Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG and ST:TNG) is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry. It originally aired from September 28, 1987 to May 23, 1994 on syndication, spanning 178 episodes over the course of seven seasons. The third series in the Star Trek franchise, it is the second sequel to Star Trek: The Original Series. Set in the 24th century, when Earth is part of a United Federation of Planets, it follows the adventures of a Starfleet starship, the USS Enterprise-D, in its exploration of the Milky Way galaxy.
After the cancellation of The Original Series in 1969, the Star Trek franchise had continued with Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973–74) and a series of films, all featuring the original cast. In the 1980s, franchise creator Roddenberry decided to create a new series, featuring a new crew embarking on their mission a century after that of The Original Series. TNG featured a new crew that starred (for the majority of its seven-year broadcast run) Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker, Brent Spiner as Lt Commander Data, Michael Dorn as Lieutenant Worf, LeVar Burton as Lt Commander Geordi La Forge, Marina Sirtis as counselor Deanna Troi, Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher, and a new Enterprise. An introductory statement featured at the beginning of each episode’s title sequence stated the ship’s purpose in language similar to the opening statement of the original Star Trek series, but was updated to reflect an ongoing mission and to be gender-neutral:
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Roddenberry, Maurice Hurley, Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jeri Taylor served as executive producers at various times throughout its production. The show was very popular, reaching almost 12 million viewers in its 5th season, with the series finale in 1994 being watched by over 30 million viewers.
TNG premiered the week of September 28, 1987, drawing 27 million viewers, with the two-hour pilot “Encounter at Farpoint“. In total, 176 episodes were made (including several two-parters), ending with the two-hour finale “All Good Things…” the week of May 23, 1994. The series was broadcast in first-run syndication with dates and times varying among individual television stations. Several Star Trek series followed The Next Generation: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999), Star Trek: Voyager (1995–2001), Star Trek: Enterprise (2001–2005), and Star Trek: Discovery (2017–present). The series formed the basis for the seventh through the tenth of the Star Trek films, and is also the setting of numerous novels, comic books, and video games. In its seventh season, Star Trek: The Next Generation became the first and only syndicated television series to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series. The series received a number of accolades, including 19 Emmy Awards, two Hugo Awards, five Saturn Awards, and “The Big Goodbye” (S1E12) won a Peabody Award. Some of the highest rated episodes (by Nielsen ratings) were the pilot (“Encounter at Farpoint”), the finale (“All Good Things…”), the two-part “Unification“, “Aquiel“, “A Matter of Time“, and “Relics“. Four episodes (“Encounter at Farpoint”, “Sarek”, “Unification”, and “Relics”) featured actors DeForest Kelley, Mark Lenard, Leonard Nimoy, and James Doohan from the original Star Trek reprising their original roles.
The Star Trek franchise originated in the late 1960s, with the Star Trek television show which ran from 1966-1969. Star Trek: The Next Generation would mark the return of Star Trek to live-action broadcast television.
As early as 1972, Paramount Pictures started to consider making a Star Trek film because of the show’s popularity in syndication. However, with 1977’s release of Star Wars, Paramount decided not to compete in the science fiction movie category and shifted their efforts to a new Star Trek television series. The Original Series actors were approached to reprise their roles, sketches, models, sets and props were created for Star Trek: Phase II until Paramount changed its mind again and decided to create feature films starring the Original Series cast.
By 1986, 20 years after the original Star Trek‘s debut on NBC, the franchise’s longevity amazed Paramount Pictures executives. Chairman Frank Mancuso Sr. and others described it as the studio’s “crown jewel”, a “priceless asset” that “must not be squandered”. The series was the most popular syndicated television program 17 years after cancellation, and the Harve Bennett-produced, Original Series-era Star Trek films did well at the box office. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy‘s salary demands for the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) caused the studio to plan for a new Star Trek television series. Paramount executives worried that a new series could hurt the demand for the films, but decided that it would increase their appeal on videocassette and cable, and that a series with unknown actors would be more profitable than paying the films’ actors’ large salaries. Roddenberry initially declined to be involved, but came on board as creator after being unhappy with early conceptual work. Star Trek: The Next Generation was announced on October 10, 1986, and its cast in May 1987.
