In 1987, Hollywood was ready to recapture the magic of “Star Trek” in a new regular television series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” With the beloved original 1966 show as its jumping off point, many thought that the idea would go off without a hitch, but they were very wrong.
In his new hour-long documentary, “Chaos on the Bridge,” star of the original series himself, William Shatner, explores the first two years of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TNG). He gets a closer look at the fighting and creative hangups that almost led to the death of one of science fiction’s most iconic television shows before it even aired episode one.
Not surprising to those who are familiar with the franchise, the documentary deals heavily with the personal involvement of Gene Roddenberry, the puzzling mind behind the “Star Trek” universe. Roddenberry’s uncompromising vision of the future was something he constantly fought for during the making of the first two seasons of “TNG,” and that often rubbed those associated with the franchise the wrong way. Speaking in a phone interview with International Business Times, Shatner discussed his relationship to the creator at the time and how it was “distant.”
“There’s an interesting dichotomy with writers that they’re quite often solitary people. They sit in front of their typewriter or keyboard or whatever and they write something. They’re alone with their thoughts and typing them out. That makes for one type of person,” Shatner said. “Another type of person, one who produces films and television, is more social. Their predominant characteristics are with people. So, there’s a dichotomy between the two jobs. Then they started to make writers producers, and that was the flaw with the same guy doing two opposing jobs. It led to some tension and confusion with Gene and some other people. So when I say that my relationship was distant, I mean he didn’t warm to many people, so he kept me at arm’s length, which was fine.”
According to Shatner, the reality of the situation was simply that, by the time “TNG” began to pick up steam, he was so far removed from the series that he didn’t have to worry about it - so he didn’t.
“By the end of the two years, I knew it was good and I knew how excellent Patrick Stewart was, but I didn’t know too much else,” he confessed, revealing that he hadn’t watched any episodes of “TNG” until he decided to make “Chaos on the Bridge.”
It wasn’t until the studio began to make movies with the new “Star Trek” cast that it affected the Captain Kirk actor. At the time, although the original series of “Star Trek” had finished, Shatner was still making movies for the studio and writing books for Kirk. For a while, the Original Series existed on the big screen while "TNG" dominated TV.
“The movies stopped when [The Original Series cast] were making only a certain amount of money, they made almost the same amount with each movie, and the studio wanted to break through that ceiling by making the movies with ‘The Next Generation’ cast. That’s when it got serious for me. I was enjoying the aging of the Captain and playing into that as he lost strength and agility. I was enjoying it,“ Shatner revealed. “Then, suddenly, it stopped because they wanted to make movies with ‘The Next Generation’ cast. And by the way, they didn’t make more money than ours did.”
With no background in “TNG” and precious few thoughts on the seven-season-long television show, many may be wondering why the former Original Series Captain took it upon himself to finally tell this very worthwhile story.
“My dear friend, Maurice Hurley, who produced and wrote a lot of the shows and produced the first two years, was at the very heart of all the chaos and he and I had worked together on several projects and we were dear friends. He passed away earlier this year - sadly because he was quite a force and had quite a wonderful mind for humor and all that,” Shatner confessed. “He brought to my attention some of the chaos that had been in those first two years and I thought: ‘That would make a great documentary.’”
Those interested in getting the definitive inside perspective on the early days of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” should check out “William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge” when it launches on all digital media and video on demand platforms in the U.S. on Aug. 1 (Aug. 3 in the U.K.). In the meantime, check out the trailer for Shatner’s latest documentary below.