Star Trek: Lower Decks All Started With An Improvised Pitch

"Star Trek: Lower Decks," currently in its third season, took its name from an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Originally airing on February 7, 1994, The NextGen "Lower Decks" introduced several lower-ranking officers, and depicted what life on the Enterprise-D would look like from their perspective. Trekkies could easily see what space adventures were like for Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), but few knew the inner life of Nurse Ogawa (Patti Yasutake). Also in the episode were a very Boimler-like Ensign Lavelle (Dan Gauthier), the very Tendi-like Ensign Sito (Shannon Fill), and the Vulcan, Ensign Taurik (Alexander Enberg, the son of Trek honcho Jeri Taylor). Bruce Beatty played a character named Ben who was a mere civilian. 

The point of "Lower Decks" was to show that lower-ranking officers aren't made savvy to the plots and machinations on the bridge. They don't get to sit in the conference room with the senior staff. They only have to follow orders. Although working on a starship may sound like it's a lot of fun, "Lower Decks" proved that even starships have low-end, menial jobs that people sometimes hate. "Star Trek: Lower Decks" borrows that conceit and enhances it by transposing its action to an off-to-the-side, not-very-prestigious Starfleet vessel called the U.S.S. Cerritos. It's essentially a workplace comedy about the worst jobs an officer can have. 

In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, "Lower Decks" creator Mike McMahan revealed that he seemingly internalized that NextGen episode, as he was able to pitch an entire series based on it without any preparation. 

Replicating a show out of thin air

Evidently, the idea to add an animated series to the ever-growing roster of "Star Trek" shows belonged to the current Trek overseer, Alex Kurtzman. "Star Trek: Discovery," "Star Trek: Short Treks," and "Star Trek: Picard" were already in the pipeline, and Kurtzman was determined to have more. He got his wish, and as of this writing, "Star Trek: Lower Decks," "Star Trek: Prodigy," and "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" are also part of the lineup. He's putting all his horta egg nodules in one basket. And when it came time to develop a Trek animated series — the first since 1974 — Kurtzman was the one to call up McMahan. 

McMahan had worked as on shows like "South Park," and "Drawn Together" before becoming a writer/producer for "Rick and Morty" and co-creating "Solar Opposites." (He won an Emmy for "Pickle Rick.") Despite each of those shows' reputation for crassness, some of them — "Rick and Morty" in particular — did possess a regular supply of clever and/or heady science fiction ideas. Trek hasn't typically been a crass TV series, Gene Roddenberry's notorious horniness notwithstanding, but after long-form, action-based shows like "Discovery" and "Picard," a headier sci-fi-based episodic program would be a welcome change. McMahan recalls being called in for a meeting and merely being asked point blank what he would like to do. McMahan said: 

"It was just a meeting to chat with Alex. [He] just asked me, 'What would your dream Star Trek be?' And I literally just laid out exactly what 'Lower Decks' was off the top of my head, not even preparing." 

Warp 9, engage

From that meeting, "Lower Decks" was immediately put into production, and McMahan hit the ground running. He began brainstorming, designing, writing, coming up with characters, and really settling into a production groove. All Treks tended to start a little rocky (apart from "Strange New Worlds," none of the Trek shows have a particularly great pilot episode or even first season for that matter) and "Lower Decks" began on shaky legs, opting to open with a crass tone. It didn't take long, however, for the show to find its footing and for the characters/premise to fully emerge. It's possible that "Lower Decks" found its footing about the time McMahan did, as he was too dazzled to really take stock of the situation. He said: 

"I didn't know I was allowed to have that dream. I didn't know dreams were allowed to be that dreamy ... I don't think I really realized I had the show until like episode eight of the first season. That's really where it sank in."

"Lower Decks" is about to conclude its 28th episode and its third season. The show has only improved from its start, having found a balance between its "low" sense of humor and its compassionate and sensitive view of its characters. It's also introduced many new ideas into the Trek canon, importantly expanding on the fact that Starfleet jobs can sometimes really suck.