Star Trek – TNG’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary
In 1987, television was dominated by three national networks : ABC, NBC and CBS. The remaining stations, a total of 10, were local channels that aired old movies, children’s programing, reruns and local news. Remote control devices, which I call flippers, did not exist and Cable TV had not yet taken hold. Only the three major commercial networks were producing television series. All of that changed on September 28th, 1987 when Star Trek -The Next Generation premiered on WPIX.
Gene Roddenberry, in a very risky venture, produced his second incarnation of Star Trek, the historical time line successor of the original series he created in 1966. What made it so unique was that it was the first time original run episodes were going to be aired in syndication on prime time against the three national networks. This meant that the show had to be sold individually to local stations throughout the US and the world. History has proven that not only did it become a smash hit, but its popularity grew with each season.
To this day, Star Trek – The Next Generation remains the most popular syndicated series of all time. The show was well received by the critics, attracted new fans that had never seen the voyages of the USS Enterprise – 1701, and was popular with those of the original Star Trek. It was a huge financial success and made tons of money for its advertisers proving that a new television series could be produced specifically for syndication and successfully compete with the three major networks for high ratings. This opened the door for Cable networks such as HBO and Showtime, FOX, TNT, UPN and others to follow suit and build on the successful competition that The Next Generation created and permanently changed the face of television.
Patrick Stewart who starred as Captain Jean Luc Picard has often said that he owes much of his current success to the series and greatly appreciates what it did for his career. Before serving as captain of The USS Enterprise 1701-D, he considered himself a decent supporting stage actor in the Royal Shakespearean Theater in London while appearing in several minor roles in period films. In The United States he was relatively unknown, but once his seven year stewardship of the enterprise ended, he returned to Great Britain and again immersed himself in the London stage attracting much larger audiences to see him perform Shakespeare, then his years before Star Trek.
During the series seven season run, a number of the 178 episodes featured scenes from various Shakespearean plays, musical concerts and poetry readings as part of the cultural heritage honored in the Twenty-Fourth Century. Who can forget Data’s recital of his poem Ode To Spot, (see below), in episode 131 of the sixth season episode called Schisms. The poem was dedicated to his pet cat, Spot.
Unlike Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner who distanced themselves from the original series because they both felt they would be typecast, Stewart confessed to William Shatner in the documentary, The Captains, about his association with the franchise, “All my past Shakespearean roles prepared me to play Captain Picard, and If everything I have ever done in my career including film and stage work were to disappear and I was only remembered for being Jean Luc Picard, I would indeed be very content with that.”
When I see Patrick Stewart in different roles in film, or on TV, I almost expect him to say at the very end of his performance, “Computer, end program,” as the doors of the holodeck appear and he walks out into the corridor on his way back to the bridge of the Enterprise D, and then to Buckingham Palace in 2010 to be knighted into the Order Of The British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his service to drama.
One lasting legacy to contemplate is how much of the show’s technology, especially those touch tone control panels, have impacted in the twenty first century. Perhaps they became the inspiration for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad that has now become so accessible and indispensable. Gene Roddenberry who died in 1991 certainly left a television landmark to be proud of.
Happy Silver Anniversary, Star Trek – The Next Generation, as Spot adds his own MEOW MEOW to the chorus.
Ode To Spot
Felis Cattus, is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped carnivorous by nature?
Your visual, olfactory and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills, and natural defenses.
I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur, to demonstrate affection.
A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents;
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aide in locomotion,
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.
O Spot, the complex levels of behaviour you display
Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.”