Bryan Fuller dishes the cosmic space dust on the new Star Trek: Discovery series
Where it fits in the timeline, the Starfleet Ship design, new characters and streaming abilities with CBS
By Abbie Bernstein
Star Trek: Discovery, the newest iteration of Star Trek, will premiere its first episode next year on CBS, then move for the remainder of its thirteen-episode first season to CBS’ new streaming portal, CBS All Access.
Bryan Fuller, who co-developed Star Trek: Discovery with Alex Kurtzman and serves as show runner and one of the executive producers, got his start as a writer on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager. Since then, Fuller has created and co-created a multitude of series, including Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. He is also currently working with Michael Green on adapting Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods as a limited series for Starz.
At a Q&A panel for Star Trek: Discovery at CBS’ portion of the summer 2016 Television Critics Association press tour, and then at a follow-up conversation with several reporters, Fuller says what he can about Star Trek: Discovery, with several caveats. The first is that Season 1 is still being written. No cast has been set yet; more announcements are expected to be made in October.
What’s the second?
“I’ve never been a part of something in this position [on something] as big as Star Trek,” Fuller relates. “Normally, if you ask me a question, I’ll tell you the answer with very little censorship. But I have an anvil hanging over my head about what I can say and when. And that’s really about just keeping it fresh.”
Right now, here’s what Fuller can tell us. First of all, he reveals when and in what timeline the Star Trek: Discovery takes place. Because of the reset in the new Star Trek films, there are now at least two Star Trek universes.
“The correct designations according to the Internet now,” Fuller explains, “are the Kelvin Universe, which is the J.J. Abrams [movie] universe, and the Prime Universe. We are going to be set in the Prime Universe, and we’re about ten years before Kirk’s five-year mission. So that gives us an opportunity to bridge the gap between [Star Trek:] Enterprise and the original series, and also to really help us redefine the visual style of Star Trek. As some of you who may be more familiar with my work, the aesthetic of a show is very, very important. So to take Star Trek and to be able to look at some of the designs and modernize not only the way we’re telling stories, but the way you’re seeing aliens in this environment, is something that I’d been dying to do since I worked on Star Trek the first time.”
Bryan Fuller was a writer and producer on Star Trek: Voyager (1997)
Will the incident be something that Star Trek fans will immediately recognize?
“Yes. They should be very happy. I am. It’s something I want to see.”
Star Trek: Discovery will update the franchise’s look with contemporary visual technology, Fuller offers.
“Since we are doing this series in 2016, and all of the other series have been produced in a timeline that isn’t as sophisticated as we are now with what we can do production-wise. We’re going to be re-establishing an entire look for the series, not only for the series, but for what we want to accomplish with Stark Trek beyond the series. So we have to start early on with a touch point where people can understand and have access into it, show them how we’re reimagining Star Trek, and then hold their hands as we pull them into, hopefully, a lot of different iterations of different timelines beyond what we have seen.”
“One of the touchstones for the inspiration is, we were looking at, what is going to be the feel and aesthetic of a new Star Trek series? I think J.J. Abrams, in the 2009 movie, really launched a fantastic reimagining of what Star Trek could be in that Kelvin timeline. And so as we were looking to have something distinct about what our Star Trek was going to look like, we [found] there was an abandoned Star Trek movie in the Seventies. And Ralph McQuarrie had done some wonderful illustrations, and we saw those, and saw harder lines of a ship and started talking about race cars and Lamborghinis in the Seventies and James Bond cars, and started working on the designs, taking those inspirations and coming up with something completely unique to us. And everybody got a glimpse of what the ship looked like as a work in progress. So much of that has already changed, because that design wasn’t even finalized. It was like, ‘What can we share with the folks at Comic-Con that lets them into the process?’ And already I look at that design and go, ‘We’ve got different nacelles. We’ve got different lines there.’ So it’s an evolution, and we’re finding that look as we get closer and closer to production.”
Bryan Fuller was a writer on Hannibal, which was nominated for several awards, including a Primetime Emmy.
The Starfleet ship Discovery will resemble the Enterprise enough that fans will easily recognize it as part of the Star Trek universe, Fuller assures us.
“It’s a saucer section, nacelles. The design that we leaked early on has changed considerably since we got it. But it’s still very much inspired by those Ralph McQuarrie illustrations of – I think Planet of the Titans was the name of the abandoned movie – but there are a lot of really cool illustrations of that era. If you’re curious, do a Google search for Ralph McQuarrie and Star Trek.”
We will also meet some new aliens, Fuller promises, although all he can say about any of them is that one is named Saru.
