Given the deathless popularity of the original Star Trek show and the long-running film series it inspired, it was inevitable that the Star Trek concept would be revived in a new series. Gene Roddenberry, creator of the original series, was brought on board to executive-produce a new series, and the result, Star Trek: The Next Generation, was released to syndication in 1987.
The new show was set 78 years after the original show’s mission, but the United Federation of Planets’ grand vision hadn’t changed much. A new U.S.S. Enterprise (twice as big as the original and with eight times the amount of interior space) was sent out on a continuing mission to explore and discover, boldly going where “no one” (no longer just “no man,” showing the Federation’s new gender sensitivity) had gone before. The new captain of the ship was Jean-Luc Picard, who projected a more fatherly, less emotionally volatile vibe than Captain Kirk. His assistant was Commander William Riker, who was more reminiscent of Kirk. Geordi La Forge was the blind pilot who “saw” with the help of special electronic glasses. Deanna Troi was the half-alien/half-human Counselor who had the power to sense the emotions of others, and Lt. Worf functioned as the ships Klingon officer.
Other ship staff included Lt. Tasha Yar, the head of security, and Lt Cdr. Data, an android who fantasized about being human. Yar was killed by an alien in an episode in the Spring of 1988, after which security duties were taken over by Lt. Worf, a Klingon. Yes, a Klingon. 78 years had taken a bit of edge off of the Federation/Klingon animosity as well. Dr. Beverly Crusher served as the ship’s doctor, and her intelligent son Wes was a kid with big dreams of a future as a Starfleet officer. Quinan, the hostess of the ship’s lounge, provided a periodic cameo role for Whoopi Goldberg.
The Enterprise crew faced an expanded group of aliens, both hostile and friendly. Romulans were still a threat, but the newest (and possibly most sinister) force on the cosmic horizon were The Borg, a collective of cybernetic beings with the eerie ability to assimilate other races into their own via technological implants. A frequent and powerful nemesis to the Enterprise crew came in the form of Q, a highly intelligent being with godlike powers who considered humans to be a savage race.
The stories contained plenty of up-to-date special effects and interstellar derring-do, but Roddenberry’s presence ensured the show was much more than just a space opera. He made certain that the show’s writers brought a social consciousness to their work, resulting in stories that asked the viewers to consider their stance on various moral issues. A few examples: In a episode called “Justice,” Wes accidentally violated a planet’s customs and was sentenced to death. Captain Picard was forced to choose between negotiating to save Wes’ life or following his prime directive to avoid interfering with another civilization’s way of life. In another episode, “The Best of Both Worlds,” Riker had to decide whether to save the life of a friend or save the lives of millions when the Borg used the kidnapped Picard as part of their plan to destroy Earth.
Very few sequels to a beloved earlier series find much success on their own, but Star Trek: The Next Generation managed to beat the odds. It lasted twice as long as the original Star Trek series, setting the course for two additional series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
The success of Star Trek: The Next Generation was also successfully translated to the big screen. As the original Star Trek crew was phased out of the feature film series, the Next Generation kept the torch of cosmic adventure lit with Star Trek: Generations (which united members of both the old and new casts), Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection.
USA / Paramount – Syndicated / 174×50 minute episodes 2×100 minute episodes / Broadcast 1987 – 1994
Creator: Gene Roddenberry / Executive Producers: Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor
PATRICK STEWART as Capt Jean Luc Picard
JONATHAN FRAKES as Cmdr William Riker
BRENT SPINER as Lt Cmdr Data
GATES McFADDEN as Dr Beverly Crusher
MARINA SIRTIS as Cllr Deanna Troi
LEVAR BURTON as Lt Cmdr Georgi LaForge
MICHAEL DORN as Lt Worf
COLM MEANEY as Chief O’Brien (1987-92)
WHOOPI GOLDBERG as Guinan
DENISE CROSBY as Security Chief Lt. Natasha ‘Tasha’ Yar (1987-88, 1990, 1994)
DENISE CROSBY as Commander Sela (1991-92)
DIANA MULDAUR as Chief Medical Officer Cmdr. Katherine Pulaski M.D. (1988-89)
WIL WHEATON as Acting Ensign/Cadet Third Class Wesley Crusher
ROSALIND CHAO as Botanist Keiko Ishikawa O’Brien (1991-92)
DWIGHT SCHULTZ as Diagnostics Engineer Lt. (j.g.) Reginald ‘Reg’ Endicott Barclay III (1990-94)