Toxicity in Star Trek

Following on from yesterday’s post, whereby certain Fandom Menace supporters were making highly spurious and completely unsubstantiated claims about Star Trek producer Alex Kurtzman, we have a breakdown of the alleged toxic nature of Star Trek Discovery’s production, written by one Jack Beers, aka @waytoomuchbeer on Twitter.

I will preface with the point that Jack has placed his thoughts and views out there for anyone to disassemble, critique and condemn. There’s a certain measure of respect for someone who is prepared to do that. His article can be read in its entirety via the link above. Where I quote from it, the text will be in purple.

Over the last five years since the show has been greenlit, there have been a series of negative stories and rumors about the show’s production and reception. From this, a picture of toxicity and hostility begins to emerge from behind the scenes.

I know what you’re now thinking: Much of that are just rumors that can’t be proven. Sure, there are a ton of rumors surrounding the show where the only source is hearsay. So for the sake of making my argument as fair as possible, I will emphasize mainstream news articles that include sources to prove my point. If you disagree with this article, you disagree with source material. 

Greenlit by Les Moonves

Les Moonves green-lit the show in late 2015 to provide content for their online streaming service, CBS-All Access. In August 2017, a month before the premiere, show-runner Aaron Harberts quoted Moonves as saying  “I’ve watched the first six episodes, and I love them”.
Leslie Moonves Explains Why ‘Star Trek’ Went to CBS All Access​ (Hollywood Reporter)
Can ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Help CBS Boldly Go Into a Streaming Future? (Variety)

In August of 2018 though, the New Yorker reported allegations of misconduct by six women. By December, he would be fired from CBS and his severance package withheld while an investigation was underway. Moonves denied all allegations.   
Les Moonves says over-the-top TV is the future (Page Six)
Les Moonves and CBS Face Allegations of Sexual Misconduct (New Yorker)
Former CBS chairman Les Moonves fired for cause, will not receive severance in wake of sexual misconduct allegations (Washington Post)

Is this not a ‘guilt by association’ move? Moonves was a creep, but that doesn’t automatically mean we can make assumptions about what life is like behind the scenes of DSC. Besides, if we are to play this game, a number of examples can be brought up about the strife behind the scenes of… wait for it… The Original Series! Strife caused by… brace yourselves… Gene Roddenberry himself! If Roddenberry were alive today and these allegations came to light, he’d find himself in a similar position to Moonves. However, it seems Roddenberry often gets a free pass from the Fandom Menace, as they revere TOS. Since they love the TV show, any scandals relating to its production and creator are quietly side-lined.

There’s more. Quoted from here:


Gates McFadden played Dr. Crusher in Star Trek the Next Generation. She was a popular character, with her level-headed attitude and intelligent compassion. But by the end of season one she was gone, and no one really had any idea why. There were lots of rumours, although most were unsubstantiated. According to SBS, McFadden herself has said that her departure had to do with “one of the male writer-producers,” who she clashed with over what she saw as sexist writing. 

So at least one writer was clashing with an actor on set, and was able to do enough to get her fired. Pretty toxic, no?

The point I’m making here is that Star Trek has a history of behind-the-scenes chaos. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Rick Berman was noted for his own sexism, denial of LGBT stories and being difficult to work with. Robert Beltran has been quite vocal on his negative experience on VOY. To quote Terry Farrell’s experiences of showrunner Rick Berman during the production of DS9:

“The problems with my leaving were with Rick Berman. In my opinion, he’s just very misogynistic. He’d comment on your bra size not being voluptuous. His secretary had a 36C or something like that, and he would say something about, ‘Well, you’re just, like, flat. Look at Christine over there. She has the perfect breasts right there,’” revealed Farrell.

“And then I had to go into his office. Michael Piller didn’t care about those things, so he wasn’t there when you were having all of these crazy fittings with Rick Berman criticizing your hair or how big your breasts were or weren’t. That stuff was so intense, especially the first couple of years,” she added.

