Bryan Fuller’s mandate for “Star Trek: Discovery” is to recapture the sense of inclusiveness that typified the original series, from a female lead — potentially played by a woman of color — to an LGBT character in its main ensemble.
When asked about the possibility of a homosexual character during the show’s Television Critics Association panel, Fuller said “absolutely we’re having a gay character,” admitting that he still has a folder full of hate mail that the writers received during “Star Trek: Voyager” (on which Fuller was a writer and co-producer) because of the rumor that Jeri Ryan’s character was going to be a lesbian; revealing that at the time, he vowed that if he ever got the chance to create a “Star Trek” series, he would include a gay character.
Fuller noted that network acceptance towards LGBT characters has “improved dramatically” since then, crediting “Will and Grace” for starting a “sea change” in that regard. “I think we’ve come a long way since then; gay rights have come a lot further in that time than racial issues and women’s issues.”
Fuller noted that “‘Star Trek’ started with a wonderful expression of diversity in its cast,” so they’re aiming for “absolutely continuing that tradition,” from the casting of the lead to the rest of the ensemble.
Here’s what else we learned during the “Star Trek: Discovery” panel:
1. The show will take place ten years before the original series, and is set within the “prime” universe — that is, the continuity established in the original series, featuring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s iterations of Kirk and Spock, rather than the “Kelvin” timeline featuring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, as seen in the recent film franchise. “That allows us to bridge the gap between ‘Enterprise’ and the original series and redefine the visual style of the universe,” Fuller explained. “We’re much closer to Kirk’s mission so we get to play with the iconography of those ships and those uniforms.”
2. What will the series actually be about? “There’s an incident in the history of Starfleet that had been talked about but never fully explored,” which will form the basis for the first season, Fuller teased, describing the plot point as something that had always “tantalized” him as a longtime “Star Trek” fan. The big event that he hinted at comes from the canon of the original 1966-1969 NBC series and is an event that was never actually seen in the original show, but was referenced. Fuller said he believes that fans “should be very happy” about its inclusion. “It’s something I want to see.”
3. Fuller promised “more aliens” than you would usually expect in a “Star Trek” cast, as a way of highlighting the diverse array of lifeforms and species populating the universe, particularly in regards to the members of Starfleet. “Usually it’s one person with a bumpy head” surrounded by humans, but that won’t be the case this time around, he noted wryly.
4. Asked about the lead character’s rank, Fuller said, “Lt. Commander … with caveats.” Fuller said that the lead character’s most important traits include “a strength and sensitivity and an amusing neurosis that goes with exploring space.” When asked why he chose not to make the lead a captain, Fuller noted “We’ve seen six series from captains’ points of view, so to see a character from a different perspective, who has a different dynamic with the captain, with subordinates,” was something he was eager to explore. Fuller described the show as a search for identity for its central character: “In order to understand something that’s completely alien from her, she has to understand herself,” he said. “It’s so easy to look at someone different from ourselves and think how we would think in their shoes, but we cannot imagine how they’d think because we are not them. It’s part of the character’s journey in this first season.”
5. When asked if the show’s opening scene was set on Earth, on a planet or on a ship, Fuller teased, “It’s not on Earth and it’s not on a planet.”
6. Since the show takes place closer to the era of Captain Kirk’s five-year mission, Fuller confirmed that there would be a possibility to see younger versions of iconic characters — but not in the first season of “Discovery.” He told a handful of reporters, “We’ll be looking in the second season to familiar characters and how they could feed into the weave, but first and foremost, we want to establish the greatness of the characters that we have come up with.”
7. Here’s what “Discovery” definitely won’t center around: The Romulan war, the Kobayashi Maru scenario or Black Ops Section 31, although Fuller did hint that the latter “might be some marble through the meat of our season.” And while Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson, won’t be a central character, Fuller said “it’d be great in some iteration to integrate her storyline in some way… She’s not a central part of the show, but I love that character.” There will, however, be robots.
8. Fuller revealed that he has reached out to actors he’s worked with in the past for possible roles: “We’re looking at a lot of folks, we’re trying to figure out if their schedules permit.” When it was suggested that Lee Pace would make a great Vulcan, he responded: “I agree.”
9. The core number of characters in the main ensemble is “about seven,” Fuller said.
10. Fuller admitted that since the show will be on CBS All Access, “we’re not subject to broadcast standards and practices,” which will allow them a “broader spectrum” of content and the potential for more graphic scenes. He said that they’re still “weighing” how much they want to include in terms of profanity, because they still want the series to feel like “Star Trek” and be suitable for younger viewers. “I’d imagine we’re gonna shoot scenes a couple of ways and see what feels authentic in the editing room.”