BEVERLY HILLS - Burdened by expectations if hardly overwhelmed by them, “Star Trek: Discovery” is about to boldly go where others have gone before — quite a few others in fact. Launching Sept. 24 on CBS, then CBS All Access, “Discovery” will become the sixth “Trek” TV series overall, the last (“Enterprise”) ending twelve years ago.
Add to this canon the thirteen movies dating back to Robert Wise’s inaugural feature in 1979 and . . . well . . . quite a few others have gone here before.
CBS on Tuesday gamely introduced series showrunners and a couple of stars — including the lead, Sonequa Martin-Green — to the assembled press at the CBS Studio Center, and it was immediately clear they all were here to settle some questions, or at least as many as they could settle before heading to the airport for a red-eye back to Toronto, where the production is based.
Of those questions: Original showrunner Bryan Fuller departed “Discovery” last October — reasons then somewhat unclear — leaving the production in the hands of veteran showrunner Alex Kurtzman, who produced the 2009 feature, and longtime Fuller production partners Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts. (All were here Tuesday.)
Was the show in trouble? Creatively a mess? Overburdened by those enormous expectations? The smoke, so to speak, was then followed by a small fire or two. CBS postponed the launch, then postponed it again. Fans got nervous. Maybe CBS too.
Kurtzman got right down to business Tuesday. Calling “Discovery” “incredibly ambitious,” he explained that “in order to justify it being on a premium [streaming] service, it has to be huge, in scope, story, emotion and character.” He said that when they asked for the postponement after Fuller’s departure for another show (“American Gods” on Starz), CBS agreed.
He added, “We wanted to build sets that were immersive and real, and didn’t feel like set extensions. We just wanted to do it right. That’s the truth.”
Truth is a relative term in TV, but Kurtzman did mount a compelling case for truthiness. He said (for example) that in lieu of the usual TV synth music score, he sought one for a 60-piece orchestra — or at least one for the show’s credits. Prolific and well-regarded composer Jeff Russo was hired, and the score followed. TV writers here got a world premiere clip of Russo conducting the orchestra. (Nice, with distant inflections of the classic soundtrack.)
But enough about the music. What about the show? “Discovery” will be set about 10 years before so-called TOS — The Original Series, which aired from ’66 to ’69 — took place. As such, it predates the genesis of this extraordinary TV universe, which only adds to its considerable creative burdens and challenges. Books and who knows what else have covered the years before the original. Only one other TV series has, “Enterprise,” which was set 100 years before and was considered a flop.
Akiva Goldsman — who won an Oscar for adapting the screenplay for 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind” and is also an executive producer of “Discovery” — was asked if the rules binding this convoluted TV/movie universe had simply become too “restrictive” to allow for another show.
He said, “This is the very first serialized ‘Star Trek,’ or by far the most serialized version that has ever existed” (“Deep Space Nine,” he allowed, was also loosely serialized). “As such, it’s about long-form character storytelling.”
Goldsman added that “what we are trying to do is speak to how the philosophical precepts [of ‘Trek’] came to be. So we’re in this pre-TOS place, in a time of war, and finding out who we are as a Federation, and as a coalition of people in the face of diversity. How did ‘Star Trek’ arrive at the utopian ideals that are endemic [to the other series and movies]? . . . The show is about the struggle and how ‘Star Trek’ earned this philosophy, and will not present it as a fait accompli.”
Those on the panel here made clear they were devoted to the show, the legacy and the philosophy and were also cognizant of those overwhelming fan expectations. But they made clear they had no intention of tying themselves in a knot over them either.
Their devotion did seem genuine too. Martin-Green, who will play First Officer Michael Burnham, said the show is still Trekkian, which is to say “it’s about those deep profound questions of who I am, how do I relate to you, how do we make acculturation a two-way thing rather than me dominating you, or me you. It’s one thing to speak of a utopia, but we haven’t reached this perfection yet. We’re trying. You’ll see us try and fail and try again and fail again.”
Now, of course, the hard part — that complicated, burdened, and much-anticipated show.