CBS is about to launch a new entry into the Star Trek universe when Picard drops on Thursday, January 23 on CBS All Access. This new series marks Patrick Stewart’s return to the franchise as Starfleet Captain Jean-Luc Picard — but he isn’t the only “legacy” cast member. Joining him are his Star Trek: The Next Generation co-stars Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, Jonathan Frakes, Jeri Ryan, and Jonathan Del Arco.
Picard picks up 20 years after the events of the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis, which Stewart recently told Heavy means that everyone’s lives are drastically different than when we last saw them. But does this mean that new viewers can’t jump in on Picard unless they are familiar with The Next Generation and its subsequent movies?
Absolutely not, the executive producers told us. Read on to find out how the new writers and producers have made Picard accessible for franchise newcomers.
Total Novices Can Still Enjoy Picard
When asked about newcomers being able to follow the Picard storylines, executive producer Michael Chabon told Heavy at the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour that if newcomers can’t jump in on this show, then the EPs have “completely failed” at what they’re trying to do.
“We were absolutely committed to the idea that we wanted to make a show that if you’ve never seen Star Trek, if you’re not sure what Star Trek really is even all about, if you think you don’t like Star Trek because what you’ve seen before hasn’t really grabbed you, if you’re a total novice, you will be able to sit down and watch this show and enjoy it,” said Chabon.
But that doesn’t mean they’re dumbing the show down at all, so they also created Picard with longtime fans in mind. Executive producer Akiva Goldsman added that fans will enjoy this “equally if you’ve seen every episode” because at the end of the day, they’re simply “trying to tell a Star Trek story.”
“We’re trying to be able to deliver emotion and information and philosophy and character in a way that is engaging,” said Goldsman, adding, “So if you know everything about it, you’re like, well, that was cool. And if you know nothing about it, you’re like, well, that was cool — and it might be cool differently! It may have more color or more revelation depending on where you live in that spectrum of audience. But we really, really want it to be welcoming because that’s part of the story we’re trying to tell.”
It Was Important to Patrick Stewart Not to Repeat The Next Generation
Creator Alex Kurtzman said that it was definitely important to them not to ignore what came before Picard, but star Patrick Stewart was adamant that this new show is just that — new.
“Yes, we need to pay homage to everything that has happened. We live in a continuity of a timeline. There’s emotional experiences that certainly informed the show, but [Stewart] did not want to just play the part he had played in the same way,” said Kurtzman.
That doesn’t mean everyone’s favorite Starfleet captain is some “dark, angry version” of himself. He’s still Picard, but he is in a very different place from when fans last saw him.
“[F]undamentally, Picard as a character has not changed. He’s not the dark, angry version of Picard. He is still very much the man from Next Generation,” Kurtzman told us. “But the circumstances of his life have changed radically and they threw him off course. And so he’s really wrestling with who he is now and what it means to be Picard in a world where not only does he not have an army but things are very, very gray. How do you hold onto your clear moral compass in a world that’s very gray? There is no greater captain, in my mind, for that challenge than Picard.”
Stewart Actually Had A Lot of Input in the Writers’ Room
“[Stewart] was in the writers’ room a lot and we talked at great length about story, character, how do we pick up where certain things left off but not repeat in a way where you must have seen [previous episodes or movies] in order to appreciate it?” said Kurtzman. “If you’ve seen Nemesis, if you’ve seen our 2009 movie, great. It adds dimension to it, but you don’t have to see any of that to be able to walk into the story.”
Chabon said that they talked with Stewart a lot about what he “was interested in doing with the character and what he wasn’t interested in doing with the character” and the answer ended up being, “What he essentially wasn’t interested in doing with the character was anything he’d already done with the character, and what he was interested in doing with the character were things he had never done with the character.”
Kurtzman added that Stewart “wanted to know he was going to be playing a very different flavor than what he did before. Yet … he still feels like Picard. He’s still very much Picard. So that was the challenge. He just needed to know he was on safe ground. And I think we bear that responsibility very much and we took it very seriously.”
In fact, the creators took it so seriously that they would let Stewart edit his own dialogue sometimes because, as Goldsman said, “nobody knows the character better than Patrick Stewart, that’s for sure.”
“I would go into his trailer and sit down next to him and … then he would say, ‘Picard wouldn’t say this. These words are not the right words for Jean-Luc Picard.’ The sentiment might be right or the plot thing you need at that moment is right. But these are not Jean-Luc Picard’s words,'” recalled Chabon, revealing that sometimes he’d straight-out ask Stewart what would Picard say and they would work out the script together.
“On the most granular level, he would apply his intelligence about acting and about the characters on Picard to each little part of the script,” said Chabon, “And thank God, it was such a relief.”
Star Trek: Picard drops Thursday, January 23 on CBS All Access.