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The story of how Star Trek returned to TV after 12 years

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The following cover story appeared in the Aug. 4 issue of Entertainment Weekly (subscribe). We go behind the scenes of the dramatic struggle to return Gene Roddenberry’s legendary sci-fi franchise to the small screen… 


The imposing Captai Gabriel Loca strides across the Starship Discovery bridge, squinting at the raging battle on the viewscreen, rattling off orders to his crew with rapid precision. There’s a Federation ship under attack by Klingons, and the Discovery is rushing to join the fight. “Lock on the Bird of Prey!” Lorca barks. “Basic pattern Beta 9. Hard to port! Fire at something, for God’s sakes!”

Too late.

The Klingons blast the Discovery. Lorca and his shipmates lurch hard to one side. The high-tech set’s thousands of lights flicker anxiously, conveying the ship’s wounds.

The director halts the action and Lorca, played by British actor Jason Isaacs of Harry Potter fame, steps off the stage. The episode’s writer, Kirsten Beyer, approaches to give a correction on his “for God’s sakes” ad lib.

“Wait, I can’t say ‘God’?” Isaacs asks, amused. “I thought I could say ‘God’ or ‘damn’ but not ‘goddamn’?”

Beyer explains that Star Trek is creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a science-driven 23rd-century future where religion basically no longer exists.*

“How about ‘for f—‘s sake’?” Isaacs shoots back. “Can I say that?”

“You can say that before you can say ‘God,'” she dryly replies.

The director wants to try the scene again. “Sure,” Isaacs gamely shrugs. “It’s not my money.”

Quite true. It’s CBS All Access that’s footing the bill for Star Trek: Discovery, an ambitious venture to not only reboot Trek on television after a 12-year absence but also fuel CBS’ fledging original-content streaming service at a time when traditional broadcasters are striving to compete in the digital era (in fact, Netflix will distribute the show overseas). And while the scene with Lorca might sound like classic, old-school Trek, the show will evolve the franchise in ways never before attempted. Discovery(set to premiere Sept. 24) is serialized, for starters, with a greater focus on characters’ personal lives, and with fatally realistic life-and-death stakes. Plus, there’s the show’s cast. If this was yesteryear’s Trek, Isaacs would be the star. Instead, The Walking Dead‘s Sonequa Martin-Green (who we’ll meet later) is taking center stage as Trek‘s first black female lead.

Yet figuring out exactly how to bring Trek back to television wasn’t easy, and that’s one thing about the franchise that’s never changed.


When the Original Series launched 51 years ago, it changed not only television but the world. Roddenberry’s radical depiction of a harmonious post-racial United Federation of Planets lasted only three seasons amid modest ratings and the creator’s infighting with NBC,..... 


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New Variety article released:

Can ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Help CBS Boldly Go Into a Streaming Future?

Daniel Holloway

The line stretches down Fifth Avenue in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

SEE MORE: From the August 29, 2017, issue of Variety

More than 100 people wait to tour the Michael J. Wolf Fine Arts gallery, which has been converted for Comic-Con into an exhibition of costumes and props from CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery,” the forthcoming installment in the 51-year-old science-fiction franchise. At the front of the line is a man wearing a T-shirt with William Shatner’s face on it. The man is old enough to have watched live when Shatner — aka Capt. James T. Kirk — debuted as the lead on the original “Star Trek” series.

When the doors finally open, a surprise emerges: Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Cmdr. Michael Burnham on “Discovery” and is therefore the heir to a very rich and very nerdy cultural legacy.

“Oh, my God,” Shatner Shirt Guy says as Martin-Green extends her arms to him. Inside they take photos together. He looks smitten.

That embrace is one small but crucial mission accomplished for CBS, which with “Discovery” is bringing “Star Trek” back to television 12 years after the last spinoff, “Enterprise,” was canceled. That task alone would be high-pressure, given the large, persnickety fan base that is both blessing and curse for any “Trek” variant.

