As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the sci-fi classic's premiere, several key figures who were there at the show's creation give us an insider's view of how the series took flight
”Make it so.”
It’s such a stirring phrase, isn’t it, this favored command of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship U.S.S. Enterprise. Patrick Stewart uttered it with his rich, Shakespearean baritone countless times over the seven glorious seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation — to Riker, Data, Worf, and Dr. Crusher, to Geordi, Troi, Tasha, and young Wesley, and probably even to a petulant Ferengi or two. And yet, the first time Picard said those three rousing words, on Sept. 28, 1987, in the premiere episode, ”Encounter at Farpoint,” it was to order the mundane task of setting his ship into a ”standard parking orbit.”
Of course, actually making that episode so was anything but mundane. Indeed, Gene Roddenberry’s update on his optimistic vision of humanity’s future set Trek on a blistering 20-year mission — including four TNG movies, three more Trek TV series, and an explosion in first-run syndicated TV — that no one could have foreseen. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of TNG, we’re looking back at the genesis of the episode that (re)started it all.
Gene Roddenberry’s first attempt to mount a new Trek live-action series came a decade before The Next Generation.
ROBERT H. JUSTMAN, original series producer, supervising producer on TNG I think [the idea for a new series] came about as a result of the sudden explosion of Star Trek reruns. It just gathered up a whole slew of people who had never seen the show. But the whole thing came to naught because of, I think, tense bargaining terms with respect to money.
DOROTHY (D.C.) FONTANA, original series writer, associate producer on TNG, co-writer of ”Encounter at Farpoint” I think approximately six scripts were developed [for what was then called Star Trek: Phase II]. Then, Star Wars happened. Suddenly Paramount was saying, ”Don’t we have a franchise show that we could do that with?” The idea for a series, to my understanding, was put aside and they started doing the movie.
The idea for a new series sat fallow for several years as Paramount cranked out four Star Trek movies with the original cast before moving ahead with what would become The Next Generation.
JUSTMAN In the mid-1980s, Paramount realized that they were making zillions of dollars on this old television show and if they had a new one, they could milk the cow again. Gene had a peculiar way of getting people onto whatever show he was doing. I knew enough to know that when he called me to go to lunch and screen some films to look at the special effects, a new show was in the offing. This is late September, early October 1986. We saw a film called Aliens, and I said, ”Jesus Christ, Gene, that was a great picture! But have you ever seen Blade Runner?” And [Gene said] ”What’s that?” He didn’t know what Blade Runner was! I said, ”You’d better take a look at that,” and in the meantime, I just went to work.
FONTANA Late 1986, in the fall, Gene Roddenberry called me and said, ”I’m interested in getting a new Star Trek series on the road.” He outlined how he wanted it to be sometime after the original series. New cast, new characters. He invited me, Bob Justman, [original series writer] David Gerrold, and [original series associate producer] Eddie Milkis to put our ideas in. We wrote tons of memos.
Roddenberry also persuaded a young Paramount TV exec named Rick Berman to leave his post overseeing the new Trek and join the production full-time as a supervising producer.
RICK BERMAN, supervising producer There were three reasons not to do it. One, this was a sequel, and sequels on television had never been successful. Two, it was science fiction, and in the 1980s science fiction was not successful. And three, it was going to be syndicated, not a network program. But my desire to get into the ranks of producers was strong enough that I agreed.
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