Today we are winding up our “I Robot” blog series. We began our journey with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, an outer space drama that was not that successful. Today we are at the other end of the universe spectrum, discussing Star Trek: The Next Generation. You will be very familiar with this show if you were a teen or young adult in the late eighties and early nineties or if you were a devoted fan of The Big Bang Theory.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, brought Star Trek: The Next Generation to the small screen two decades later; this show would stay on the air for seven seasons, producing 178 episodes. The series is set in the 24th century; the original show was set in the 23rd. Earth belongs to the United Federation of Planets, and this show features a Starfleet ship, the USS Enterprise, as it explores the Milky Way.
Roddenberry served as executive producer, as did Maurice Hurley, Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Jen Taylor. The show focuses on the mission and the personal lives of the crew members: Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Worf (Michael Dorn), Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and our major concern today, Data (Brent Spiner).
The show was very popular, and by its fifth season, reached 12 million viewers. The show would go on to spur other Star Trek series and movies, as well as novels and comic books.
Critics also liked the show, and it received 19 Emmy Awards and a Peabody. In 1994 it became the first syndication show to be nominated for an Outstanding Drama Series Emmy.
The theme was also a nod to the original series, combining Alexander Courage’s original piece with Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture released in 1979.
In an unusual deal, Paramount decided to broadcast the show in first-run syndication on independent networks. As a “barter syndication,” the show was offered to local stations for free. The station got five minutes of commercial time to sell to local businesses, and Paramount sold seven minutes to national advertisers. Stations had to agree to purchase reruns in the future, and only those stations that participated in this deal were able to purchase reruns of the original series which was still extremely popular.
Some sites stated that Paramount received $1 million for advertising for every episode; by 1992 the studio received $90 million a year and the episodes cost $2 million each to produce.
The show debuted in 1987. The first season did not start off so well. The show had a $1.3 million per episode budget. The staff had a lot of creative freedom, but many of the writers had disagreements with Roddenberry and left the show. They felt that Roddenberry was too strict with the themes and the characterizations. It’s hard to argue with his vision too much because it won several Emmys and was extremely popular.
Season two brought some critical changes to the series. Beverly Crusher was replaced by Chief Medical Officer Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur). Whoopi Goldberg guest starred in her first episode. The plots were more sophisticated and there were some comic elements sprinkled throughout the drama.
Personnel changes were made for season three. Head writer Hurley was let go. Roddenberry suffered from some health issues which necessitated his stepping back and Berman took over more production chores. Season four had eight episodes nominated for Emmys. The episode “Family” was the only one that did not feature Data. Crusher left the show in season four as well.
Roddenberry passed away during season five. During season six, astronaut Mae Jemison came on board as Lt. Palmer, and Stephen Hawking appeared in the season six cliffhanger.
The final season introduced themes that would carry into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. The finale of the show was filmed in Toronto where thousands of people watched in person.
The cast was surprised that the seventh season was the last one, because they had contracted for eight seasons. Paramount wanted to make several films and felt that the movies would be less successful if the television show was still airing. The cast must have been close because they claimed to be life-long friends, and in 1992 when Burton married, Spiner was best man and Stewart, Frakes, and Dorn were ushers.
Data was an android who served as lieutenant commander. Data’s perspective on humanity was similar to Spock’s in the original show. Spiner would also be cast as Data in 2020 in Picard. Data was found by Starfleet in 2338. He was the sole survivor on Omicron Theta in the rubble of a colony left after an attack from the Crystalline Entity.
Dr. Noonian Soong built Data on Omicron Theta. He had an evil twin, (who doesn’t have one on television?), named Lore. Eventually, Data dismantled Lore. One resource I read said that Data was destroyed during the Enterprise E’s battle with the Scimitar in 2378. I have to take their word for that because my Star Trek trivia is not advanced enough to confirm or deny it.
In 1974 Roddenberry created a project for television called The Questor Tapes. The show centered around an android who was studying humanity. When The Next Generation was proposed, Roddenberry reinvented this android and combined it with Xon, the curious Vulcan from Star Trek: Phase II and came up with Data. However, Spiner said he modeled Data after Disney’s Pinocchio.
Fun fact, since we started with Buck Rogers in this month’s blog, Data has a positronic brain—in 1981, Buck Rogers used this same term in one of their episodes. They both were honoring Isaac Asimov who first used the term in his story “Runaround” in 1942.
According to Spiner, Data was pronounced “dat-uh” but Stewart, being British, said “day-tah.” On the show Data has a pet cat named Spot. Spiner was not fond of that idea because he was not a cat fan at all.
Data was supposed to be the Chief Science Officer, the same position Spock had on the original show. The uniform for that position was blue. Unfortunately, the blue clashed with his make-up. He was transferred to the Chief Operations Officer with a gold uniform. I never really understood why the Chief Science Officer could not wear a gold uniform. This was a new generation and I did not think that there were other shows from that century that made it impossible to portray that officer in gold? I mean, sports teams change their colors from time to time. However, if I am missing something, please feel free to enlighten me.
Obviously, comparing Buck Rogers to Star Trek: The Next Generation, it is easy to see why the Next Generation was on the air so much longer and attracted so many more fans.
Data was a fun character. While he can blink and age, we are reminded that he is not human. His duties with the crew included navigation and systems control. Because androids don’t sleep, he was able to take the night shift. Data was interested in literature and the humanities. He likes mysteries. Like Spock, with his lack of emotions, love is very hard, if not impossible, for him. He does make many friends though. He can’t get sick which is convenient if the rest of the crew is affected, but computer viruses can damage him. While he can process data in a millisecond, his inability to read human emotions is troubling for him. Although he does feel a bit arrogant; as he said “I am superior, sir, but I would gladly give it up to be human.” I can’t argue with his claim of superiority when I look around at some of the things humans have been doing the past three or four years.
If I had to go through life with a robot, based on the four we discussed this month, Data would definitely be my choice. I hope you had fun with this series.