Set four centuries from now, The Orville follows the adventures in the final frontier of the USS Orville, as its human and alien crew tackles the battles, politics and workplace drama of galactic travel.
At the start of Fox’s day at TCA, critics bluntly asked Fox TV Group chairman/CEO Dana Walden if she’s worried they’ll be sued. (short answer: Nope).
But, they tiptoed around the question in the presence of Seth MacFarlane and The Orville cast and crew, whose members include veteran Trek producer Brannon Braga.
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“How do you define the relationship of the series with Star Trek,” one critic asked MacFarlane, kicking off the Q&A.
“Star Trek itself sprang from a lot of different sci-fi tropes that came before it,” MacFarlane insisted. “The idea of a ship, in the naval sense, cruising in space did not originate with that show,” he said. He insisted he drew from “many different places” when creating The Orville, also including Twilight Zone which, he said, like Star Trek, is a franchise he holds in high regard.
“I miss the…aspirational place Star Trek used to occupy,” MacFarlane said. “They’ve chosen to go in a different direction,” he said, describing that direction as dystopian. The aspirational space of early Star Trek, MacFarlane maintained, now is “unoccupied.”
“They can’t all be Hunger Games,” he said. “There is some space for aspirational.” The Orville, he said is “an attempt to fill that void.”
One critic said the show does not feel like “today’s science fiction,” wondering why he made a show that looks and feels like the ’90s. “Because I miss the optimism,” MacFarlane responded. “I’m tired of being told everything is going to be grim and dystopian…I miss the hopeful side of science fiction.”
EP David Goodman took a question as to whether there is room for The Orville and the Star Trek revival planned for this fall, Star Trek: Discovery, from CBS Television Studios, which owns Trek TV rights.
“I think there is room for two spaceship shows,” Goodman said, noting “there’s more than one cop show.”
MacFarlane said the two shows “could not be more different” tonally. “They’re continuing in the new direction they’ve chosen to go with that franchise; we’re more old school.”
Earlier in the day, TV critics asked Walden if she’s worried they’ll be sued.
“We’re not really concerned,” Walden said. “We obviously have a big legal team. We vet things, so it’s not like we’re just flying by the seat of our pants out here. Seth’s intention is to do something that clearly pays homage to Star Trek, that clearly was inspired a lot by Star Trek.”
“I can’t imagine, especially when you see the direction that the Star Trek franchise is moving, that anyone would consider it anything other than a compliment,” she said, adding “most shows have some DNA of previous shows.”
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