“My goal is that there should be a Star Trek something on all the time on All Access,” CBS TV Studios president David Stapf said Sunday during a Deadline interview about the CBS streaming service that included the platform’s president and COO Marc DeBevoise and EVP Original Content Julie McNamara.
The chat was held following CBS All Access’ TCA session, where DeBevoise and McNamara presented their expansion plan for going from seven original scripted series this year (The Good Fight, Star Trek: Discovery, No Activity, Strange Angel, One Dollar, Tell Me a Story, The Twilight Zone) to 10 in 2019. The Q&A also came on the heels of CBS All Access’ parent company’s projection that the 4-year old platform’s subscribers will grow to 8 million by 2022 and the announcement of a new final frontier series starring Star Trek: Next Generation‘s captain Patrick Stewart.
While the growth to 10 series is but a fraction of Netflix’s series portfolio, the size of CBS subscriber based platform’s original slate is respectable for the streaming service being in its second year as an original scripted player.
In an interview with Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva and Dominic Patten, DeBevoise, McNamara and Stapf, whose CBS TV Studios is behind all but one of All Access’ current series, talk about growing the scripted slate and the expansion of the Trekverse under Alex Kurtzman and his CBS TV Studios-based Secret Hideout shingle. The trio also share what kind of Star Trek series they aim to do beyond Discovery, the recently announced four-part Short Trek and the Stewart vehicle, and whether the new shows will follow Discovery with Netflix international distribution deals.
Additionally, the executives talk about how Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard series came to be, address the behind-the-scene turnover on Star Trek: Discovery and the renewal prospects of Strange Angel, give a status report on The Twilight Zone reboot and reveal Greg Yaitanes’ role in it, and confirm the development of the long-rumored series adaptation of The Stand with Stephen King, Josh Boone and Ben Cavell.
Also part of the wide-ranging conversation: CBS All Access’ comedy series plans; its possible expansion into sports, documentary and talk shows; its rollout strategy; buying from outside studios; and the Big Brother controversies.
DEADLINE: In your presentation, you talked about getting to 10 shows by the end of 2019. The Patrick Stewart Star Trek series is one, what are the other ones?
MCNAMARA: We have a good development slate. We have some things in mind, but nothing that we are prepared to order or talk about at this moment.
DEADLINE: Is the Muhammad Ali event series 8 Fights one of those in consideration?
MCNAMARA: It is in consideration. It is meant to be an anthological continuing series so the Ali story would be Season 1 but that show could continue.
DEADLINE: What about The Stand adaptation with Stephen King?
STAPF: It’s in development.
DEBEVOISE: To be clear, we mean 2019 like a 2019 season and, to be honest, we are a little vague on what our seasons are yet. So, we’re just trying to get as much through that pipeline as we can.
DEADLINE: What are your plans for expanding the Star Trek franchise?
MCNAMARA: We’re looking at limited series for some Trek shows and we are looking at ongoing series for some other Trek shows. We’ve obviously announced the one that’s coming next with Sir Patrick Stewart but we have more in development there.
DEADLINE: Based on the way the first season of Discovery ended, is there a Trek series with Michelle Yeoh in the works?
MCNAMARA: We’ve really talked about virtually all of the characters who popped in Discovery as potential spin-off shows. It’s obviously very much driven by our conversations with Alex Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout and the other creators involved. I wouldn’t say at this point that we are actively pursuing a Michelle Yeoh series but it has been discussed.
DEADLINE: Are we going to see some of the characters that we are going to see in the Star Trek: Short Treks like Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd being test trialed so to speak for full-on series consideration?
MCNAMARA: He definitely falls in that category of it could be interesting to build around this character. But, I will say, it hasn’t progressed any further than that.
STAPF: I think what you are asking is are we incubating things potentially, and the answer is Yes and No. There’s not a grand design of “lets plant a Rainn idea and see how that does.” It’s more Secret Hideout and the rest of the Trek brain trust coming to us and saying, “we think this would be really cool, storywise, characterwise.”
