Like so many different writer-directors, Alex Kurtzman grew up worshiping movie.
However he’s adaptable — and within the streaming period, that may be a very profitable trait.
Mr. Kurtzman, the onetime author of the “Transformers” motion pictures and the director of the 2017 movie “The Mummy,” just lately renegotiated his deal at CBS Studios into one of many richest there. Underneath 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 may even create exhibits, together with a restricted collection based mostly 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 collection is more likely to be bought to an outdoor streaming service.
Mr. Kurtzman’s deal is the newest 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 client appetites and hopefully enhance subscriptions for streaming. This one places the ambitions of CBS Studios — the manufacturing arm for the networks and channels beneath 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 govt of the CBS Leisure Group, mentioned in an interview. “The man can develop for broadcast. He can develop for premium streaming, broad streaming. He understands the enterprise. He’s acquired great empathy. He’s creatively nimble.
“While you make these investments,” Mr. Cheeks continued, “it’s essential know that this expertise can truly ship a number of initiatives on the identical time throughout a number of platforms.”
The highway forward received’t be straightforward 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 stay sports activities, together with Nationwide Soccer League video games, together with “a mountain of films.” (“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 succeed in 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 practically 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 usually are not assured that ViacomCBS will be capable of proceed to compete with the bigger corporations by itself.
“I believe it’s onerous to think about any of those corporations going it alone; I believe they’re all too small,” mentioned 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 wouldn’t have that debate day by day,” he added. “All their property go into one factor. Right here, they must stability, and that makes all of their streaming companies suboptimal.”
These company concerns don’t appear to trouble Mr. Kurtzman. Reasonably than bemoaning the diminished state of films or anguishing over the dearth of viable patrons because the market shrinks, he mentioned he was discovering the present local weather to be creatively invigorating and remarkably fluid.
“I do consider that the road between motion pictures and tv is gone now, and that to me is an incredible alternative,” he mentioned in an interview. “For me and for showrunners like me, we are able to inform tales in a brand new approach. We aren’t restricted by the slim definition of the way you inform a narrative — one thing should be advised in 10 hours, or one thing should be advised in two hours.”
Every day Enterprise Briefing
Mr. Kurtzman started working with CBS in 2009 when he developed the reboot of “Hawaii 5-0” along with his former writing companion, 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” motion pictures 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 can be on Paramount+. They’re “Star Trek: Discovery”; “Star Trek: Picard”; “Star Trek: Decrease Decks”; “Star Trek: Prodigy,” which is able to 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 authentic collection on Paramount+.
Additionally within the works are “Part 31,” starring Michelle Yeoh, and a present constructed across the “Starfleet Academy,” which can 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 mentioned. “There’s simply a lot extra available.”
He just lately completed a four-month shoot in London for the primary half of “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” a 10-episode collection based mostly 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 mentioned he liked the expertise of engaged on the collection, buoyed by the truth that the pandemic allowed him and his writing companion, Jenny Lumet, the chance to finish all of the episodes earlier than manufacturing started.
“I’d completely not be doing something in another way if we had been making this as a movie,” he mentioned. “I’m working with film stars in three totally 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 mentioned she was shocked that this “sci-fi robotic man in khakis” was fascinated with assembly her in any respect.
“All he needed to do was speak about tiny moments, tiny actual moments in motion pictures and tiny moments in tv exhibits, and he was so mild and keen to pay attention,” she mentioned. “Often, the robotic guys aren’t keen to hearken to something, and that’s all he needed to do. It was actually cool.”
The 2 have labored on the whole lot 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 collection for Showtime.
These round Mr. Kurtzman credit score his early expertise in tv (“Alias,” “Fringe,” “Sleepy Hole”) for giving him the power to handle a number of initiatives at one time with out showing to be overwhelmed. “He has an virtually supernatural means 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 mentioned. “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 had been being known as “Hollywood’s secret weapons” for his or her means to crack scripts on profitable current properties that others couldn’t (like “Transformers”). That led him to think about “Star Trek” in the identical expansive phrases that Marvel Studios views its cinematic universe. It’s a technique that CBS Studios completely 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 ready 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 client merchandise,” Mr. Stapf mentioned. “However it’s additionally a wise approach to take a look at constructing a complete 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 could match into the ‘Star Trek’ ethos of inspiration, optimism and the overall concept that humankind is sweet,” he mentioned. “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 needs to get a lot weirder with the franchise, which is able to have fun 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 had been as much as me solely, I’d be pushing the boundaries a lot additional than I believe most individuals would need,” he mentioned. “I believe we’d get there. Marvel has truly confirmed that you may. However you need to construct a sure basis to be able to get there and we’re nonetheless constructing our basis.”