It’s hard to believe that it was only three years ago that fan got their first glimpse of the new STAR TREK: DISCOVERY at San Diego Comic Con 2016. And when I say got our first glimpse, I don’t mean of the show itself. That wouldn’t happen until the following summer. I mean we got our first look at what a disorganized mess CBS was in dealing with the launch of their first-ever Star Trek TV series that would also be the first-ever Trek series to air only on subscription-based services (All Access, SpaceTV, and Netflix).
Let’s take a moment to compare the two Star Trek series trailers that premiered at San Diego Comic Con to give fans their first look at the new show. The first debuted in July of 2016…
The Discovery trailer was obviously a rush job. The marketing department knew they needed something to show at Comic Con because that has become THE place to premiere the big sci-fi and related genre movies and shows. But there was nothing ready yet! No footage had been shot because, unbelievably, no actors had yet been cast! The sets and uniforms were still being designed.
Remember that, at the time this trailer was first screened for fans, Discovery was still scheduled to debut in January of 2017…just six months after Comic Con. As a comparison, the new STAR TREK: PICARD series is currently set to premiere in January 2020—just six months after Comic Con. So really, no one (especially CBS) should have been surprised when Discovery ended up launching nine months behind schedule.
Still, desperate to show SOMETHING, the show-runners of Discovery decided to render out a quick CGI animation revealing the look of the new starship. Of course, even the ship wasn’t fully designed yet…as you can see from the “rocket” nacelles and the fact that the saucer section was still all one piece. But at least CBS would have something to get the fans excited. (Whether or not it succeeded is still up for debate.)
But what isn’t up for debate is how excited Trekkers have been for the last few days after seeing the extended trailer for Star Trek: Picard that debuted this past Saturday at Comic Con…
What a difference three years makes, huh?
Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane (no relation to me) and look back at the CBS of 2016 versus 2019 and what has changed for Star Trek in that time…
Remember what chaos CBS and Star Trek were in back in 2016? The 50th anniversary came and went with surprisingly (and depressingly) little fanfare…especially considering that a new Trek movie and TV series were both nearly ready to debut. And although it affected Paramount’s bottom line much more than CBS’s when Star Trek Beyond disappointed at the box office, it certainly didn’t give the new Discovery TV series any tailwinds.
Then there was the May 20, 2016 announcement by JJ ABRAMS that the copyright infringement lawsuit against AXANAR was “going away” and that “fans will be able to work on their projects.” That turned out to be incorrect information, and a month later, the new fan film guidelines were announced as the media continued to include mention of CBS suing its fans when reporting the latest Star Trek news.
By August, Discovery had added enough executive producers, producers, consulting producers, and you-name-it producers to field its own baseball team (with a decent pitching bullpen)! Folks like NICHOLAS MEYER and ROD RODDENBERRY seemed to be on the list of generals and colonels mostly for the sake of being able to say they were on the list. But a “TV-show-by-committee” seemed to be taking shape.
By September, it became obvious that the new series was not gonna make the announced January debut date, and the premiere was shifted back five months to May 2017. Show-runner BRYAN FULLER was also beginning to exceed the $6-7 million/episode budget that Netflix had so kindly provided through their licensing deal with CBS. So now it was looking like this expensive series—that still wasn’t even fully cast yet and was waiting for Fuller to finish up with American Gods so he could devote his attention to the job that CBS was paying him to do(!)—was going to cost CBS some major bucks (like $2 million/episode for 13-15 episodes!).
We all know what happened next. Bryan Fuller—the guy who’d come up with the idea for Discovery in the first place and was the only person who’d worked on televised Star Trek previously—was booted by CBS. After some musical chairs played with the 47-or-so remaining producers, GRETCHEN J. BERG and AARON HARBERTS wound up as show-runners (at least for season one).
By January of 2017—when the show had originally been planned to premiere on All Access—filming and production finally got underway! At this point, the premiere had been pushed back further to “the fall.” But at least by San Diego Comic Con in July 2017, CBS was able t0 debut this trailer for fans…
Fans’ reactions were…mixed. Some were stoked while others were filled with dread. And truth to tell, there’s still a huge schism in fandom…even after a full two seasons of Discovery.
But let’s shift to Picard, shall we…?
Before I begin, I should point out that I’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone seriously complaining about this trailer. Tears shed have been those of pure joy. Shouts have been mostly of “HOLY FREAKING CRAP!!!!” and the such. By Sunday night, YouTube views were above two million, with 96% thumbs up versus 4% thumbs down. (Seriously…who the heck are you guys? Are you like the fifth dentist who doesn’t recommend sugar-free gum for your patients who chew gum???)
