The Ecphorizer

Star Trek Returns to TV
Ken Uhland

Issue #68 (July 1987)


Timecon '87, a Star Trek/Dr. Who convention, was held in the San José (California) Convention Center and the adjacent Holiday Inn from 31 July through 2 August, 1987. The principal guests were Colin Baker ("The Sixth Doctor" of the Dr. Who series), Majel Barrett ("Christine Chapel"), and Mark Lenard ("Sarek"), as well as a number of well-known science fiction authors (e.g., Ray Faraday Nelson, Georgia [Sasha'/> Miller, and Stephen Goldin) and other notables (e.g., Eric Burgess, J. Ray Dettling, Paula Crist, and Dr. Cary Sneider). Not being one of those people who can afford not to work for a living, I was unable to attend on Friday, but was a member of the Convention Staff on both Saturday and Sunday.

[quoteright'/>On both of these days, Majel Barrett and Mark Lenard each supplemented their joint morning appearance with an afternoon talk. Their individual appearances were originally scheduled to be one hour in length, but because of the enormous amount of information Majel brought for presentation, the schedule was juggled to give her two hours each day. The subject of her individual session was the new TV series that her husband, Gene Roddenberry ("The Great Bird of the Galaxy"), is producing for Paramount Studios.

She opened her session by showing some of the "bloopers" from the original series which, she noted, has elicited laughter from every audience she has shown it to, from engineers, doctors, and college professors to janitors, garbage collectors, and construction workers, except the studio and network executives.

Next, she demonstrated some props from the new show (she said she didn't know how they let her get away with them, but she wasn't about to complain):

=> A communicator which is about the size of a 20th century door key. It is actually worn on the uniform as part of the Starfleet insignia and is activated simply by touching it.

=> Two different models of phaser (hand and pistol). There is also a phaser rifle but this is rarely seen or used. (Of course, the Enterprise still has its own phaser banks and photon torpedoes.)

=> A tricorder. When closed, it looks much the same as the old one, but at the touch of a button an internal motor opens it to reveal a completely redesigned instrument.

After reading excerpts from the Writer/Director's Guide and other materials she brought, supplemented by her own personal knowledge, she showed slides made by a "stills" photographer who was on the set for one day each week during the shooting of the first three episodes. As each picture appeared on the screen, she pointed out the major characters, new sets, props, other interesting people, etc.

Finally, before opening the floor for questions, she showed two video tapes: excerpts from Entertainment Tonight's coverage of the new show and Paramount's promotional tape.

Through her own business, Lincoln Enterprises, she also brought numbered copies of the Writer/Director's Guide for the new series, to be sold in the Dealer's Room. For some of the time that she was not actually on stage or signing autographs, Majel was at the Lincoln table in the Dealer's Room talking with her fans and autographing copies of the Guide. Some of the information in this article is taken from the Guide, but much of it comes directly from Majel's talk and does not appear in the Guide.

The Show

The title of the new show will be Star Trek: The Next Generation, usually abbreviated ST:TNG, and Gene Roddenberry will again be the executive producer. He didn't want to get involved with it at first, but rather than let Paramount do to it what they were planning, he decided to take control. Special effects will be done by Industrial Light and Magic, George (Star Wars) Lucas' outfit in Mill Valley, California. Paramount put the special effects contract up for bid and I.L.M., wanting to do all 24 episodes and the two-hour opener, succeeded in submitting the low bid. Each one-hour episode is budgeted for $1.3 million.

The show will not be available to any of the networks; instead, it is being sold only to individual TV stations. Gene has vowed that if any of the networks get their hands on it, he will have nothing to do with it! As of the date of the convention, it had been sold in over 170 markets. Approximately 18 NBC affiliates, 20+ CBS affiliates, and 25 ABC affiliates have elected to run ST:TNG instead of a regular network show. The first episode is scheduled to air on the 3rd of October. Contact whatever station in your area is currently airing the reruns of the '66 - '69 episodes to see if they will be carrying the new show or know what station(s) will be carrying it. (Majel said she believes that Channels 11 and 44 will be the ones to watch in the San Francisco Bay Area.) Petition your local network affiliates to run ST:TNG.

It will not be broadcast in stereo, at least during the first season, but will be closed-captioned.

There are no plans to release any episodes on video cassette. As Majel said, "Why bother? People are going to record them themselves anyway."

