Star Trek: The Next Generation

Tagged: TV

US tv series (1987-1994). Paramount. Series creator/executive producer Gene Roddenberry. Co-executive producers Rick Berman, Michael Piller and later Jeri Taylor. Supervising producers include Maurice Hurley and Michael Wagner. Directors include Corey Allen, Gabrielle Beaumont, Cliff Bole, Rob Bowman, LeVar Burton, David Carson, Richard Colla, Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Les Landau, Paul Lynch, Gates McFadden, Joseph L Scanlon. Writers include Peter Beagle, Hans Beimler, Brannon Braga, Diane Duane, Rene Echevarria, D C Fontana, David Gerrold, Maurice Hurley, Richard Manning, Joe Menosky, Ronald D Moore, Michael Piller, Michael Reaves, Naren Shankar, Hannah Louise Shearer, Melinda Snodgrass, Jeri Taylor, Tracy Torme, Michael Wagner. Seven seasons to 1994. There was a two-hour pilot, then 175 50-minute episodes.

This new Star Trek series was syndicated rather than networked, thus giving the production company a (perhaps) greater creative freedom. Roddenberry, who created the original Star Trek, cowrote the pilot episode for this new series 20 years later. Although he remained executive producer, after two years he was no longer closely involved with the show; he died in 1991.

The series is set 80 years further on than Star Trek. It is introduced with a slight twist on the traditional text: "to boldly go where no one has gone before"; this demonstrated from the outset that The Next Generation would concentrate more on eschewing possible insult than on avoiding split infinitives, and so it has proved. The general likability of the new cast, the fact that their characters seldom conflict with one another (though this became less marked in the last three seasons), the homely moralizing, the absence (usually) of real pain, the appearance of liberalism while avoiding truly sensitive issues (though in season five "The Outcast" raised gay-rights questions): all recall the blandness of its much-loved original – a quality attributed by some to Roddenberry's "bible" (see Shared Worlds), a very detailed list of things you can't do in Star Trek scripts – as do many of the story-lines. But, after an uncertain start (tensions on the set and many resignations, including those of writers Gerrold and Fontana; an improvement late in season 1, then a patchy season 2), The Next Generation surprised many by picking up considerable pace and interest in season 3. It is now generally agreed to be superior to its original, whose reruns look ever more amateurish by comparison. There was a slump in season five, but season six was strong; season seven looked tired at the outset, but went out with several strong episodes, even though The Next Generation was by this time competing with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the second of Star Trek's live-action television spin-offs.

It could be said that The Next Generation is not really sf at all. That is, the events of any episode seldom if ever arise of necessity from a truly sf idea. The sf elements are, by and large, prettifications used to enliven fables about human ethics, and are essential to the plot only insofar as they are enabling devices to create moral dilemmas. Thus, for example, in the several episodes that are variations on the theme of the immaturity of wanting to be a god, the only necessary sf element is the temporary conferral of godlike power.

Much credit for the success of The Next Generation must go to certain cast members, notably UK actor Patrick Stewart, ex-Royal Shakespeare Company, who plays Captain Jean Luc Picard, the Enterprise's captain, with impressive gravitas and vigour. Also very good is Brent Spiner as the Android – and Spock substitute – Data (see Positronic Robots). Most of the rest of the cast are efficient; they include Jonathan Frakes as First Officer Riker, Marina Sirtis as the empath (see ESP) Counsellor Troi, Gates McFadden as the female medical officer Dr Crusher (in season 2 a new medical officer appeared, played by Diana Muldaur), Denise Crosby (season 1 only) as the tough security officer, black actor LeVar Burton as Geordi LaForge, the blind navigating officer with artificially enhanced vision, Wil Wheaton as the initially teenaged Ensign Crusher (in later seasons he was reduced to occasional guest-starring roles rather than as a regular), and Michael Dorn as the Klingon Lieutenant Worf of the Enterprise (galactic politics having changed in 80 years). Michelle Forbes was introduced in season five as Ensign Ro, a Bajoran, in "Ensign Ro", the episode that was ultimately to prove the starting point of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Notable among occasionally returning guest stars have been Whoopi Goldberg as a bartender and John DeLancie as the roguish, enigmatic "Q", the show's equivalent of Trickster figures like Coyote or Loki or Monkey King, who has featured in some of the better episodes. All episodes have been released on videotape/DVD.

In retrospect, The Next Generation must be seen as a great success, at least commercially. It attracted a large and passionate fan following, and with 15 to 20 million US viewers is the highest rated syndicated series in US television history. One fifth-season episode, "The Inner Light", was awarded a Hugo in 1993. Ironically, the show's very success may have helped kill it off. Paramount initially sold screening rights back at a time when the show's success was very uncertain; had these rights been sold in 1993, it would have been a very different story, and a much more profitable one. The obvious answer was to hope that fannish loyalty was to the whole Star Trek franchise, not just to the programme, and to start a new series. This was done with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 1993, and again with Star Trek: Voyager in 1995.

As with the original "classic" series, there has been a substantial number of spin-off books, beginning with Star Trek, The Next Generation: Encounter at Farpoint (1987) by David Gerrold, which novelizes episode 1, and reaching, by early 1995 Star Trek: The Next Generation #35: The Romulan Stratagem (1995) by Robert Greenberger. Other authors have included A C Crispin, Peter David, David Dvorkin and Jean Lorrah. A preliminary judgment – that there seems less in this series than in its predecessor to stimulate the creativity of book authors – may be premature. As expected, the series has also spawned Comics and magazines. [PN]

see also: Forerunners; Panspermia.

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