When Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1986, it was a low-budget sci-fi show running in syndication that annoyed Star Trek: The Original Series fans more than excited them. Its star, Patrick Stewart, had so little faith in the series going anywhere he didn’t unpack his bags until he’d been in Los Angeles for six months.
Luckily, Star Trek: The Next Generation went on to be more commercially successful than its predecessor by a mile and launched a golden age for Star Trek on television. Three other series over the course of nearly 15 years were were launched off of the success of TNG, continuing to grow the 24th century universe it had so painstakingly established. It inspired a new generation of fans who’ve continued to keep the Star Trek franchise alive with their utter devotion to Roddenberry’s creation.
The series ran for seven seasons, won 20 primetime Emmys and launched the American film career of Professor X himself, Patrick Stewart. It just celebrated its 30th anniversary this September and remains beloved by old fans and new.
That said, while it’s been researched and discussed endlessly for those 30 years, we managed to scrape together a few facts you probably didn’t know about this seminal series. Read on and enjoy a peek behind the curtain.
Here are 15 Deep, Dark Secrets Even Fans Don’t Know About The Next Generation.
15. THE FIRST SEASON WAS SO LOW-BUDGET, THE CAST STOLE FOOD
As a syndicated, science fiction show, Star Trek: The Next Generation was at the very bottom of the totem pole when it came to budgeting. If Paramount needed to save money somewhere, TNG was their first stop. This kind of penny-pinching manifested itself in the obvious ways (cheap costuming, less-than-sophisticated special effects, etc.), but also in some pretty dismal conditions on set.
Instead of trailers, the cast had to chill out in un-air-conditioned airstream-like pods, and their craft services left much to be desired — so much so that the cast would sneak onto other sets on the Paramount lot to grab food. In the documentary Chaos on the Bridge, Denise Crosby admitted to slipping onto the set of Cheers, because, obviously, the hit show was much better off in terms of creature comforts.
14. PATRICK STEWART’S ATTITUDE
Roddenberry famously had to deal with the antics of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley on the set of TOS. On The Next Generation, things were no different. However, this time it wasn’t Roddenberry cracking the whip, but instead the hilariously stereotypical stuffy, British captain.
According to Jonathan Frakes, “Sir Patrick took the work very seriously. If we fooled around on set, which we were want to do — we meaning the Americans in the cast, and if he was not in the mood, he’d let us have it.” Considering how much was at stake for Stewart and how hard he had to work to adapt to being a Hollywood television actor, it’s understandable that he lacked a sense of humor for the first few months.
13. DEANNA TROI’S… TWINS
The fact that Deanna Troi is TNG’s resident sex symbol (in addition to repping the importance of mental health in the military decades before the public was ready to have that conversation) isn’t in dispute. But apparently having her go about her work in a non-regulation uniform wasn’t enough; Gene Roddenberry wanted Troi, as a Betazoid, to have four breasts instead of two.
Thank goodness perennial Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana was there to point out how utterly asinine and impractical that would be. Not only would it play to the lowest common denominator of viewer, clearly no one had thought about the wardrobe complications four breasts instead of two would bring.
12. PATRICK STEWART’S TOUPÉE WAS SPECIAL DELIVERED FOR HIS AUDITION
Devoted fans of Stewart’s will, of course, be aware that his dome has been shinier than chrome since his late teens. Obviously it hasn’t done much to stop him, but when producer Robert Justman first suggested Stewart as a potential Picard, Gene Roddenberry immediately rejected the actor due to his baldness. Luckily, Stewart had a toupée, but he was already in Los Angeles to teach a workshop at UCLA and hadn’t brought it with him.
So, the little guy got called up for duty and shipped out to the West Coast. But, if you’ve ever seen pictures of Stewart in a toupée (or that one flashback in season 5 episode “Violations”), you can see why they wound up just nixing it entirely — it’s… cringeworthy. The eventual party line was that, while Federation doctors would’ve cured baldness in the 24th century, society would’ve ceased being superficial enough to care.