A side note: Star Trek IV is scheduled for release on video cassette on 30 September for $29.95. Majel did not know of any plans to release it on compact disc.

Background Information

The "time" of the show is the early 24th century, specifically 78 years after Kirk and Spock. The crew of the original Enterprise is, of course, gone; they are now legends throughout the Federation and beyond. In response to questions from the audience, Majel speculated that Spock and maybe even Sarek, being Vulcans and therefore longer-lived than humans, may still be alive somewhere in the galaxy, but who knows where? There are no plans to include either one in any first-season episodes; Paramount will not buy any scripts about any of the original crew or any of their descendants, although there may be a passing reference to "The Great Admiral Kirk," or something like that. I suspect they won't consider flashbacks, either. There is no need to — we have a whole new crew to spin tales around. Also, as the Guide points out, only 4% of the galaxy had been charted during the Kirk years; far less had been actually explored. That 4% comprised about 11 billion stars and planetary systems and actual exploration would have required visits to every one. In the slightly more than three quarters of a century since then, only another 15% has been charted, giving us more than 52 billion solar systems in which to find Star Trek stories.

Hardware and Technology

We will be seeing a completely new U.S.S. Enterprise. Her hull number will be NCC-1701-D (Kirk's Enterprise was NCC-1701); therefore, she will be the fifth ship to have borne that name. She will be the first ship of the new Galaxy Class of starships. This class has the same general shape as the Constitution Class of Kirk's era; i.e., there will be a main engineering hull with both impulse power & the twin warp drive nacelles (the "primary hull") and the detachable lenticular command module containing the crew's living quarters and main bridge and having impulse power only (the "secondary hull"). Despite the similarities, however, it will be obvious that this is a much more advanced vessel.

The technology of the 24th century has made it possible for the quality of life to be improved by several orders of magnitude. Gone are the austere utilitarianism and stark military gray of Kirk's Enterprise. The sharp angles have been replaced by more graceful curves; crew quarters will be more spacious and homey; more plants and less plumbing will be seen in the regular corridors. Of course, there will still be the service corridors, engineering decks, and Jefferies Tubes, in which we will be able to see how the ship itself operates, its internal "nervous system."  There will even be bathrooms!

There will be two bridges. One will be at the top of the secondary hull (as before) and will be used during routine underway cruising conditions; the other will be down inside the primary hull and will be used during battle conditions ("red alert").

Neither bridge will have the plethora of buttons and controls we are used to seeing. Instead, the main ship's computer will be performing most of these functions either automatically or under voice command. Throughout the ship there will be a number of black wall panels which the computer will convert to information displays or work stations when it hears the command, "Show me ...". When necessary, the workstation displays will include appropriate "buttons" which are "activated" simply by touching the screen where they appear.

The computer will continually monitor the location of each crew member and will be able to refuse a command to display certain information if a crew member is present who does not have the proper security clearance for the requested information. It will also be able to open a communications link on request between any two people.

The computer has a pleasant female voice which it uses in conversations or when commanded, "Tell me ...".

The overall dimensions of the ship will be doubled, providing eight times the interior volume as before. Some of this space will be used for "holodecks," spaces in which the ship's computer will be able to reproduce, authentically and in microscopic detail, whatever recreational environment a person wishes — from Polynesian beaches to Alpine ski resorts to Vulcan desert to a low-gravity midair-gymnastics competition area — not just as an image, but as a 3-dimensional tangible environment complete with odors, sounds, weather, etc.

Starship duty is now for 20 or more years rather than the old 5-year missions; crew members will have their entire families on board, so we will be seeing their spouses and children and fewer uniforms. There will be living space on the new Enterprise for 1,012 persons (NCC-1701 had simple cabins for a crew of just over 500), although for evacuation purposes, she can actually carry more than ten times that number.

The Crew

In command of the new Enterprise will be Captain Jean-Luc Picard who will be played by an English actor, Patrick Stewart. (Note: The Guide does not provide the names of the people playing the parts; this information was given verbally by Majel during her talk. If I misspell any names, I hereby plead unfamiliarity and humbly apologize.) Picard is in his low fifties, is in excellent physical condition, and has just completed an incredible 22-year deep-space mission commanding the U.S.S. Stargazer.

