The Future of ‘Star Trek’: How the Picard and Michelle Yeoh Spin-Offs Will Relate to ‘Discovery’

TCA: Executive producer Alex Kurtzman reveals additional details on the future of "Trek," including how each show will interact.
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.
"Star Trek: Discovery"
Jan Thijs/CBS

If you’ve been following the news surrounding the current state of the final frontier, it may seem like there is a ton of “Star Trek” just around the corner. This is because in the last several months, CBS All Access and “Trek” executive producer Alex Kurtzman have announced a flurry of new series happening as an expansion of the franchise, including a Jean-Luc Picard spin-off starring Sir Patrick Stewart, another spin-off focused on Michelle Yeoh’s “Star Trek: Discovery” character, and the animated series “Lower Decks.”

However, as Kurtzman explained at the Television Critics Association press tour, everyone on the “Trek” team is very conscious of making sure audiences don’t feel like there’s just too much space adventure happening. “We’ve worked very closely with All Access to set up a grid, so you’re not overwhelmed by 20,000 of them at once,” Kurtzman told reporters. “It may sound like you’re getting all of them at once, because they’re all in development right now, but you have to keep in mind it takes two years to build each one. So you have to look at the calendar in advance, knowing that it takes eight months to do visual effects for just one episode alone.”

This means that while “Discovery” is currently releasing new episodes weekly on CBS All Access, the long-discussed Picard series won’t premiere until the end of 2019. “While it may seem like there’s a constant flurry of “Star Trek” activity, we’re taking a measured approach to incubating, prepping, and releasing shows in this universe,” CBS All Access executive vice president of original content Julie McNamara said during CBS All Access’s TCA presentation. “The fans demand as much, and we take that responsibility seriously.”

In regard to the Picard series, Kurtzman said that when Stewart agreed to return to “Trek,” he was “very clear with us from the beginning that he did not want to repeat what he had already done.”

That said, “no one knows what we’re doing yet and we’re planning on keeping it that way,” Kurtzman said. “Everybody in that room loves Jean-Luc Picard very deeply and the benefit we have is that Jean-Luc Picard is in the room with us. And as we’re breaking story we’re grasping how do we live up to the spirit of the character and the tone that ‘Next Gen’ set to some degree, but also make it very very different in so many ways.”

After all, it’s been 17 years since the last time Stewart played the role, “so he couldn’t be that same person anymore. and so the question becomes what has happened to him in that period of time?” This includes, as Kurtzman has previously acknowledged, the destruction of the planet Romulus, which played a pivotal role in the first J.J. Abrams “Trek” film, and will impact Picard’s journey — not to mention that it simply takes place decades after the events of “Next Generation.”

While Stewart is in the writers’ room, helping to guide the action, Kurtzman noted that he “didn’t want to put handcuffs on us in any way, by saying ‘I don’t want to do this and I don’t want to do that.’ He said, ‘I want you to have the freedom to explore this character from a new perspective, and I will always know in my gut if it is something he would or wouldn’t do.’ That’s a conversation we have as we’re building it, so we have started to internalize his thinking about Picard. And because that conversation is literally daily, whether over email or in person, I’m confident that we’re making choices that Patrick would be happy with or will be happy with — because ultimately he’s a producer on the show and he gets just as much of a say.”

The Picard series will notably take place decades further into the future of the Federation than previous series, including “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager,” have explored. But Kurtzman doesn’t see those additional years affecting the show’s tone. “It has to feel grounded, whatever choices we’re making in the future, because I think one of the things that people love about ‘Next Gen’ is that it is a very emotional, thoughtful, grounded piece of entertainment.”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1602497a)Star Trek: The Next Generation , Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, Marina SirtisFilm and Television
“Star Trek: The Next Generation.”Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

He continued, “the easy thing to do is come up with crazy floating skyscrapers and all the cliches of science fiction, and we’ve tried to avoid that, across the board, in the production design and the look of it and the feel of it. It’s all about the personal details that you can connect to now, even though it takes place so far in the future.”

Unlike “Discovery,” which shoots in Toronto, the Picard series will be shot in LA, beginning sometime in the next few months. The Picard series will be followed later by “Lower Decks,” which was created by “Rick and Morty” writer Mike McMahan and will target a slightly younger demographic than “Discovery” (which has at least a PG-13 amount of sex, violence, and swearing). Kurtzman said the goal was ages “8 to 45.”

When it came to the Michelle Yeoh spin-off, which would focus on Mirror Universe transplant Philippa Georgiou’s (Yeoh) adventures as a member of Section 31, Starfleet’s secretive dark ops organization, Kurtzman said that “Discovery” writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt are currently working on both the first script for that series as well as Season 2 “Discovery.” Assuming that the current show gets a third season, he added, “when ‘Discovery’ Season 3 is over we’ll all roll over into that show.”

Kurtzman said that the idea for doing a Georgiou spin-off originated with Michelle Yeoh, before “Discovery” had even premiered. “Michelle came to me and said let’s do a spinoff of this character, and I took a minute because it was truly such a brilliant idea — except the series hadn’t aired yet. So really, no one knew what it was going to be and no one knew if it was going to be successful, so the moment it became successful we started that conversation.”

It makes sense that the spin-off was Yeoh’s idea, because the legendary actor told IndieWire last year that she nearly didn’t do “Discovery” because her initial character was killed off early in Season 1. It was only when producers told her about their plans to introduce a new and scary version of Georgiou (a role which Yeoh described as “the most delicious meal”) that she officially came on board.

"Vaulting Ambition" -- Episode 112 -- Pictured: Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

The idea that there may be this much “Trek” on the air soon is a bit daunting. But over the course of “Star Trek’s” 50-plus years as a pop culture phenomenon, one thing has always been relatively true — while there might not be a lot of overlap, the shows and films have always worked together for something resembling a unified universe. The current count of movies and TV shows is at least 20, and the times when “Trek” had multiple iterations happening, the producers have always found a way to operate separately but within the same story world.

This occurred even before the creation of the Chris Pine-starring feature films, set in an alternate timeline known as the Kelvin-verse which ensured no conflicts with the pre-existing TV franchise. In 1991, for example, Michael Dorn was not only one of the stars of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but also appeared as Colonel Worf, the grandfather of his “TNG” character, in “Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country.” Meanwhile in the 1990s, “Next Gen,” “DS9,” and “Voyager” all had seasons of overlap, but remained distinct entities (beyond the occasional crossover moment or cameo).

Look to “Trek’s” future to reflect its past. The new shows, Kurtzman said, “will be connected mostly peripherally. it’s incredibly important to all of us that each show is a unique prospect. So each show has its own identity, that means it’s about certain things. The tone has to be unique — and yet still be ‘Star Trek.'”

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