But CBS upped the stakes, forgoing the obvious route of putting the new series on its flagship broadcast network or premium channel Showtime, instead steering it to All Access with the goal of growing the streaming service’s nascent subscriber base. That goal has been obscured by headline-making production delays and the exit of a fan-favorite showrunner. But the premiere is now in sight.




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‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Designers Reveal Look and Colors Will Evolve To Be More Like TOS


Members of the art department for Star Trek: Discovery held a panel on Saturday at FanExpo Canada, where they talked about the production design for the show, with a primary focus on the interiors of the different ships. The panel was really less of a typical talking event and more of a show & tell slide show, but unfortunately they did not allow any photography so we can’t share anything that was shown. But they did say after the show premieres they expect much of what they displayed to become available online.

Production Designer Todd Cherniawsky (who Skyped in from Los Angeles) kicked things off by talking about how everyone working on the look of the show took it very seriously, and took fan comments and critiques seriously as well:

For all of us who have had a chance to work on the show, this is very, very precious material to us. This has all informed our childhoods. We have all been fans. So every decision that has been made along the way has been really, really carefully thought out. We also appreciate the criticism and concerns for the franchise.

Next up was Supervising Art Director Mark Steel, who talked about the scale of work being done for Discovery. He reported that the show employs 7 art directors, 9 illustrators, 35 set designers, and over 450 painters, carpenters, sculptors, model makers, set dressers, and prop builders. All of these people are spaced out across Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Los Angeles. He said that the show is being shot on 6 stages in Toronto, and showed an overlay comparing the original 1966 Desilu stages to the current Discovery sets. TOS sets were dwarfed in comparison.

Discovery graphics will get more colorful – like TOS
Things got even more interesting towards the end, when Timothy Peel (the Lead Motion Graphic Designer) started showing off some of his work. It was very impressive to see the level of detail that goes into all the displays around the ships and how many of them are genuinely interactive.

Peel talked about how they have striven to make the look of the interfaces on the show fit into a continuum from Enterprise to The Original Series to The Next Generation. In fact, he considers TNG designer Mike Okuda his “god” and noted, “I try to honor the look and feel, but the tech is better,” referring to the tools available today.

Peel then said something almost as an aside that seemed pretty significant. While showing off one of the interfaces from the U.S.S. Shenzhou he commented on the color scheme:

This is slightly blue-y. They are sort of restricting all the color schemes and they will slowly advance and become more colorful as we get closer to The Original Series, and for other reasons I can’t repeat.

Sarcophagus ship is huge, detailed, uses Trek novel for inspiration
Perhaps half of the presentation panel was dedicated to Art Director Matt Middleton talking about the work done to create the Klingon Sarcophagus ship, which he described as a “cathedral in space.” Middleton said that Bryan Fuller’s original outline called for the set to function as “a church, a ritual space and a functioning bridge.”

Middleton said the ship was “exercise for us for how can we make this more intricate and more elaborate and more worthy of the Star Trek universe.” The goal for the ship design was described as:

A high level of sophisticated detail for a race that has long been perceived as brutal, one-minded and simplistic, in order to breathe new life for the Klingon race and raise them to the noble status and worthy adversarial position that this new iteration of the series will demand.

The ship contains multiple levels, mezzanines and “focal points for dramatic staging of our Klingon leaders orating to their followers and creating dramatic places where power plays and shifts of power can occur.” In addition the different levels allow for “swashbuckling action.”

For inspiration the crew drew from Byzantine, Medieval, Gothic and Islamic influences. And one of the Star Trek sources that Bryan Fuller directed the designers to pull from was the 1984 Star Trek novel The Final Reflection by John Ford. This book was helpful as a “launching off point thematically” for the Klingons and for specific details, such as a creating a version of the game “klin zha” which is played to teach military strategy.

The novel delves into the Klingon culture, and Star Trek: The Next Generation writer Ron Moore, who wrote many of the Klingon episodes, has said he also drew inspiration from it. Apparently it is required reading for those dealing with Klingons and Discovery; in TrekMovie’s interview with Kenneth Mitchell (Kol) he said he found the book to be “a great launching pad for understanding the depth and complexity of the Klingons.”

