Interview: Tawny Newsome On ‘Lower Decks’ Season 5 And Star Trek Love In ‘Starfleet Academy’ Writers Room

(Getty/Paramount)

While Picard and Next Generation got most of the attention at Sunday’s Saturn Awards, Star Trek: Lower Decks was also nominated for an award. Tawny Newsome was there on behalf of the show and TrekMovie had a chance to talk to her about what’s next for the animated comedy and her character, Beckett Mariner. We also discussed her current work as a writer on the upcoming Starfleet Academy series.

When we last talked to you in November you had just started recording again for season 5, so are you still recording?

What am I doing? I think I’m done with season 5. I had to mentally be like, “Did I do episode 10?” I did. There’s going to be ADR and stuff we have to redo once it’s animated, but the bulk of the recording is in the can.

I know this is more for [showrunner] Mike [McMahan], but how are the chances of it still arriving this year, because the strike slowed it down a bit?

I don’t know anything officially, but judging by my math, I think we stuck to our production schedule kind of well. Because we were really ahead before the strike. And when we stopped, it was interesting because, technically, we were still allowed to record but as a cast being part of a larger franchise of shows that were not permitted to work, it didn’t feel right. And so [Boimler actor] Jack [Quaid] and I and all the other actors, we were torn between not wanting to put pressure on our animators and delay their production timeline, but also really wanting to honor the spirit of the strike even though we’re technically allowed to work. So we did not work during the strike. And I think it still is going to work out and I’m really sorry to our lovely artists who work on it if we did put pressure on them. I’m sorry.

So for season 5, would you say it is more of the same good thing, or something different?

Yeah, it’s both. It’s more of the same in a good way, but not more of the same in the thing that I think a lot of people were ready for Marriner to put behind her. Which is some of that self-sabotaging energy that she has grown from and put behind her. She has had to embrace the promotion and figure out a way to be chaotic, but with a little more responsibility and growth.

L-R Gabrielle Ruiz as T’Lyn, Noël Wells as D’Vana Tendi, Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner, Eugene Cordero as Rutherford and Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler in episode 10, season 4 of Lower Decks (Paramount+)

Let’s switch shows, are you still at work writing Starfleet Academy?

I am indeed. I am very writing for Academy. My brain is smoking right now writing for Academy. We’re in the throes of it, yeah.

That was originally planned to shoot early this year. Is that still possible after the strikes?

I don’t understand how that works. I know when my episode was due. I pay attention to my deadlines. I don’t know anything about production timelines. That all is new to me.

The last time we talked you said Trek fans will love the show and that there are “canon cops” in the writers room. I know Easter eggs and references is the Lower Decks thing, but is it that kind of thing or more thematically how it fits well with Star Trek?

The thing is, it’s not like an Easter egg reference show. That’s a very Lower Decks-type flavor. I don’t think that’s anyone’s goal in the room. There might still be some just because a lot of us are fans of Trek, and so they might work their way in when it’s appropriate to the story. But in general, our showrunners Alex Kurtzman and Noga Landau are very focused on telling stories that really advance this crew of characters that you’re going to grow to love. They’re young people. That’s an age we haven’t seen focused on in a Trek cast before. So yeah, I really think it’s just about telling stories that feel very real to that age group, but also to people who are starting their career in Starfleet.

I think you said before the characters are high school or early college…

I think canonically—and this isn’t me telling tales out of school—speaking from the entire canon of Star Trek, I believe that the age you can be in the Academy is somewhere around 18. So I think it more resembles college age, but don’t put that in a headline, like “Tawny Newsome Says This Is A College Show” and I’ll get in trouble.

But there are also major older adult characters, right?

I mean, it’s an Academy. So there are teachers, there are students—I am being so careful, but you know there are teachers, right?

It is still Star Trek, so there are still spaceships too, I assume, at least simulated?

Um, I mean, sure. Who knows? [laughs]

You are very good at this…

You know why I’m good at it? It is because I say something innocuous and then you all make it a headline and then I’m like, “Well, that’s not what I was talking about.”

Okay, what headline do you want us to say about Academy? What should the fans know?

I love this. Okay. The headline that I want you to say about Academy is we have a room full of writers who love Star Trek and are trying to tell a Star Trek story in a new way and we’re really excited to do that.

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More to come from the Saturn Awards

TrekMovie spoke to more Star Trek presenters, nominees, and winners at the Saturn Awards, including some non-Trek (yet) celebrities, so come back for more interviews and updates.


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The thing is, it’s not like an Easter egg reference show. That’s a very Lower Decks-type flavor. I don’t think that’s anyone’s goal in the room. 

PHEW!!! So tired of that gimmicky, fan service BS. Great to hear!

I believe that the age you can be in the Academy is somewhere around 18. 

More great news. I was really worried it could go younger than that.

That was never a worry for me. It’s always been depicted as college-age, except for true prodigies like Wesley.

OK, but now you got me worried that they will have a Wesley/Doogie/Young Sheldon/Urkel prodigy type character for comic relief…lol

Wesley didn’t go to the academy until he was 18.

But if you’re Nepo baby Jack Crusher, you can be over 30 and graduate the Academy in only one year

The Borg-Force is strong in that Padawan.

Preview of Key Line from Legacy Ep 2.7:

Borg Queen to Jack: “Sister! You have a twin sister! Jean-Luc was wise to hide her from me.”

Actually, the character was supposed to be a little over 20 but they cast an actor well in his thirties who definitely did not look the age he was supposed to be.

LOL I read about that. Maybe warp speed makes some people age faster than others.

The thing is, the press release referenced the age of admission being 16 (in human years). That makes me think they’re aiming for a high school vibe, which I distinctly don’t want to see. Yes, there are prodigies like Wesley, who applied when he was 15 (the University of Chicago used to be famous for taking kids who were rising juniors in high school), but that shouldn’t be the norm.

