Friday’s special Entertainment Weekly issue focusing on Star Trek: Discovery features a lengthy cover story going behind the scenes on development and soon-debut of the long-awaited television revival of the Trek franchise.
But along with the insight onto the current cast and characters of the new series, EW‘s James Hibbard also reveals through interviews and investigation the details behind the surprise departure of series creator and one-time showrunner Bryan Fuller back in October.
To lead the writing, [CBS] looked to showrunner Bryan Fuller… [who] for years publicly lobbied for the return of ‘Trek’ to television, specifically with a black woman at the fore.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about how many black people were inspired by seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of a ship,” Fuller says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about how many Asian people were inspired by seeing George Takei and feeling that gave them hope for their place in the future. I wanted to be part of that representation for a new era.”
Rumors swirled about for many months that Discovery (though at that time still untitled) would be some form of anthology series, bouncing through time and space throughout the Trek universe.
Fuller publicly shot down that rumor in June 2016, but it turns out that’s actually where he wanted to go all along, from the first meeting with CBS.
Fuller sat with CBS executives to deliver his pitch. It wasn’t just for a ‘Trek’ series but for multiple serialized anthology shows that would begin with the ‘Discovery’ prequel, journey through the eras of Captain James T. Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and then go beyond to a time in ‘Trek’ that’s never been seen before.
“The original pitch was to do for science fiction what ‘American Horror Story’ had done for horror,” Fuller says. “It would platform a universe of ‘Trek’ shows.”
CBS countered with the plan of creating a single serialized show and then seeing how it performed. It was a fair compromise, yet demonstrated the first conflict of vision between a powerful company and an inventive writer that would eventually lead to a dramatic falling-out.
Fuller was as positive as could be about his aims for the series, and how things were going behind the scenes, when he gave the first major detail dump on the show last August – but things weren’t quite running so smoothly, as EW‘s Hibbard reports.
About a year ago the trades reported that longtime television director David Semel would be joining the series to helm the pilot episode, but Fuller wasn’t on board with that call:
The studio hired [veteran procedural director] David Semel… to direct the ‘Discovery’ pilot against Fuller’s wishes. (Fuller and CBS had no comment on this.) The two clashed in pre-production, with sources saying Fuller thought he was wrong for the job.
The EW report also details issues that didn’t help the situation, like the series overrunning its projected $6 Million-per-episode budget allotment, the difficulty in creating and crafting Starfleet and other costumes of the 22nd Century, but the biggest conflict was having Fuller’s attention split between Discovery and his other series, American Gods, while still trying to hit the original January 2017 launch date plans.
[Perhaps] the biggest issue was trying to launch ‘Discovery’ by January 2017, a date some felt was unrealistic. Fuller was striving to design the new show’s uniforms, sets, and aliens, while also figuring out his first seasons’ complex arc.
[CBS] executives say there were frustrated that, giving the ticking clock, Fuller was spending so much time on his equally ambitious Starz show, ‘American Gods,’ which was simultaneously shooting its debut season.
News broke in December 2016 that The Walking Dead actress Sonequa Martin-Green had been tapped to lead the new series – a fact CBS could not announce until months later due to an agreement with AMC – but Fuller had his eyes on the actress for several months ahead of her association with Discovery making news.
After being pushed from a January to May 2017 premiere due to production issues, Martin-Green’s casting would require yet another delay in Discovery‘s arrival.
In September 2016, CBS pushed ‘Discovery’s’ premiere date to May to give the production more runway… a few weeks later Fuller felt he found the crucial piece of the puzzle when he met with [Sonequa] Martin-Green to play his lead, Michael Burnham.
Yet even that decision ran into a seemingly insurmountable roadblock because AMC would not release the actress until her ‘Walking Dead’ character died on screen in April. The only way the production could hire Martin-Greene was if the show’s premiere was delayed a second time.
Finally, CBS announced last October that Fuller would be leaving the series but would still “remains an executive producer and will continue to help map out the story arc for the entire season” – but by December, Fuller was publicly telling press that he was “not involved” in any capacity with the series.
EW now specifically reports that Fuller was asked to leave Discovery.
In October, after months of backstage tension, CBS Television Studios asked Fuller to step down as showrunner… [the] captain’s chair was filled by [Aaron] Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg, two writers Fuller had worked with for years.
Some of Fuller’s ideas were tossed, however — from the more heavily allegorical and complex story line to his choice of uniforms (a subdued spin on the original series’ trio of primary colors).
While Fuller said in December that CBS “has my number… if they need me,” all signs seem to point towards Fuller keeping Discovery in the rear-view mirror:
“I got to dream big,” Fuller says. “I was sad for a week, and then I salute the ship and compartmentalize my experience.”
Many months later, Fuller saw the ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ trailer. How did he feel watching that? Fuller pauses: “What I can say is… my reaction was that I was happy to see a black woman and an Asian woman in command of a starship.”
This issue of Entertainment Weekly is in stores today — and we’ll see how Star Trek: Discovery turned out when the series debuts September 24.