Plenty of others like it more. And that’s cool. It’s still good to have Trek back on air. And so far I’ve loved SNW, so maybe there really is a Trek for everyone now.

There is a reason for that every post TNG show was a clone of TNG except for Deep Space Nine. People were sick of TNG clones, TNG warmed over. Berman got a lot of fans complaining over recycled shows and plots. Lack of originality. And now that people hate Kurtzman Trek they want their safe, preditable and comfortable nostalgia bait/TNG blanket.But people forgot Star Trek was dead, Nemesis flopped, Enterprise couldn’t bring in even enough viewers to remain on the air it was an expensive show. The JJ movies revived Star Trek, but for the better i’m not so sure. Nobody hates Star Trek like Star Trek fans. Not sure if its Star Wars, Star Trek or Doctor Who that has a more toxic fanbase. Orville is 80s TNG meets family guy/american dad in space. Its amusing sometimes but it isn’t Star trek.

That is the irony today, SNW is being praised for basically following the Berman formula era of Star Trek and it’s working very well. Discovery got dinged on for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that it DIDN’T remind them of old Trek but something new entirely. It went a very different way on so many levels, but it really turned a lot of fans off to it at the same time. Now after so many complaints about that show, they basically started over with SNW and gave them exactly what we were getting with the old shows decades ago. It’s the same thing you could find in episodes of TOS, TNG or VOY, just with a different cast and filming techniques.

It’s just more proof that absence really can make the heart grow fonder.

I’m excited for this, although the show has been hit or miss up to this point (especially in Season 2). We go from huge epic spaceship battles to weird and terrible Rom-Com episodes. I know this is likely the final season for the show so I’ll relish it as such. With the strength of modern Star Trek (especially Lower Decks and SNW), this feels less essential. But I really enjoy this cast and its many recognizable guest stars so it’ll be sad to say goodbye.

Very excited for this. Personally, I have found way more of Trek’s heart in the Orville than in anything that Par/CBS has done in the last 10+ yrs.

Hope this season is as enjoyable as the last two and that there is a season four. Especially excited about the longer run-times.

As the show has gone on I’ve wished the more action-comedy tone of the pilot had been more of the tone of the show, rather than just turning into TNG with a little more humor. I wouldn’t have expected that to change at this point, its clear that is they are making the show they want to make, but yeah, that’s still kind of a bummer to me.

It would be so cool if in the series finale, they removed the cap of a giant beer bottle with their engines!