According to Graphic Designer Andy Tsang, the team even researched how written languages evolve so they could make the Klingon language written into to the set of the Sarcophagus ship look “ancient.”  They also highlighted a particular plinth from the ship and gave a translation of the script:

I will go now to Sto-vo-kor, but I promise one day I will return. Then Kahless points to a star in the sky and said, “Look for me there at that point of light.”

Discovery and Shenzhou sets are interchangeable
Another highlight of the panel came from Lead Set Designer Matthew Morgan who showed off many of his designs, focusing on the U.S.S. Shenzhou and the U.S.S. Discovery. He also explained how one of the challenges of designing was that the sets needed to work for both ships:

As there are two main ships for this series, one of the things is how can we use these sets for two ships. By switching different elements, graphics paints…The challenge of switching sets over is trying to design things in a way so we can re-purpose so we can go back and forth.

He then showed examples of how this was done with corridors, turbolifts, and the transporter room.


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Star Trek: Discovery will continue the venerated sci-fi tradition of using a fantastic setting to tackle real-world issues — only in a bigger way than any Trek series has done before.

The upcoming CBS All Access drama tells the serialized story of a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. The show is set a decade before 1966’s original series — which premiered 51 years ago today — during which the Federation and Klingons were in a Cold War standoff that reflected yesteryear’s U.S.-Soviet relations. In Discovery, war breaks out and the Klingons leading the charge have some ideological ideas inspired by the 2016 electoral divide.

“The allegory is that we really started working on the show in earnest around the time the election was happening,” showrunner Aaron Harberts says. “The Klingons are going to help us really look at certain sides of ourselves and our country. Isolationism is a big theme. Racial purity is a big theme. The Klingons are not the enemy, but they do have a different view on things. It raises big questions: Should we let people in? Do we want to change? There’s also the question of just because you reach your hand out to someone, do they have to take it? Sometimes, they don’t want to take it. It’s been interesting to see how the times have become more of a mirror than we even thought they were going to be.”

While such topics have been explored across Star Trek‘s six previous series and 700 episodes before, the serialized nature of Discovery‘s 15-episode debut season allows for a greater depth of storytelling. “The thing about the war is it takes Starfleet and the Federation and forces them to examine their ideas and ethical rules of conflict and conduct,” Harberts says. “It provides a backdrop to how we want to be as a society and that analysis and self-reflection is new for Trek. They’ve done it in certain episodes in the past, but this is a true journey for the institution in itself.”

“In times of stress and conflict it can bring out the best of us and the worst of us,” adds fellow showrunner Gretchen J. Berg. “But but ultimately brings out the best in our Starfleet officers.”

The Toronto-based production is currently shooting its 13th episode, and producers note that President Donald Trump’s tense stand-off with North Korea has some reflections in the show as well.

“North Korea is in our thoughts as we finish the series,” he says. “What began as a commentary on our own divided nation — in terms of Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters — has blown out to North Korea and how we’re right on the brink. [The U.S. is] actually right at the place where Starfleet finds itself in episode one and we couldn’t have anticipated that happening. But how do you end conflict when both sides have such strong opinions?”


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NEW TV Guide article

23 Secrets We Learned on the Star Trek: Discovery Set
By Alexander Zalben 

For a show called Star Trek: Discovery, they do like to keep things mysterious. CBS All Access' reboot of the venerable sci-fi series will launch on Sept. 24 (it will also broadcast its first episode on CBS, before moving full time to the streaming service), yet not much is known about the plot. And when TV Guide visited the set of the show in August, one of the most frequent phrases we heard was, "we can't tell you that."
Despite all the secrecy, there are some facts we do know. The series is returning 12 years after the last TV expedition, Star Trek: Enterprise. It's set approximately 10 years before the original series, which starred William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and focuses on the start of a cold war between the human led Federation, and the often villainous Klingons, before they became the Klingon Empire and one of the main antagonists of multiple series and movies.

