Like so many different writer-directors, Alex Kurtzman grew up worshiping movie.
However he’s adaptable — and within the streaming period, that could be a very profitable trait.
Mr. Kurtzman, the onetime author of the “Transformers” films and the director of the 2017 movie “The Mummy,” not too long ago renegotiated his deal at CBS Studios into one of many richest there. Below the $160 million, five-and-a-half-year settlement, he’ll proceed to shepherd the rising “Star Trek” tv universe for ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ streaming platform.
He can even create exhibits, together with a restricted sequence primarily based on “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which he’ll direct for Showtime, and the long-awaited adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Superb Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.” That restricted sequence is more likely to be bought to an out of doors streaming service.
Mr. Kurtzman’s deal is the most recent in a string meant to present prolific producers, like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy for Netflix and Jordan Peele with Amazon Studios, free rein to create content material that may feed insatiable shopper appetites and hopefully increase subscriptions for streaming. This one places the ambitions of CBS Studios — the manufacturing arm for the networks and channels below the ViacomCBS umbrella — squarely within the arms of the 47-year-old Mr. Kurtzman.
“From the primary assembly I had with Alex, it was so apparent to me that he’s our future,” George Cheeks, the president and chief government of the CBS Leisure Group, stated in an interview. “The man can develop for broadcast. He can develop for premium streaming, broad streaming. He understands the enterprise. He’s received super empathy. He’s creatively nimble.
“Whenever you make these investments,” Mr. Cheeks continued, “it’s essential know that this expertise can truly ship a number of tasks on the identical time throughout a number of platforms.”
The street forward received’t be simple for ViacomCBS. Its fledgling Paramount+ was a late entry into streaming, and is basically a rebranded and expanded model of CBS All Entry. The corporate promotes the service’s information and dwell sports activities, together with Nationwide Soccer League video games, together with “a mountain of flicks.” (“A Quiet Place 2” debuted on it on July 13.) However Paramount+, together with a smaller Showtime streaming providing, had simply 36 million subscribers as of Might.
Whereas it hopes to achieve 65 million to 75 million international subscribers by 2024, that’s nonetheless a far cry from Netflix’s worldwide whole of virtually 210 million and the almost 104 million for Disney+. Even NBCUniversal introduced on Thursday that it had 54 million subscribers for its Peacock streaming service, because of an Olympic push.
And with consolidation mania consuming Hollywood, many analysts are usually not assured that ViacomCBS will have the ability to proceed to compete with the bigger corporations by itself.
“I believe it’s exhausting to think about any of those corporations going it alone; I believe they’re all too small,” stated Richard Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed Companions. “The problem, whether or not it’s Peacock, Paramount+, Disney+ or Hulu, is that each one of those corporations are nonetheless conflicted over what do they placed on linear TV, what do they put in a movie show and what do they placed on streaming.
“Netflix, Amazon and Apple would not have that debate day by day,” he added. “All their property go into one factor. Right here, they need to stability, and that makes all of their streaming companies suboptimal.”
These company concerns don’t appear to hassle Mr. Kurtzman. Quite than bemoaning the diminished state of flicks or anguishing over the shortage of viable consumers because the market shrinks, he stated he was discovering the present local weather to be creatively invigorating and remarkably fluid.
“I do imagine that the road between films and tv is gone now, and that to me is an incredible alternative,” he stated in an interview. “For me and for showrunners like me, we are able to inform tales in a brand new method. We aren’t restricted by the slim definition of the way you inform a narrative — one thing have to be advised in 10 hours, or one thing have to be advised in two hours.”
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Mr. Kurtzman started working with CBS in 2009 when he developed the reboot of “Hawaii 5-0” together with his former writing associate, Roberto Orci. In 2017, he started reimagining the “Star Trek” universe for the corporate, constructing on his familiarity with the franchise after co-writing the 2 J.J. Abrams-directed “Star Trek” films a number of years earlier.
Since then, he has produced 5 exhibits within the universe initially imagined within the Nineteen Sixties by Gene Roddenberry, and all might be on Paramount+. They’re “Star Trek: Discovery”; “Star Trek: Picard”; “Star Trek: Decrease Decks”; “Star Trek: Prodigy,” which can debut within the fall; and “Star Trek: Unusual New Worlds,” set for launch in 2022. ViacomCBS says “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Picard” are among the many most watched unique sequence on Paramount+.