Paramount executive Rick Berman was assigned to the series at Roddenberry’s request. Roddenberry hired a number of Star Trek veterans, including Bob Justman, D. C. Fontana, Eddie Milkis and David Gerrold. Early proposals for the series included one in which some of the original series cast might appear as “elder statesmen”, and Roddenberry speculated as late as October 1986 that the new series might not even use a spaceship, as “people might travel by some [other] means” 100 years after the USS Enterprise. A more lasting change was his new belief that workplace interpersonal conflict would no longer exist in the future; thus, the new series did not have parallels to the frequent “crusty banter” between Kirk, Spock, and Leonard McCoy. According to series actor Patrick Stewart, Berman was more receptive than Roddenberry to the series addressing political issues.
The series’ music theme combined the fanfare from the original series theme by Alexander Courage with Jerry Goldsmith‘s theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Some early episodes’ plots derived from outlines created for Star Trek: Phase II. Additionally, some sets used in the Original Series-era films were redressed for The Next Generation, and in turn used for subsequent Original Series films. Part of the transporter room set in TNG was used in the original Star Trek‘s transporter set.
Despite Star Trek‘s proven success, NBC and ABC only offered to consider pilot scripts for the new series, and CBS offered to air a miniseries that could become a series if it did well. That the Big Three television networks treated Paramount’s most appealing and valuable property as they would any other series offended the studio. Fox wanted the show to help launch the new network, but wanted it by March 1987, and would only commit to 13 episodes instead of a full season. The unsuccessful negotiations convinced the studio that it could only protect Star Trek with full control.
Paramount increased and accelerated the show’s profitability by choosing to instead broadcast it in first-run syndication on independent stations (whose numbers had more than tripled since 1980) and Big Three network affiliates. The studio offered the show to local stations for free as barter syndication. The stations sold five minutes of commercial time to local advertisers and Paramount sold the remaining seven minutes to national advertisers. Stations had to commit to purchasing reruns in the future, and only those that aired the new show could purchase the popular reruns of the Original Series.
The studio’s strategy succeeded. Most of the 150 stations airing reruns of the original Star Trek wanted to prevent a competitor from airing the new show; ultimately, 210 stations covering 90% of the United States became part of Paramount’s informal nationwide network for TNG. In early October 1987, more than 50 network affiliates pre-empted their own shows for the series pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint“. One station predicted that “Star Trek promises to be one of the most successful programs of the season, network or syndicated”.
The new show indeed performed well; the pilot’s ratings were higher than those of many network programs and ratings remained comparable to network shows by the end of the first season, despite the handicap of each station airing the show on a different day and time, often outside prime time. By the end of the first season, Paramount reportedly received $1 million for advertising per episode, more than the roughly $800,000 fee that networks typically paid for a one-hour show; by 1992, when the budget for each episode had risen to almost $2 million, the studio earned $90 million from advertising annually from first-run episodes, with each 30-second commercial selling for $115,000 to $150,000.
The show had a 40% return on investment for Paramount, with $30 to $60 million in annual upfront net profit for first-run episodes and another $70 million for stripping rights for each of the about 100 episodes then available, so did not need overseas sales to be successful.
Star Trek: The Next Generation ran for seven seasons, from the fall of 1987 annually to the spring of 1994. At the end of that season the cast switched over to production of the Star Trek film Generations which was released before the end of 1994.
Although the cast members were contracted for eight seasons, Paramount ended The Next Generation after seven, which disappointed and puzzled some of the actors, and was an unusual decision for a successful television show. Paramount then made films using the cast, which it believed would be less successful if the show were still on television. An eighth season also would likely have reduced the show’s profitability due to higher cast salaries and a lower price per episode when sold as strip programming.
