IR Print Interview: Aaron Harberts & Gretchen J. Berg (Co-Showrunners) For “Star Trek – Discovery” [CBS All Access – CBS TCA Winter Press Tour]
Star Trek is an interesting quandary as it balances modern themes with a sci-fi perception set in utopian society. With such anticipation coming out the gate as well as some changes in showrunner structure for the new CBS All Access “Star Trek: Discovery”, it can be a battle to keep focus and tone exactly where it needs be. After sitting on a panel at the CBS TCA Day with showrunners from other CBS shows discussing politics and social issues, Exec Producers/Showrunners Aaron Harberts & Gretchen J. Berg spoke with The Inside Reel about the continuing process and inherent themes of the burgeoning series.
Can you talk about the initial misdirect in the series in regards to the focal point of the storyline?
Aaron Harberts: The joy is in the journey. If that’s something you’re invested in, keep watching because I think that hopefully you will enjoy what we’re going to do.
Gretchen J. Berg: I think once you watch [the 10th episode], you’ll see the context that we’re playing in. Another theme from the back half is second chances.
But people do think they know where you are going to go…
GJB: I love hearing the theories. I mean, I really enjoy it. So keep the theories coming.
Are you going to be disappointed if they guessed it right?
GJB: I will be disappointed if somebody comes up with a story that’s much better than we ever could have come up with. (laughing)
AH: What we’ve always said is audience theories range from hot to cold, but all are pretty phenomenal. I would say that people may know where this is going.
If season one is getting closer to the traditional Federation, could a second season be closer to a traditional Star Trek feel than perhaps this one has been thus far?
AH: We’re excited to explore that in season two. I mean, here’s the good news. Last year, obviously, [there was] very well documented challenges that this show had. We were sort of shot out of a cannon. Gretchen and I inherited the show. And we ran like Indiana Jones with that boulder crashing down behind us. This year, we have a fantastic creative team in place. Everybody knows each other. Our crew in Toronto is, and always has been, phenomenal. But we have time this year. We have time to do things like more away missions..newer planets…stories that might fall a little bit more into a framework of allegory that people love to get from Trek. But we will always continue to have that overarching serialized threat. But the second season is not a war season.
GJB: We have three episodes percolating [currently]. The outline for the first one is out to our producing partners.
AH: We are very interested in tackling themes of faith next year. Science versus faith. We’re interested in different points of view on that. And we’re still hashing out what we want to attack. We’re in this interesting pocket of time. We’re 10 years, now 9 years before TOS. And there are lots of things in terms of TOS canon that we want to do some nods to. And we’re still figuring it out.
Any second thought about the use of Klingon spoken on the series so far?
AH: There are a lot of different opinions on it. And I think because the story that we were telling about the Klingons, and how they wanted to make sure that they kept their race pure– from a storytelling point of view — made sense to us that when we cut to them, if what they wanted to do was remain Klingon and stay Klingon and keep away from everybody else, we couldn’t have them speaking English. We had to hear their language. So, I still stand behind that decision. I know some people didn’t like it, but I think it makes the best sense for the story.
GJB: I’d say in the back half, the audience will see fewer subtitles. There will be a little less reading involved, but yes, we had to stick to that decision for this first chapter.
So is there a tonal difference in the 2nd half of season one?
AH: Listen, I know this sounds corny, but the back half to me is this amazing roller coaster. Jonathan Frakes [Editor’s Note: Frakes played Riker in TNG and directed the “First Contact” & “Insurrection” TNG films] directed episode 10, and it is a bang out of a circus cannon, in a good way. It’s so fun. It’s emotional. There are highs and there are lows, and just buckle up.
GJB: We’ve known him and worked with him since we were really young writers on “Roswell” and he was an executive producer. We have a friendship that goes back almost 20 years. The joie de vivre and the talent that he brought to the set — this is a hard show to do. It is grueling. And he did episode 10, and when he stepped on the set, and again, this is not to say that our crew isn’t giving 100% and our cast isn’t giving 100% every day, but there’s a point in the middle of the season where everybody’s dragging. We’re dragging. They’re dragging. He came in at just the right moment and electrified the room. And when he left…it was just a triumph for him. And for the cast, there’s really no one else, aside from Roxann Dawson, who’s also a phenomenal director [Editor’s Note: Dawson played Lt. Torres on ST: Voyager], who can give our cast insights into what the future holds for them as members of an iconic franchise.
By Tim Wassberg
THE INSIDE REEL’s Tim Wassberg caught up with Michael C. Hall, the star of Showtime’s seminal series “Dexter” at CBS’s TCA Party in Beverly Hills to talk about the intention of the sixth season and the incumbent element of spirituality brought forth from the new character of Professor Gellar (played by Edward James Olmos) as America’s favorite serial killer continues to brave the battle between humanity and homicide.