11. GEORGE R. R. MARTIN WAS REJECTED FOR A WRITING JOB
Before he went on to create one of the most popular and profitable fantasy series of all time, George R. R. Martin worked as a television writer in Los Angeles. You probably already knew that he worked on the Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton classic Beauty and the Beast, but did you know that he also tried to work on Star Trek?
The operative word here is “try.” Despite having already snagged a few Hugo awards for his work in science-fiction, when Martin interviewed for a job on the new Star Trek series in its early seasons, he was rejected.
At a UCSD workshop, he detailed a meeting he took with a producer in which the producer explained that Star Trek wasn’t so much a science-fiction show as a “people” show. He didn’t get the job, despite his clear qualifications, due to a producer having woefully misjudged Star Trek‘s genre.
10. CAPTAIN NO-CLOTHES
One of TNG’s most harrowing two-part episodes was season 6’s “Chain of Command.” Captured by the Cardassians, Picard is held and tortured by the elegantly sadistic Gul Madred (David Warner). His degradation begins benignly — Madred introduces himself and tells Picard he can walk out a free man if he answers one very important question: how many lights are there? There are clearly four above Madred’s head, but the Cardassian insists there are five, attempting to break Picard by getting the captain to deny one simple truth.
Madred strips Picard of every possible dignity in an attempt to steal away his humanity, and his clothing is first to go. By the end of it, Picard is nearly out of his mind, but manages to remain defiant until his eventual rescue. Ever the consummate actor, Stewart shot all of his scenes in the actual nude to add to the performance.
9. RODDENBERRY DIDN’T WANT TO DO ANOTHER STAR TREK SHOW
When Paramount saw the potential for another Star Trek series based on the success of the movies, it was imperative that Roddenberry be involved. While the studio owned the rights to the property, Roddenberry was the creator and face of the series, and John Pike, president of Paramount Television at the time, wanted him on board.
Gene Roddenberry was 64 when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered, and had been planning to retire fairly soon, as his health was in decline. The work of developing and showrunning a new series — even one that would breathe new life into his greatest creative achievement to date — had not been on the table.
8. LEVAR BURTON WAS IN A LOT OF PAIN FROM GEORDI’S VISOR
Geordi LaForge got to enjoy being a miracle of 24th century medical technology, but LeVar Burton? Not so much. The band-like device that allowed Geordi to see was pretty painful to wear, actually. The actor’s exact words when describing the experience of acting in it were, “It’s pretty much a living Hell.” It made it almost impossible to see (no small amount of irony there), so he constantly bumped into things on set and had a really difficult time navigating his blocking. Then there was the pain.
During the second season, the VISOR underwent a redesign that made it heavier to wear. Thus, it required actual screws to tighten it on Burton’s head. Despite complaining to producer Rick Berman more than once about the daily intense headaches he had to go through, Berman was reluctant to eliminate such an obvious symbol of miraculous 24th century tech.
7. GENE RODDENBERRY WASN’T… TERRIFICALLY EASY TO WORK WITH
While an undisputed genius (he came up with the iPad before Steve Jobs) and beloved by many, Gene Roddenberry was known to be a bit of a control freak when it came to his writers room. Not only did he famously demand a total lack of interpersonal conflict between members of the crew, he also maintained a changeable demeanor that resulted in some serious mixed messages here and there.
Apparently, after reading a script from a new writer who was a dedicated fan of Star Trek and elated to be given a job on TNG, he complimented the man on its quality and then fired him the next day. Roddenberry didn’t see fit to tell the poor guy, who showed up at his office the next day to find his furniture removed and in the hallway.
6. DENISE CROSBY WAS MISERABLE ON THE SHOW
If you liked the first season of TNG enough to watch it more than once, you probably noticed that Tasha Yar, Denise Crosby’s head of security, doesn’t… do all that much. She was pretty much relegated to the same position at tactical behind the captain’s chair for all of her scenes. And the only glimpse we got into her personal life was a very, very strange romantic encounter with Data.
