There may be a battle going on inside the halls of ViacomCBS and it’s a battle for the very soul of Star Trek. If it goes badly we could end up with Star Trek descending into a long, dark winter with it once again absent from screens. If it goes well, then the golden age of Star Trek may be about to begin.
One one side of this battle, there’s the incumbent Alex Kurtzman. Kurtzman is the person currently in charge of Star Trek and he’s had his hands in the franchise since the 2009 JJ Abrams reboot. He’s had total control over Star Trek in the world of television and he’s the person totally responsible for Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Short Treks.
On the other side is newcomer Emma Watts. Emma Watts is the newly minted president of Paramount Pictures. She had nothing to do with anything currently bearing the name Star Trek which is probably good, because Star Trek right now is a total mess. And it’s a mess she wants to fix.
Wait, why would a franchise with multiple television shows on the air and several movies on the way be in trouble? Simple: No one’s watching the TV shows and the movies are stuck in development hell.
We broke the story previously that Star Trek: Picard’s ratings took a huge nosedive as the series wore on and fans began to figure out that, well, the show was a total mess. And while we don’t know what the ratings for Star Trek: Discovery or Star Trek: Short Treks have been like (CBS doesn’t release them), given the level of dissatisfaction directed at them by hardcore Trekkies it’s safe to assume they may be similar.
Meanwhile the Star Trek movie franchise seems to be stuck in development hell with three potential movie concepts all competing to see which can be the longest to develop.
Star Trek is a mess.
Rather than fix this mess, the guy currently in charge of Star Trek, Alex Kurtzman, has decided to just make more of it. He’s making more Star Trek: Picard, he’s making more Short Treks, more Discovery, and launching a bunch of other new Star Trek shows which may or may not make any sense.
Rumors are starting to swirl that Emma Watts has had enough.
Deadline says Watts’ “top priority” is to figure out Star Trek and now there’s a new rumor which says she’s figuring it out by cancelling every current and future Star Trek show in production (except for maybe Star Trek: Strange New Worlds). If that cancellation rumor is true then it probably means Alex Kurtzman is about to be fired. Because everything, all of that (except one thing), is his fault.
Alex Kurtzman’s Response To Rumors He May Be Fired
Not long after the rumors that Kurtzman may be about to get fired started heating up, Alex Kurtzman spoke to the Trades about the future of his vision for Star Trek. He didn’t address the firing rumors at all, though he likely heard them. Instead he kept right on talking about Star Trek like nothing has changed. In fact he talked like he’s going to keep expanding it.
Here’s what Kurtzman had to say…
“I think the idea for us is that it isn’t just about expansion for the sake of expansion. It’s actually about exploring different corners of the universe, in the same way that the Short Treks explore different corners of the world of Star Trek, the idea being that each show should have its own unique identity, and you should not be thinking that you can get from one show, what you can get in another.
Everything has to feel different, unique, special and specific, and yet you want it all to be of a piece, and tie into the larger Trek universe. So, it’s been a very coordinated effort, on a lot of people’s parts, to make sure that the shows feel different, and are about different things, and are saying different things, and feel different, and look different, and sound different. So, that’s been really fun and really rewarding.”– -Alex Kurtzman to Deadline
This confirms nothing one way or another, but that’s where Alex Kurtzman’s head is at right now. As for Emma Watts, she hasn’t responded since he made this statement.
What Star Trek Looks Like Without Kurtzman
That one thing which Alex Kurtzman wasn’t involved with was Star Trek: Lower Decks and coincidentally that humble animated series is the best thing Star Trek has produced in decades. By all accounts Kurtzman was totally hands off in the show’s development process and Lower Decks was made by series creator Mike McMahan with virtually no interference.
If the cancellation rumor is true then Star Trek: Discovery’s third season (which has already been filmed) will air and then the show is done. Everything else (that includes Star Trek: Picard season 2) is done. And then Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will move forward (though perhaps in a different form as shepherded by someone who isn’t Alex Kurtzman).
Whether that specific rumor is true or not it is true that Emma Watts is looking to clean house. And really the only option for her here is to get rid of Alex Kurtzman. The good news is that Star Trek has already inadvertently auditioned his replacement. If Emma Watts has any sense she’ll fire Alex Kurtzman and replace him with Mike McMahan.
As mentioned above Mike McMahan is the guy responsible for Star Trek: Lower Decks, the only bright and shining light left in the Star Trek universe. What makes him particularly valuable, aside from the fact that his show works, is the reason his show works. Star Trek: Lower Decks is so good specifically because it GETS Star Trek. It gets Star Trek in a way no one really has since Gene Roddenberry. And if you’re looking to guide this franchise into a bright and shining future, then Emma Watts needs to know he’s the guy to do it.
Mike McMahan has worked almost exclusively in the world of animation. He got his start working on South Park and he served as writer and producer on the acclaimed, geek-loved animated series Rick and Morty before becoming the series showrunner. He won an Emmy for that show in 2018.
But with Lower Decks McMahan is proving that he understands the scope of a big, sci-fi series. Star Trek: Lower Decks would be a great series without the comedy. The fact that it’s also a comedy is just the icing on the cake. Giving him the reigns to something as big as Star Trek would be a huge leap, but it’s a leap worth taking. If you hand it over to another seasoned Hollywood vet you’ll just end up with another Alex Kurtzman. If you put Star Trek in the hands of Mike McMahan you’ll be giving it to a true artist who understands storytelling and, oh by the way, also loved Star Trek as a hardcore fan long before he became involved in telling stories with it.
Emma Watts can save Star Trek. All she has to do is fire Alex Kurtzman and give more control to Mike McMahan.