The show’s strong ratings continued to the end; the 1994 series finale was ranked number two among all shows that week, between hits Home Improvement and Seinfeld, and was watched by over 30 million viewers. TNG was the most-watched Star Trek show, with a peak audience of 11.5 million during its fifth season prior to the launch of DS9. Between 1988 and 1992 it picked up half a million to a million additional viewers per year.
Adjusted Nielsen Ratings for Star Trek TV shows:
- Fall 1987 – Spring 1988: 8.55 Million TNG S1
- Fall 1988 – Spring 1989: 9.14 Million TNG S2
- Fall 1989 – Spring 1990: 9.77 Million TNG S3
- Fall 1990 – Spring 1991: 10.58 Million TNG S4
- Fall 1991 – Spring 1992: 11.50 Million TNG S5
- Fall 1992 – Spring 1993: 10.83 Million TNG S6 (DS9 S1 Debuted in Spring 1993)
- Fall 1993 – Spring 1994: 9.78 Million TNG S7 + DS9 S2
- Fall 1994 – Spring 1995: 7.05 Million DS9 S3 + VOY S1
- Fall 1995 – Spring 1996: 6.42 Million DS9 S4 + VOY S2
- Fall 1996 – Spring 1997: 5.03 Million DS9 S5 + VOY S3
- Fall 1997 – Spring 1998: 4.53 Million DS9 S6+ VOY S4
- Fall 1998 – Spring 1999: 4.00 Million DS9 S7 + VOY S5 (Voyager ended after two more seasons)
Star Trek: The Next Generation aired for 7 seasons beginning on September 28, 1987 and ending on May 23, 1994.
The series begins with the crew of the Enterprise-D put on trial by an omnipotent being known as Q, who became a recurring character. The god-like entity threatens the extinction of humanity for being a race of savages, forcing them to solve a mystery at nearby Farpoint Station to prove their worthiness to be spared. After successfully solving the mystery and avoiding disaster, the crew departs on its mission to explore strange new worlds.
Subsequent stories focus on the discovery of new life and sociological and political relationships with alien cultures, as well as exploring the human condition. Several new species are introduced as recurring antagonists, including the Ferengi, the Cardassians, and the Borg. Throughout their adventures, Picard and his crew are often forced to face and live with the consequences of difficult choices.
The series ended in its seventh season with a two-part episode “All Good Things…”, which brought the events of the series full circle to the original confrontation with Q. An interstellar anomaly that threatens all life in the universe forces Picard to leap from his present, past, and future to combat the threat. Picard was successfully able to show to Q that humanity could think outside of the confines of perception and theorize on new possibilities while still being prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater good. The series ended with the crew of the Enterprise portrayed as feeling more like a family and paved the way for four consecutive motion pictures that continued the theme and mission of the series.
- Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard is the commanding officer of the USS Enterprise-D. Stewart also played the character in the pilot episode of Deep Space Nine and all four TNG theater films.
- Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker is the ship’s first officer. The Riker character was influenced by concepts for first officer Willard Decker in the Star Trek: Phase II television series. Decker’s romantic history with helmsman Ilia was mirrored in The Next Generation in the relationship between Riker and Deanna Troi. Riker also appears in an episode each of Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. In addition to William Riker, Frakes played William’s transporter-created double, Thomas, in one episode each of The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge was initially the ship’s helmsman, but the character became chief engineer beginning in the second season. Burton also played the character in an episode of Voyager.
- Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar is the chief of security and tactical officer. Crosby left the series at the end of the first season, and the Yar character was killed. Yar returns in alternate timelines in the award-winning episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and the series finale, “All Good Things…“. Crosby also played Commander Sela, Yar’s half-Romulan daughter.
- Michael Dorn as Worf is a Klingon. Worf initially appears as a junior officer fulfilling several roles on the bridge. When Denise Crosby left at the end of the first season, the Worf character succeeded Lieutenant Yar as the ship’s chief of security and tactical officer. Dorn reprised the role as a regular in seasons four through seven of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and also played another Klingon, also named Worf, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; with 282 on screen appearances, Dorn has the most appearances of any actor in the Star Trek franchise.
