The following is an opinion piece about the state of Star Trek: Discovery following the departure of Bryan Fuller as showrunner.
Last year, Star Trek icon William Shatner released a pretty solid documentary about the early days of production on Star Trek: The Next Generation called Chaos on the Bridge.
For anyone who might not be aware of the behind-the-scenes turmoil on the show back in the late 1980s, Shatner’s documentary is something you should watch. Seriously, I’m amazed that The Next Generation not only got through that mess, but they ended up thriving.
And right now, I’m hoping for the same from the upcoming CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery. That 30 years from now, when I am pushing 70, we can look back at the amazing impact Discovery made in resurrecting Star Trek for television. Because right now? The show is a complete mess.
That comes from me, someone who has been accused more than once of being a Hollywood apologist. Hell, I’ve already been accused of that with Discovery when I brushed off the six-month release delay to being something studios typically do for various reasons.
For me, delaying Discovery from a January premiere to May wasn’t that big of a deal. Showrunner Bryan Fuller had his hands full, not just on American Gods for Starz, but also Amazing Stories for NBC. As far as I knew, not a single person had been cast for the series yet, which would have to go in front of the cameras before Thanksgiving to meet that January launch.
There’s nothing wrong with more time – unless it’s being used to simply try and slap a Band-Aid on a wound you desperately hope isn’t an artery cut.
I have been trying to stay optimistic about the series from the beginning. I was happy to see Fuller coming onboard, even if I felt he was sometimes too far ahead of his time when it came to television. My first choice, of course, would be Battlestar Galactica and fellow Star Trek alum Ronald D. Moore. He was ready to turn the entire Star Trek concept on its head, but I know there was no way CBS would partner with Sony – who Moore is currently in a development deal with – in order to bring his vision of Star Trek to the world.
However, right away, I worried about his schedule. Doing Star Trek is completely different from any other series. There is 50 years of backstory, there are millions of fans, and there is that need to find a balance between keeping fans happy, and appealing to a broader audience – something the Star Trek television series always have struggled to do.
The promotion for the series has been atrocious. So many wasted opportunities this year alone – San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic-Con, Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, and even CBS’ very own official Star Trek convention in New York this past September. Perfect opportunities to talk about the series, to introduce cast, to maybe show some conceptual work.
Except there was absolutely nothing.
For me, the little we’ve heard about the concept really underwhelms me. Another prequel? Really? With a ship that looked like it was ripped out of the plans to create Star Trek: Planet of the Titans in the 1970s?
That was going to be a hard sell. Yet I remained optimistic. I liked the fan-style approach Fuller was taking to Star Trek, even bringing in names from the past like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan writer and director Nicholas Meyer. And finding familiar names, even with limited filmmaking experience, like Rod Roddenberry, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who fans absolutely adore, and rightfully so.
Sometimes I wonder if this is me actually trying to put Discovery out there, and not CBS. I mean, I’ve been working for years to produce a simple Web-based miniseries. But I have no experiencing producing television. CBS owns a major television network. We both shouldn’t be comparable.
The major problems that plagued previous Star Trek series was geared toward over-reliance on a single torchbearer, Rick Berman, and the inability for Star Trek to evolve with entertainment. Berman was so intent on keeping Roddenberry’s vision alive that he forgot Roddenberry himself would adapt to the times, or innovate himself, when it came to Star Trek. He made a significant number of adjustments to storytelling, characters and such when doing The Next Generation, and he likely would’ve continued to evolve as audiences did.
Instead, Star Trek: Enterprise was basically the same level of storytelling as The Next Generation two years before. I remember sneaking back to watch an episode of Enterprise later in its run after the then Sci-Fi Channel debuted Battlestar Galactica, and compared the two series.
To me, one felt like it was geared toward adults who were still recovering from a post-9/11 world. The other was simply Enterprise, which acted as if time hadn’t moved since 1987.
Fans later complained there was over-saturation. But it’s not that there was too much Star Trek during that late 1990s. There simply wasn’t enough good Star Trek. The same stories. The same characters (with different names and on different ships, but still all the same).
Even strong concepts like throwing a ship 70 years away from Earth and forcing two enemies to work together, as Voyager was designed, was poorly executed. By the third episode, you forgot the two sides were enemies, and all this potential internal drama was completely lost.
I would rather have no Star Trek than a Star Trek that is not willing to evolve and innovate. I don’t want to see the same thing we’ve already seen in some 600 hours already. I want something different.
A decade ago, before J.J. Abrams was asked to join Star Trek, Emmy-winning Band of Brothers writer Erik Jendresen was hired to write a new Star Trek movie. He decided to go the prequel route, just like the recently cancelled Enterprise, and I blasted him on my old site, SyFy Portal.
Jendresen, however, read that and reached out to me. Told me some choice words, actually, and how I wasn’t giving it a chance. I told him I’d like to learn more about it, but he needs to stop being silent. So he agreed to let me interview him.
Jendresen was not a Star Trek fan, but damn, did he have an amazing idea. I would continue to talk to him by phone and by email on a very regular basis while he penned that Star Trek script, even getting little confidential tidbits along the way that I could never breathe a word about.
When Paramount Pictures moved on to Abrams, Jendresen’s script was shelved. However, it was leaked, and if you ever had a chance to read it, you would be blown away. His idea was a trilogy idea that involved the Romulan War in a way we would’ve never expected – but was true to the genre of science-fiction.
The characters, including a grandparent to Capt. Kirk, were exceptional. The presentation was something high-concept television series actually use to this day.
Right before CBS announced plans for Discovery, Jendresen called me up. He wondered what I thought about him pitching his film script as a series. Not that he needed my input, but I think he wanted to ask a Star Trek fan, and I was the first person that popped into his mind (I’m loud and annoying, so that happens).
I went back and read the script. The first half would be an amazing pilot. You would have to shift some elements around, but the entire script was perfect to lay out the initial arcs of the first three seasons.
I still think that, even if it’s far too late to pitch it, because Discovery is so deep into pre-production. Yet, if I had any say, I would ask CBS to just put the entire project on hold. Wait for the rumored Viacom/CBS merger to complete next year, and then Jendresen’s script would be available.
Because I’ll be honest, when I watch that first episode of Discovery, at least for me, it’s going to have to exceed the bar set by Jendresen. I’m just one voice, but did I mention I’m loud and annoying?
The Discovery ship is not sinking, but the waters have been rough. CBS needs to get this together, and fast. Otherwise, Mr. Shatner I’m sure already is planning Chaos on the Bridge 2.
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