Can Paramount+ Succeed? One Producer Hopes to Make It So.
Like so many other writer-directors, Alex Kurtzman grew up adoring movies.
But it’s adaptable – and in the age of streaming, that’s a very lucrative trait.
Mr. Kurtzman, the former screenwriter of the films “Transformers” and the director of the 2017 film “The Mummy”, recently renegotiated its contract with CBS Studios to make it one of the richest. As part of the $ 160 million, five-and-a-half-year deal, he will continue to lead the growing “Star Trek” television universe for ViacomCBS’s Paramount + streaming platform.
He will also create shows, including a limited series based on “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which he will direct for Showtime, and the long-awaited adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-winning novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. ”This limited series will likely be sold to an external streaming service.
Mr. Kurtzman’s deal is the latest in a series meant to give prolific producers, like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy for Netflix and Jordan Peele with Amazon Studios, carte blanche to create content that can feed consumers’ insatiable appetites. and hopefully increase streaming subscriptions. This puts the ambitions of CBS Studios – the branch of production of networks and channels under the aegis of ViacomCBS – in the hands of Mr. Kurtzman, 47 years old.
“From the first meeting I had with Alex, it was so obvious to me that he was our future,” George Cheeks, CEO of CBS Entertainment Group, said in an interview. “The guy can grow for broadcast. It can develop for premium streaming, wide streaming. He understands the job. He has enormous empathy. He is creative agile.
“When you make these investments,” continued Mr. Cheeks, “you should know that this talent can actually do multiple projects at the same time on multiple platforms. “
The road ahead will not be easy for ViacomCBS. His fledgling Paramount + was a late entry in streaming and is essentially a renamed and extended version of CBS All Access. The company promotes live news and sports from the service, including National Football League games, as well as “a mountain of movies.” (“A Quiet Place 2” debuted on July 13.) But Paramount +, in combination with a smaller Showtime streaming offering, only had 36 million subscribers as of May.
While it hopes to reach 65 to 75 million subscribers globally by 2024, that’s still a far cry from Netflix’s global total of nearly 210 million and the nearly 104 million for Disney +. Even NBCUniversal announced Thursday that it has 54 million subscribers to its Peacock streaming service, thanks to an Olympic push.
And with the mania for consolidation consuming Hollywood, many analysts are not convinced that ViacomCBS will be able to continue to compete with the big companies on its own.
“I think it’s hard to imagine any of these companies going it alone; I think they’re all too small, ”said Richard Greenfield, analyst at LightShed Partners. “The challenge, whether it’s Peacock, Paramount +, Disney +, or Hulu, is that all of these companies are always in conflict over what to put on linear TV, what to put in a movie theater and what do they stream.
“Netflix, Amazon and Apple don’t have this debate every day,” he added. “All of their assets go into one thing. Here they have to balance, and that makes all of their streaming services sub-optimal. “
These corporate considerations do not seem to bother Mr. Kurtzman. Rather than bemoaning the degraded state of the films or worrying about the lack of viable buyers as the market shrinks, he said he finds the current climate invigorating and remarkably fluid.
“I believe the line between film and television has disappeared now, and this is a great opportunity for me,” he said in an interview. “For me and for showrunners like me, we can tell stories in new ways. We’re not limited by the narrow definition of how you tell a story – something has to be told in 10 hours, or something has to 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” with his former writing partner, Roberto Orci. In 2017, he began reinventing the “Star Trek” universe for the company, building on his familiarity with the franchise after co-writing the two “Star Trek” films directed by JJ Abrams several years earlier.
Since then, he has produced five shows in the universe originally envisioned in the 1960s by Gene Roddenberry, and all of them will be on Paramount +. It is “Star Trek: Discovery”; “Star Trek: Picard”; “Star Trek: Lower Bridges”; “Star Trek: Prodigy,” which will debut in the fall; and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” slated for release in 2022. ViacomCBS says “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Picard” are among the most-watched original series on Paramount +.
“Section 31,” starring Michelle Yeoh, and a show built around “Starfleet Academy,” which will target a younger audience, are also in the works.
But how many “Star Treks” does a planet need?
“I think we’re just getting started,” Mr. Kurtzman said. “There is so much more to be had.”
He recently completed a four month filming in London for the first half of “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, a 10-part series based on the 1976 David Bowie film. Chiwetel Ejiofor embodies a new alien character who arrives on Earth at a turning point in human evolution.
Mr Kurtzman said he enjoyed the experience of working on the series, supported by the fact that the pandemic allowed him and his writing partner, Jenny Lumet, to complete all episodes before the start. from production.
“I wouldn’t do anything different if we did this as a movie,” he said. “I work with movie stars in three different countries, I shoot footage that is definitely not typical TV footage, which I can only do because of my experience working in films.”
Ms. Lumet met Mr. Kurtzman in 2015. He asked to reunite after seeing the movie “Rachel Getting Married,” which she wrote. Ms Lumet said she was surprised this “khaki sci-fi robot” was interested in meeting her.
“All he wanted to do was talk about little moments, real little moments in movies and little moments in TV shows, and he was so sweet and ready to listen,” she said. declared. “Usually the robot guys aren’t ready to listen to anything, and that’s all he wanted to do. It was very cool.”
The two have worked on everything from “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” to the fleeting “Clarice” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Next, they plan to tackle the story of Ms. Lumet’s grandmother, Lena Horne, in a limited series for Showtime.
Those around Mr. Kurtzman credit his early television experiences (“Alias”, “Fringe”, “Sleepy Hollow”) for allowing him to manage multiple projects at once without appearing to be overwhelmed. . “He has an almost supernatural ability to keep separate tracks in his head, this show, this show and this show, and he can jump between them,” Ms. Lumet said. “He’s one of the few people who can run all the trains. “
His work as a film writer began on Michael Bay’s 2005 film, “The Island”. Soon he and Mr. Orci were called “Hollywood’s secret weapons” for their ability to crack scripts on existing lucrative properties that others couldn’t (like “Transformers”). This has led him to view “Star Trek” in the same expansive terms Marvel Studios considers its cinematic universe. It is a strategy that CBS Studios fully endorses.
David Stapf, president of CBS Studios, cites “Star Trek: Prodigy” as an example. The animated show, one of the first “Star Trek” animated shows aimed at kids, is slated to debut in the fall on Paramount + before moving on to Nickelodeon.
“This obviously creates fans in a much younger generation, which helps with consumer products,” Mr. Stapf said. “But it’s also a smart way to envision building an entire universe. “
For Mr. Stapf, who has overseen CBS Studios since 2004, the “Marvelization” of “Star Trek” can mean a lot.
“Anything goes, as long as it can fit into the inspirational ‘Star Trek’ philosophy, optimism and the general idea that humanity is good,” he said. “So comedy, adult animation, kids animation – you name the genre, and there’s probably a ‘Star Trek’ version.”
That’s good news for Mr. Kurtzman, who wants to get a lot weirder with the franchise, which will be celebrating his 55th birthday this year. He points to a pitch by Graham Wagner (“Portlandia”, “Silicon Valley”), centered on the character of Worf, which he describes as “incredibly funny, poignant and touching”.
“If it were up to me, I would push the boundaries a lot further than I think most people want,” he said. “I think we could do it. Marvel has actually proven that you can. But you have to build a certain foundation to get there and we’re still building our foundation. “
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