- Gates McFadden as Doctor Beverly Crusher (Season 1, Seasons 3–7) is the Enterprise‘s chief medical officer. As a fully certified bridge officer, Dr. Crusher had the ability to command the Enterprise if circumstances required her to do so. She also, on occasion, commanded night-watch shifts on the ship’s main bridge to stay on top of starship operations. McFadden was fired after the first season, but was rehired for the third season and remained for the remainder of the series.
- Diana Muldaur as Doctor Katherine Pulaski (Season 2) was created to replace Dr. Crusher for the show’s second season. Muldaur, who previously appeared in two episodes of the original Star Trek, never received billing in the opening credits; instead, she was listed as a special guest star during the first act.
- Marina Sirtis as Lieutenant Commander Deanna Troi is the half-human, half-Betazoid ship’s counselor. Starting in the season seven episode “Thine Own Self”, Counselor Troi, having taken and completed the bridge-officer’s test, is later promoted to the rank of commander, which allowed her to take command of the ship, and also perform bridge duties other than those of a ship’s counselor. The character’s relationship with first officer Riker was a carry-over from character ideas developed for Phase II. Troi also appeared in later episodes of Voyager and in the finale of Enterprise.
- Brent Spiner as Lieutenant Commander Data is an android who serves as second officer and operations officer. Data’s “outsider’s” perspective on humanity served a similar narrative purpose as Spock‘s in the original Star Trek. Spiner also played his “brother”, Lore, and his creator, Noonien Soong. In Enterprise, Spiner played Noonien’s ancestor, Arik, and contributed a brief voiceover (heard over the Enterprise-D’s intercom) in the Enterprise finale.
- Wil Wheaton as Beverly Crusher’s son Wesley becomes an acting ensign, and later receives a field commission to ensign, before attending Starfleet Academy. After being a regular for the first four seasons, Wheaton appeared sporadically as Wesley Crusher for the remainder of the series.
- Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi, Federation ambassador and Deanna Troi‘s mother.
- Brian Bonsall as Alexander Rozhenko, Worf‘s son.
- Rosalind Chao as Keiko O’Brien, botanist until her transfer to Deep Space Nine in 2369.
- Denise Crosby as Sela, Romulan commander and Tasha Yar‘s daughter.
- John de Lancie as Q, a member of the Q-Continuum who frequently visits the USS Enterprise-D.
- Jonathan Del Arco as Hugh, a Borg drone who was disconnected from the collective by Geordi La Forge and Beverly Crusher.
- Michelle Forbes as Ro Laren, conn officer until her defection to the Maquis in 2370.
- Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan, bartender hostess on the USS Enterprise-D.
- Ashley Judd as Robin Lefler, engineering officer on the USS Enterprise-D.
- Andreas Katsulas as Tomalak, a Romulan commander who has several encounters with the USS Enterprise-D.
- Barbara March as Lursa, Klingon officer from the House of Duras and B’Etor‘s sister.
- Colm Meaney as Miles O’Brien, conn officer and later transporter chief until his transfer to Deep Space Nine in 2369.
- Eric Menyuk as The Traveler, a member of a species from Tau Alpha C who mentors Wesley Crusher.
- Lycia Naff as Sonya Gomez, engineering officer on the USS Enterprise-D.
- Natalia Nogulich as Alynna Nechayev, flag officer in charge of Cardassian affairs.
- Robert O’Reilly as Gowron, leader of the Klingon Empire.
- Suzie Plakson as K’ehleyr, Federation ambassador, mate to Worf and Alexander Rozhenko‘s mother until her death in 2367.
- Dwight Schultz as Reginald Barclay, engineering officer until his transfer to Starfleet Communications in 2374.
- Carel Struycken as Mr. Homn, Lwaxana Troi‘s attendant.
- Tony Todd as Kurn, Klingon officer and Worf‘s brother.
