Star Trek-The Next Generation: 25 Years Later
I can recall reading somewhere once that no television show was awaited with equal amounts excitement and dread as Star Trek-The Next Generation. Television viewers were eager to see a new Star Trek episode each week after 21 years but this new series would feature a brand new starship Enterprise with an entirely new crew, which included a bald, middle aged Frenchman who drank Earl Gray tea as captain, an android third in command, a Klingon in a Star Feet uniform and a 16-year old boy genius on the bridge.
When Star Trek-The Next Generation premiered during the final week of September 1987, it had been 21 years since the original Star Trek had premiered. Never a ratings hit when it initially aired, Star Trek had gone on to be one of the most popular shows in syndication ever. As of 1987 the series had spawned four hugely successful films, the most recent, 1986’s Star Trek IV-The Voyage Home had been the first film in the series to gross over $100 million in the United States alone. Captain Kirk and his legendary crew had become cultural icons and could there possibly be a Star Trek without them? Would such a series even work?
As difficult as it may seem now many fans and critics felt that Star Trek-The Next Generation did not work in the beginning. I think this is a somewhat unfair criticism. It’s true that during its freshman year, the new Star Trek had its fair share of bad episodes, some of the worst being “Code of Honor”, “Justice”, “Home Soil” and “Skin of Evil”. However, some of the very best episodes of the series like “Where None Have Gone Before”, “The Big Goodbye”, “Datalore”, “11001001”, “Heart of Glory” and “Conspiracy” were from the first season.
The writers seemed to have trouble with a number of characters, especially that of Counselor Deanna Troi, who the producers considered dropping from the series midway through the season. Honestly, Troi was never an interesting character and over seven seasons the writers never seemed to be able to find anything interesting for her to do. Also, actress Denise Crosby was so disappointed in how her character of security chief Lt. Natasha Yar was being written that she asked to be let out of her contract and the character was killed off in the truly awful episode “A Skin of Evil” (Its rather surprising that this dreadful episode was co-written by Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano.).
Star Trek-The Next Generation’s first season mostly suffered from comparison to the excellent first season of the original Star Trek. However, the high quality of the original show’s first season was an exception to the rule as most show’s have uneven first seasons. Simply put, Star Trek-The Next Generation had an uneven first season.
The reason why most television shows have less then great first years is that the writers, producers and actors are trying to find out what works and what doesn’t and its usually a process of trial and error. In the case of Star Trek-The Next Generation this was even more difficult because everyone was trying to make the show different enough from the original series so that they were making a show that was fresh, yet it still had to be Star Trek.
Some of the problems that plagued Star Trek-The Next Generation early on was the poor mental and physical condition of series creator and executive producer Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry was already in his late 60’s, ill (He passed away in 1991.) and a drug addict. It’s believed now that Roddenberry was often confused and had a very short attention span.
Despite the unevenness of the first season, Star Trek-The Next Generation was doing well in the ratings and was renewed for a second season. Roddenberry took on a more supervisory role and co-executive producer Rick Berman oversaw the physical side of production and co-executive producer Maurice Hurley (Who wrote or co-wrote many of the first season’s best episodes.) oversaw scripts. The second season was a huge improvement over the first and in season three (with the late Michael Piller now overseeing the writing) the show really began hitting its stride.
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