How Much ‘Star Trek’ Is Too Much? CBS All Access Boldly Tests Limits of Viewers’ Fandom

“Star Trek: Discovery” is back, and reinforcements are on the way

Last Updated: January 18, 2019 @ 8:49 AM

CBS All Access will boldly go as far as it can to mine viewers from “Star Trek.”

As the small-but-growing streamer tries to compete with Netflix and Hulu, executives are looking to Gene Roddenberry’s creation to take CBS All Access to the next frontier. The company will try to stretch the rabid fandom for “Star Trek” all the way into the outer reaches of space. But the streamer’s head of programming promises Vulcan-like logic and restraint.

“There’s no benefit to just pushing out into the marketplace tons of ‘Star Trek content. That’s not our intention,” Julie McNamara, executive vice president of original content, CBS All Access, told TheWrap. “We’re looking to mine it wisely and effectively.”

Along with “Star Trek: Discovery,” which debuted its second season on Thursday, CBS All Access has at least two more live-action series in various stages of development. At the end of this year, Sir Patrick Stewart will return as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in a new series following his “Star Trek: The Next Generation” character. Earlier this week, All Access put into development a series centered around Michelle Yeoh’s Philippa Georgiou character from “Discovery.”

CBS All Access also has the animated “Lower Decks” on the horizon, and is developing a second animated series. Additionally, CBS All Access has ordered two more installments of its “Short Treks” shortform series.

But McNamara assures that All Access won’t simply fill out their roster with all things “Star Trek.” She points out that the CBS All Access has plenty of non-Starfleet shows, including Marc Cherry’s “Why Woman Kill” and Jordan Peele’s “The Twilight Zone” reboot in the pipeline.

“It really is important that we’re out there establishing a full-fledged premium service and really add a lot of things that aren’t ‘Star Trek’ as well,” McNamara said.

Last summer, CBS said that All Access had 2.5 million subscribers, with the goal of upping that number to 4 million in 2019 and 8 million by 2022. Netflix has nearly 60 million subscribers in the U.S. alone, while Hulu has more than 25 million paying customers. And this year will see the streaming space get even more crowded: WarnerMedia, Apple and Disney are all expected to debut their own direct-to-consumer offerings. NBCUniversal plans to follow in 2020.

Like WarnerMedia (which owns Turner and HBO) and Disney, CBS All Access is banking a lot of its success on extracting new content from properties it already owns. With “Star Trek,” the company has one of the most successful franchises of the past 50 years.

Roddenberry’s original series, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, ran for three seasons starting in 1966. It gained a cult following in broadcast syndication in the 1970s, which led to a 1979 movie. In total, “Star Trek” has spawned 13 feature films — which have collectively grossed $1.4 billion domestically — and five subsequent TV series, before the ones for CBS All Access.

That’s quite a bit of “Star Trek,” which means that All Access has to offer fans something new and different to prevent the franchise from going stale. “In an ideal world, ‘Star Trek’ fans would be interested in great ‘Star Trek’ shows that could be a variety of talent and subject matter,” McNamara says. “They have to real right, and the timing has to feel right.”

McNamara points out that the Picard series won’t be on the service until the end of 2019, and that the Michelle Yeoh-led series is just in development as of now. She’s still expected to be a major part of “Discovery” during season 2, with McNamara adding that the season won’t necessarily serve as a back-door pilot for Yeoh’s standalone show.

“Lower Decks” won’t air soon, either: the animation alone will take a year.

“When I look at how the schedule is theoretically laying out on my desk, it does not feel like it’s one after another,” she said, adding that by the time the Yeoh-led series premieres, “Discovery” may be over.

“Some of these can be considered as replacements as opposed to additions,” she said. “These ‘Trek’ shows take a lot of incubation, because they’re very prep heavy, visual effects heavy… we’re seeing it more as we’re getting a good jump on making sure that there is a good fulsome stream of ‘Trek’ material.”

That CBS has such a steady flow of “Star Trek” content is no small feat, considering the struggles it took to launch “Discovery.” When it was first announced in 2015, “Discovery” was supposed to be the coming-out party for CBS All Access. But the production was beset by behind-the-scenes drama, including multiple showrunner changes, that resulted in delays.

Today, McNamara is confident their grand “Star Trek” plan is in good hands under Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the two J.J. Abrams-directed films, 2009’s “Star Trek” and 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness.” He is the “Discovery” showrunner and supervises CBS All Access’s entire “Trek” expansion.

That expansion will test the frontiers of how much “Star Trek” fans will embrace.

Season 2 of “Star Trek: Discovery” premiered on CBS All Access Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT.