The loss of original showrunner Bryan Fuller was a huge blow for Star Trek: Discovery, both creatively and as far as fan confidence in the prequel series. The early news that Fuller — the TV wunderkind behind shows such as Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, and now American Gods — had signed on was one of the first signs that Star Trek‘s return to TV might actually be done right. But when he and CBS parted ways in October 2016, fans were justifiably worried about what that meant for Discovery — especially since his departure was followed by even more delays and rumors of behind-the-scenes troubles. Now Discovery seems to be on course, set to premiere on CBS and CBS All Access this fall. But how different is the show we’ll get from the show Fuller would have given us?
We’ve been hearing tons of details about Discovery thanks to the recent Comic-Con, but Entertainment Weekly has also been a major source of new info. Their latest issue, which hit stands last week, features a Discovery cover story that includes insights into what Bryan Fuller’s original vision for the show would have looked like. Fans who were paying attention during the early days will recall that there was buzz about Discovery potentially being an anthology series, telling a different story with different characters each season. It turns out Fuller’s ideas were even more ambitious than that. He wanted this anthology to explore not just different crews and characters, but different times and settings throughout Star Trek lore.
According to TrekMovie (summarizing EW’s article), “Bryan Fuller’s original pitch to CBS had the show starting in Discovery‘s time, but then moving through the eras of Kirk and Picard and then going beyond that, reaching a time period that hasn’t been seen in Star Trek before.” Comparisons are made to FX’s successful American Horror Story, which has shifted both settings and time periods drastically over the course of each of its seasons. Even aside from the AHS comparisons, Fuller’s idea definitely isn’t unprecedented: the TV anthology has been making a serious comeback in recent years thanks to shows like Fargo and HBO’s True Detective.
A Star Trek anthology series would provide the chance to take chances and explore corners of the Trek universe we haven’t seen much, or at all. Shifting settings and characters each season would also theoretically help avoid the staleness some past Trek shows settled into during their runs. It could have been something truly special, what Fuller called at the time a ““platform for a universe of Star Trek shows.” Given the massive success of resurgent “cinematic universes” such as Marvel and Star Wars, it makes perfect sense to position Trek not as just a show and a series of movies, but as a whole interconnected universe, rich with storytelling potential. That is, after all, what it has been for these past fifty years, spread over films and shows and comics and novels and games and more. But now that the whole “cinematic universe” thing is en vogue, this would have been the perfect opportunity to play to the franchise’s strengths and reinvigorate it in a way that both old fans and new could get excited about.
But CBS balked. And I can understand wanting to reign in the ambition, at least at first. Discovery will be the first Star Trek TV series since Enterprise wrapped up back in 2005. There’s a lot riding on this show. Early footage from Discovery looks promising, but it’s all going to come down to execution. If it is a hit, CBS will likely be loathe to abandon the cast and crew that works in favor of finding a different setting and story for season 2. It’d be expensive, for one thing, since you’d need all new cast, sets, costumes, etc. Still, it’d be a hell of a ballsy move, one that spoke to their confidence in both the franchise and in the people they’ve placed in charge of it. I very much doubt that will happen. However, if Discovery is good, and they can keep it good, multiple seasons of a show that lives up to the name Star Trek is no bad thing.
Star Trek: Discovery will premiere on CBS on Sunday, September 24. All remaining episodes will then roll out on CBS All Access in the weeks that follow.