TIM WASSBERG: Michael…I just saw you in the indie “East 5th Bliss” which premiered at the Newport Beach International Film Festival. Can you talk about balancing the approach of the sweetness and genuine quality of your character in that kind of an independent with that of the darkness of Dexter?
MICHAEL C. HALL: I think there has to be with Dexter some sense that there is some sweetness somewhere. In “East 5th Bliss” there is an openness involved and vulnerability that Dexter doesn’t have and certainly doesn’t cultivate.
TW: And that was a conscious decision on your part?
MCH: That was just responding to the character as it existed on paper and what I felt was appropriate.
TW: Could you talk how spirituality shows a resonance but also a renaissance in Dexter as a character going into the 6th season?
MCH: I think that the question that Dexter finds himself asking at the beginning of the 6th season is really about his son. We know that Dexter doesn’t want to pass on his dark passenger. His son is only growing older and only learning more and having more and more of an appetite. Dexter is like: “What do I want to pass on to this kid?” and that leads him to think about what kind of school he wants him to go to. It’s a Catholic school and that cracks open a door to Dexter’s awareness that those issues, while not important to him, might be to his son. At the same time, as Dexter tends to do, he attracts relationships and scenarios and cases that feed into that appetite.
TW: Do those cracks of emotion make him an even darker character? Or more human?
MCH: Both. (pause) I think the more human Dexter becomes, if he does in fact continue to kill, the darker he becomes, because the spectrum between the dark and light broadens, and that is sort of a tougher thing to consider in a way.
TW: Continuing on that, perceiving an evolution of then versus now in terms of the Jeff Lindsay novels. how much did you take in relevance to Dexter as a character then and how it has expanded with the relationship with his children versus the mythology that continues to unspool within the show.
MCH: I think as far as mythology, as the show goes, it has its own mythology. Beyond the first book I haven’t read [any more] honestly because I think it would confuse me. It would be like some sort of parallel universe.
TW: But what about the initial burn in terms of the character?
MCH: I think from the pilot episode we see that Dexter has an affinity for children and a protective impulse in regards to them that is unique and initially incongruous..and it has stayed alive. It is the saving grace (chuckling) that Harrison [his son] has.
Season 6 of DEXTER premiere on Showtime October 2nd, 2011 at 9pm.
Check out the Season 6 Promo Trailer that played at TCA Summer Press Tour & Comic Con.
The revolving structure within the new idealism of ABC under the stewardship of Paul Lee reflects a more family based structure despite the success of more edgy fare like “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” With the exception of “Off The Map” which takes advantage of post-“Lost” Hawaii assets, most of the new material revolves around the Disney Channel and Lee’s former post at ABC Family. The intentions are not unfamiliar but reflect changes in regards to structure of the former regime.
Paul Lee addressed the elements of forward momentum with a much more committed hand than the previous incarnation only hours after his new post was assigned. In regards to his recent thoughts, he distinctified that the company has really stood behind their Wednesday comedy block before dictating that “The Middle”, “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” would be picked up for next season. Lee continued with intention saying that his goal is really to make ABC Studios “a showrunner culture”. He worried when they launched that there were too many shows. Even big broadcast networks, he explains, need to have a place and time. He points to “Body Of Proof”, the new Dana Delany show, as being “a very good procedural” but admits that now the networks have to “play and compete 12 months a year”. He examples “Castle” as being the target of the ABC brand. He continues describing the network, and broadcast studios in general, in that “we brought the dinner party and we brought the guests but the showrunners need to continue” the progression. Both them and the network behind them have to “be willing to fall on your face” but do it within branding.
In speaking to new ideas in the process, he mentions a “fabulous procedural” that Shonda Rhimes [of “Grey Anatomy” and “Private Practice”] is working on. They have also made two pick ups with “Smothered” and “One Up” which he explains are both comedies. In terms of existing comedies, he volunteers that “Cougar Town” has a very distinctive voice. In terms of “Mr. Sunshine” headlined by Matthew Perry, they will be placing that show after “Modern Family” within the schedule. He admits a couple years ago ABC couldn’t have been able to anchor an hour on Wednesday. Comedies, in Lee’s mind, take a while to find themselves.
Approaching the other end of the spectrum with a series like “V”, 10 episodes were ordered because within that they could maintain quality control. In the same vein, Lee addressed the interaction of Marvel within the Disney family and how that could impact ABC. His thought is that with something like Marvel, you can get the whole company behind the idea which keys back to his focus on brand, Lee also admits to the fact that the networks are living in a fragmented universe (i.e. DVR, online watching) which changes the way viewing is tracked. Marketing becomes critical but there needs to be time to do so. When interrelating to other networks, he points out that shows like “The Good Wife” and “Glee” fit the ABC Brand though he admits his favorite ABC Shows are “Modern Family”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dancing With The Stars”.