And speaking of movies, this series takes place in what's called the Prime timeline, meaning it will not reference or tie into the relatively recent movie reboot, which takes place in what's called the Kelvin timeline. As we (sorry) discovered, the show won't contradict the movies in any way, but at the same time will very much follow its own path.
Oh, and for the first time its star is a woman who is not the captain of the ship. The Walking Dead's Sonequa Martin-Green won't be taking the helm, but she will be anchoring the cast as Michael Burnham, first officer of the Federation ship USS Shenzhou, raised by Spock's (Nimoy) father, who transfers to the Discovery for -- you guessed it -- mysterious reasons.

The show also stars a bevy of recognizable faces, including Jason Isaacs as Captain Gabriel Lorca of the Discovery, who has secrets of his own; international superstar Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou, captain of the Shenzhou and Burnham's mentor; Doug Jones as Saru, the Discovery's science officer and new type of alien called a Kelpian; and Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz as Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber, the first openly gay couple in Star Trek history.
There's a lot more we learned while on set -- and a lot that stayed secret, as co-showrunner and executive producer Aaron Harberts toured us and other press outlets around the massive sets of Discovery. Here's everything we learned -- and a few secrets we can't tell you yet:

1. Lorca isn't your run-of-the-mill captain.
Beyond his dark disturbing secrets -- and we've got some theories on those we'll share at a later date -- Jason Isaacs' Lorca isn't your typical Starfleet captain. That starts with his allergy to chairs. Where previous captains like Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Kirk (Shatner) spent a lot of time in the captain's chair, or in their office (more on that in a second), Lorca will spend a lot of time down near the viewscreen. This was a choice Isaacs made, presumably to give the very physical actor more room to play and engage with the rest of the cast.
2. The tech isn't stuck in the '60s, but it does pay tribute.
Despite taking place pre-Original Series (aka ST:TOS), the tech has been updated to reflect a more modern aesthetic. "We are living in present day language of what the future is bringing us," Harberts noted while standing over the Discovery's communication station. "But also firmly nestled in those ten years before the original series."
That means there are the buttons and knobs omnipresent in ST:TOS are still there on the consoles, but as part of a slicker design. And the displays are cutting edge (for 2017, at least): they're real television screens that haven't been released in stores yet. The screens go completely transparent, and are loaded with graphics that play in time with the action (since the TVs aren't touchscreen enabled).
3. ... But the buttons are touch enabled.
This came as a surprise as one of the other outlets on the tour touched a button on Lorca's captain's chair, expecting nothing to happen. Instead, a small viewscreen built in to the arm of the chair swiveled upwards, so the captain can deliver an address to his crew. Aside from the alarmed production staff and surprised press members, what's most impressive is how practical the sets are. They aren't all actors hanging out on green screens, and digital touches later in post. That's there, and the team does utilize digital techniques -- but as much as can be practical and interacted with on set, is.
4. Diversity, diversity, diversity.
When producer Bryan Fuller came on board Discovery, one of his biggest pushes was to keep the sense of forward movement in casting and diversity Gene Roddenberry's original vision brought to Star Trek. Fuller eventually left steering the ship full time, in favor of showrunners Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg, but that push remains.
It starts with the main cast, of course, but continues with the day players: Harberts noted that he's "very proud" of the incredibly diverse Toronto-based actors they've brought in to fill out the bridge of the Discovery (as well as the other ships). "It's amazing the depth of talent we've been able to mine here," Harberts added.


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Lots of New STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Information Arrives from August Press Visit to Toronto Sets

In late August, press from around the world were able to beam up to the Star Trek: Discovery sets in Toronto, and several reports from that visit have begun to debut online as we are now officially two weeks away from having seen the first episode of the upcoming series.

First up, TV Guide’s Alexander Zalben got to shoot a bit of video on the USS Discovery bridge set, and here’s a look at the real-life transparent displays, our first great view at how these innovative set designs rely more on practical effects than digital compositing.

