Like many fans, I was overjoyed when CBS announced that the Trek franchise would finally return to the small screen with Star Trek: Discovery — and that joy only increased when we learned that Bryan Fuller would be running the new show. Fuller, who has talked about his dream Star Trek show ever since Enterprise was cancelled in 2005, seemed the perfect fit for Discovery. But even from the start, something felt a little bit off about the production, and as it turned out, I was right to be concerned.
The last few months have been very disheartening for those enthusiastic for Star Trek: Discovery. It was delayed by six months, Fuller left the show, and a CBS exec said that Trek had no place on broadcast TV.
Although the first casting was revealed (and so far the actors are very promising), the shine of the initial announcement has worn off. With recent developments, fans and critics alike are beginning to get very worried about the state of Discovery — and whether CBS is dooming this show before it even airs.
Streaming Stumbling Block
It all started off with All Access — CBS' streaming service — which fans in the US still have a problem with. #StarTrekDiscovery was intended to launch the service, which has faced much contention over the fact that the shows will still feature commercial breaks, despite the $5.99 subscription fee. Internationally, Star Trek: Discovery will be distributed on #Netflix, without ads.
It does seem like the series will work well online — by making the most of serialized storytelling and binge-watch culture, Discovery could breathe new life into the franchise. The lack of censorship is especially exciting, as in the past, Star Trek has been hampered by network restrictions in regards to LGBT representation.
And yet, there are problems with this, as CBS is hinging the streaming service's success on the Trek fans who will watch the new show. The network's All Access release schedule seems to be why Discovery's production was rushed — and why Bryan Fuller was forced to step down as showrunner.
But why just premiere Discovery on All Access, and not on TV as well? That would be because CBS doesn't seem to have any idea why Star Trek has so endured, which became all the more obvious with exec Jim Laznor's recent comments.
"Sci-fi is not something that has traditionally done really well on broadcast... It’s not impossible, for the future, if somebody figures it out. And things like ‘Lost’ and ‘Heroes’ have had parts of, you know, sci-fi, but historically, a show like ‘Star Trek’ wouldn’t necessarily be a broadcast show, at this point."
Laznor's comments baffled pretty much all of us, considering the success of many broadcast scifi shows like The X Files, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, Westworld and, um, Star Trek.
It's something of a Star Trek tradition for the show writers to have significant tensions with CBS. Ultimately that's the real hurdle that Discovery is facing — so far, the fledgling show is suffering serious setbacks because of this.
Fuller Forced Out
Initially, Discovery was meant to premiere in January, but Fuller urged the network to give him and the production team more time to get things right. When the six month delay was announced, both CBS and Fuller touted dedication to quality as the main priority. Now, in an interview with Newsweek, Fuller says that CBS' time constraints ultimately forced him to leave the show, as he also has a showrunning duty to Starz's American Gods.
"Ultimately, with my responsibilities [elsewhere], I could not do what CBS needed to have done in the time they needed it done for Star Trek."
It certainly seems as though CBS need to get Discovery out as soon as possible in order to sell All Access. When the streaming service launches in January, its flagship show will be The Good Wife — a series with a dedicated, yet small fanbase, that doesn't really compare with the sense of history carried by Star Trek.
CBS have been sitting on Star Trek since 2005. Their hands were tied somewhat by their contract with Paramount: Because the companies share Star Trek, CBS is legally obliged to wait six months after any Star Trek film is released by Paramount, to avoid brand confusion. If they really wanted to make a new Trek show with Fuller as showrunner, CBS had plenty of time to do this. But it's likely that the success of big scifi franchises, not to mention the resurgence of scifi on TV and film, is what finally persuaded the network to revive Star Trek.
But, as Laznor's comments prove, CBS just didn't want to do this on broadcast TV. They had a new streaming service to launch, and the international popularity of Star Trek, along with its legacy appeal, made Discovery the perfect lynch pin upon which to hang the success of All Access. This meant Discovery had to be rushed through to be ready when All Access launched — and this rigorous schedule is why Fuller had to step down as showrunner.
It's a real blow to hear that Fuller won't be helming the franchise any more. His style, which fuses technicolor whimsy with edgy, character driven storytelling, is absolutely perfect for Star Trek. We can only hope that elements of his vision for the show remain, despite his lack of involvement going forward.
"I’m not involved in production, or postproduction, so I can only give them the material I’ve given them and hope that it is helpful for them. I’m curious to see what they do with it."
But the biggest concern I, as a fan, have right now is that Star Trek: Discovery won't make it through these production difficulties — at least, with the quality of storytelling we had hoped for. Of course, I'll reserve judgement until the show actually airs, and despite Fuller stepping down I'm still stupidly excited for Discovery. Yet all of this has really left a bad taste in my mouth, not to mention those lingering concerns about All Access' impact on the series. Forget the Klingons and Romulans: Discovery has to survive CBS first.
Tell us in the comments: Are you still excited for Star Trek: Discovery?