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At TCA, an Exploration of Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access
August 3, 2017  | By Ed Bark  | 1 comment

STUDIO CITY, CA -- May the force be . . . sorry, wrong space franchise.

While Star Wars remains a big-screen box office blast, CBS All Access is betting big that Star Trek also remains rocket solid 12 years after the last one, Star Trek: Enterprise, ended its run.

Star Trek: Discovery is set to premiere on Sunday, Sept. 24 after an earlier failure to launch as scheduled in January of this year. It's the first brand new series for the fledgling CBS' premium streaming channel after The Good Wife continued as The Good Fight with several returning cast members. Discovery will get a one-time test flight on the CBS broadcast network before a second hour becomes immediately available on the night of Sept. 24 to All Access subscribers exclusively.

"The people that we're looking for is anybody with a working credit card," CBS Interactive president and CEO Marc DeBevoise told TV critics late Monday afternoon before producers and key cast members of Discovery gathered on the set of The Talk for their first full-blown press conference. "We don't really care (what) the demos are or how old or young they are. We just want them to subscribe."

The Discovery strategy is obvious. Suck 'em in with a freebie and then make 'em pay.

"We're trying to push that big megaphone of broadcast (TV) into the subscription service . . . to get people subscribing and watching the entirety of our series," DeBevoise said.

Season 1 of Discovery, with future hours arriving once a week on All Access, will be divided into two "chapters." The first eight episodes run from Sept. 24 to Nov. 5 before a second helping of seven episodes begins streaming sometime in January. There also will be "aftershows" in the mode of AMC's Talking Dead.

Executive producer Alex Kurtzman is now the principal commander of Discovery after original show runner Bryan Fuller departed over creative differences last October.

A delay in release became imperative, Kurtzman said, after all involved grasped the import of their mission.

"In order to justify it being on a premium service, it had to be huge" not just in scope, he said, but in story, emotion and characterization. "And it became clearer and clearer that the world was massive and that an air date was looming that was going to compromise the quality of the show . . . And that's the truth. So we took our time."

The producers also looked long and hard for a dynamic actor to play Discovery's pivotal character, First Officer Michael Burnham. They finally settled on Sonequa Martin-Green (left) from The Walking Dead but had to wait until she was freed from her contract in April of this year.

Martin-Green, whose captain, Gabriel Lorca, is being played by veteran British thespian Jason Isaacs (left), duly pronounced herself humbled by the task before her.

"Our cups are running over with gratitude and excitement," she said. "We are bursting at the seams from the weight of it and the breadth of it."

Cast members James Frain and Mary Chieffo (below) also joined the panel. He plays a Vulcan astrophysicist who's also Spock's father, and she's L'Rell, a Klingon battle deck commander. The series is being filmed in Toronto under extreme secrecy, although TV critics were shown a brief Discovery trailer that was first unveiled last month at San Diego's Comic-Con.

Co-executive producer Akiva Goldman touts Discovery as "the most serialized version of Star Trek that has ever existed."

And although the show's "rules" are religion to fanatics of the series, the writers see "some of the limitations that are thrown up by 'canon' as opportunities," said co-show runner Aaron Harberts. "We like to stay very honest, and we stomp down if something truly isn't possible. But if there's a little bit of wiggle room that can provide us with an opportunity to zig instead of zag, we are going to do it."

This is where your at times blunt-spoken TVWorthWatching correspondent came in and pleaded "ignorant to knowing a whole lot about the so-called Star Trek canon."

"We are making the show for you," Isaacs interjected approvingly.

Further heresy from TVWW: "I don't care if you violate certain things in the eyes of fans. I'd like to see just reasonably plausible science fiction. So should you really be all that concerned if social media lights up with people that have seen every episode 20 times and are just bent out of shape that you did something horrible to them?"

For a few seconds, the entire universe seemed to be thrown out of whack.

"Oh my God, did you hear that?" Kurtzman said.

"I know. What?" Martin-Green agreed.

"Print that," Harberts added. Then he got down to earth.

"We try not to ingest too much of it," he said, "because if you try to please so many people . . . I mean, the aim is to not violate things that are very important to a great number of people. We take that very seriously, but at a certain point you have to turn off the social media and drill down on what the best moves are for the characters . . . We've found a way to balance it. If we sat there and worried about it, it's very easy to choke. And you have to push through."

But still . . .

Kurtzman acknowledged that the show's writers' room is split by "people with very different relationships to social media and to 'canon.' So it's a constant debate about where the line is in terms of canon violation. And in that debate, there's a kind of Supreme Court of opinions that I think allows us to both stay true to canon but also stretches the boundaries of it."

Beam me up.

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The original Star Trek was groundbreaking back 50 years ago, but it was also cartoonish, due to the limited and primitive special effects available back then. ST:The Next Generation was an attempt to revisit that universe with adult characters and more grown-up, computer-generated technology. But since then, the various spin-offs, reboots, prequels seemed to just be attempts by corporations that had acquired the Star Trek intellectual property to squeeze another few drops from the turnip. The fact that the current generation of robber barons at CBS are trying to get more juice from this spent husk of a turnip shows a bankruptcy of fresh ideas and doesn't bode well for CBS Access (which should not exist in the first place). Let it go, and appreciate Gene Roddenberry's creative vision from half a century ago. Come up with an actual fresh idea, Les Moonves.
Aug 3, 2017   |  Reply
well said Neil
Aug 3, 2017
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