My own complaints were limited to “Oh, so now the Romulans DON’T have bumpy foreheads anymore???” and “Androids shouldn’t be this botoxed!!!” But I kid, I kid. I loved every millisecond and have already frame-by-framed through it about half a dozen times. (I had to see if that guy on the table at 1:45 was really JONATHAN DEL ARCO as a de-borgified Hugh…and yes, apparently he is!)
So what has CBS done right in 2019 that they didn’t in 2016…aside from the obvious answer of “EVERYTHING”?
Well, first of all, let’s look at the infrastructure of the creative minds behind the show. Back in 2016, Discovery was being put together by committee under a leader who was mostly absent trying to finish up work on his other TV series. And almost no one else was what you would call a “die-hard Trekkie” (maybe ALEX KURTZMAN).
Picard, on the other hand, was developed by four people who were very much fans and knowledgeable about Star Trek‘s long and rich history. In addition to Kurztman (a huge fan of Captain Picard and TNG) and fellow Discovery survivor AKIVA GOLDSMAN, Star Trek: Voyager novelist (and Discovery writer) KIRSTEN BEYER and multiple-award-winning novelist MICHAEL CHABON (who begged to come work on Star Trek and wrote the excellent “Calypso” episode of SHORTS TREKS) joined together to develop the 34-page treatment that convinced SIR PATRICK STEWART to return to the Star Trek franchise. In other words, this show had its foundation solidly cemented before anyone else (who wasn’t a die-hard fan) could get their mundane hands on it!
The next difference is the concept itself and how it incorporates into Star Trek‘s rich and expansive history. For better or worse, Discovery‘s show-runners made a conscious decision in the first season to develop their own unique look and feel for everything. That would have been fine were Discovery an alternate universe/new reality or a show that moved forward into the future. But Discovery was a prequel set 10 years before Kirk…where continuity had been firmly established.
So many things were changed (uniforms, technology and ship designs, Klingons, etc.) that many fans were put off…to say the least! And the “little nods” to classic Star Trek—like a tribble on Lorca’s desk, a Gorn skeleton, and Harry Mudd—seemed to almost make matters worse (since we hadn’t encountered the Gorn or tribbles yet—and Lorca’s tribble wasn’t eating all his fortune cookies and spawning thousands of other tribbles—and Harry Mudd was now a sociopathic murderer). Some fans were okay with all of this, but for others, it was sacrilege.
Whether or not Discovery was a good show was (and still is) hotly debated. But one thing that everyone did seem to agree on was that it didn’t “feel” like traditional Star Trek. Again, some fans thought that was a good thing: Star Trek needs to change with the times, reinvent itself and stay relevant. For others, though, it was a bridge and turbolift too far. Some fans refused to watch the show at all and criticized any who did…and the hate-filled posts still fill up Facebook.
In many ways, without intending to, Discovery “broke” fandom.
Picard, in many ways, appears to be doing the opposite. Rather than creating a new “look and feel” and then adding Star Trek elements as needed like decorations to a Christmas tree, Picard seems to be incorporating Star Trek mythos from the bottom up.
For example, the destruction of Romulus from JJ Trek 2009 is now (like it or not) Star Trek canon…and this new series is building on and expanding that aspect of Star Trek‘s “reality.” Picard has had many dealings with the Romulans over the years…including the last time we saw him in Star Trek: Nemesis. How will his complex relationships with this race play out?
Also incorporated into both Picard’s history and Star Trek‘s is the Borg (are the Borg?—singular or plural?). That also seems to be playing a big part in this story.
The Starfleet uniforms, even if we won’t see them often since Picard and his new crew seem to be Star Trek “renegades” (yeah, I went there…this is Fan Film Factor, after all!), seem to fit in with the style of 20 years earlier and don’t depart from what fans are comfortable with. Ironically, unlike the prequel Discovery, the Picard series COULD have radically changed the uniform styles and fans would have been okay. But it just “feels” more like Star Trek because they chose NOT to go in such a different direction with production design. Maybe they’ve learned something?
You know what also feels more like Star Trek? The great outdoors!
I didn’t realize this until I watched the second Discovery trailer again, but did you notice that, with the exception of the walking-on-the-desert-planet scene(s), everything in the2017 Discovery trailer was either inside or in space? And it was all pretty dark (in terms of brightness…as well as thematically).
