In September and October, it will be 25 years since “Star Trek: The Next Generation” premiered in first-run syndication on televisions all across the nation from original “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry.
At first, it seemed audiences — especially Trekkies of old — would have a hard time warming up to a bald Capt. Picard, a French man with a British accent, taking on a ship that looked more like a cruise ship. But in time, the series would take its place among Star Trek’s finest, leading to two spinoff shows of its own, four feature films of its own, and stardom for many of its cast.
Yet, Jonathan Frakes, who played Cmdr. William Riker, does have a regret — and it wasn’t that it took him 15 years to finally take on his own commission.
“I looked very, very stiff in those early seasons because I was so intent on living up to the vision that Gene had, and it was not real fun,” Frakes recently told the Los Angeles Times leading up to this fall’s anniversary.
Roddenberry, apparently, had wanted Frakes to play Riker as a hard-nosed Gary Cooper, and not let up from that. That took an exceptional amount of effort from Frakes, who is much more fun in real life, and likes to be a little more relaxed.
Riker finally got to relax when his character discovered the trombone, an instrument Frakes himself has enjoyed since his high school days. And nope, there was no dubbing there when he was playing.
The first outing for Riker and his crew was “Encounter at Farpoint,” the two-hour pilot that not only introduced the new ship and its new crew, but a new nemesis, John de Lancie’s Q.
“I didn’t understand the stakes, I didn’t really understand what we were getting into,” Frakes told Times reporter Geoff Boucher. “I didn’t know at that point the cultural phenomenon that ‘Star Trek’ was. But believe me, I learned pretty quick.”
When TNG premiered, Frakes was 35 years old. Stewart, the crusty older captain, was just 47. LeVar Burton, who played Geordi LaForge, had just turned 30, while Worf’s Michael Dorn was only 34. The youngest of the cast, of course, was Wil Wheaton, who was just 15.
During a recent convention in Calgary, where all the cast was reunited on stage, many of them got a big shock about how much time had truly passed from those days at Farpoint.
“It was a panel at night and they introduced us and there were thousands of people who had gone to Ticketmaster or whatever and bought their tickets, and they were hooting and hollering and shrieking. It was like we were the … Beatles,” Frakes said. “It got very emotional for us. People were telling stories and it was like therapy or a wake, but it was totally upbeat. Wheaton was 13 or 14 back when we started, and when he said he was 40? All of us, that second, went like cod fish” with slack jaws.
To read more of Boucher’s interview with Frakes, check out his full interview here.