Continuing Star Trek: Discovery‘s trend of splashing across magazine covers this last month, Hollywood mainstay Variety sets sensors on the upcoming new series for their monthly issue’s newest cover piece – also featuring some lovely new imagery from the Toronto-based sets.
Variety’s Daniel Holloway covered a lot of the Discovery behind-the-scenes backstory we’ve heard before, but included some new details to round out some of those tales in his reporting.
Heading into Comic-Con, CBS’ short-term objective was to flip the “Discovery” narrative, which had become about delays and departures. It got a galaxy-class narrative flipper in the form of Martin-Green, who emerged as the star of a packed San Diego panel featuring cast and producers.
Taking up the mantle of “Trek” heroes past, Martin-Green handily dismissed trolls who complained about an African-American woman leading a “Star Trek” series. She cited the franchise’s long record of inclusion and social progressivism.
“If you say you love the legacy of ‘Star Trek’ but you don’t love that, then you’ve missed it,” she told the crowd.
In addition, series stars Sonequa Martin-Green and Jason Isaacs detailed their initial reactions to joining the Discovery crew, and the decades-old Star Trek franchise.
Anyone doing a new iteration of ‘Star Trek,’ you have to understand how deep it is; you have to understand how important it is. You have to understand how much of a pillar it is to our culture.
When I first got started, I had my freak-out phase. I had my almost catatonic moment where I thought, ‘What is happening?’ And I knew very quickly that I couldn’t live there and that I couldn’t create [in that mindset].
I owed it to the story and I owed it to the legacy to get it together. And I had to focus myself in gratitude. I had to focus myself on the passion for the vision for the story that we’re doing.
The world is complicated and horrible, and I don’t know how to explain to my children the insanity of the people who are in charge of it at the moment.
I thought [‘Star Trek: Discovery’] was a good story to tell — and something I would be happy to watch — about presenting a vision of the world that’s full of drama but also full of resolution and unity.
In addition to the cast comments, Variety’s story also reveals more layers behind the now-infamous departure of series creator Bryan Fuller, here laying the blame more towards Fuller’s capabilities to meet CBS’s showrunner expectations for this behemoth of a series, including repeated overruns of script development timelines and budgetary allowances.
The official line is that Fuller departed via a mutual and amicable decision to focus on his other project, Starz’s “American Gods.”
He is still listed as co-creator of “Discovery” alongside executive producer Alex Kurtzman, who speaks glowingly of him. He shares a story credit with Kurtzman on the premiere, as well as a screenplay credit with another exec producer, Akiva Goldsman. CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves calls him “brilliant.”
But sources close to Fuller and within CBS say that he was pushed out. Fuller is known as an innovative showrunner and the creator of critically adored television such as “Hannibal.” He is not known as someone who prioritizes deadlines and budgets above all else. In short: He is not a typical CBS showrunner. (Fuller declined to comment.)
Fuller failed to deliver scripts months after they were due. In September, he and Kurtzman met with Moonves to deliver the news that “Discovery” would not make the January premiere he had been publicly touting. Moonves accepted the delay, though not happily. “It wasn’t his favorite news, but he totally understood,” Kurtzman says.
A month later, Fuller was gone.
And speaking of budgets, Variety reports that the average episode of Discovery has climbed from earlier estimates of $6 million per episode, with single sets taking up huge amounts of the allotted budget.
Creating its environments involves doing more than scouting an appropriate Irish castle. The level of detail on the sets is exacting — to the point that visitors so inclined could convince themselves at times that they were not on a set. That exactitude proved more time-consuming than anticipated.
“Discovery” shoots at Toronto’s Pinewood Studios on multiple soundstages, one of which is the largest in North America. It is possible to get lost in the tangle of corridors and rooms that make up the starships Discovery and Shenzhou. The set for a third, a Klingon starship, cost $3 million.
Like a big sci-fi feature, “Discovery” hasn’t been cheap: The average episode costs $8 million-$8.5 million. “It was like shooting a movie, the scale of it,” [Michelle] Yeoh says of making the pilot, which was directed by David Semel, who clashed with Fuller. “It wasn’t just ‘Quick, let’s get the shot. Move, move.’”
Showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg, who took the helm of the series after Fuller’s departure, have also begun to map out the next phase of Discovery – and even the one after that, starting to think ahead to a potential second and third season of the show, expecting a renewal of the series already.
They sought Fuller’s blessing before accepting the showrunner job. “The only reason we stayed was because we believed in Bryan’s vision,” Harberts says. “So many people had already been giving so much, and there was something about handing this over to someone who hadn’t been involved in any of it and having that person just wipe the slate completely clean.”
Though no renewal is yet official, Berg and Harberts have a road map for season two and the beginnings of one for season three. They are Trekkers now.
In addition to the behind the scenes cast and creatives info we’ve highlighted here, Variety’s report also dives into the status of CBS All Access and its expectations for success in the growing digital marketplace; CBS president Les Moonves weighed in on the shifting broadcast landscape.
In 2008, advertising accounted for 66% of all CBS Corp. revenue. In 2016, that number fell to 48%. Affiliate and subscription fees made up 22% of revenue for the company last year versus 9% in 2008.
Moonves has spent the last few years shifting CBS away from a dependency on dwindling TV ad dollars. Licensing content to Netflix and other streaming services has been one source of revenue, but those services are increasingly focused on their own original programming. With All Access, CBS reaps more per subscriber than what it gets in retransmission fees for its linear-television products.
“It was no surprise to us that Netflix would eventually take this route into a greater and greater percentage of original content, which is why it’s important for us to produce original content for All Access going forward,” Moonves says.
You can read more comments from Martin-Green, Harberts, Berg, and Moonves at the Variety report, which arrived today.