Disney Channel’s “Lemonade Mouth” uses the strength of “Glee” to use the inherent star-making behind some of Disney’s successes into a specified movie aimed at creating an essence of edginess without sacrificing values.
Debra Chase, who also produced “Cheetah Girls” and “The Princess Diaries”, describes the production as “a movie with music” with “these characters trying to find their voice”. The key was to find a group that would “become a band with their band performances”. She said that they spent three months looking all over the world to find the best prospects. The script was based on a novel by Mark David Hughes and the title comes from the organic lemonade machine which is the cornerstone of the school. Chase’s hope is that the heart, soul and spirit of the book still lives on in the movie.
Patricia Riggen, who also directed the Spanish film “Under The Same Moon”, says that every song in the movie is special and worked from character, revealing a duality. She points out with the kinds of songs the kids sing, they are more mature and can stand on their own. For her it was a challenge to do serious storytelling on a 8 week shoot where it was about walking into an empty room and bringing the voices together.
Adam Hicks, who plays Wen, says that music motivates people whether they know it or not. The first thing he does after writing music is that he wants to tell people. The key in “Lemonade Mouth” was that in doing all the rehearsals, they could show that they all legitimately play the instruments on and off camera. His angle is writing rap which he has been doing since the 4th grade but said he “loves the surprise [from people] because I have red hair and freckles”.
Tisha Campbell-Martin, best known from the TV series “Martin”, says that she started out doing musicals Off-Broadway before graduating to “Little Shop Of Horrors” and “Rags To Riches”. She says originally she couldn’t get arrested in getting a comedic role. Seeing these young people in the movie however reminded her so much of herself.
ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” continues the act of trying to balance family programming with an edge using the story of a quartet of women who are targeted by anonymous foe, paving the way for “Mean Girls” reversal.
Exec producer Oliver Goldstick focuses the idea that the series is specifically about romance and that the soul mate connections are structured through the episodes. Balancing that with the implements of a procedural allows the show to use subtext in a series of cycles. The structure of the narrative, he explains, can rotate into mini-seasons like a 3-act play taking into account the theme of responsibility as the central cornerstone of the series.
The girls involved kept balance with how much they wanted to be aware of the world beyond the script. Lucy Hale, who plays Aria, only planned on reading the 1st book but ended up getting through the middle of Book 5. This allowed her a perception beforehand of this girl’s life although she says “I haven’t had any girls confessing their love for teachers” which is the flaw of her inherent character. Shay Mitchell, who plays Emily, says that when she auditioned she hadn’t read any of the books but read them as they shot the pilot. She says that she fully embraced her character’s style as an Adidas model but hopes to have her in heels by the end of the season.
ABC Studios’ “Off The Map” takes into possibility the infrastructure created by the recently retired “Lost” imbuing a new medical show set in the jungles of South America spearheaded by powerhouse showrunner Shonda Rhimes.
Rhimes admits that there was alot of resources left over from “Lost”. What got her interested was the voice of Jenna Bans who had served as producer with her on “Grey” while she continually spearheads new shows including one revolving around a fixer set in Washington D.C. That new show (which is in development) follows an intelligence specialist which Rhimes describes as a “crisis manager” and is loosely based on a woman named Judy Smith.
Bans, for her part, speaks that with “Off The Map”, what strikes her most about these specific characters is that none of them are at the top of their game. They all need to start over and, at a character level, “you are beginning with a huge difference”. In her eyes, the jungle is their pharmacy and they don’t have technology at their disposal and, because of this, they can “delve into stories that no one else can really do”. As a writer, she says she started writing to the chemistry onscreen that you see offscreen. She sees the series as a mix of action/adventure and comedy but also with a political twist creating what she calls “a nice blend”.
When Bans was researching the project and talking to doctors in the US, she says she came across alot of physicians where their private practice was their day job but their hobby was going away to these countries to do this. The village in the series is not completely far away from an actual commerce center but is completely surrounded by alot of remote villages. With supplies 10 hours or so away by vehicle, different substitutions must be made like using coconut milk as a substitute for fluids (which she says is done in third world countries). Episode to episode, she says they will not make the gore too gratuitous. The zipline material in the first episode will be the most extreme. Bans continues that there are different ways of practicing medicine which is what struck her and got her excited about the show.
The different doctors bring their different functions into play with brevity. Zach Gilford, who plays Dr. Fuller, says that sometimes on TV, one can be pigeonholed into a certain character base forever but, with a show like this, that stretched the possibilities, the rules are different because “you get to see different parts of the island and places you would never find”. Martin Henderson, most known for his role in the film “The Ring”, says that “to find a group of people that get on well is unique whether it was a conscious effort or not” but adds “that it is fortuitous and translates” on camera which Mamie Gummer, who plays Dr. Minard, admits “mirrors the characters”.