2:15pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
How the 'Star Trek' Universe Will Fit Into (and Expand) on Paramount+
Star Trek will have one central home within the ViacomCBS fold: Paramount+.
The streamer, which will be rebranded from CBS All Access on March 4, has become the home for Star Trek: Prodigy, the animated comedy that was developed by and poised to launch on Nickelodeon. The kids-focused series will join the rest of Alex Kurtzman's other Star Trek originals — Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks and the upcoming Strange New Worlds — on the platform, which will be further showcased on the service.
Star Trek: Prodigy, created by Kevin and Dan Hageman and exec produced by Kurtzman's CBS Studios-based Secret Hideout banner, marks the first show in the franchise aimed at younger audiences. It follows a group of lawless teens who discover a derelict Starfleet ship and use it to search for adventure. The series will debut this year on Paramount+ before securing a second window at a later date on Nickelodeon as the streamer becomes the central priority for parent company ViacomCBS. The 20-episode order will be split in two parts, with Nick securing the first half ahead of the streaming launch of the second, etc. "At ViacomCBS now, there are so many tools in the tool kit to play with and you don't want a one size fits all strategy; you want to have a concerted strategy about how best to reach the audience you're trying to reach," P+ head of originals Julie McNamara tells The Hollywood Reporter of the strategy.
The toon joins a massive library of Star Trek offerings on Paramount+ that includes all 726 episodes from the six classic shows as well as a selection of feature films in the franchise. Prodigy is part of a larger effort by franchise captain Kurtzman to introduce Star Trek to younger audiences. "Trek was always fully formed adults, already in Starfleet and people who have decided who they are. And it never was aspirational that way. It's important to me to find a way to go back and reach younger kids in a way that Trek should and never really has," he told THR ahead of the show's announcement in 2019.
Below, Kurtzman and Paramount+ head of originals Julie McNamara talk with The Hollywood Reporter about how Star Trek will fit into the streamer as it expands to better reflect all of ViacomCBS' brands as the conglomerate, like others, positions itself for the future.
How does the move of Star Trek: Prodigy speak to the larger strategy for both Paramount+ and the franchise itself?
McNamara: It reflects exactly what we're looking to do at Paramount+. In the early going for the new platform, franchises are incredibly valuable in driving people across the paywall and we know this. The addition of Prodigy is huge in that it's taking this franchise and expanding possibility of this hungry new demographic for Star Trek. It does speak to the highest execution of the kind of things we're looking to do at Paramount+. Part of what we've seen is our Star Trek fans on CBS All Access, it's interesting what they'll go to. They'll go to The Legend of Korra and pop around and find things that fit that particular — and I say this lovingly — nerd demo. Our hope and thought, in concert with [Nickelodeon president] Brian Robbins, is that by bringing those Trek fans and their children into Prodigy on the platform is great way of hitting those hardcore Trek fans. On the other hand, on the linear side, is hitting kids that may not be interested in Star Trek but do watch Nickelodeon and would be interested in trying something new on the network.
Alex, we've talked in the past about how you wanted to do an animated show to draw kids into the franchise from a young age. Now that you've done that with Prodigy, what's the next frontier you want to look at as you expand Trek?
Kurtzman: There are other Trek stories to tell in the kids space. Hopefully, in success, this is going to be the first of many in that space. In our live-action world, one thing we hear a lot from fans is how much they've liked that we freed ourselves from canon in Discovery and jumped forward into a new timeline with a whole bunch of new worlds and new characters. What that speaks to more than anything is the spirit of exploration that is at the heart of Star Trek. Whatever we do next is probably going to be in different timelines and different areas of the universe that haven't been explored before; a show that hasn't been dedicated to them yet.
Knowing that you can have a show on Nickelodeon with a rollout like Prodigy, that could hypothetically afford you the opportunity to make a Trek show for BET or anywhere else in the ViacomCBS ecosystem.
Kurtzman: Absolutely, 100 percent. That's the beauty of the merger for Star Trek: now we have this huge family of networks and streamers and opportunities that are exciting because it means we can curate and target thoughtfully specific Star Trek shows for specific audiences that networks cater to. Would I want to put something on Showtime or BET like we did on Nickelodeon? That's a great conversation. Ultimately for Paramount+ to be the centralized home of all Star Trek is ideal but I do like the idea of being able to explore what kinds of strange shows you can put on that don't necessarily fit into a box. That's so much of what we're trying to do with Trek: give you what's familiar but also forge new ground. As an audience member, I know I like to watch shows that take me into new spaces that are different and tell stories in a way that don’t' feel like a formula you've seen before. Anything that can allow us to do that — both big and small — I'm excited about.
This interview is happening ahead of Investor Day. And without knowing what the new platform looks like, how will Star Trek be positioned? We've seen content channels for Marvel and other brands at Disney+ and FX on Hulu, etc.?