Lots of New STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Information Arrives from August Press Visit to Toronto Sets

In late August, press from around the world were able to beam up to the Star Trek: Discovery sets in Toronto, and several reports from that visit have begun to debut online as we are now officially two weeks away from having seen the first episode of the upcoming series.

First up, TV Guide’s Alexander Zalben got to shoot a bit of video on the USS Discovery bridge set, and here’s a look at the real-life transparent displays, our first great view at how these innovative set designs rely more on practical effects than digital compositing.
As part of their on-set interviews, TV Guide learned a few secrets not yet revealed from the series, such as:

*Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) has a standing desk in his ready room, rather than the traditional chair-and-desk configuration seen in previous captains’ offices
*Viewscreen communication has been upgraded to holographic displays in the series, to allow “two actors in a a room, playing a scene” – per producer Aaron Harberts
*Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) will be primarily based out of the USS Discovery’s engineering section below decks, paired up with Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) for a key part of the storyline — a section of the ship that also features a mystery room and a strange “reaction cube,” both of which details about are being kept under wraps.
*Lorca has a secure-access room referred to by producers as “Lorca’s menagerie,” without offering any more details on this tantalizing space aboard ship
*A bottle of Chateau Picard wine has a spot in Captain Georgiou’s (Michelle Yeoh) Shenzhou ready room
In addition, several of the cast speak in yet another new interview video focusing on some of the more negative ‘anti-diversity’ feedback some people have expressed towards the show.

On the burgeoning Klingon War that impacts the first season of the show, Harberts spoke about how the United Federation of Planets approaches such a conflict.

[The] question becomes… how do you end a war, how do you find peace, without crushing and annihilating your opponent? And to me, that’s the Star Trek way of doing a war story. It’s not the Federation annihilates the Klingons. It’s Starfleet and the Federation figure out a way to truly make peace.
Now we know that when TOS picks up, that peace doesn’t last. But we have to find peace in our time, in our slice of the Star Trek pie. That’s a really important thing to us, and we’re going to offer up a way that these two warring factions come to an understanding.

“Anyone remember when we used to be explorers?” This quote from Captain Picard in Star Trek: Insurrection seems to apply to the crew of the Discovery, revealed now to actually be a science vessel during times of peace:

These Starfleet officers who find themselves in war are very quick to remind the audience that they didn’t sign up to do that. That they are explorers first, that they are diplomats first… in fact, Discovery is a science vessel that has been conscripted for the war effort.

[Stamets’] methods and life’s work is now being converted to be used for the war effort, and that bothers him greatly.

Much ado has been made about the time period Discovery is placed in — a year after “The Cage,” and about a decade before Captain Kirk takes command of the USS Enterprise — and Harberts himself expressed a bit of frustration about how the tales told during the most recent Trek television series, Star Trek: Enterprise, impacts their storytelling abilities.

The only thing that’s felt limiting is the era and time that we are telling our story, because you’ve got ‘Enterprise’…
I find that ‘Enterprise actually’ has made things the most limiting, because of some of the retconning that they did in certain ways. And we consider Enterprise canon as well in certain ways, and just as valid, and we’re always trying to kind of make sure that that’s taken into consideration.

Finally, Harberts took on the “overblown” report that from last month that Discovery characters “can’t say ‘God'” — emphasizing that is strictly a character note for Gabriel Lorca (Isaacs), and not for the Trek universe as a whole.

You will come to understand why [Lorca] has faith — or doesn’t have faith — is of vital importance. We had no interest in killing God, you know, and by God I mean anyone’s God.
So the fact of the matter is I don’t think religion is going anywhere. Polls may say differently, but I think faith and hope and spirituality, whatever you may think that is, we’re carrying that into the future. We have to.
I think that the world is, and our Star Trek universe, is open to any and all belief systems.

I want to actually do some storylines about [faith]…. Let’s talk about what place it has in the future. Let’s talk about what it makes people do. Let’s talk about encountering new ones.



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