Star Trek: The Next Generation – Studio Bosses Were Afraid of Story and Character Arcs

Star Trek: The Next Generation writer Ronald D. Moore has been chatting about the process of writing the series

Star Trek: The Next Generation

In a massive new interview, Outlander and Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore has been looking back on the time he spent writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

One of the more interesting tidbits in Moore’s interview with Collider this week is how he got a job writing for The Next Generation in the first place – by strong-arming a script he’d written onto an unsuspecting set tour guide after his former girlfriend had used her connections to get him there.

“I just decided I was going to give it a shot, and I sat down and wrote an episode and I tucked it under my arm and I brought it with me on the set tour,” he recalled. “I convinced the guy that was giving the set tour, his name was Richard Arnold to read the script. He liked it and gave it to my first agent. Richard was one of Gene Roddenberry’s assistants. So the agent submitted it to the show formally. It sat in the slush pile for about seven months. Then Michael Piller, the late Michael Piller came aboard at the beginning of the third season, looking for materials, started going through the slush pile, found the script, bought it, produced it, asked me to write a second one. I did a second one. Then after that he brought me on staff and I was there for 10 years. It was a very lucky, amazing break that I got. I was very young. I was like 25.”

Moore says it was this incident that opened the gates for the fan community to submit scripts for the series, offering emerging writers like Hannibal‘s Bryan Fuller and Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Jane Espenson their first real breaks in the industry. He also details how the studio controlled the way the writing team set about constructing seasons of TNG, demanding that story and character arcs remain off the board.

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“Well, in Next Gen, you have to remember it was very episodic. This was before the era of television embraced story arcs and character arcs. There was a mandate. The studio was very adamant that it did not want continuity between the episodes because we were a first run syndication show. It went out to straight to the local syndicated stations, and those stations wanted the ability to show them in whatever order they wanted to. They didn’t want to have to get locked into a certain pattern of showing. The studio was frankly afraid that viewers tuned into episode four of a five episode arc and they went, ‘Oh, I missed the first three. Well, screw it. I’m not going to watch any of this.’ So it was a very different mindset. So when we were developing the show, you weren’t doing arcs. At the beginning of the season, we were doing 26 a year, which it sounds crazy now, but we were doing 26 episodes and you would just start keeping, putting up one line things of concepts for an episode on a big board.

“You were mostly looking for a variety of storytelling. You were trying not to do two mysteries in a row. You were trying not to do two Picard stories in a row. You were saying, ‘Okay, we’ll do this Picard. Then we’re going to do a Beverly story. Then we’ll do a Worf story. Then we’ll do another Picard story.’ You were mixing it up in terms of the characters and the style of storytelling. ‘It’s too many time travel episodes this season. Let’s not do that one here. Let’s do that one next year. We’re going to do one Q episode. Okay, we’re going to do one Borg episode.’ It was really about diversity of storytelling and the rhythm, but so that you weren’t doing the same kind of show right in a row.”

It’s important to acknowledge at this point that there are a lot of Star Trek fans who would embrace a return to this kind of storytelling, and who feel that season-long arcs on more recent projects like Discovery and Picard haven’t worked as well as the episodic nature of The Next Generation or The Original Series, with Seth MacFarlane’s successful love letter to Trek, The Orville, arguably helping to support their case with its tendency to lean in a more episodic direction. However, it should also be acknowledged that there a huge number of Trek fans – old and new – who have really enjoyed Discovery and Picard‘s alternative approach.

Though the Trek fandom is currently split on which storytelling choice is preferable, Moore says he really enjoyed CBS All-Access’ recent attempt to explore Jean-Luc Picard’s ongoing journey, decades after he wrote The Next Generation finale ‘All Good Things’.

“I was surprised how emotionally satisfying it was to see Patrick in that role again,” he admitted. “It really made me like, ‘Wow. This is really kind of cool, watching him be Jean-Luc again.’ The same with Brent and Jonathan. It was like, ‘Wow.’ It meant a lot to see them up doing those roles. It was very cool.”

Please consider taking the time to read the entire interview – it’s a big one – after scrolling through this cherry-picked article. Thank you.