Despite leaving Star Trek: Discovery in 2016, the show is still heavily influenced by Bryan Fuller’s presence as executive producer and showrunner.
In February 2016, Bryan Fuller was announced as the co-creator and showrunner for Star Trek: Discovery. Fuller originally cut his teeth in the industry by contributing to 83 episodes of Star Trek (DS9 and Voyager) as a story editor and writer, so his return to the franchise was a fit that made sense for both sides.
However, in October 2016, it was announced that Fuller was stepping away from his duties as showrunner for Star Trek: Discovery, and Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts would co-showrun CBS’ reboot in his place. Berg and Harberts both worked with Fuller on the ABC drama Pushing Daisies.
Since leaving the Star Trek universe in 2001, Fuller developed his unique style by combining elements of horror, drama, and dark humor through shows such as Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Hannibal. Fuller’s return to the Star Trek universe was an exciting one, as he’s become a successful, talented writer in the years since leaving Star Trek, and a reunion with the franchise that launched his career gave fans optimism that a rebooted Star Trek franchise could meet, and potentially surpass lofty fan expectations.
Though Fuller officially left the series nearly a year before ST:D aired (possibly because of the unfortunate acronym), he still had a major role in launching Star Trek into a new era by co-writing the teleplay for “The Vulcan Hello” and crafting the story for “Battle of the Binary Stars”. The story decisions in the pilot will undoubtedly affect the series going forward, but on a smaller scale, Fuller’s excellent dialogue was ever-present in “The Vulcan Hello”, as seen when Lt. Saru warns Cmd. Burnham that the Klingon presence is imminent – and dangerous.
"“Your world has food chains. Mine does not. Our species map is binary; you are either predator or prey. My people were hunted, bred, farmed. We are your livestock of old. We were biologically determined for one purpose and one purpose alone… to sense the coming of death. I sense it coming now.”"
While it’s speculation that Fuller penned this line himself –Akiva Goldsman is also listed as a co-writer of the teleplay — if you take a look at the pilot of Hannibal (teleplay by Bryan Fuller) there are some striking similarities the dialogue.
Here is an excerpt from the pilot of Hannibal, where the audience is first introduced to the titular character as he psychoanalyses a patient,
"“Our brain is designed to experience anxiety in short bursts, not the prolonged duress yours has seemed to enjoy. It’s why you feel as though a lion were on the verge of devouring you … You have to convince yourself that the lion is not in the room. When it is, I assure you, you will know.”"
In both excerpts, Fuller’s dialogue is primal, poetic, and dogmatic. These themes have been in the Star Trek: Discovery showed why he was the perfect choice to run the show. But what is Bryan Fuller’s true impact on the show if he left the project nearly a calendar year before the first episode aired?
There are some important, show-altering details from Bryan Fuller’s original vision that didn’t make it into the show. Fuller had intended to make Star Trek: Discovery into an anthology series that spanned multiple generations of Star Trek shows, and his plan was to, “do for science fiction what American Horror Story had done for horror.”
This is an interesting caveat to consider based on some of the deaths (SPOILER: Georgiou and T’Kuvma), as Fuller would have been less inclined to keep every character alive for the entire season if he knew he would be resetting the table each time. In the serialized context for what Star Trek: Discovery will be without Fuller, these important deaths will act as an inciting event for Commander Burnham and their impact will have a major role in shaping her story arc.
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Fuller had also approached Edgar Wright to direct the pilot, an intriguing fit that would accentuate Fuller’s trademark sense of dark humor, but CBS put the kibosh on it and hired veteran CBS director David Semel to direct instead.
Some of the Bryan Fuller DNA missing from Discovery is his predilection for dark humor. One would imagine a Fuller-Wright combination would have had a lighter tone and gone for more laughs than the first episode, as that is an overlapping for them, but perhaps the importance of setting up the dramatic beats for the season was more important than peppering in a lighter tone from the beginning — at least that’s possibly how CBS felt.
Bryan Fuller may not have another writing credit this season, but that doesn’t mean his influence on the season is limited to the first two episodes. As showrunner and executive producer, Fuller’s role was to oversee the writer’s room at the inception of the show, where details like character backstory, motivations, and the season’s story arc are shaped by a team of writers. He was involved in “breaking the story”, a term for outlining a season arc with a team of writers before sending each writer to write individual episodes.
Bryan Fuller’s lasting impact on Star Trek: Discovery is the casting of Sonequa Martin-Green. After being impressed by her audition, Fuller pounded the table that CBS find a way to make it work with Martin-Green’s difficult contract situation with AMC. Fuller’s story influence will wain when this season is over, but Sonequa Martin-Green doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Bryan Fuller fans and Star Trek fans should not be entirely disappointed that Fuller’s exit as showrunner came so soon, as his impact will still be significant in how the rest of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery plays out. That being said, the show will miss his witty charm and proficient dialogue skills as the season goes on.