Denise Crosby quickly tired of her lack of action, and quit the show in order to pursue a wider variety of roles. Luckily, she left the show on very, very good terms, so when the opportunity arose to have her back as an alternate timeline Yar in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and that Yar’s villainous daughter, Sela, in season’s 4 and 5.
5. RODDENBERRY’S ATTORNEY, LEONARD MAIZLISH, WAS HATED BY THE WRITERS
Despite having a considerable amount of creative control over TNG and also despite negotiating a substantial sum of the profits, Gene Roddenberry insisted on having his friend and attorney closely involved with the production. To the astonishment of everyone, Maizlich was awarded an office at Paramount and proceeded to throw his weight around in whatever way he could get away with.
Writers would receive scripts back with notes supposedly from Gene, but clearly written in Maizlish’s handwriting, and the man even went so far as to sneak into their offices and make changes while they were at lunch. While everyone who knew him saw how effective a representative of Roddenberry’s legal interests he was, his participation in show-running was intensely resented and against Writers Guild bylaws.
4. PICARD & CRUSHER DIVORCED BECAUSE OF THE MOVIES
Outside of Kirk and Riker’s wandering eyes and slippery flies, real romance has never fared particularly well on Star Trek. That’s not to say TNG didn’t hint at possible long-term relationships between certain characters, perhaps intentionally whetting the palates of fans who’d flip out over the vaguest indication of amorous feeling. Picard and Crusher were a perfect example of this kind of tepid romance.
While Dr. Crusher was initially conceived to be Picard’s primary love interest, the writers eventually moved away from that characterization and made the two very close friends (with lots of history). In the series finale, “All Good Things”, the two finally share a kiss… only to have it revealed that in the future they marry and divorce. This was apparently so Picard’s character could be free to romance any new ladies in TNG’s cinematic future.
3. RODDENBERRY NEVER WOULD’VE GREENLIT “THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS”
While Roddenberry championed Wild West heroics in the original Star Trek, by the time TNG rolled around, he’d become a champion of the Humanist philosophy. Humanism dictates that instead of offering worship to a deity, humans should put that energy into bolstering human accomplishment and bettering the race as a whole.
Roddenberry based the 24th century Federation squarely upon these tenets. Unfortunately, that meant he wanted little to no interpersonal conflict within the crew, and most officers would remain the very best versions of themselves at almost all times.
By the end of the third season, Roddenberry was too ill to wield the power he used to over the direction of the show, and “The Best of Both Worlds” was made to show us Picard at his most vulnerable and dangerous. The episode put TNG on the map in an unprecedented way, and the rest is history.
2. ORIGINAL FANS WANTED NOTHING TO DO WITH TNG
In 1967, it was fan devotion that got the original Star Trek renewed for a second season. NBC was set to cancel the series due to flagging ratings, but fans embarked upon a massive letter writing campaign and got the series renewed for a second season. It was those same fans that made series incredibly popular in syndication (at one point, Star Trek reruns were beating out the evening news in most markets), which, in turn, allowed the first movies to get made.
So, you can imagine their disappointment when they finally got another shot at a television series… only to have it star none of their beloved original cast. Fans wrote letters, protested in front of Paramount Studios, and in general swore they’d have nothing to do with the new series. It’s a routine that’s become pretty familiar (see: Star Trek: Discovery, Klingons).
1. PICARD WAS INSPIRED BY HORATIO HORNBLOWER
Gene Roddenberry didn’t give Patrick Stewart much direction when it came to finding the character of Jean-Luc Picard, but he did push him in a very specific direction. After Stewart had been cast, Roddenberry gave him a set of Horatio Hornblower books and told him to start there.
The Hornblower novels, written by C.S. Forster, center around a British naval captain in the Napoleonic era, and it’s easy to see the similarities between the two sailors. Born into poverty, Hornblower’s adventures see him steadily climb the ranks of the British Royal Navy through consistent use of skill, daring and achievement. He’s also characterized as lonely, isolated and extremely introspective, always keeping his admiring peers at arms length due to his own self-doubt. Sound like anyone we know?
Do you have any Star Trek: The Next Generation trivia to share? Let us know in the comments!
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