Like so many different writer-directors, Alex Kurtzman grew up worshiping movie.
But 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. Under 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 also 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 Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.” That restricted collection is probably going to be offered to an outdoor streaming service.
Mr. Kurtzman’s deal is the newest in a string supposed to give 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 increase 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 palms of the 47-year-old Mr. Kurtzman.
“From the first meeting I had with Alex, it was so obvious to me that he’s our future,” George Cheeks, the president and chief govt of the CBS Entertainment Group, mentioned in an interview. “The guy can develop for broadcast. He can develop for premium streaming, broad streaming. He understands the business. He’s got tremendous empathy. He’s creatively nimble.
“When you make these investments,” Mr. Cheeks continued, “you need to know that this talent can actually deliver multiple projects at the same time across multiple platforms.”
The street forward gained’t be straightforward for ViacomCBS. Its fledgling Paramount+ was a late entry into streaming, and is actually a rebranded and expanded model of CBS All Access. The firm promotes the service’s information and stay sports activities, together with National Football League video games, together with “a mountain of movies.” (“A Quiet Place 2” debuted on it on July 13.) But Paramount+, together with a smaller Showtime streaming providing, had simply 36 million subscribers as of May.
While it hopes to attain 65 million to 75 million international subscribers by 2024, that’s nonetheless a far cry from Netflix’s worldwide complete 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, thanks to an Olympic push.
And with consolidation mania consuming Hollywood, many analysts should not assured that ViacomCBS will likely be in a position to proceed to compete with the bigger corporations by itself.
“I think it’s hard to imagine any of these companies going it alone; I think they are all too small,” mentioned Richard Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed Partners. “The challenge, whether it’s Peacock, Paramount+, Disney+ or Hulu, is that all of these companies are still conflicted over what do they put on linear TV, what do they put in a movie theater and what do they put on streaming.
“Netflix, Amazon and Apple do not have that debate every day,” he added. “All their assets go into one thing. Here, they have to balance, and that makes all of their streaming services suboptimal.”
Those company concerns don’t appear to hassle Mr. Kurtzman. Rather than bemoaning the diminished state of films or anguishing over the shortage 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 believe that the line between movies and television is gone now, and that to me is a tremendous opportunity,” he mentioned in an interview. “For me and for showrunners like me, we can tell stories in a new way. We are not limited by the narrow definition of how you tell a story — something must be told in 10 hours, or something must be told in two hours.”
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Mr. Kurtzman started working with CBS in 2009 when he developed the reboot of “Hawaii Five-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” motion pictures a number of years earlier.
Since then, he has produced 5 exhibits within the universe initially imagined within the 1960s by Gene Roddenberry, and all will likely be on Paramount+. They are “Star Trek: Discovery”; “Star Trek: Picard”; “Star Trek: Lower Decks”; “Star Trek: Prodigy,” which is able to debut within the fall; and “Star Trek: Strange 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+.
Also within the works are “Section 31,” starring Michelle Yeoh, and a present constructed across the “Starfleet Academy,” which will likely be geared toward a youthful viewers.
But how a lot “Star Trek” does one planet want?
“I think we’re just getting started,” Mr. Kurtzman mentioned. “There’s just so much more to be had.”
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 beloved the expertise of engaged on the collection, buoyed by the truth that the pandemic allowed him and his writing associate, Jenny Lumet, the chance to full all of the episodes earlier than manufacturing started.
“I would absolutely not be doing anything differently if we were making this as a film,” he mentioned. “I’m working with movie stars in three different countries, shooting sequences that are certainly not typical television sequences, all of which I can only do because of my experience working in films.”
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 robot guy in khakis” was fascinated with assembly her in any respect.
“All he wanted to do was talk about tiny moments, tiny real moments in movies and tiny moments in television shows, and he was so gentle and willing to listen,” she mentioned. “Usually, the robot guys aren’t willing to listen to anything, and that’s all he wanted to do. It was really cool.”
The two have labored on all the pieces from “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” to the short-lived “Clarice” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” Next, they plan to sort out the story of Ms. Lumet’s grandmother Lena Horne in a restricted collection for Showtime.
Those round Mr. Kurtzman credit score his early expertise in tv (“Alias,” “Fringe,” “Sleepy Hollow”) for giving him the power to handle a number of tasks at one time with out showing to be overwhelmed. “He has an almost supernatural ability to keep separate train tracks in his head, this show, this show and this show, and he can jump from one to the other,” Ms. Lumet mentioned. “He is one of the few people who can keep all the trains running.”
His work as a movie screenwriter started on Michael Bay’s 2005 movie, “The Island.” Soon, he and Mr. Orci had been being known as “Hollywood’s secret weapons” for his or her skill to crack scripts on profitable present 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 example. 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 transferring to Nickelodeon.
“It obviously builds fans at a much younger generation, which helps with consumer products,” Mr. Stapf mentioned. “But it’s also a smart way to look at building an entire universe.”
To Mr. Stapf, who has overseen CBS Studios since 2004, the “Marvelization” of “Star Trek” can imply many issues.
“Anything goes, as long as it can fit into the ‘Star Trek’ ethos of inspiration, optimism and the general idea that humankind is good,” he mentioned. “So comedy, adult animation, kids’ animation — you name the genre, and there’s probably a ‘Star Trek’ version of it.”
That’s excellent news to Mr. Kurtzman, who desires to get a lot weirder with the franchise, which is able to rejoice its 55th birthday this 12 months. He factors to a pitch from Graham Wagner (“Portlandia,” “Silicon Valley”), centered on the character Worf, that he calls “incredibly funny, poignant and touching.”
“If it were up to me only, I would be pushing the boundaries much further than I think most people would want,” he mentioned. “I think we might get there. Marvel has actually proven that you can. But you have to build a certain foundation in order to get there and we’re still building our foundation.”