Saluting Star Trek: The Next Generation
Hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted. I still recall hearing about it around the time the Original Series was celebrating their 20th anniversary in 1986. Then, DC Comics was offered the license to the new series and we were invited out for a visit.
They were still building the bridge when we were taken to the sound stages in May 1987. My first impression was that the overall design sensibility owed a lot to Matt Jeffries and they were honoring what came before. It was larger, of course, with the sloping ramps fore and aft, but it was clearly an Enterprise bridge.
To have a miniseries in support of the new series out that fall, we would have to work quickly so it was easy to turn to Mike Carlin, who had been writing the main book for a short while. Being on staff meant we could keep the few scripts we were sent in house and not worry about leaks, which was becoming an issue even back in those early AOL/Usenet days.
For the art, I turned to speed demon Pablo Marcos, who could bang out the model sheets working from a handful of Polaroids that were taken just as the pilot was finally shooting. We were informed that Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes had approval rights so we did model sheets for those characters first, and followed with the other regulars which Paramount Licensing approved on their own. Stewart made it clear that Pablo had to give him less hair and make his head more pointed. We made it so.
Without much to go on beyond an ever-changing bible and maybe four scripts, Mike and I brainstormed ideas which proved prophetic since several of our concepts also found their way into the series. To this day I say it was all coincidence and not stealing but when I saw the episode with a powerless Q, I laughed and said, “We did it first!”
As a fan, I found the show maddeningly inconsistent in quality and fairly dull at first. It was clear cast and crew were feeling their way through this new concept and the quality improved incrementally throughout that first season. Truth be told, though, it wasn’t until mid-way through the second season with episodes like “Measure of a Man” that the show began to live up to its potential. It was only later we began to learn the truth of how ugly the birthing process was and how many people were burned in the process. A lot of those stories are recounted in the forthcoming Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History (hint, hint).
The universe Gene Roddenberry created was rich enough to sustain a look ahead, cementing his belief that mankind would not only make it to the stars, but be made better from the experience. Yes, it was challenging to tell stories where human conflicts were considered a thing of the past, but the writers and producers found ways to tell interesting stories over seven seasons, just as we explored further in the monthly series, which Mike Friedman and Pablo so ably launched. And who could forget those amazing Jerome Moore covers?
TNG’s success sparked a new financial model, allowing first-run syndication series to explode across television (and now cable). It also launched the television careers of countless writers and producers whose work we have continued to enjoy. The series proved so successful, Paramount, for good or ill, continued to ask for additional series set in that universe. There is so much this series gave us fans that we will always owe it a debt of gratitude.
Today, I salute Roddenberry’s creation and hope we continue to enjoy it for years to come in whatever form we find it.