So yeah, yesterday was a total bummer for Star Trek fans.
If you hadn’t heard, Bryan Fuller has stepped down as showrunner on CBS’ new TV show Star Trek Discovery, having already wrapped up the main story arc, some of the scripts, and most of the cast. Taking the reins are longtime writing partners Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, who will see the show through production while Fuller works more concertedly on his American Gods adaptation and Amazing Stories reboot. Dude’s working too damn hard.
The news also teased out a few more details about the production, some of which are telling as to the reasons for Fuller’s abdication. Though many of the roles - male and female admirals, a Klingon captain, a British doctor - have been cast, the lead actor (playing a female lieutenant-commander) remains tough to pin down. CBS has reportedly been most displeased with Fuller’s apparent lack of progress, which has already necessitated a premiere delay from January to May. With Fuller off the show, he can now split his time between two shows instead of three, and his former lieutenants can share Discovery’s captain’s chair.
So what do we actually lose here? There are two ways to look at it. The optimistic outlook - and probably the most realistic one - suggests that not much will change about the show. Fuller has already nailed down the overall background and story arc of the season, and will still be involved in its production - just not in a 9-to-5 capacity. Vincenzo Natali is still on board as a director, and Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer is still consulting on the show. New showrunners Berg and Harberts have both worked alongside Fuller before, on Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies, and Fuller appears to trust them implicitly.
The other way of looking at the situation - the point of view of most of Trek fandom, if my Twitter feed is any indication - is to scream and run for the hills. Perhaps the most troubling news is that notorious hack writer-producer (and director, of the hilariously stupid A Winter’s Tale) Akiva Goldsman is being brought on in what Variety describes as “a top creative role,” supporting the new showrunners in a producing capacity. And though Fuller will remain executive producer, such credits in television (and in cinema) exist on a sliding scale of meaning, so it’s unclear just how much direct input Fuller will have.
What Star Trek loses most here is confidence. Overcommitment was a factor in the cancellation of Fuller’s Hannibal series, after all. And look - as someone who also says “yes” to pretty much every gig that comes his way, then pays the price, I get it. But damn it, man - this is Star Trek we’re talking about. The franchise has been on shaky ground for decades, with both its TV and cinema outings proving to be hit and miss, and one thing it desperately needs is leadership. This is a big deal for CBS - budgets are said to be in the $7 million per episode region - so it has to be done right. Losing a fan-favourite producer (and gaining a man who's essentially the opposite of that) isn’t exactly going to inspire confidence in anyone. It’s just what fans don’t need after years of ill treatment at the hands of Berman, Braga, Lindelof, and Orci.
On any reasonable level, Discovery's new showrunners deserve the benefit of the doubt. But having Fuller on the show fulltime would have guaranteed his trademark attention to detail, and importantly, that the show would be the work of an auteur - as much as any collaborative medium can be. One hopes that Berg and Harberts share Fuller’s vision - not just for this show, but for the world. If not Bryan Fuller himself, Star Trek needs someone who shares his sense of social justice, his optimism and joy (which shone through even in a show as grim as Hannibal), and his killer sensibilities with storytelling and character. That’s what Star Trek is ultimately all about.
If it seems like I’m over-lionising Bryan Fuller, it's not for no reason. His most recent series Hannibal is pretty dang close to a perfect TV show, while his other work continues to enjoy cult status to this day. Fuller’s announcement as showrunner on Discovery was not just a perfect match of talent and franchise; it was a shot in the arm for fans desperate for a quality Star Trek series. Thus, his departure has hung a pall over what was unprecedented fan enthusiasm, removing a trusted name from the production and replacing it with the writer of Batman & Robin.
Star Trek Discovery goes before cameras next month, looking towards a May 2017 premiere date. It’ll happen regardless of Fuller’s involvement, and for all we know, it could still end up being terrific. The new showrunners are more or less unknown quantities outside of writers’ rooms, so to the layman, it's hard to tell what's going to happen. Fans need a sign, for regardless of the actual impact of the personnel change, morale is low. Low morale never helped anybody, and when you’re talking about a sci-fi show, especially one as storied as Star Trek, you need those fans on side. Uncertainty is what makes markets crash, after all. Give us a sign, CBS.