Then there’s Star Trek: Discovery’s storyline and main character. Fuller says,
“One of the things that was very exciting for me as a Star Trek fan was, there’s an incident in Star Trek history, in the history of Starfleet, that had been talked about, but never really fully explored. And it felt like to do this series, launching a chapter of this first iteration of a streaming service, where we’re going to be telling a much more serialized story, to dig deep into something that was for me always very tantalizing, and to tell that story through a character who is on a journey that is going to teach her how to get along with others in the galaxy, because for her to truly understand something that is alien, she has to first understand herself, and that felt like a relatable journey that we could all go on.”
The lead character is a lieutenant commander in Starfleet.
“We haven’t cast her yet, so we don’t know what [ethnicity] she will be. The story that is fascinating for me is, we’ve seen six series now from captains’ points of view, and to see a different perspective from a character on a starship, who has a different dynamic with the captain, with subordinates, felt like it was going to give us richer context to have different types of stories with that character. It is ensemble, but we do have that main female protagonist.”
If Star Trek: Discovery continues for multiple seasons, we may see characters we know from Star Trek: TOS. For the first season, though, Fuller notes,
“First and foremost, I think we really want to convince you and establish the greatness of the characters that are going to be introduced.”
As with most Star Trek series, Discovery will have a core cast of about seven characters. As has been previously announced, one of them will be gay.
“What was very interesting for me,” Fuller says, “going into this process as a gay man who worked on Star Trek: Voyager, I still have, in a file folder in my garage, the hate mail that Star Trek: Voyager got because there was a rumor that Jeri Ryan’s character [Seven of Nine] was going to be gay. I kept that letter, because I was like, ‘If I ever do a Star Trek show, there’s going to be a gay character.’ Alex Kurtzman, my [Star Trek: Discovery writing/producing] partner, before I even got a chance to say we need a gay character, the straight man in the team [Kurtzman] was telling me that we need a gay character. And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know.’”
Star Trek: Discovery’s arced narrative will take advantage of the streaming format.
“I think with modern storytelling, particularly the way we’re seeing in a serialized world, that to sustain one story over twenty-two episodes is going to be really challenging, but to sustain it over ten or thirteen, you can be much more cohesive and you don’t have to worry about treading water and storylines that take tangents that aren’t really about the bigger picture. So it allows us to just focus on what’s important in the story.
“It’s really telling it as though it’s a novel, with each episode being a chapter of that novel. And within that chapter is a beginning, middle and an end to that segment of the story. So we will have episodes that exist by themselves but are [pieces] in a much bigger story.”
Given that streaming services do not have Broadcast Standards, can we expect more sexuality and violence from Star Trek: Discovery? Speaking of which, is anybody worried about the acronym for the new show’s title? Fuller is way ahead of us on that last one.
“There’s a reason we call it ST:D,” he replies with a laugh. “It’s not a nebula you’re flying through, it’s cloudy discharge. We’re going to have a broader spectrum to explore those issues, but it is still Star Trek. And we are not subject to broadcast Standards and Practices, but Hannibal was, and we got away with murder. So there will probably be slightly more graphic content. And we discuss every day about language and what’s appropriate and how far should we go and is it appropriate to see a bridge blow up and have somebody say, ‘Oh, shit,’ or stronger than that. So it’s something that we’re weighing as we’re going on, and we have to feel our way through it. I imagine we’re going to shoot scenes a couple of ways and figure out what feels authentic when we’re in the editing room.”
Bryan Fuller confirms Star Trek: Discovery will take place in the original universe.
When it comes to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic original vision, Fuller states,
“It’s vital. It’s at its core. And when I say it’s about this woman’s journey who, in order to understand something that is so completely alien from her, she has to first understand herself, that feels like it is going right to the heart of not only what’s happening in the world today, because it’s so easy to narcissistically look at somebody who is different than ourselves and think how we would think in their shoes, but it’s a complete inaccuracy, because we can’t imagine who they are and how they think, because we are not them. And that’s part of our journey on this planet, to get along, and it’s also part of the character’s journey in this first season.
“I feel very blessed to be up here representing Star Trek on behalf of Alex Kurtzman and Secret Hideout Productions and the fantastic team of writers that we’ve compiled for Star Trek: Discovery. Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts are my co-show runners on this show, who I’ve worked with on Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies. We have a long, great history of working together and we’re bringing that sense of fun in storytelling to this show. We get to work with Nicholas Meyer, who wrote and directed some of the best Star Trek movies. We’ve got a lot of talent on this show building it up and getting ready to start shooting in just a couple of months. So we don’t have anybody cast yet, but we’re in the process of casting and it is, without exaggeration, a dream come true for me to be working on it.”