Additionally within the works are “Part 31,” starring Michelle Yeoh, and a present constructed across the “Starfleet Academy,” which might be geared toward a youthful viewers.
However how a lot “Star Trek” does one planet want?
“I believe we’re simply getting began,” Mr. Kurtzman stated. “There’s simply a lot extra available.”
He not too long ago completed a four-month shoot in London for the primary half of “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” a 10-episode sequence primarily based on the 1976 David Bowie movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor performs a brand new alien character who arrives on Earth at a turning level in human evolution.
Mr. Kurtzman stated he beloved the expertise of engaged on the sequence, buoyed by the truth that the pandemic allowed him and his writing associate, Jenny Lumet, the chance to finish all of the episodes earlier than manufacturing started.
“I’d completely not be doing something otherwise if we have been making this as a movie,” he stated. “I’m working with film stars in three completely different nations, taking pictures sequences which might be actually not typical tv sequences, all of which I can solely do due to my expertise working in movies.”
Ms. Lumet met Mr. Kurtzman in 2015. He requested getting collectively after seeing the movie “Rachel Getting Married,” which she wrote. Ms. Lumet stated she was stunned that this “sci-fi robotic man in khakis” was concerned with assembly her in any respect.
“All he wished to do was discuss tiny moments, tiny actual moments in films and tiny moments in tv exhibits, and he was so light and prepared to hear,” she stated. “Often, the robotic guys aren’t prepared to take heed to something, and that’s all he wished to do. It was actually cool.”
The 2 have labored on all the things from “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Unusual New Worlds” to the short-lived “Clarice” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” Subsequent, they plan to deal with the story of Ms. Lumet’s grandmother Lena Horne in a restricted sequence for Showtime.
These round Mr. Kurtzman credit score his early expertise in tv (“Alias,” “Fringe,” “Sleepy Hole”) for giving him the flexibility to handle a number of tasks at one time with out showing to be overwhelmed. “He has an nearly supernatural skill to maintain separate prepare tracks in his head, this present, this present and this present, and he can soar from one to the opposite,” Ms. Lumet stated. “He is likely one of the few individuals who can hold all of the trains working.”
His work as a movie screenwriter started on Michael Bay’s 2005 movie, “The Island.” Quickly, he and Mr. Orci have been being referred to as “Hollywood’s secret weapons” for his or her skill to crack scripts on profitable current properties that others couldn’t (like “Transformers”). That led him to contemplate “Star Trek” in the identical expansive phrases that Marvel Studios views its cinematic universe. It’s a method that CBS Studios totally endorses.
David Stapf, president of CBS Studios, factors to “Star Trek: Prodigy” for instance. The animated present, one of many first animated “Star Trek” exhibits geared at youngsters, is about to debut within the fall on Paramount+ earlier than shifting to Nickelodeon.
“It clearly builds followers at a a lot youthful technology, which helps with shopper merchandise,” Mr. Stapf stated. “Nevertheless it’s additionally a sensible method to have a look at constructing a whole universe.”
To Mr. Stapf, who has overseen CBS Studios since 2004, the “Marvelization” of “Star Trek” can imply many issues.
“Something goes, so long as it will probably match into the ‘Star Trek’ ethos of inspiration, optimism and the final concept that humankind is nice,” he stated. “So comedy, grownup animation, youngsters’ animation — you title the style, and there’s most likely a ‘Star Trek’ model of it.”
That’s excellent news to Mr. Kurtzman, who desires to get a lot weirder with the franchise, which can rejoice its fifty fifth birthday this 12 months. He factors to a pitch from Graham Wagner (“Portlandia,” “Silicon Valley”), centered on the character Worf, that he calls “extremely humorous, poignant and touching.”
“If it have been as much as me solely, I’d be pushing the boundaries a lot additional than I believe most individuals would need,” he stated. “I believe we’d get there. Marvel has truly confirmed which you can. However it’s a must to construct a sure basis in an effort to get there and we’re nonetheless constructing our basis.”