|Star Trek: The Next Generation|
LaserDisc - US Release
LaserDisc - Japanese Release
It was perhaps the most anticipated series premiere of all time. Star Trek: The Next Generation began its syndicated run during the week of September 28, 1987, with the two-hour pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint," and was watched in over 12 million North American households. Set in the 24th century, some 85 years after the classic series, the further voyages of the Starship Enterprise took up the continuing mission "to boldly go where no one has gone before." Outfitted with a host of new technologies - including a holodeck - the new one-of-a-kind U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC 1701-D) and its crew of more than 1,000 were off to a promising start. Despite early criticism of plot likes that too closely resembled those of the original series, Star Trek: The Next Generation quickly developed its own devoted following and steadily climbed in both ratings and in the number of stations airing the program in prime time - a first for a syndicated series. By year-end, the series had become the No. 1 first-run hour-long series in syndication, reaching 9.4 million people in the United States and giving Paramount the confidence to boost the budget of Star Trek: The Next Generation to $1.5 million per episode. The space show's rise in popularity proved that Trekkers were once again hooked on the continuing adventures of a crew intent on exploring the unknown universe.
Numerous changes were on the boards for cast and characters alike at the beginning of the second season. Most notable was the absence of Dr. Beverly Crusher. She had accepted a posting at Starfleet Medical and was replaced by Dr. Kate Pulaski (Diana Muldaur, a guest-star from the classic series), whose sometimes crusty and stubborn personality was renascent of another famous doctor in the classic series. Among the crew, La Forge becomes chief engineer and Worf's promotion to security chief (replacing the late Tasha Yar) is made permanent. Meanwhile, Riker has grown a beard and Deanna adopts a more flattering hair style and uniform. And tending bar in the ship's Ten-Forward lounge as Picard's old friend Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), who, like most bartenders, serves up good advice with two fingers of synthehol. While ambitious plot lines would give way this year to character development and a chance for the cast to have some fun, the 1988 strike by the Writers Guild delayed the start of the season and shortened its run from 26 to 22 episodes. The quality, however, did not suffer, with viewers being treated to a much more insightful view of the Federation in the 24th century.
The third season would mark Star Trek: The Next Generation's emergence from the shadow of its predecessor. The new series' writing staff matured under the leadership of Michael Piller, and the day-to-day operations passed from Gene Roddenberry to new executive producer Rick Berman. This season's plot lines would emphasize character development, humor, and scripts with a social conscience - stories that would attract a new legion of faithful fans. And, thanks in part to a vigorous letter-writing campaign waged by devoted fans, the third-season start saw yet another change in medical officers, as Gates McFadden returned to the role of Dr. Beverly Crusher (just back from a year-long assignment at Starfleet Medical). The look of ST:TNG changed as well, as new costume designer Robert Blackman replaced the men's one-piece jumpsuit - that had so constrained Starfleet staff - with the striking and flexible two-piece uniforms worn by crew until 1996. That, of course, lead to the "Picard Maneuver" - the small tug Patrick Stewart gives to his uniform top when it starts riding up on him. A small gesture, certainly, but the trademark tug somehow defined the captain in a manner no other script detail ever could.
Trekkers impatiently awaited the resolution of season three's cliffhanger. Could Picard be rescued from the Borg? Was it possible to stop the Borg from destroying the Federation? The summerlong suspense only added to the success of "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II." The fanfare over that episode had barely died down when "Legacy," Star Trek: The Next Generation's 80th episode, aired in late October, breaking the mark set by the original series' 79-episode run. The fourth season would also mark the return of may previous guests, including Q, Lwaxana Troi, Lieut. Barclay, Dr. Leah Brahms and the Traveler. And, in what was to become the season's dominant theme, nine of the first 11 episodes dealt with family: Worf introduces his foster parents, meets his son and then avenges his lover's death; Picard returns home to reconcile with the brother he hasn't seen in 20 years; and Data meets his father, battles his evil twin brother and learns how to love. This was also the season of maturity: Wesley takes his leave of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D to study at Starfleet Academy; O'Brien gets married; and Worf takes responsibility for his son - and his life as a Klingon. Altogether, the forth season featured the greatest number of episodes ever to deal with character development.
The fifth season was launched with great fanfare to celebrate Star Trek's 25th anniversary - not bad for a show that NBC tried to kill more than once. By the fall of 1991, Star Trek: The Next Generation was achieving weekly ratings that would have placed it on the Nielsen Top 10 prime-time every week - had it been televised on a U.S. network. The season boasted top-notch scripts and consistently fine performances. Even in the absence of a network berth, the show still managed to capture a handful of Emmy awards for technical excellence.
Stories this season would shift their emphasis to character development, social commentary and the importance of overcoming personal differences to fight for a common goal. Issues such as vengeance, sexual preference, euthanasia and genetic engineering were explored without succumbing to preachiness or forsaking the action- adventure mode that was Star Trek's hallmark. Fans noted the absence this season of Q - the roguish mischief-maker and fan favorite. And, on a much sadder note, the world bid farewell to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who dies in October 1991. Even with the death of the Great Bird of the Galaxy, no one doubted that his vision would continue to live long and prosper.
With rumors already circulating that Star Trek: The Next Generation's sixth season might well be its last, the year was marked by storylines that brought closure to earlier episodes, and allowed several characters a sense of completeness in their lives: Data, in seeking his father, again meets up with his evil twin; Worf, undertaking his own paternal quest, explores the spiritual side of his Klingon nature; Riker, while encountering his other self, gets a second chance to build a life with Deanna; and Picard, on a journey to the afterlife, is tempted to undo his past mistakes. And while Q - to fans' delight - resurfaces in the sixth season to resume his mischief-making, Lwaxana Troi - another fan favorite - unfortunately does not return. It's a season packed with emotion. Great excitement surrounds the launch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - the third Star Trek incarnation - while The Next Generation series experiences its own score of sentimental high notes, including the return of Lt.-Cmdr. Montgomery Scott to the Federation fold and the guest appearance of physicist Stephen Hawking in the season finale. With the cast eventually signing to a seventh year, the sixth season would emerge as one of superb storytelling, stories that allowed the crew to seek out new life, as well as explore within.
As the seventh season began, family re-emerged as Star Trek: The Next Generation's dominant theme, with several earlier (fourth season) storylines brought full circle. The focus on father-child relationships in earlier episodes would switch in the seventh season as crew members - particularly Geordi, Data and Deanna - sought to define their relationships with their mothers. On the romantic front, two simmering relationships - Picard and Crusher, Troi and Worf - were at last reignited. The year would also be marked by a number of clever science-driven episodes, one of them ("Genesis") allowing Gates McFadden to make her directorial debut. But all good things must come to an end - as the title of the final TV episode would underscore. When Paramount confirmed in early November that the seventh season would be the last, the series - that was always about so much more than phasers and warp speed - began to tie up loose ends. And while setting the stage for the fourth TV series - Star Trek: Voyager - ST:TNG finished its run in the same position in which it had begun: the Number 1 hour-long drama in syndication.
Season summary material from Star Trek: Thirty Years - Special Collectors Edition ©1996 Paramount Pictures Corporation.
Updated: April 19, 2003
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