DEBEVOISE: And the Shorts will end up being a great way to engage our audience early. The series will be coming back in early ’19 but we’re going to have these Shorts before that.
DEADLINE: How did the idea of bringing back Patrick Stewart’s character come about, and how long did it take to get him to do it?
STAPF: It came to us, as do all things Trek now, through Alex Kurtzman, with the idea of, wouldn’t it be cool to do something Next Gen-oriented, and/or get Patrick Stewart and/or any of those iconic Next Gen characters. As Patrick himself has said, he was of the opinion that “I’ve done that character,” but he got a meeting with Alex and some of the other guys and they won him over. The deal didn’t take that long once he decided to do it.
DEADLINE: Any other former Trek franchises you are looking at next?
DEADLINE: So that’s a definite No on William Shatner?
STAPF: (laughs) I would say, never say never.
DEADLINE: Is it certain that one of the new Trek series will be a spinoff from Discovery, and how big a franchise universe are you looking to build?
STAPF: My goal is that there should be a Star Trek something on all the time on All Access. We know it draws an audience, and Discovery has done quite well.
DEBEVOISE: We started well and we’d love to have a second one.
STAPF: Yes, and as we learned, we want to do it right.
DEADLINE: Speaking to that, there have been a lot of behind the scenes changes on Discovery in Season 1 with Bryan Fuller leaving and in Season 2 with Alex Kurtzman becoming the solo showrunner and James Duff joining as an executive producer. Can you talk about that, and how are things on the series now?
MCNAMARA: I think the good news in this most recent situation is that Alex has always been very much involved creatively from early on and very much aware of what was going on in the writers’ room with long arc storytelling and episodic storytelling. He got the vibe of the show we were all trying to create, he’s been on set a lot, he directed the first episode this season. So, it ended up from that standpoint being pretty seamless. Look, it’s never fun when there is change and people leave, but, in this case, with Alex and bringing in James Duff to help, who is such a pro and a great person, we’ve been able to move forward without much of a hiccup.
DEADLINE: To be clear, James Duff is not showrunner but a righthand man to Alex and helping to run the writers room?
MCNAMARA: Yeah, he’s an enormous fan of Star Trek, and it’s been really wonderful that we’ve had really talented people coming out of the woodwork the last three years to say, “I would give anything to work on Star Trek, I love Star Trek…”
STAPF: Michael Chabon (executive producer on the Patrick Stewart Star Trek series) is an example of that. Here’s a prize-winning author who says “I want to be involved in Star Trek, please let me do something.”
DEADLINE: Are the Star Trek extensions contractually obligated to go to Netflix internationally per the deal on Discovery?
STAPF: It’s complicated. Some are, some aren’t, depending on how it gets defined as series or a spinoff.
DEADLINE: So, the one announced yesterday with Sir Patrick, that’s a standalone series right?
STAPF: Yes, that’s a new series. Which I think is important to distinguish.
DEADLINE: Are you looking for similar international distribution deals for the new Star Trek to the one you have for Discovery with Netflix or are you looking to retain some international rights as CBS All Access is expanding its footprint to Canada and Australia?
STAPF: We’re looking at all of it and have the ability to do that.
DEADLINE: All CBS All Access original scripted series that have premiered so far have been renewed. What about the latest, Strange Angel, which is wrapping its first season?
MCNAMARA: We are feeling good about the performance and the creative direction of the show. We plan to decide about season 2 after the full season has dropped.
DEADLINE: What’s the status of The Twilight Zone reboot with Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg?
MCNAMARA: We have a room, we have a first season of concepts, outlines, scripts — various stages of all these things — of that 10 eps a season. We are well on our way, and we are going to start production in the next couple of months.
DEADLINE: Who is running the series?
STAPF: Because it’s anthological you don’t need to look at it as who’s the showrunner.
MCNAMARA: From a production standpoint Greg Yaitanes is overseeing that continuity.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about CBS All Access’ rollout strategy.
