When Star Trek: Discovery held its panel at the TV Critics Association, the first question was for Executive Producer, Alex Kurtzman. ‘What can you tell us about Picard?’ Alex told the journalist that he wouldn’t talk about the upcoming series until after the panel.
It was announced last summer that Patrick Stewart would once again play the iconic Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The new series will be set twenty years after the events seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
So we rushed on stage when the panel ended, and Alex was true to his word…
Star Trek: Discovery - TCA: Alex Kurtzman
Star Trek: Discovery – Executive Producer, Alex Kurtzman during Winter TCA Panel for the show. It was held at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 30th, 2019 © 2019 CBS Interactive. photo by Francis Specker

Tell us about Picard? Can we assume that there are no more Next Gen hires?

I wouldn’t make any assumptions about anything. In fact, nobody really knows what we’re doing, and we’re planning on keeping it that way.

Star Trek Las Vegas convention - Alex Kurtzman and Patrick Stewart
Star Trek – Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman and Patrick Stewart at Star Trek Las Vegas convention © 2018 CBS Interactive, photo by Bill Burke

What is the timeline and tone of the show?

What I can tell you is that everybody in that (writers’) room loves Jean-Luc Picard very deeply. And obviously, the benefit that we have is that Jean-Luc Picard is in the room with us as we are breaking stories. We are asking ourselves, how do we live through the spirit of the character?

As to the tone, we are also going to make it something very different. Patrick was really clear with us from the beginning. He did not want to repeat what he had already done. By the way, it’s been twenty-plus years so he couldn’t possibly be that same person anymore.

So the question becomes, what has happened to him in that period of time? Have there been occurrences that force him to reckon with choices that he’s made? How do you hold onto being the person everybody loved when the circumstances around you may have changed so radically? Those are the big questions that we are asking.

How did the participation of Michael Chabon come about?

It came about because he’s a crazy Star Trek fan and he knows absolutely everything there is to know, and he happens to be one of the greatest novelists of all time. I’m completely and totally obsessed with Kavalier & Clay. I read it on my honeymoon cover-to-cover and I’ve not stopped thinking about it since. And I’ve been married for almost 20 years, so it’s very present for me still.

The second that I heard he was interested I stalked him and to my great delight found that he didn’t require any stalking, he was already in. I talk to him every day, several times a day as we built this thing. His voice is critical and he’s so brilliant, so thoughtful, he truly understands the core of what Trek is and what Picard and Next Generation is specifically. So he’s one of the many wonderful voices we have in the (writers’) room.

When do you start shooting?

We start shooting in about two and a half months. We’re well underway.

In Toronto or LA?

We’re shooting in LA.

Star Trek: Discovery - TCA: Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin
Star Trek: Discovery – Executive Producer, Alex Kurtzman and Executive Producer, Heather Kadin during Winter TCA Panel for the show. It was held at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 30th, 2019 © 2019 CBS Interactive. photo by Francis Specker

It’s the first time you’ve seen this far into the future in Star Trek. What was exciting about inventing, without having to be committed to some other existing time period?

You’re talking about with Picard? I’ll tell you the first thing we said, that he has to feel grounded, no matter what choices we’re making about portraying the future, because I think one of the things people have loved so much about Next Gen is that it is a very emotional, thoughtful grounded piece of entertainment.

The easy thing to do is come up with crazy, floating skyscrapers, and all the clichés of science fiction and we’ve tried to avoid that across the board. So in the production design and in the look and the feel of it, it’s always about the small, intimate, personal details that you can still connect to now, even though it’s taking place so far in the future.

Star Trek Discovery, 203 - Michelle Yeoh and Alan Van Sprang
Star Trek Discovery, 203 “Point of Light” – Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou; Alan Van Sprang as Leland © 2018 CBS Interactive, photo by Michael Gibson

You also have a spin-off from Star Trek: Discovery of Michelle Yeoh’s character, Emperor Georgiou, in development. When did that happen?

In Season One, Michelle came to me and said, ‘Let’s do a spin-off of this character.’ I took a minute because it was clearly such a brilliant idea, except the series hadn’t aired yet. No one had even seen Season One of Discovery, and we didn’t know if it was going to be successful or not. So the minute it became successful we started that conversation.

Will the new shows be actively connected together in most cases?

They’ll be connected, I would say, mostly peripherally. It’s incredibly important to all of us that each show is a unique prospect, that it doesn’t feel like you are getting the same thing.

Each show has its own identity. The tone has to be unique and yet still be Star Trek. It has to visually look different from the other shows that we are planning on making. We work very closely with All Access so that you aren’t feeling overwhelmed by 20,000 of them at once. It may sound like you’re getting all of them at once because there are a lot of them in development right now, but you have to keep in mind it takes two years to (fulfill) each one.

So we have to look at the calendar in advance and say, ‘Alright, knowing that it takes 8 months just to do visual effects for one episode alone, how much time are we going to need to get it on the air in time?’ So when one series ends you take a breath, and another one starts. It runs its first season and another one (starts), then you’re getting a nice flow.

Do you think there will be a fourth Star Trek movie?

I don’t know, it’s not in my purview, I really hope so.

Star Trek Soundbyte

Alex was asked what insights they had gotten from Sir Patrick Stewart about his character? Click here to listen to his reply.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.