- Gwynyth Walsh as B’Etor, Klingon officer from the House of Duras and Lursa‘s sister.
- Patti Yasutake as Alyssa Ogawa, medical officer and head nurse.
- Ken Thorley as Mot, barber on the USS Enterprise-D.
Star Trek had a number of story arcs within the larger story, and oftentimes different episodes contributed to two or more different story or character arcs. Some are epitomized by the aliens the characters interact with, for example, TNG introduced the Borg and the Cardassians. The Klingons and Romulans had been introduced in the original series (1966–69); however, the Klingons were somewhat rebooted with a “turtle-head” look, although a retcon was given to explain this in an Enterprise episode. Other story arcs are epitomized by the appearances of a certain character such as Q or Ro Laren or by technology like the holodeck.
Certain episodes go deeper into the Klingon alien saga, which are famous for having an actual Klingon language made for them in the Star Trek universe. The Klingon stories usually involve Worf, but not all Worf-centric shows are focused on Klingons. The famous Duras sisters, a Klingon duo Lursa and B’Etor, were introduced on TNG in 1991 in the episode “Redemption” and they later appeared in the film Generations.
One of the science fiction technologies featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation, was an artificial reality machine called the “Holodeck”, and several award winning episodes featured plots centering on the peculiarities of this device. Some episodes focused on malfunctions in the holodeck, and in one case how a crew member became addicted to the environment created by the technology. The dangers of technology that allows illusion is one of ongoing themes of Star Trek going back to the 1st pilot, “The Cage” where aliens’ power of illusion to create an artificial reality is explored. One of the plots is whether a character will confront a reality or retreat to a world of fantasy.
The Next Generation‘s average of 20 million viewers often exceeded both existing syndication successes such as Wheel of Fortune and network hits including Cheers and L.A. Law. Benefiting in part from many stations’ decision to air each new episode twice in a week, it consistently ranked in the top ten among hour-long dramas, and networks could not prevent affiliates from preempting their shows with The Next Generation or other dramas that imitated its syndication strategy. Star Trek: The Next Generation received 18 Emmy Awards and, in its seventh season, became the first and only syndicated television show to be nominated for the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series. It was nominated for three Hugo Awards and won two. The first-season episode “The Big Goodbye” also won the Peabody Award for excellence in television programming.
Star Trek harnessed the emergence of home video technologies that rose to prominence in the 1980s as new revenue and promotion avenue. Star Trek: The Next Generation had release in part or in full on VHS, Betamax, LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray mediums.
All episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation were made available on VHS cassettes, starting in 1991. The entire series was gradually released on VHS over the next few years during the remainder of the show’s run and after the show had ended.
Some episodes had releases on the tape videocassette format Betamax. Releases of all Betamax publications including those of the Star Trek: The Next Generation was halted in early 1990s.
On August 4, 2018, Patrick Stewart stated on social media that he would return to the role of Jean-Luc Picard in a project with CBS All Access.
Stewart wrote, “I will always be very proud to have been a part of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but when we wrapped that final movie in the spring of 2002, I truly felt my time with Star Trek had run its natural course. It is, therefore, an unexpected but delightful surprise to find myself excited and invigorated to be returning to Jean-Luc Picard and to explore new dimensions within him. Seeking out new life for him, when I thought that life was over.
“During these past years, it has been humbling to hear stories about how The Next Generation brought people comfort, saw them through difficult periods in their lives or how the example of Jean-Luc inspired so many to follow in his footsteps, pursuing science, exploration and leadership. I feel I’m ready to return to him for the same reason – to research and experience what comforting and reforming light he might shine on these often very dark times. I look forward to working with our brilliant creative team as we endeavor to bring a fresh, unexpected and pertinent story to life once more.”
It is believed that the new project will be a continuation of the story after Star Trek: Nemesis, and will not be a reboot of the series’ storyline as was done with the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films.
In January 2019, the producer said that Picard series will answer questions about what happened to Captain Picard in the 20 years after.