I agree that her dismissal of the “Easter egg reference show” is encouraging, but OTOH, the proof will be in the pudding. It’s hard to discern things based on early publicity, and no one doing PR ever says “this show will suck.”

The thing is, the press release referenced the age of admission being 16 (in human years). That makes me think they’re aiming for a high school vibe, which I distinctly don’t want to see.

Ugh, that’s what I was afraid of.

There’s already Prodigy for characters in the teenager (and below) age range (and that’s a really great show, IMO). Granted Starfleet Academy is being developed with the knowledge Prodigy is no longer on the same service, but it’s still part of the franchise. I don’t think the people running the franchise want two concurrent shows to just cover the same storytelling territory.

OK, I hope you are correct.

When did Wesley enter the academy? He was like 16 or younger.

Tawny’s just the best. A Trek fan living the dream.

Academy will be the first TRULY fresh setting for a Trek show since DS9. Finally, we’ll get a planet-side show and a much more in-depth look at Earth in the Trek future, particularly if some students do what Sisko did and beam home to their part of the planet for dinner.

Agree with your overall point, but are we sure that the 31st Century Academy will be on Earth?

You’re definitely right about that. That does sound interesting, especially seeing what Earth looks like in the 32nd century.

Finally

I agree, a huge reason why I’m excited about this show. It will be nice to have a more, well, grounded setting in Trek.

HOWEVER, I don’t know how true that will ultimately be either. I feel pretty certain it’s going to be just as much a ship based show (or at least an outer space show) at the end of the day. And that’s mostly due to one line they said in the original press release, “a new enemy that threatens both the Academy and the Federation itself.”. Now unless these guys are trying to invade Earth a few episodes per season, I have a feeling they will be meeting them in space at times. And I remember posing this question when the show was first announced, why would you need cadets to face an enemy when you still have actual Starfleet protecting the Federation. I think we’re going to get some ‘on the job’ training.

But I really do hope we get some episodes focused solely on Earth and just what life is like in that period there.

since it’s a CW-esque show – the threat will be some Ferengi selling vape pens
don’t do drugs kids!

Okay, P+, how about season 6?

The fact that she doesn’t even bother to reference a season 6 gives you your answer.

Maybe she wasn’t asked in the interview or genuinely doesn’t know yet. The voice cast are probably the last ones to find out. They might not even announce it until after the next season airs.

I doubt a decision has been made either way.

Agreed. And I can’t think of a single time for shows on P+ where they cancelled a show where anyone working on it knew in advance? We literally learned Prodigy and Discovery was getting the boot the same time as the people working on it did.

And with only 3 shows in production: LDS, SNW and SFA, it’s probably OK for now.

That’s a pretty big leap and wishful thinking on your part.

Man I swear I never thought I would hear the words ‘Lower Decks’ and ‘season 5’ in the same sentence but here we are! 😂😂😂

Absolutely love everything about this show. Next season sounds like it will be as great as season 4.

Don’t care about the Academy show…yet. But every time Tawny talks about it I feel more encouraged about it. She really loves Star Trek and you can feel it in every interview she gives.

ok ok… i wasn’t thrilled at an academy show but i believe her and if there’s this great trek energy in the writer’s room… i can get into this. and i do like it’s something different. we can have only so many ships zipping through the quadrant.

fool me once, shame on you, fool me this many times…I mean can we trust anything anyone says anymore?

No, we cannot.

weird. dont know what you mean. love lower deck and disco and prod and snw… you saying you dont trust her. what about her dont you trust?

You haven’t like any of the new stuff albatrossity? I thought you liked Picard season 3 at least? But maybe I’m confusing you with someone else?

Popping in only to say that looking at that photo of Tawny Newsome and Dawnn Lewis, I could absolutely believe that they were related if we ever got both in live action.

Are you talking about the Saturn Awards photo of Tawny Newsome with Michelle Hurd (Picard’s Raffi)? 🤔

That was Michelle Hurd? Looked like Dawnn Lewis to me. Oops.

Would love to see a live action Captain Freeman!!!! Maybe if we get another crossover with SNW?

I just want allegorical science fiction with compelling characters who talk like adults.

In the Kurtzman Era?? Good luck!

I sadly don’t think that’s the vision for Star Trek anymore

All sounds great to me. I listened to the All Access Podcast and Anthony suggested they may start shooting the show after the S31 movie wraps up? Maybe in the Spring or in the summer the latest?

As for LDS, pretty certain it’s coming this year.

We had Space Academy back in 1977, With Dr. Smith in charge.

Re-using parts of Ark II for the Seeker… :)

I remain so skeptical about this concept- I really think showing what the Academy is like is something the show will have a hard time living up to people’s imaginations of, and just seem like it’s missing important factors no matter what.

But as much as I am warry of the premise, it does seem clear that everyone involved is giving it their all, and with great affection. And hey, Starfleet Academy was one of my favorite video games in the 90s. So… I don’t know. Cautiously optimistic, I guess! :-)

Imagine Mariner and Raffi Musiker together.

They’re close enough in the timeline that it actually could happen without involving time travel.

Making out? Because that’s how it’s playing out in my head.

Do a comedic bedroom scene with them Roger Rabbit-style, with and animated Mariner doing it with a live action Raffi — and the LDS fans with guffaw crazily, and think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, and P will then inform us all that yes, the scene is indeed canon.

L🤣L we need this

This show is aimed at a younger audience. From a business standpoint, it’s probably meant to bring new fans to the franchise.
I’m not expecting this show to appeal to us older folks.

Older folks hate the youths?

It would be interesting if Peria from Lanthanite was still alive and appeared as a teacher.