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Patrick Stewart is returning to one of his most famous roles, Jean-Luc Picard, in the new CBS All Access series "Star Trek: Picard." Some of his lines were written by novelist Michael Chabon. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has the story of how a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer became showrunner for one of the year's most anticipated television series.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Look at the knickknacks and posters filling Michael Chabon's Los Angeles office and it's obvious you stepped into the layer of a serious "Star Trek" fan. There's a black velvet painting of a lizard man called a Gorn and a bulletin board next to the door with photos of people dressed like "Star Trek" characters. I assumed they were friends and family - turns out they're pictures of strangers Chabon bought on eBay.
MICHAEL CHABON: And that's sort of my shrine to fandom because as soon as you enter into "Star Trek" - to making "Star Trek," you enter into a relationship with fans.
DEGGANS: Chabon says for some fans, seeing a new version of an old franchise they love can feel like a slap in the face, even if they like the new story.
CHABON: It still reminds you that you don't own it, that it's owned by a big corporation. Ultimately, you have no power over it whatsoever. I think I just created that shrine there as a way of just reminding myself that, you know, first, last and always, I am a fan.
DEGGANS: Chabon seems to like surprising others and himself in his writing choices, and his latest job serving as executive producer and showrunner for "Star Trek: Picard" may be one of his greatest challenges yet. One reason - star Patrick Stewart. Stewart thought he was done in 2002 after 15 years playing Federation Starship Captain Jean-Luc Picard in TV shows and movies featuring characters from "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
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PATRICK STEWART: It was the one thing I was convinced of - no more Star Trek, no more Jean-Luc Picard.
DEGGANS: That's Stewart speaking to reporters after a news conference in Pasadena. He says Picard had to be a changed character to interest him. He joins Chabon and the other producers in the show's writers room to develop new ideas, though the actor was initially a little intimidated.
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STEWART: I was, first of all, terrified of him because novelists have always been a kind of menace to me. I don't understand how it works, being a novelist. Michael has been, actually, very open and very generous about how he works and what that means to him.
DEGGANS: Chabon says Stewart pushed for something new.
CHABON: The main topic of conversation was, how do I get to play Picard in a way I've never gotten to play him before, and what kind of story are you going to tell that feels like a "Star Trek" story that hasn't ever been told before?
DEGGANS: In the new series, Picard investigates a mysterious girl who may be connected to the android Data, also from the "Next Generation" series. Picard has quit Starfleet, is disillusioned, restless and wracked with guilt. At age 92, he's short of breath running up a flight of stairs. This is Picard facing mortality, a theme Chabon discovered unexpectedly.
CHABON: As I started work on this first season of "Picard," my dad was dying. And, you know, of course, I was thinking a lot about not just his life that was coming to an end but my life. But I didn't ever think, I'm going to try to find a way to work this into "Star Trek" at all. It was really not until the season was done and I sat down. That's when I realized, wow.
DEGGANS: Chabon's "Trek" writing life started a few years ago, when "Star Trek: Discovery" executive producer Akiva Goldsman asked if Chabon would write a short episode for the series "Star Trek: Short Treks." Eventually, he joined the writing staff for "Picard" and later became its showrunner. Chabon says some may think he's slumming by writing a "Star Trek" series, but his father, who loved Thomas Mann novels and the soap opera "General Hospital," taught him by example that any pop culture which moves you is valuable and valid. And Chabon has been a Star Trek fan since he was 10 years old.
CHABON: You know, I would have been happy just shaking Patrick Stewart's hand and telling him how much I loved him on "Star Trek." But to be able to actually write words that he will speak and act is incredible.
DEGGANS: When "Star Trek: Picard" finally debuts this week, Chabon will learn if his fellow fans share his enthusiasm for this new vision of their obsession.
I'm Eric Deggans.
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