'Star Trek' Boss: Picard Leads "Radically Altered" Life in CBS All Access Series

Patrick Stewart Star Trek - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of CBS TV Studios

What is the next chapter in the life of Jean-Luc Picard?

That's the question Star Trek diehards have been asking since August, when Patrick Stewart officially boarded an untitled CBS All Access series that will see him play Picard for the first time since 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis. Little is known about the plot of the show, which has been described as an exploration of the next chapter of Picard's life. Fans have speculated that it will find him serving as an ambassador, just as Leonard Nimoy's Spock did in the later years of his life.

Now, Trek captain Alex Kurtzman is pulling back the curtain on the upcoming project, revealing that a cataclysmic event depicted in J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek movie impacted Picard in a big way. In that film, written by Kurtzman and former producing partner Roberto Orci, it was revealed that Nimoy's Spock failed to save the Romulan homeworld Romulus from a supernova several years after the events of Nemesis.

Now, Kurtzman — as part of a Creative Space interview with The Hollywood Reporter (posting Wednesday) — is ready to reveal one massive clue about the premise of his CBS All Access Picard effort, due in late 2019: "Picard's life was radically altered by the dissolution of the Romulan Empire," Kurtzman tells THR.

The Picard series will be the first onscreen Trek story set in the aftermath of that event, which would have altered the balance of power in the galaxy. The destruction of Romulus would also have extra resonance for Picard, who has a long and complicated relationship with the Romulans, the alien race that split from Vulcan society thousands of years ago and founded a separate civilization. The Romulans went on to control a portion of the galaxy, and the empire was in opposition to the Federation for all of Picard's career.

One of his goals as captain of the Enterprise was seeking a peace between the Romulan Empire and the Federation. Picard teamed with Spock during the events of the Next Generation two-part story "Unification," in which they learned that Romulans claiming to seek a peaceful reunification with the Vulcans were actually planning a secret takeover. And in the events of Nemesis, Picard faced off with a clone of himself (Tom Hardy) created by the Romulans.  

Kurtzman says Stewart agreed to return only if he could defy what people are used to seeing with Trek. "He threw down an amazing gauntlet and said, 'If we do this, I want it to be so different, I want it to be both what people remember but also not what they're expecting at all, otherwise why do it?' " Kurtzman recalls of their initial discussions for what would become the highly anticipated CBS All Access series.

That was part of a long journey to woo Stewart back to the role that began more than a year ago.

Fans have had a long-running debate about who the greatest Trek captain is. Although Kurtzman wrote two films centering on Captain Kirk (2009's Star Trek and 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness), he'd always considered Picard the greatest. So when he made a wish list of things he could do to build out All Access' Trek universe, bringing Stewart back as Picard was high on his list.

The only problem: The actor was rumored to be uninterested in revisiting Picard, whom he played for seven seasons on Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1987-94 and in four feature films. Kurtzman wasn't sure of the response he'd get when he called Stewart's agent and asked for a meeting.

"To our amazement and delight, the agent called back and said he was curious to know what we had in mind," Kurtzman says.

Kurtzman, along with then-Star Trek: Discovery producer Akiva Goldsman and writer Kirsten Beyer, met with Stewart to pitch their vision.

"What we tried to convey in that meeting was how desperately we loved him and the character and how much we wanted to see what happened to Picard," says Kurtzman.

Stewart asked them to prepare a three-page document outlining their ideas. By this point, novelist and screenwriter Michael Chabon had joined the team to pitch a Picard-centric show, and they soon realized they could not fit their ideas into just three pages.  

"It turned into a 34-page document — with no way to shorten it," says Kurtzman. "We were going on all in and he was going to read it or not read it, love it or hate it. It was our best attempt at trying to get him to say yes."

Fortunately, Stewart liked what he read. Kurtzman got the call that the actor would be in Los Angeles during Oscars weekend and wanted to meet.   

"He walked into the room and he had a huge smile on his face and said, 'This is wonderful,'" recalls Kurtzman of that March 2018 meeting with Stewart." What he understood at that point … was that he was with people who desperately wanted to collaborate with him, that we weren't trying to exploit him. He knew if he was going to go back to Picard, it needed to be for the greatest reason ever."

The Picard series is just one in Kurtzman's Trek empire. It will join the flagship series Star Trek Discovery, as well as Lower Decks, the upcoming half-hour animated comedy from Mike McMahan (Rick and Morty), and the shortform entry Short Treks. Other projects in development include a second kids-focused animated series (that may live outside of CBS All Access), a Discovery spinoff starring Michelle Yeoh and the younger-skewing Starfleet Academy from Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (The O.C.).

For Trek fans, part of the draw of the upcoming Picard show is not only seeing Stewart back, but the possibility that members of his old crew might stop by for a cameo. Is that on the table?

"Anything could happen," Kurtzman says.