David Mack on Star Trek: Prodigy
David Mack is intimately familiar with Star Trek: Prodigy. He worked professionally as a consultant on the show, which launched on 28 October 2021. A short while ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing him about the series. Its distribution rights have recently been acquired by Netflix while Secret Hideout (the producing entity) and CBS Studios (the owner of the franchise copyright) continue to maintain creative control over the show.
David Mack was hired onto Prodigy due to his extensive Star Trek expertise. “I’ve had a nearly thirty-year career of writing professionally for Star Trek in a variety of mediums,” he comments. “So, I’ve had this broad knowledge of Star Trek on many levels — all the series, going back to the beginning — and that was what I was there for. I was there because I know Star Trek technology, Star Trek history and continuity, and the Star Trek ethos, and to be able to say, ‘Well, you know, this or that doesn’t quite fit the ethos of Trek.’”
The assignment was to help the show’s creators, Kevin and Dan Hageman, who had a vision for what they wanted the series to be. Mack was to serve as a “Sherpa” for the Hagemans as they climbed “Mount Star Trek”. He would guide them through the vast Star Trek universe, offering insights and doing deep-dive research so the Hagemans didn’t have to. “If I do it right,” he says, “in theory I should help them avoid major continuity errors and suggest ways to link their vision with previous incarnations of Trek in fun and interesting ways that serve their story.”
Mack’s involvement extended from the early stages of Prodigy’s evolution. “I started working with the Hagemans when the show was still not 100% a go project,” Mack recalls. “I was teamed up with the Hagemans at the development level, when they were still putting together series pitch documents. They were still solidifying the concept of the show. So, I was talking with them from the very beginning about things like character concepts, character development, character origins. How did our characters get where they are? How did the ship get where it is? What sort of species might we incorporate to highlight the Delta Quadrant setting? What sort of species might seem out of place in that setting? And if there were others they wanted to use, how do we rationalize those?”
Mack meanwhile had a sense of the Hagemans forming a writers room. “They had pretty much already gotten some writers together, and I don’t know if the room was completely full, but I know that it was an unusually large and well staffed room for an animated series, and they had most of the seats filled pretty early. They knew who they wanted to work with, based on people they had been involved with and had worked on other projects with. There were people they knew they wanted to have with them in the room, so a lot of those seats were filled by promise. You know, even if not officially, they were unofficially filled right from the get go.”
As work on Star Trek: Prodigy progressed, David Mack’s input continued. “Once we got through development and the show was approved and going forward, they started involving me in the story planning,” he remembers. “I was sent some general questions in a memo. I sent back answers for the sake of the writers room. I put together a couple of other things about what a starship is like and why things are organized the way they are on a ship. And then — once we got into the actual nitty-gritty — they would send me things like the season board.” That document outlined the season, providing an overview of all the episodes, their general themes, how they connected to the main story arc, and which ones stood alone. Mack was able to give feedback about the season board.
He continued consulting for the show as each of the first season’s episodes were fleshed out. “I would get everything pretty much around the same time the Hagemans did,” he recalls. “When stuff was finalized enough to go to the showrunners, the showrunners would have their assistant share it with me.” In this way, Mack was supplied with story pitches from the various writers, outlines, and eventually scripts.
Because Mack was included early in the development of the episodes, he was given a lot of time to provide feedback and a lot of his comments were incorporated. “I could say, for instance, ‘Well, I see what you’re doing here, but instead of using this type of supernova, maybe you want to use this kind because it’ll give you this advantage and you can do this with it and it’ll work this way. And, you know, check the math with your science advisor, Doctor Erin, but I think that this would work better from a story perspective,’ or I would say, ‘Well okay, technically this piece of tech doesn’t work like that and so maybe you want to tweak this,’ or I’d say, ‘In this situation, you want phasers, not torpedoes, because this is why you would use this tool in this spot.’”
There were, in Mack’s words, “a few times” when, for story purposes, he was overruled. About this, he admits, “That’s their prerogative. It’s their show, and at the end, they have to serve story first and continuity second. That’s true of any show.”
Season 1 Split
The division of Star Trek: Prodigy’s first season into two ten-episode parts had minimal impact on David Mack’s work for the show. The writing staff planned episode ten as a sort of season finale or mid-season finale, and the remaining ten episodes would then be released after a few months. There was some initial consideration to having the second group of ten episodes serve as Season 2. However, the decision was ultimately made to officially designate all twenty episodes as “Season 1”, distinguishing them as 1A (episodes 1-10) and 1B (episodes 11-20).
The group worked on the episodes systematically. “We tended to go week by week, and there really wasn’t much of a gap between the writing of the first ten and the writing of the back ten,” Mack reflects. “The writing pretty much occurred straight through, so that — by the time I was done with my responsibilities — it all went very fast. The series was written very, very quickly, over the period of several weeks, from outlines, and maybe a few months tops. They’d just whip through these twenty scripts.”
This isn’t to say there weren’t any changes. On the contrary, there were numerous revisions and post-production adjustments, mainly for continuity and improved dialogue. “So, there were lots of little changes along the way, but the stories themselves were done fairly early, and so my work was done fairly early, and then I just kind of had to wait around with everybody else to see the show.”
When asked about his favourite character from Star Trek: Prodigy, David Mack says it’s hard to choose but also expresses a preference for Gwyn. “I love the design of the character. I love her arc. It’s about redeeming herself for the role she played in an evil organization. I’m always a sucker for that kind of a storyline.” Mack mentions that he also loves Zero.
As for his favourite episode from the first season, Mack cites “Time Amok”. He attached the following note to the episode’s script when he sent his notes back to the writers:
“I LOVE THIS SCRIPT! In all seriousness, this embodies everything I’ve ever loved about Star Trek. Cool sci-fi ideas, adventure, personal growth, and a crew that bonds through adversity to become a found family.
THIS is what Star Trek is all about. You guys rule!”
Although David Mack’s input was integral to Star Trek: Prodigy’s first season, he wasn’t hired to work on the show’s second season, much to his disappointment. When the announcement came that Netflix had bought Prodigy and thereby ensured that a second season will be completed and streamed, however, Mack happily posted on social media about the show’s much-anticipated renewal. During our interview, he acknowledges his excitement about the show’s revival, noting, “I’ve been waiting to find out where it was going to land.”
Sources familiar with the deal say that the move to Netflix was driven by the desire to recoup finances for Paramount, in the form of licensing fees. Prodigy was chosen for sub-licensing precisely because it has proven to be in-demand, which increased the chances of it being picked up. A subsequent fan campaign to “Save Star Trek: Prodigy” has proven its popularity even more. However, the show had to first be removed from Paramount Plus in order for Prodigy to be presented as an exclusive license, sweetening the deal.
Mack is pleased that Netflix in particular is the company which has bought the rights to screen Star Trek: Prodigy. “I think it’s great,” he enthuses. “I wish that it had been available on Netflix from the beginning, just because Netflix has a substantially larger subscriber base than Paramount Plus does. And if they had distributed through Netflix in the US as they did internationally, I think Prodigy would have done much bigger numbers. I think it would have had a much bigger audience, made a much bigger impact… but it’s not too late. I think that having the additional reach of Netflix to roll out a great show, a great product like Prodigy, is just a great thing. I couldn’t be happier about it.”
Netflix plans to release Season 1 by the end of 2023. Post-production on Season 2 is currently ongoing. The second season will be released on Netflix in 2024, continuing to expand the impact of Star Trek: Prodigy.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.