Picard's second-in-command is the ship's Executive Officer, Commander William Riker, whom Gene, over Majel's strong objections, has decreed will be addressed as "Number One" by members of the crew, but never by outsiders. Picard, in private, will sometimes address him as "William"; female friends like to call him "Bill." Riker is about 20 years Picard's junior and will be played by Jonathan Frakes, another English actor.

Paramount and Gene have finally acknowledged that the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of a man who has risen to command a starship is far too precious for him to lead every landing party, especially to dangerous and/or hostile planets, as the writers constantly had Kirk doing. Instead, the initial contact(s) with a new planet and/or civilization will be made by the "away" team, as the landing party is now called. This team will be led by Cdr. Riker. Only when it has been determined that it is safe for him to do so will Picard himself leave the ship.

Lieutenant Commander Data (rhymes with that-a), played by Brent Spiner, will be second-in-command of the away team. He is an android, but so near human that he tested out as alive when he applied for a Starfleet commission. His favorite story is Pinocchio and, like the marionette, he has a dream of one day becoming human.

Lieutenant Deanna Troi (rhymes with boy) serves as the starship's Counselor and is a master Human and Alien Psychologist. Like Spock, she is half human, but unlike Spock, her other half is not Vulcan. The Guide says that her mother was a Betazed (pronounced bay'-tuh-zed') alien and that she has inherited a form of telepathic ability enabling her to "feel" the emotions of others. The most noticeable physical characteristic of a Betazoid (what an individual member of the race is called) is a pair of eyes about twice human size. Deanna's telepathic abilities are stronger when her mother, played by Majel Barrett, is present. Deanna is played by Marina Sirtis.

Lieutenant Natasha "Tasha" Yar is the starship's Security Chief. She will be played by Denise Crosby, Bing's granddaughter" Born on "a failed Earth colony of renegades and other undesirables," she is particularly suited to her job through the street fighting she learned in her youth and the feeling of gratitude, to the point of worship, she feels toward Starfleet for rescuing her from it.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Geordi LaForge will be played by Lavar (Roots) Burton. He is racially black and, as the result of a birth defect, blind. He does, however, wear a prosthesis, much like the special goggles Spock wore when looking at the Medusan ambassador. With these artificial "eyes," he can detect electromagnetic radiation ranging from low infrared through "visible" light all the way up to high ultraviolet. Depending on how Geordie wears his prosthesis, he can "see" straight ahead, straight up, behind him, etc. It allows him to perform some of the functions of a tricorder. He is involved with the starship's school and must deal with children jealous of his greater ocular ability. On occasion, we will be allowed to see his eyes, which will be almost totally white, and later he will get a pair of fully functional substitute human eyes that prove to be quite a disappointment to him.

Doctor Beverly Crusher, the Chief Medical Officer, is played by [Cheryl'/> Gates McFadden. Jack Crusher, Beverly's husband, served under Picard aboard the Stargazer. It was Picard's orders that sent him on the mission on which he was killed, and it was Picard who had to deliver his body to his widow. Picard was not responsible for the fatal accident; nevertheless, Dr. Crusher has never quite been able to forgive him for her husband's death. Future episodes will develop a romance between them, however.

Wesley "Wes" Crusher, Dr. Crusher's teenaged son, is played by Wil Wheaton. He displays his parents' genius in not only being able to understand how the various systems aboard the Enterprise are put together, but also in visualizing the possibilities in assembling those same components in new and different ways.  In recognition of his talents, he will be appointed by Picard to acting Ensign in Starship Operations in a later episode. He is a little less than 5 feet tall.

Worf, a character not listed in the current edition of the Guide, is a Klingon. Gene has always felt that the Klingons and the Romulans were not being given a fair shake — after all, there is no such thing as a totally evil race. No matter how bad they are, there's still some good down in there somewhere; all you need to do is dig (and dig and dig and ... ).In the 24th century, the Klingons and Romulans have become "friends" of the Federation. Not friendly, mind you; just friends.

The first name of the actor taking this part is Michael, but alas, Majel couldn't remember his last name (he was a teacher on Room 222) [Ed. Note 2010:  the part of Worf was played by Michael Dorn'/>. Probably, I suspect, because the other members of the show's cast and crew have taken to calling him by the name of his character, Worf, rather than by his name. Unfortunately for Michael, however, they have also taken to pronouncing it very quickly and in a pseudo-falsetto, making it sound like the bark of a small dog. "Worf, come here." "Worf Worf." "Good boy, Worf." So Star Trek has (sort of) a dog.

