Classic Sci Fi TV: Our ongoing look back at many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy television.
What Is It? This series continues the mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise one hundred years after the events of the original Star Trek series and with a new crew led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard and including his second in command William Riker, the android Data, the empathic Betazoid Deanna Troi, the Klingor Worf, and more.
When Did It Air? 1987-94, Syndicated, 7 Seasons Totaling 178 Episodes
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis
Created By: Gene Roddenberry
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi TV? Yes. Though you can feel free to be selective with the episodes.
The Skinny: By 1987, television (especially the broadcast networks) had mostly shunned sci fi and fantasy, with only a few offerings per year which were typically shoved off to the nether regions of the schedule. But sci fi’s flagship franchise changed that as Star Trek returned to television and revitalized the genre on television. The broadcast networks had been hesitant about committing to the show when Paramount approached them with the new series, so the studio decided to bypass them and launch the show in direct syndication, where the original series had been performing well since it was cancelled back in 1969. That not only proved a boon to the new Trek series, but by boldly charting a new path for the genre, sci fi and fantasy experienced an off-network revival over the ten-plus years that followed.
But not only did TNG lead the way for an expansion of sci fi on television, it revived the Trek franchise for a whole new generation and once again set the bar for genre shows. There may be plenty of lively debates about whether TNG or the original series are the best (and DS9 fans will insist their show belongs in that conversation as well), but the fact is that both stand among the most important in sci fi TV history. TNG definitely had its flaws with a very weak first season (apart from the two-hour pilot) and plenty of lackluster episodes over the seasons that followed. And Gene Roddenberry’s insistence on no conflict between Starfleet officers hampered the series to an extant (sorry, but conflict makes for good drama). But when this show was on point (“A Matter of Honor”, “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Tin Man”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “Cause and Effect” to name just a few episodes), it was delivering prime cut sci fi stories. When the show stumbled, that typically resulted in dull episodes, as opposed to the bad camp of the original series (“Spock’s Brain” anyone?). And it did have plenty of snoozers. But overall, the show is remembered for its better outings as well is its stellar cast of characters that delivered more of an ensemble show than TOS (which typically focused on the big three: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy). Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter if you like TOS or TNG better (or DS9 best of the three), the fact is that Star Trek: The Next Generation had enough good moments and played such an important part for the genre that it has to be respected as one of the all-time greats and an important series in television and sci fi history.
Cancelled Too Soon? No. Unlike the original series, Star Trek: TNG enjoyed a long run that spanned seven seasons and 178 episodes and the show ended on its own terms when it was at the top of its form.
Revival: The crew from TNG appeared in four theatrical films, two of which were released after the show ended. They have also appeared in multiple comic book series and books. CBS All Access currently has a series in the works that will focus on Jean-Luc Picard, and that one will almost certainly bring in some TNG characters in recurring or guest star roles.
Should It Be Rebooted? Their have been talks among fans of exploring what happened with TNG crew in the Kelvin timeline established in the J.J. Abrams films, but there has been no indication that the movies will go in that direction or that a new television series is possible. And that is probably for the best.
Interesting Fact: While Patrick Stewart has become an iconic sci fi face for his portrayal of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, he originally believed that he was not the right actor for the part. He thought that it made no sense for them to “cast a middle-aged bald English Shakespearean actor in this iconic role” and considered it a “borderline lunatic” move. But Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman persisted and eventually convinced Stewart to come onboard as the captain of the Enterprise.
Where Can You Watch It? The entire series has been released on DVD and Blu-ray, and it is also available for streaming on the Big Three services (Neflix, Amazon, and Hulu) as well as CBS All Access.
Buy Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon.com: