Originally airing in 1987, The Next Generation was the first live action Star Trek series since the original, and had a high bar to live up to.
The original series still played on syndication and was incredibly popular throughout the eighties. Normally a syndicated show had a good three years of money making, but Star Trek had been going for nearly twenty.
Paramount was nervous about a show negatively impacting a brand that was considered a priceless asset to the studio, but they also believed it would be possible for lightening to strike twice. Unknown actors would be cheaper to hire than continuing to make films with the original cast. If the new series did well, they would have new episodes to play on syndication as well.
In an interview with Graham Norton, actress Marina Sirtis spoke of how difficult it was to initially win over fans who saw them as trying to replace their heroes. With time, though, the show found its own path and grew its fanbase. Seven seasons and 178 episodes later, TNG paved the way for the sprawling franchise we know and love.
Here are ten fascinating facts about TNG that only the most hardcore fans might know.
10. Stephen Hawking And Star Trek
Stephen Hawking was a long time Star Trek fan. He made a guest appearance in Descent (the 26th episode of the 6th season), becoming the first and only actor to play himself. In this episode Data played poker with the holographic version of the famed scientist.
Over the years, Stephen Hawking played himself in various guest appearances in shows like Futurama and the Big Bang Theory, but TNG was a highlight for him.
Earlier that year, while at Paramount, he asked to tour the TNG set. Hawking spoke about how he requested to sit in the captain's chair, and that it was "rather more comfortable and a lot more powerful" than his wheelchair. He made it clear he would be open to a guest appearance and the writers made it happen. Data actor Brent Spiner has spoken about how filming the scene is one of his favorite memories from TNG.
Hawking remained a lifelong fan of the series. Years later, when J.J. Abrams was directing the second of his Star Trek films, Benedict Cumberbatch was hired to play Khan. This was kept secret, and meant to be a big reveal within the film. Cumberbatch later confessed that while he wasn't meant to tell anyone, he confided who he was secretly playing to Hawking.