'Star Trek: Discovery' is over. Now Alex Kurtzman readies for 'Starfleet Academy' and 'Section 31'

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES — In "Star Trek" terms, and in the real world of "Star Trek" television, Alex Kurtzman, who oversees the 21st-century franchise, might be described as the Federation president, from whose offices various series depart on their individual missions. Indeed, to hear him speak of it, the whole enterprise — honestly, no pun intended — seems to run very much on the series' ethos of individual initiative and group consensus.

The first series to be launched, "Star Trek: Discovery," has come to an end as of Thursday after five seasons on Paramount+. Others in the fleet include the concluded "Picard," which brought "The Next Generation" into a new generation; the ongoing "Strange New Worlds," which precedes the action of what's now called "The Original Series," from which it takes its spirit and several characters; "Lower Decks," a comedy set among Starfleet service workers; and "Prodigy," in which a collection of teenage aliens go joyriding in a starship. On the horizon are "Starfleet Academy," with Holly Hunter set to star, and a TV feature, "Section 31," with Michelle Yeoh back as Philippa Georgiou.

I spoke with Kurtzman, whose "Trek" trek began as a writer on the quantum-canonical reboot movies "Star Trek" (2009) and "Star Trek: Into Darkness" (2013), at Secret Hideout, his appropriately unmarked Santa Monica headquarters. Metro trains glide by his front door unaware. We began the conversation, edited for length and clarity here, with a discussion of his "Trek" universe.

Alex Kurtzman: I liken them to different colors in the rainbow. It makes no sense to me to make one show that's for everybody; it makes a lot of sense to make a lot of shows individually tailored to a sect of the "Star Trek" audience. It's a misnomer that there's a one-size-fits-all Trekkie. And rather than make one show that's going to please everybody — and will almost certainly please nobody — let's make an adult drama, an animated comedy, a kids' comedy, an adventure show and on and on. There's something quite beautiful about that; it allows each of the stories to bloom in its own unique way.

Q: Do you get pushback from the fans?

A: Absolutely. In some ways that's the point. One of the things I learned early on is that to be in love with "Star Trek" is to engage in healthy debate. There is no more vocal fan base. Some people tell you that their favorite is "The Original Series," some say their favorite is "Voyager" and some say their favorite is "Discovery." Yet they all come together and talk about what makes something singularly "Trek" — [creator] Gene Roddenberry's extraordinarily optimistic vision of the future when all that divides us [gets placed] in the rearview mirror and we get to move on and discover things. Like all great science fiction, you get to pick your allegory to the real world and come up with the science fiction equivalent. And everybody who watches understands what we're talking about — racism or the Middle East or whatever.


Q: What specific objections did you find to "Discovery"?

A: I think people felt it was too dark. We really listen to our fans in the writers' room — everybody will have read a different article or review over the weekend, and we talk about what feels relevant and what feels less relevant. And then we engage in a healthy democratic debate about why and begin to apply that; it seeps into the decisions we make. Season 1 of "Discovery" was always intended to be a journey from darkness into light, and ultimately reinforce Roddenberry's vision. I think people were just stunned by something that felt darker than any "Trek" had before. But doing a dark "Star Trek" really wasn't our goal. The show is a mirror that holds itself up to the times, and we were in 2017 — we saw the nation fracture hugely right after the election, and it's only gotten worse since then. We were interpreting that through science fiction. There were people who appreciated that and others for whom it was just not "Star Trek." And the result, in Season 2, Capt. [Christopher] Pike showed up, Number One showed up, Spock showed up, and we began to bring in what felt to people more like the "Star Trek" they understood.

Q: You're ending the series after five seasons. Was that always a plan?

A: You know, we were surprised we didn't continue, and yet it feels now that it was right. One of the things that happened very quickly as streaming took off was that it radically changed watch patterns for viewers. Shows that used to go 10, 12 seasons, people would tap out after two — like, "I got what I want" — so for any show to go five seasons, it's a miracle. In ways I don't think we could have predicted, the season from the beginning feels like it's the last; it just has a sense of finality. The studio was wonderful in that they recognized we needed to put a button on it, we needed a period on the end of the sentence, and so they allowed us to go back, which we did right before the strike, and [film] the coda that wraps up the series.


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