Nerd School: Star Trek “A Different Generation”

by Joe on May 17, 2011

The characters on Star Trek have become archetypes of the Science Fiction genre. This is in no small part due to the actors who filled those roles and are  now inseparable from their characters. Shatner is Kirk in the same way Nimoy is Spock, or how Montalban is KHAAAAAAAANNN! However in the spirit of examining “could have beens”, this week we are looking at other actor’s who through a twist of fate played the roles of the crew of the Enterprise-D.

A memo from April of 1987 showed just how different “The Next Generation” could have been

Captain Jean Luc Picard eventually went to Patrick Stewart, the man the myth the legend. This man defined the show, and gave serious gravitas to what was essentially a very campy show.

SHUT UP WESLEY!!!

However,  he could have been Mitchell Ryan, probably best known for his roles in Dark Shadows and Dharma and Greg. Ryan was probably a serious contender. Older and almost a poor man’s Charleton Heston, Ryan could have provided the heft that Stewart gave the role, but without the British accent. Ryan did end up cameoing as Will Riker’s father in “The Icarus Factor”

Roy Thinnes,  also may have been a contender for Picard, but in my opinion he was probably a little too creepy for the role. He later went on to gain his geek cred playing  Jeremiah Smith on the X-Files. However Yaphet Kotto would have been amazing casting. Kotto, probably best known for his role as a Kanenga in Live and Let Die, would have given some serious heft to the series, and actually may have given the show a bit of the humor that Stewart may have missed.

Klingons don't scare this motherfucker!

Patrick Bauchau was considered to be the most serious contender for the role of Picard alongside Sterwart. Both men were European and the relative same age, however as much as stewart was a styage actor, Bauchau was a screen actor. My own personal feeling is that Picard’s role as Gurney Halleck was enough to be blessed by the geek gods.

Riker’s (Ryker in the memo) casting in the letter seemed to be in favor of going to Michael O’Gorman, a really unknown actor who I had trouble finding a picture of. I really want to track down something he was in just to see who he was. Gregg Marx was a reaccuring character on “As the world turns” as Tom Hughes, and he hasn’t done much since. He obviously had the pretty boy looks Roddenberry was looking for.

Gene had a thing for the 80's pretty boys

Frakes was already a veteran TV actor who had a lot of cred from North and South, Falcon’s Crest, and a kick ass cameo as cameo as Jamie Lee Hogg on the Dukes of Hazard. In my head he was cast because the show needed more veteran TV actors. He was OK in the role until he grew the Beard.

Ben Murphy was also on the short list for Riker. Another TV veteran, including the lead in Gemini Man, he probably lost out on the role due to his age. But seriously, have you seen Gemini Man? that show was terrible. Also not mentioned on the memo, but often noted in fan circles was William O. Campbell, who starred in one of the worst episodes of Star trek ever

The memo has some interesting notes on Tasha Yar who we all know ended up infamously kicking the bucket in season 1. Just called Tasha in the memo, Lianne Langland, Julia Nickson,  Rosalind Chao (the favorite for the part), Leah Ayers (of Bloodsport fame!), and Bunty Bailey. I find it interesting that Nickson and Chao being on this list showed that the producers may have been thinking of making Yar Asian.  even though in the Star trek Compendium Tasha was originally Macha and Hispanic. Also I love that they considered Bailey for the role even after this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHit-mYTetA

But the story of Yar’s casting is much more famous. The memo states that Denise Crosby who ended up playing Tasha was originally set to play Troi, and Marina Sirtis (who isn’t even mentioned in the memo) was going to play Tasha, but Roddenberry switched them before production.

The casting of Geordi according to the memo features a who’s who of African American actors of the 80’s including favorite for the part Reggie Jackson!

Even After He tried to kill The Queen!

That’s right, Mr. October himself Reggie Jackson. Though the role eventually went to LeVar Burton (famous for his role in Roots), Trek alum Tim Russ was also considered for the part. I also love that Wesley Snipes was also up for the role.

Also up for both the roles of Data and Geordi was Kevin Peter Hall.  Hall, at 7’2″,  did eventually guest on Trek. It is worth noting that Hall, who played the Predator and Harry from Harry and the Hendersons, was one of earliest people to contract HIV from a blood transfusion. Hall died in 1991.

The android Data was also a highly contented role, According to the memo Spiner-fem’ may hev been called Chapman-fems, as Mark Lindsey Chapman (best known as  Anton Arcane in USA’s Swamp Thing) was in the lead for the role. Also up was Eric Menjuk, who went on to play the slightly pedo-ish Traveler, and Kelvin Han Yee (who’s done a shitload of projects, but most recently the reboot of Hawaii Five-O with Trek alum Daniel Dae Kim)

The Space-Milf herself Beverley Crusher went to Gates McFadden (in the memo she was going by Cheryl). She was the clear favorite, but the role could have easily gone to one of my personal crushes Jenny Agutter who played Jessica in oft re-run-on-Encore-during-the-80’s Logan’s Run.

Her son, the infamous, Wesley seemed to be going to J.D. Roth who most people probably know as the current host of The Biggest Loser. Eventually the part went to King of the Internet himself, Will Wheaton.

“I AM KIRRROOOOOOOOKKK!”

Worf was supposed to be a one-off character, A Klingon marine, but as he was developed he soon became a reoccurring character. Michael Dorn eventually wore the headgear, but it could have went to James Avery. Just imagine Uncle Phil in Klingon makeup, that would just look ridiculous……oh wait……

 

Will!

So would TNG have been that different? Well in my own honest opinion I think the casting of Picard was key, as Stewart created one of the most memorable characters in science ficiton. The casting of Crosby as Tasha was also important. Her character was weak and one dimensional. Her departure from the show also freed Worf to become a more integral character, and allowed him to develop. The rest are fairly interchangeable Don’t get me wrong, I love Data and Geordi, and I know a lot of that has to do with the people who played them, but how much of that is due to Spiner and Burton? We may never know.

I personally wouldn’t change TNG in anyway…. (Well maybe less Wesley).

Read Joe’s other articles  An Alternate History of the Doctor, Inn at the Crossroads interview, A Love Letter to Natalie Portman, Failed Star Trek Spinoffs, Thor Primer, Doctor Who Season 6 primer, A Game of Thrones Primer, More

Check Joe’s reviews Game of Thrones S1E2, S1E1, S1E3, S1E4 Doctor Who S6E1, S6E2 S6E3

Ben Murphy

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anthony May 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Wesley Snipes or Reggie Jackson as Geordi? Wow.

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Chris May 17, 2011 at 9:26 pm

You had me at the Naked Gun reference.

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