We're beginning to get details about the behind the scenes drama that led to original series showrunner Bryan Fuller departing before production got underway on Star Trek: Discovery. This news arrives with less than two months left before Discovery makes its debut, at a time when there's much excitement for the Star Trek franchise's return to television, amongst members of the Trekkie community in particular.
When initially announced, Fuller seemed like a perfect choice to revive Star Trek for television. The writer/producer had been the creative force behind such cult classics as the vibrant, whimsical Pushing Daisies and the gorgeously horrifying Hannibal Lecter reimagining, Hannibal. Both series were short-lived, but were critically-adored and earned Fuller a devoted fanbase. Fuller actually got his start working on Star Trek series Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and has long been a vocal fan of the franchise.
However, problems began to emerge early on in Fuller's stewardship of Star Trek. According to Entertainment Weekly (via Trek Core), Fuller initially pitched Discovery as an anthology series that would span a different era of Star Trek's history each season. CBS found this idea too ambitious and compromised with Fuller for one serialized, narratively self-contained season set a decade before the adventures of Kirk and Spock, after which they would consider the show's future.
Additional issues began to surface when CBS selected a director for the series' pilot episode that Fuller viewed as unsuitable:
The studio hired [veteran procedural director] David Semel… to direct the Discovery pilot against Fuller’s wishes. (Fuller and CBS had no comment on this.) The two clashed in pre-production, with sources saying Fuller thought he was wrong for the job.
Fuller also reportedly clashed with CBS over the show's budget, design, and release date. Fuller favored a slightly-upgraded version of the original series' uniforms and set designs, while CBS wanted something more modern. While Fuller got the lead actor he wanted in The Walking Dead's Sonequa Martin-Green, her commitment to the hit zombie series meant an extended production delay was necessary. Somewhere along the line, tensions between CBS and Fuller became untenable, and he was asked to leave the project. Fuller instead focused his efforts on Starz' adaptation of Neil Gaiman's acclaimed American Gods, while Discovery endured additional production delays.
This EW report confirms a lot of information that has been speculated about for awhile. One of TV's most experimental auteurs, Fuller's vision likely intimidated CBS's more conservative production instincts, and his devotion to the Star Trek franchise meant it would be difficult for the network to get the dark, edgy show they wanted (and have seemingly gotten with new showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg).
There's a lot riding on Discovery. Star Trek is a television institution, but it's been off the airwaves for over a decade. CBS might think it's smart playing it safe with such an important franchise, but it's tough not to think about what could have been, had Fuller remained at the helm. As for Fuller himself, he summed up his reaction to the Discovery trailer (during his EW interview) as follows:
“What I can say is…my reaction was that I was happy to see a black woman and an Asian woman in command of a Starship.”
Star Trek: Discovery premieres September 24th on CBS.