Bryan Fuller stepped down as the Star Trek: Discovery showrunner in November of last year, but is only speaking candidly about what happened now. Back in July, Entertainment Weekly released an interview with the Hannibal and American Gods showrunner about the series of events that led to his dismissal.
It’s a disappointing read for anyone who is a fan of Fuller — which is to say, anyone who is a fan of imaginative, high-quality, ambitious television — but it also sheds some light on which contributions Fuller made to the tone, story, and vision of Discovery before his departure. It also might make you angry with CBS.
According to the article, Fuller originally pitched CBS not just one Star Trek series, but multiple serialized anthology shows akin to American Horror Story. Ideally, they would have started with Discovery, which acts as a prequel to the events of The Original Series with subsequent shows delving into the eras of TOS, The Next Generation, and so on, before moving onto a Trek story past the timeline of everything we have seen in this shared fictional universe so far. As Fuller put it…
The original pitch was to do for science-fiction what American Horror Story had done for horror. It would platform a universe of Star Trek shows.
CBS asked Fuller for a single serialized series. Once they saw how Discovery performed, they could go from there.
From the very beginning, Fuller was interested in creating a Star Trek story that honored Star Trek’s history of diversity…
I couldn’t stop thinking about how many black people were inspired by seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of a ship [as Lt. Uhura in The Original Series]. I couldn’t stop thinking about how many Asian people were inspired by seeing George Takei [as Sulu] and feeling that gave them hope for their place in the future. I wanted to be part of that representation for a new era.
Where did the partnership go south? According to the EW article, it started with a disagreement surrounding the director of the Discovery pilot. CBS wanted David Semel, a director known for his procedural work, while Fuller was leaning towards a more auteur quality, like Baby Driver director Edgar Wright. (Have I mentioned that Bryan Fuller is an ambitious visionary?)
As you might imagine, there is a bit of a price tag difference between the Semel and the Wright’s of the world, and those conflicting ideas about how much Discovery should cost seemingly reached beyond the choice of pilot director. Production planned to go over CBS’ original $6 million/episode plan and, as previously reported, CBS wanted the show launched much sooner than Fuller’s vision would have allowed.
CBS was looking for a February 2017 release date, something that obviously didn’t happen. It didn’t help that Fuller was spending a lot of time working on his other major project at the time, Starz’ American Gods.
It was Fuller who first saw Sonequa Martin-Green audition. “Her audition was fantastic,” Fuller said. “I found her incredibly insightful as an actor and delightful as a human being.” He wanted to cast her as the show’s lead, but she would be unable to shoot until May, when her work on The Walking Dead would be finished. This would mean another production delay.
Eventually, in October, amidst these behind-the-scenes tensions, CBS asked Fuller to step down. Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg, two writers who are long-time collaborators of Fuller, stepped up to fill the role. With Fuller went some of his “more heavily allegorical and complex storyline” ideas, says the EW article. You know, the things both Fuller and Star Trek are known for.
Ironically, Martin-Green was eventually hired in the show’s lead role, a casting made possible by Discovery‘s multiple production delays. Unfortunately, Fuller would not be captaining this ship anymore.
While I remain optimistic about Discovery, and am excited to see Star Trek back on the TV screen where it belongs, I still think CBS made a major mistake in letting Bryan Fuller go. Harberts and Berg are experienced writers and producers, but Fuller is a visionary. He’s one-of-a-kind. He’s the kind of showrunner you don’t let go of, if you don’t have to.
Perhaps you could argue that CBS did have to let go of Fuller, given the many production delays and their differing visions of what Star Trek: Discovery should or could be. But Star Trek has been off of TV screens for more than a decade. I think the fandom could have waited another year for the kind of TV quality Fuller represents. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
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