Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first new Star Trek series to take place after Star Trek: The Original Series ended, airing from 1987 until 1994. With a brand new crew aboard the USS Enterprise, and a brand new captain at the helm, it boldly took Star Trek fans where they'd never gone before. The entire aesthetic of the ship had changed, the uniforms were updated, and the storylines became more rooted in current and topical events. It introduced a "new generation" of fans to one of the most popular science fiction franchises of all time.
What makes any Star Trek series great is its characters. Fans quickly became as enamored with Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Counselor Troi, and the rest of the colorful crew as they had with Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Mr. Spock. Many members of the main cast of TNG were already famous actors, while others were just starting out in the industry. One thing is for sure - their careers were irrevocably changed after their appearance. Catch up with the main cast of TNG below!
10 WIL WHEATON
Wesley Crusher was a divisive character on TNG, so fans weren't exactly sad to see Wil Wheaton exit the series when Wesley followed The Traveler in his galactic adventures. That being said, the techy genius "boy wonder" did provide some comic relief on the show as well as appeal to a younger demographic.
Outside of TNG, Wheaton had appeared in films like Stand By Me, Toy Soldiers, and Flubber. After the series, he took a hiatus from acting to concentrate on his studies before a return to the industry. These days, Wheaton is able to poke fun at his Wesley character on series like The Big Bang Theory, as well as host TableTop, a web series about tabletop roleplaying, and hit it big in the realm of blogging and gaming.
9 COLM MEANEY
Ireland couldn't have selected a better representative to send into outer space than Colm Meaney, the likable Irish actor who began as an extra in TNG to becoming a series regular as Transporter Chief Miles O'Brien. After TNG ended, he stepped over to Deep Space Nine and became an intergalactic super for an entire space station.
Since his time on Star Trek, he's starred in films like Intermission with fellow Irishman Colin Farrell, Con-Air, Layer Cake, and most recently in the popular Western series Hell on Wheels. See him next in the series The Singapore Grip and in Gangs of London.
8 DENISE CROSBY
Tasha Yar may not have had a very long stint on TNG, but she left a lasting impression in only one season. As the Chief of Security, she was a competent and strong character that provided a balance against the nurturing traits present in female leads Deana Troi and Beverly Crusher.
Denise Crosby returned to the series in different seasons based on narrative temporal anomalies, and outside of Star Trek, she's appeared on other popular television series like Bones and The Walking Dead, with regular roles on Ray Donovan and Suits.
7 BRENT SPINER
One of the most beloved characters on TNG (if not the entire Star Trek franchise), Commander Data was the only android to ever serve in Starfleet and a vital member of the Enterprise-D crew. He appeared in every season as well as the four TNG feature films.
Outside of Star Trek, Spiner appeared in popular television programs like Frasier, Star Wars: Rebels, Outcast, and The Big Bang Theory, where like fellow Star Trek alum Wil Wheaton, he poked fun of his role. He also appeared in the sci-fi film Independence Day and its sequel Independence Day: Resurgence. See him next in Picard alongside many of the TNG bridge crew!
6 LEVAR BURTON
Prior to Levar Burton putting on his iconic vizor to play Geordi La Forge, he was the host of the children's literary program Reading Rainbow which aired on PBS beginning in 1983. It ran for 23 seasons and garnered Burton 12 Emmy Awards for introducing kids to the wonders of reading and intellectual pursuits.
In 2006, Reading Rainbow went off the air, prompting Burton and his partner Mark Wolfe to purchase the rights for the series and re-imagine it as an app for the iPad in 2012. It was a hit, encouraging Burton to start a kickstarter to make a Reading Rainbow web series, which was another huge success. Like many of his Star Trek alum he's appeared on The Big Bang Theory, but catch him now as Dr. Negari in the series Weird City.
5 GATES MCFADDEN
Gates McFadden who starred as the doctor on TNG for 6 out of its 7 seasons, was known for her warm disposition, her medical professionalism, and her love of dancing. Besides the series, she also starred in the four feature films alongside the main cast members.
Besides her career in dance and theater, she appeared in several series throughout the '90s such as Mad About You, Party of Five, and Marker. In between acting appearances, she also taught the craft at Purdue and Harvard, but you can catch her more recently in episodes of Franklin and Bash as well as NCIS.
4 MICHAEL DORN
Outside of Star Trek, he has done several voice-acting roles, as well as appeared as a reoccurring character in Castle as the therapist to the lead detective. Beckett. His most recent series has been The Lion Guard, an animated series involving characters from Disney's The Lion King.
3 MARINA SIRTIS
The lovely Marina Sirtis, who played Ship's Counselor Deanna Troi for all seven seasons of TNG, offered special insight into mental health issues that had previously never been tackled in the Star Trek franchise. Her role in the series highlighted the importance of discussing mental health concerns that were often invisible to those around her.
Outside of Star Trek, fans will have heard her dulcet tones in the animated series Gargoyles alongside Star Trek alum Jonathan Frakes. She's appeared in series such as Grey's Anatomy and the Star Trek homage The Orville. See her soon in Picard, following Captain Picard's adventures twenty years after TNG.
2 JONATHAN FRAKES
As second in command of the USS Enterprise-D, Commander William Riker assumed the "Kirk" role to Picard's refined and diplomatic starship captain. Jonathan Frakes, when he wasn't charming exotic alien women on screen was behind the scenes directing episodes of TNG.
Having gotten a taste for directing, he pursued the passion with episodes of Burn Notice, Star Trek: Klingons, and The Orville. He's occasionally appeared in episodes of series he's directed, like Criminal Minds and Castle. See him reprise his role of Will Riker in Picard, coming in 2020.
1 PATRICK STEWART
Patrick Stewart doubted that he would be able to spearhead the first Star Trek series since The Original Series ended. Pushing 40 at the time he was cast and without a full head of hair, the classically stage-trained actor didn't think Star Trek fans would embrace him as the new captain of the Enterprise after Captain Kirk.
He has since been regarded as perhaps the greatest captain of the Star Trek franchise. After seven seasons of TNG and the many films that followed, he donned the mantle of another iconic character, Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise. He's had regular roles in comic series American Dad and Blunt Talk, and shortly will star once again as Jean-Luc Picard in Picard, the 8th series in the Star Trek franchise, set 20 years after Star Trek: Nemesis on CBS All Access in 2020.