Sunday, 3 July 2016

Shatner's Genesis of The Next Generation

It's been available for a while (like two years) however I managed to see Chaos on the Bridge this week.

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this hour long documentary hosted by William Shatner and I'm not convinced it delivered what I wanted.

Y'see the story of the creation of The Next Generation is pretty well documented and has been since 1987 (so that's 29 years ago) and there couldn't be that much extra to tell about its arrival on the screen.

Shatner takes us back to 1986 and a fandom crying out for new Star Trek. While its genesis might seem straight-forward on paper, the former Captain Kirk manages to talks to key individuals from the time to find out just what went on and how easy that process from idea to Encounter at Farpoint and through to the end of the second season in 1989 actually was.

While Shatner cannot talk to the late Gene Roddenberry he still gets to discuss those early days with studio head Les Moonves as well as Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Diana Muldaur, Gates McFadden as well as writers DC Fontana, Ronald D Moore and Brannon Braga, Gene's assistant Susan Sackett plus - and perhaps most interestingly - the late Maurice Hurley among many, many others.

Those first two years are key to understanding the nature of The Next Generation beast if you will and Shatner returns to those times, showing how Roddenberry initially played a very dangerous game with Paramount to get what he wanted while the studio in turn were seeing who would blink first to get what they wanted from the series.

Certainly a fun time had by all but once that dust settled, we get to see how it looked like Roddenberry was simply making a fourth season of The Original Series replete with writers from the original show including Fontana and David Gerrold. 

What becomes apparent straight away is how Roddenberry was disliked for his control over the show but even worse than that was his lawyer, Leonard Maizlish. Listening to the interviews you get the impression that Maizlish was literally pulling the strings, making corrections to episodes and manipulating the ailing Roddenberry who would pass away only a few years later in 1991. You can tell from the way that anyone involved speaks of him just how much his presence was tolerated but not liked or appreciated in any respect.

So the first season tootled along without any conflict, any differences within the stories in a "perfect" universe where the writers really did struggle to write interesting adventures because of the restrictions Gene had imposed on his creation while also continuing to apparently butcher scripts from seasoned and experienced writers. 

However, the best and most insightful notes on The Next Generation come from the late Maurice Hurley. A man tasked with running the show as Roddenberry's hold became more slack, it looks like he was dropped in over the heads of more experienced writers who could have taken the reins and steered the ship more firmly in those initial seasons. Notoriously that first season saw the exit of many a seasoned Star Trek writer as they found they couldn't work under the horrendous pressures and conditions that were being imposed from above. 

Co-Executive Producer Hurley was also hit with running the second year after a writers' strike that nearly killed the show and reduced the season by four episodes but his inexperience with science fiction TV showed through and he wouldn't return for season three. Instead Michael Piller would arrive to turn the show from "adventure of the week" into a series which would focus on its main characters and the dilemmas that faced them. Of course Hurley would be responsible for the creation of the Borg although his intentions for the season finale would never come to pass - wonder how the Borg second season closer would have been different to that of Piller's The Best of Both Worlds...?

Shatner's onscreen involvement in Chaos on the Bridge is satisfyingly kept to a minimum which comes as a refreshing surprise considering how he can be represented sometimes. Leaving the bulk of the story to be told by the cast and behind the scenes crew makes this more more involving and personal allowing each individual the time to express their own memories of the events that led to the show and its evolution at the beginning of that very different third season.

The documentary is very interesting and the addition of the cartoon style graphics to represent the events of the day is a really cool tool that works ever so well all the way through. It does allow for some stereotyping and the portrayal of certain individuals in a less than positive light visually as well as through the recounting of what occurred back in the day but on the whole it's a good and well-paced story that does seem to flash past in only a few minutes.

A lot of the events have been told many times before but actually hearing the words, especially from the late Maurice Hurley, is very interesting and fills out the story. If you've not seen this then make it a priority as you'll find it very entertaining and certainly fascinating when it comes to the face off before launch. Honestly though there wasn't that much chaos on the bridge, it was more Battlefield Behind the Scenes.

Chaos on the Bridge is available now on Netflix.

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