Patrick Stewart Almost Turned Down Star Trek: Picard

star trek picard
(Image credit: Marshall Honorof/Tom's Guide)

NEW YORK — Star Trek: Picard has a brand-new trailer and a release date: January 23. These are a few things that we learned at the Star Trek Universe panel today (Oct. 5) at New York Comic Con 2019. But perhaps the most interesting thing we learned was that all of this — the excited panelists, the cheering fans, the media blitz, the show itself — came within a tribble’s whisker of never happening. That’s because when the team at CBS pitched Star Trek: Picard to Sir Patrick Stewart, the veteran actor’s first instinct was to turn it down.

The panel included about a dozen representatives from Picard’s cast and crew — Stewart among them, of course. Also present were Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin and Kirsten Beyer, all of whom work behind the scenes to bring the various Trek shows and movies to life. They began the story of Picard’s unlikely genesis by saying that they hadn’t intended it to be a series at all.

The origin of Picard

Kutzman explained that he initially conceived Picard as a premise for a Short Trek — a twenty-ish-minute episode that filled some gaps between Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1 and 2. Instead of following the Discovery crew, Kurtzman thought it might be fun to check in on Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and see what he’d been up to since the end of Star Trek: Nemesis (Picard’s last onscreen adventure, up until now). After talking with the rest of the team, it was clear that they had enough material for a whole series.

However, there was one major roadblock: Stewart himself had wanted Nemesis to cap off his time with the Star Trek franchise. It was unlikely that he would want to return to the franchise again. Still, Kurtzman called Stewart’s agent, and the actor agreed to at least hear the pitch.

The creative team met Stewart at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, and proceeded to outline what they had in mind for Picard. Stewart heard them out, considered his options, then (very politely) said no.

It was a last-ditch effort from writer Beyer that saved the program. She physically interjected herself between Stewart and the door, asking the actor to please reconsider. Stewart agreed, and asked for a four-page outline from Kurtzman to read over the weekend.

Kurtzman delivered 35 pages worth of material. And whatever was in it, it was good enough to convince Stewart to don his old captain’s uniform once again.

Old friends

While the other panelists revealed as much as they could, it was actually difficult to get a handle on what their character arcs might ultimately be. The cast and crew is, understandably, very reluctant to divulge any major plot points, but it does make it difficult to glean anything but the broadest character traits from the characters.

For example: We know that the main cast will include Picard himself, a young woman who comes to him for assistance, a doctor whose purposes coincide with theirs, two Romulan agents and a ragtag Han-Solo-and-Chewbacca-type team, one of whom is an ex-member of Starfleet. The cast said that Picard is very much an ensemble show and portrays a “motley crew,” which sounds about right.

However, we did get a pretty good sense of returning characters from the new trailer. If you haven’t seen it yet (or want to avoid spoilers completely), you may want to navigate away from this page now. If not:

At present, in addition to Picard himself, we also know that Will Riker, Deanna Troi and Seven of Nine will join in the adventure, at least temporarily; Data will also show up, at least in dream sequences. (The Riker and Troi reveals received thunderous applause during the panel, as did the shot of Seven of Nine dual-wielding phaser rifles.)

The writers and producers, however, have been careful to limit the amount of TNG cameos — or at least work hard to justify them. As much as Stewart wants Picard to be an ensemble show, he doesn’t simply want it to be a TNG reunion, which he feels would retread well-worn narrative ground.

We also learned a few things about Picard’s new canine companion. First: He is, indeed, named “Number One,” as fans hoped he might be. Second: Stewart himself lobbied to give the role to a pit bull. Stewart’s Twitter followers may be aware that the actor and his wife fostered a pit bull a few years ago, and have done their best to rehabilitate the maligned breed’s image online. Picard asserts that not only can pit bulls be steadfast companions, but that they will continue to remain so, even hundreds of years in the future.

Sky’s the limit

We’ll probably hear some more news about Picard between now and January 23, but in the meantime, here’s what you need to know: Picard will explore what happens in the Prime Timeline after the destruction of Romulus in the 2009 Star Trek reboot film. The show will introduce a new regular cast, plus a variety of returning supporting characters. And it will give Picard an adorable dog to look after.

Beyond that, the main thrust of the story is still unclear — but that’s probably just as well. It wouldn’t be much of a Star Trek show without a few good mysteries to unravel along the way.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.