There is a camaraderie among the actors, actresses, directors, and crew doing this show just as there was among Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly, Nichols, Doohan, Koenig, Takei, Coon, Compton, Justman, Feinberg, and all the others. When you walk on the set you can feel the electricity, the excitement. As someone whose name I didn't catch said to Bob Justman, "It's all happening again!"

Black Hats

Just before Majel left home for San José, Gene gave her some additional information on the new show's villains, the Ferengi (pronounce the G as in greed). These folks are worse than the Klingons and Romulans combined, but in a different way. Majel described their value system by saying that a Ferengi's opinion of a friend would be considerably lowered if that friend invited the Ferengi in question to dinner and did not present a bill for at least the correct value of the food and service, but that Ferengi's opinion would be raised if the bill were too high. They believe in fair dealing, but their idea of what is fair is far different from ours; indeed, they often think us stupid and foolish for our value system.

Physically, they have ears that stick straight out from the sides of their more or less spherical heads; the artist's renditions of their heads that Majel brought reminded me a little of a pinkish Yoda.

What Else is Different?

Other things have changed, too, although some only subtly. Each show will now begin with the following voiceover (strikeouts indicate the changes):

These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise — its her five year continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man one has gone before.

Sickbay, like the bridge, has seen the results of the new technology. The medical scanners now display their information alphanumerically on wall panels via the ship's computer instead of the old analog indicator panels above each diagnostic bed. The set designers and decorators at Paramount had a little fun with these: the last line of the display reads, "Amount of Insurance Coverage Remaining. . . . . . . . . . $____.__".

Stardates now have five digits to the left of the decimal point and will always begin 41xxx. The first digit is the century (24th) and the second digit is the season (1st). Majel didn't know what they plan to do when they begin their tenth season. The next three digits (000 through 999) will be a rough indicator of how far into the season a particular episode airs. The single digit after the decimal point will usually be a day counter.

Turbolifts can now travel horizontally as well as vertically.

The shuttlecraft bay is now at the rear of the secondary hull instead of at the rear of the primary hull.

The First Five Episodes

The first five episodes will be:
  1. Encounter at Farpoint (2 hours) written by Dorothy C. Fontana, directed by Corey Allen
  2. The Naked Now also written by Dorothy C. Fontana
  3. Code of Honor  written by Diana Duane
  4. Haven
  5. Where No Man Has Been

Richard (Doomsday Machine) Compton will be another director, although I don't know for which episodes. At the time of Timecon '87, Code of Honor was just being completed and Haven was just beginning to be shot. Gene has polished every one of the episodes so far and plans to continue to do so, although how long he will be able to keep up that pace Majel wasn't sure. Judging from the slides she showed, both the sets and the costumes will be fantastic.

So You Think You're Another David Gerrold or Dorothy C. Fontana?

For those people who want to write scripts: Paramount is NOT buying ANY unsolicited scripts for the first season! Majel admitted that they are desperate for scripts, but didn't know where they are planning to get them. For the second season, Paramount will buy scripts ONLY through RECOGNIZED AGENTS — if you want to sell them a script, have YOUR AGENT present it to them.

Do NOT send ANY material to Paramount, to Lincoln Enterprises, or to any of the stars, directors, stage crew, etc. Not even to the janitor. If an envelope even smells like it contains a script, it will be automatically returned unopened; if, after it is opened, an unsuspected envelope is found to contain a script, the envelope and its contents are immediately turned over, unread, to the legal department which then returns it to the sender with a cover letter.

Before attempting a script, the hopeful writer should first obtain and carefully study the Writer/Director'sGuide.  In addition to a wealth of information about the characters, the ship, and the era, it describes the format of the show & script (teaser and five segments, and their lengths), what has been found that does and does not work, and what sort of stories Paramount will and won't accept. Then stick to the rules. Don't think Starfleet will allow a blatant violation of the Prime Directive, for example, just because your script is absolute dynamite and depends on  that violation to work. You certainly wouldn't stand for it if it were somebody else's script!

Enjoy. Live long and prosper. 

Contributor Profile

Ken Uhland

Master Puzzler Ken Uhland graced the pages of the SFRM Intelligencer with puzzles for over two decades. Ken has worked as a taxi driver and a technical instructor. For many years he coordinated the Mensa volunteers during San Jose's KTEH-TV's PBS Pledge Weeks. Ken passed away in May, 2004, at age 58.




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