Monday, July 31, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery Pitched as Anthology, Clashes with Fuller

The cover story for Entertainment Weekly includes a behind the scenes look at making Star Trek: Discovery. Surprisingly the EW issues actually provides a few details on Fuller being fired from the show. Considering EW's primary job is marketing with all the grins and "no problems, move along" that normally entails, it provides a few solid examples that suggest a completely different show was in the planning stages. Bryan Fuller's brief tenor as executive producer of Star Trek: Discovery started with him pitching the show as an anthology series that would jump time periods and have new cast each season, wanted a movie director, seemed to want a look and feel that was closer to The Original Series rather then the Abrams' movies, wanted more complicated stories and more. Since Fuller isn't with the show, you can guess how all those arguments went.

Eras considered for the anthology series for each season included TOS, TNG and beyond. In response CBS said they wanted a "single serialized show and then seeing how it performed" which in itself is a major change for the series since before most episodes were effectively self contained. DS9 is the only series in the franchise to come remotely close to serialized story telling with their final 3 or so seasons.

Arguments with CBS brass over show's format was just the beginning of a relationship that would eventually sour to the point that Fuller quit (or more likely was fired) the show. Another arguments was Fuller wanting a “a more heavily allegorical and complex story line” along with costumes that would be a "subdued spin on the original series' trio of primary colors." I suspect if arguing over costumes they also argued over sets and make-up and more. My read is CBS ordered "make it like look and feel like the recent movies" while Fuller was arguing "this isn't the Kevlin-verse, if you wanted it in the movie universe then set it there." As we have seen from the trailers, the Starfleet costumes are their own whatever but the sets, Klingons and more have much more in common with the movies then any of the series that came before. Whether that turns out to be a good, bad or whatever we will see in a few months.

The arguments continued. CBS wanted David Semel as the pilot director (he did Madam Secretary and Code Black pilots among others) while Fuller wanted Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead). I suspect CBS balked at the price and also because Semel knows the "house style" of directing with look and story pacing that CBS prefers. Movie directors doing pilot episodes is actually fairly common because pilot directors get a piece of the show pie which means a nice sized regular paychecks for years to decades to come if a show is successful (aka lasts long enough to be syndicated worldwide). Its a low risk, low amount of time use for potentially a lot of reward so the idea isn't as unlikely as it sounds but it tends to be expensive.

Despite my clear snark, most of the arguments are par the course. Ultimately CBS wants a show that look will please old fans but more importantly generate new ones from the crowd that is only familiar to Star Trek thanks to streaming and the movies so they are going to advocate the safe choice every time. However, ultimately what probably got Fuller fired was to major no-nos of any project be it Hollywood or any corporation - don't go over budget and don't miss hard deadlines. It seems CBS committed a budge of $6 million per episode which is on the high end of TV nowadays. For comparison the first few season of Game of Thrones were budgets at $6M each. It seems at least on the pilot that they were going to go over budget, probably not helped by pre-production arguments with David Semel. So after going over budget right off the bat, the final straw was clearly missing the deadline of a January 2017 release and then asking for even more time likely due to his time being split to complete the first season of American Gods. End result is missed budget, missed deadline and divided loyalty resulted in his replacement. Fuller commented on the experience saying "I got to dream big. I was sad for a week and then I salute the ship and compartmentalize my experience." but I would be really shocked if he ever tried to do anything for CBS ever again.

Who knows if the complete Fuller vision would have resulted in a better or worse series. We can at least find out if the CBS mandated version is any good when the series premieres on September 24. Click the links for a look at the EW covers and stills from the series.

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