As I said, there is a history here. I’m not saying it’s right and if similar things are happening on the set of DSC, they’re not right either. However, if you’re going to try and present a picture of DSC as being a hot-bed of terrorised actors and toxic writers, you’d be a hypocrite for not mentioning the 50+ years of similar behaviour throughout the franchise, starting with Star Trek’s very creator.

Launch delayed by nine months

​The show was originally supposed to premiere January of 2017, with pre-production beginning January of 2016. Bryan Fuller was announced show-runner the next month.
New ‘Star Trek’ TV series coming in 2017 (LA Times)
CBS’ ‘Star Trek’ Taps Bryan Fuller as Showrunner (Hollywood Reporter)

Yet by October that same year, it was announced that Fuller was leaving the series and the show was being pushed back to May. Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts were tapped to replace him as show-runners.

CBS producers were quoted saying, “Due to Bryan’s other projects, he is no longer able to oversee the day-to-day of Star Trek, but he remains an executive producer, and will continue to map out the story arc for the entire season. Alex Kurtzman, co-creator and executive producer, along with Fuller’s producing partners and longtime collaborators, Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, will also continue to oversee the show with the existing writing and producing team. Bryan is a brilliant creative talent and passionate Star Trek fan, who has helped us chart an exciting course for the series. We are all committed to seeing this vision through and look forward to premiering Star Trek: Discovery this coming May 2017.”
Bryan Fuller Out as ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Showrunner (Hollywood Reporter)

​Eight months later, the Hollywood Reporter would report, “Former showrunner Fuller clashed with CBS over the show’s concept, casting, directors, costumes and budget on top of its original launch date. In October 2016, Fuller was asked to step down as showrunner”.
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Showrunners Out; Alex Kurtzman to Take Over (Hollywood Reporter)

By January of 2017, it was announced that Star Trek Discovery would be pushed back again. This time though, they didn’t announce a new date.

​CBS producers were quoted saying, “Production on Star Trek: Discovery begins next week. We love the cast, the scripts and are excited about the world the producers have created,” reps for CBS All Access said in a statement. “This is an ambitious project; we will be flexible on a launch date if it’s best for the show. We’ve said from the beginning it’s more important to do this right than to do it fast. There is also added flexibility presenting on CBS All Access, which isn’t beholden to seasonal premieres or launch windows.”
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Delayed Again as Spock’s Father Is Cast (Hollywood Reporter)

By June of 2017, it was then announced at CBS’ upfront presentation that Star Trek Discovery had a launch date set for that September and that they were splitting the season into two parts to allow more time for post production. 
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Gets September Premiere Date On CBS & CBS All Access, Season 1 Split In Two (Deadline)

Finally, in an interview with Variety in September of 2017, writer Akiva Goldsman dispelled any Spock rumors. 
“Is Burnham’s relationship with Spock going to become a factor at any point?”
“Right now we are really trying to be very gentle about any kind of direct intersection with what we would consider hero components of “TOS” [the original series]. It’s certainly mentioned, but it’s not explored.”

‘Star Trek: Discovery’: Akiva Goldsman on Spock, What’s in Store for Season 1

If the Hollywood Reporter is right, the delay came from the fact that Fuller, who wrote for Deep Space Nine and Voyager disagreed with the direction others wanted to take the show and was removed after he and Kurtzman asked for a delay. Yet was the direction they ultimately went with the right one? 

I’m not sure how any of this is evidence for a toxic environment. TV shows get delayed all the time. Staff changes happen all the time. Shows are often tweaked and changed prior to launch as ideas take shape and viewpoints change.

What follows is a string of claims, reported incidents and the implication that these are widespread. The actors are quite active on Twitter – it’s hard to imagine a persuasive, intimidating atmosphere being the norm when you have outspoken actors like Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp, neither of whom are inclined to be silent or complicit. Rapp called out his abuser – would he tolerate bullying on-set? I doubt it.

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