McNamara: The hubs that we have that are along the lines of what you're talking about currently are based on the studio brands: Nickelodeon, BET, Comedy Central, MTV and CBS. Of anything that we have, this Star Trek universe that Alex has built would qualify as a universe. But I do want to get back to you on when we'll have a specific hub because there are so many things that are going on right now on the product side readying for launch but certainly that's what we've talked about. Is Star Trek the one that we put next to all those brands as its own world of shows in addition to it being an original on P+.
How does Star Trek fit in with other brands? It seems like this is a shift from network branding to franchises. What are some of the other brands that you could foresee Trek living alongside, NCIS?
McNamara: These franchises are quite important. And what constitutes a franchise: SpongeBob is a franchise. Taylor Sheridan has a few things that he's going to be talking about — does that constitute a franchise? On movie side, there's a lot of great IP that we're working on series projects around that. Right now, our first and foremost mission is to make sure that in going from CBS All Access to Paramount+ people understand that in coming to Paramount+, they get news, sports and a mountain of entertainment. They get the live feed from CBS. The brands — Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, all the Viacom side of the company. That's the strong initial message. Then what of the individual pieces of content or collections of content constitute a franchise? Trek right now is a big one. We have a few other things — like in the kids space, SpongeBob, Rug Rats and iCarly. And on the CBS side, we've talked about building out some of the procedurals that have been successful. We have a few tricks up our sleeve.
Disney is doing a dozen Star Wars and another dozen Marvel originals. Could you see Trek expanding in a similar fashion?
McNamara: We are in discussions about the next phase of the Trek universe beyond those five shows that Alex has built. We are invested in growing the universe of Star Trek. That said, it's important to make sure that we are curating these properly. We're always incubating a number of things together and then working out what the right cadence is and what the right next show is. Those are active and constant conversations. There are multiple things in the hopper right now that represent that next phase but we don't want to expand it too much, too fast to where anyone is ever saying, "It's just another Trek show." We don't want that.
Kurtzman: Despite all appearances, we're not interested in being in the quantity business. I don't think that serves the Star Trek universe. We are interested in being in the quality business. It takes upwards of two years from inception to postproduction. Yes, we've thought beyond the five [shows]. Yes, we're having conversations about what happens beyond the five. But we have to make sure we're staying true to the way we've built the first five. Each show is incredibly different, offers a specific thing, they're not all targeted at the same audiences — but interestingly enough, they tend to bring in the same audience. It's difficult to make something for everyone. You end up making something for no one when you take that approach. Do I see something on BET? Yes, because there may be a niche Star Trek show that's perfect for that. I want to make sure as we build this out that we're being thoughtful about creating a really interesting rainbow of colors, that each show feels different and you don't think, "I can watch Picard and not watch the others." Because they're all very different. That to us is more important — staying true to that approach.
In a broader sense, Julie, how does the relaunch of this platform change how you think about what the originals brand is compared to when it was CBS All Access?
McNamara: It's getting defined in my view: what's broadcast show on CBS? What's a Showtime show? What's a Paramount+ show? The originals are driving from the new brands that have been brought in, so those are some of the originals. If you're on a Nick hub, you'll get originals consistent with a top creative team from that brand that has, for decades, been the lead in kids and family. And with MTV and Chris McCarthy on originals on the platform, you'll get the best reality and guilty pleasure shows you can find. And for us, in terms of the adult scripted originals, high quality streaming but an accessibility and, in many cases, a four-quadrant notion — but not in all cases. We're looking to be a big tent place that does ultimately have something for everyone. Not every show is for everyone but everyone in the family should ultimately be able to come to Paramount+ and find something they want to watch. The originals are moving in a direction of acknowledging that this should be big-tent entertainment. That's the north star for us right now.
What has the team there learned from the past several years of CBS All Access that you're applying going forward? What needed to be revamped?
McNamara: We are about to go into production of season five of The Good Fight, which was the first show that launched on CBS All Access. While CBS All Access has been around for a while, we are coming out of only our fourth year of having exclusive originals on the platform. Between that show and the Trek-verse and some of the other things we've done, I'm proud of where we've been. But Paramount+ has an opportunity to mine so many more resources in terms of making sure we reach everybody. We're moving more in the direction of not being so concerned with separating ourselves from the CBS broadcast network and being more appreciative of the entire family dynamic and wanting to draw everyone to Paramount+.
What does the expansion of Paramount+ mean for other ViacomCBS streamers like BET+ and Showtime's direct platform?
McNamara: Those two right now are maintaining their unique streaming identity and destination. Whether that will change in the future, those will be discussions. What are all the intricacies of why those two specifically are maintaining their streaming presence even though there is a BET presence on Paramount+ as well, that's a larger conversation.