The Picard trailer, on the other hand is filled with light and the sun and the outdoors…from the Chateau Picard vineyard to Starfleet Headquarters to the iconic Vasquez Rocks (of Vulcan?) and even the natural light coming in from windows in the admiral’s office and Picard’s home.
Star Trek has always included the outdoors and natural light in episodes. Not all the time, of course, but TOS went on location for episodes like “Shore Leave,” “Arena,” “A Private Little War,” and “The Paradise Syndrome” (to name a few). TNG, DS9, Voyager and even Enterprise also left the studio regularly to shoot on location.
Discovery, on the other hand, doesn’t travel much. Part of the reason is that Discovery films in Toronto. And while I personally LOVE that city (cleanest place I’ve ever been to!), the weather doesn’t always cooperate thanks to the influence of the Great Lakes and the longer winters. Don’t get me wrong. Canada’s climate can be lovely at certain times of the year. And if you can get outside, Ontario is one of the prettiest provinces you can imagine. But the window for location shooting without weather hassles is much more limited in Toronto than Los Angeles where the first five Trek series were filmed..
So when the California Film Commission granted the Picard series $15.6 million dollars in tax credits last December, CBS happily took them up on the offer. And our southern California weather is allowing Picard to film more exterior scenes in the bright sunshine…if such scenes are called for.
I also need to mention Sir Patrick himself. He has slid back into his iconic character of Jean-Luc Picard like a comfortable pair of slippers. I recently rewatched the early X-Men movies, and Professor Charles Xavier actually sounds noticeably different than Picard…despite Sir Patrick’s unmistakable deep-voiced British accent. I feels good to hear Picard’s familiar cadences in the trailer. Despite everything new this series is throwing at us, it’s reassuring to know it’s anchored in such an established character whom we all love so deeply.
And finally, BIG kudos to the show’s creators for SHOCKING THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS out the fans (in a good way!) this past weekend. Usually, sci-fi and genre shows leak their secrets like a sieve. The fact that no one seemed to have a clue about BRENT SPINER and JERI RYAN making cameos as Seven of Nine and Botox Data is a testament to how tightly this ship is being run. It just made this weekend’s big reveal all the more special and a moment we fans aren’t soon to forget. And of course, we’ve now also been told that JONATHAN FRAKES (who will be directing multiple episodes) and MARINA SIRTIS will be appearing later in the season as William Riker and Deanna Troi.
Such a difference from 2016!
And the best part is that this series is only one of many Trek projects currently being worked on. Back in 2016, CBS was taking a big chance on Discovery and nixed Bryan Fuller’s original idea of an anthology series covering different time periods of Star Trek history that could lead to (as Fuller called it) “a universe of Trek shows.” They preferred to play it safe and see how one show did first.
Now, CBS is 100% committed to Star Trek. In addition to the ongoing Star Trek: Discovery, six new Short Treks, and the upcoming Picard, there’s also the animated Lower Decks coming next year (or so we are told, the voice-actor cast and characters were just revealed), the still-in-development Section 31, and a new Star Trek show for kids headed to Nickelodeon (not All Access). And that’s not even all of the Trek series that CBS promised to let Alex Kurtzman (who obviously isn’t fired, folks!) develop in a five-year deal they signed last June. Heck, we might still see a Captain Pike series with Anson Mount…if my prayers are ever answered. At least we’ll get more of him, Spock, and Number One on Short Treks (not sure about the tribbles, though)…
All I know is that, for the first time in a long time as a Star Trek fan, I am totally excited. No reservations, no second thoughts. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m still on the fence about whether to stick with Discovery, I’m cautiously optimistic about Lower Decks, and I’m still gonna need convincing on Section 31.
But I am all-in on Picard! Despite creating a fresh new look, they appear to have kept the “feel” of Star Trek. I’m certainly willing to pay to find out (which is more than I can say about season 3 of Discovery). And I’m willing to check out the other newseries, as well. How exciting that, only three years after a bungled rollout of the new CBS-branded Star Trek, we now have the equivalent of a buffet table full of Trek series coming for us to choose from. Watch one, watch two, watch them all…amazing to have a choice after more than a decade of zero choices on TV from 2005-2017.
And anyone out there who’s been saying that the Star Trek franchise is dead, you just go over and sit there in the corner with the 4% who didn’t like the Picard trailer and the fifth dentist who doesn’t recommend Trident sugarless gum!