DEBEVOISE: Right now, we are trying to get an always-on feel for original content. We are trying to release something almost every month or often enough, and I think we just got there. We’ve now got seven shows, we are trying now to build that to be even more. Trying to get to 10 shows to effectively be one a month in 2019/2020.
DEADLINE: You currently put up new episodes of your shows weekly, are you thinking a different approach, like launching whole seasons at once?
DEBEVOISE: We’re looking at all the different release models right now and whatever makes the most sense for us with specific shows. There may be certain shows that we look at in a different light that the weekly release method and we’ll see how that plays out.
DEADLINE : What are those shows?
MCNAMARA: We have a couple of things in development that could potentially benefit from more of binge approach. So, now we actively talk about that all the time. Whether it would be an individual show that we would drop that way or whether there is a tipping point where we come to feel that putting everything on all at once makes more sense. Right now, it is hypothetical.
DEBEVOISE: Also, from an always-on marketing point of view with seven series, All Access is a strong vehicle right now for putting out episodes of series on a weekly basis as it keeps us talking to and engaging the potential audience. But, I think, as you get more volume, you may not have to continue to take that approach.
DEADLINE: Of your seven current original scripted series, six are dramas and one is comedy. Will your slate remain skewed heavily toward drama or are you also making a push in comedy?
MCNAMARA: We are looking to and will expand into comedy. We want to be a full-fledged premium environment. and we have comedy development but nothing we can talk about.
DEADLINE: What are your expansion plans in other areas, such as sports, documentary?
MCNAMARA: Those are conversations that are happening right now in terms of what does that actually mean. I feel it should include all of that.
DEBEVOISE: We’ve dipped our toe in a few things, we’ve licensed a few movies for the service. You’ve seen us have these live channels, in news, sports and now entertainment (via ET). We are looking at these areas and is there more there that we can do as we grow that will service our audience. I’d say we are looking at documentary-style programming that can certainly come though our news channel, we always look at sports rights. The one that we haven’t cracked is unscripted. We obviously did Big Brother: Over the Top two seasons ago but Big Brother then added a celebrity edition so the producers are dedicated year-round to doing those shows, and it didn’t make sense to go do our show. We run the live feed that has done very well for us. We are looking at it but there is no commitment right now other than we know we are going bigger in scripted drama and comedy.
DEADLINE: There were a couple of Big Brother controversies this season over comments and actions by houseguests during the live feed on All Access. Are you planning any action to avoid such issues in the future?
DEBEVOISE: Not really. I think that we have producers effectively watching the feeds 24/7, so there is someone on the button who makes sure what we put out is great product. We want to stay true to form what this product is as much as we can, which is you are watching the house, you are literally watching what is happening all the time, we try to keep that. Obviously, we are a company with standards, so we need to be careful, we know what that line is. No big policy changes there, we are always watching.
DEADLINE: What about talk shows?
DEBEVOISE: I think there is a TBD there. I think we have two of the best late night hosts and how they perform already — the full-episode viewing of Colbert is phenomenal on our platform — so we are getting the best of both worlds there by having the network content on the service. I don’t say we are totally covered and we would never do anything but I think we feel quite established in that area, and the question is, would there be a benefit of doing another one that might compete for audience.
DEADLINE: All but one CBS All Access scripted series so far have come from CBS TV Studios (Tell Me a Story is from Kapital Entertainment). Will you stay predominantly with CBS TV Studios as a supplier or are you also open to outside studios?
MCNAMARA: We are open to outside studios but I think it’s safe to say we will stay predominantly with the in-house studio but open to elsewhere.
STAPF: Julie is never going to look away if a good idea comes from somebody else. Then the challenge becomes the business model, how to make it work.
DEADLINE: Have you developed a model?
MCNAMARA: It’s always case by case; we do have development with outside studios where deals have been completed, and we currently work with them. We love it when it’s the in-house studio but at the same time we are in a position since we are in our nascent stages that we really need the best projects we can find.