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'Star Trek: Picard' showrunner Terry Matalas on collaborating with 'TNG' cast & opportunity for more
Matalas returns to Star Trek with his dream season of Picard.
For anyone looking to make a career in Hollywood as a writer or producer, here's some advice: Never thumb your nose at that entry-level production assistant or producer assistant gig. What might just seem like a thankless coffee run job might in fact be the pathway to your dream gig. Just look at executive producer Terry Matalas.
A life-long Trek fan, Matalas' first jobs in his field of choice was as a production assistant to Brannon Braga and the producers on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. Learning the craft in the trenches, he went on to write two Enterprise episodes, and then write for Terra Nova (2011) and Nikita (2012). By 2015, Matalas created his own series, SYFY's adaptation of 12 Monkeys. The much-lauded series ran four four seasons, and after a few years, led him back to Star Trek. Now he's the executive producer/showrunner of Star Trek: Picard Season 2 and Season 3, which is indeed his full circle dream job.
With Star Trek: Picard Season 3 premiering Feb. 16 on Paramount+, SYFY WIRE got Matalas on a Zoom to give us some insight on how he was able to make this season, essentially, the great big mashup of Star Trek series from the '90s and the aughts that fans have always wanted to see.
Knowing what Star Trek means to you, when you get the opportunity to pitch a dream Trek season, how specific did you get with Alex Kurtzman? Was it broad swaths of a blue sky season or was it a very specific arc?
I actually had a very specific story in mind for the season, which was exactly what we ended up making...which is a dream come true. [Laughs.] [Star Trek: The Next Generation's] "All Good Things" was an incredible send off to this Next Generation crew in their television way. But, they went and made four movies after. And I always felt like some of those threads felt unanswered. There really wasn't a sense of finality to it. Here was a chance to see these characters in the now, more than 20 years later, and do it over the course of 10 episodes. That's such a rich opportunity for drama to see how your family has changed, how they've stayed the same, and to put all that against the backdrop of a giant, rollicking adventure. It's a cinematic experience that I hope the fans will really enjoy.
From the conception of Picard, Patrick Stewart has been very involved and had a specific vision of where he wanted to see the character. Did you see eye-to-eye on what Jean-Luc's arc would be in Season 3?
There was always constant discussion going on as collaborators. And of course, there are moments where creators won't see eye-to-eye, but we've always managed to understand each other's point of view. I think what we came out with was an incredible example of that collaboration. Things that Patrick wanted and things that I wanted. Thankfully, it's peanut butter and chocolate. It doesn't feel disjointed. But again, there's nothing Patrick wanted that I did not, and vice versa. There's a lot of Star Trek in this season that is certainly referenced and plays a part in the story. It's unlike any other television show — aside from Star Wars or something that has a decades long mythology — where there's an education for everyone involved about maybe something that happened on Deep Space Nine or Voyager or Enterprise that they're not aware of, but it's important to the Star Trek universe. Those discussions have to happen and they take time.
Speaking of that, there's a "who's who" of returning Trek talent this season, some announced and some not. Did you approach them with your vision for their story arcs, or ask them what they'd want to do to make it worth coming back?
In the case of this season, it is one specific story told in a very specific way. There wasn't a lot of room for us to deviate. But, again, as far as Patrick goes, or the rest of the cast goes, you want them to feel comfortable because they know their character better than than anyone, so there's a collaboration. We worked very closely with each one of them. And it was a joy. Certainly as a fan of these characters, and these actors, to be able to work in that kind of harmony...
Did you lose your mind, just as a fan?
I mostly lost my mind with the pressure of I didn't want to screw it up. [Laughs.] Because the stars had to absolutely aligned to do this. There have been a few moments where people who have seen the season are like, "Oh, my God. What was it like to be in that place with that cast?" The answer is usually, 'Terrified.'" Because I only had 10 hours, and I needed to get it all and I direct the last two. It's pressure. But having stepped back now and seen the episodes completed, that's the most surreal aspect of it all. It's like, you cannot believe we did this.
This season has been framed as the end of the ride, but is it? Could Picard keep going?
I would come back for Star Trek for the rest of my life. It is a great finale, as far as Star Trek: The Next Generation as you know it. But the story is very much a passing of the torch from the last generation to the next. By the end, you definitely feel that this could go on and we could see a lot of these TNG characters again, in the space that they now inhabit. In some new roles, perhaps within Starfleet? There is definitely, if the reaction is what I hope it is, the opportunity to tell more stories.
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 lands Feb. 16 on Paramount+.