By the time Gene Roddenberry passed away due to a blood clot in 1991, the Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation creator had long been enshrined in science fiction’s cannon. Roddenberry’s creative vision had no limits, inspiring Trekkie conventions, fan fiction, and films, and even now, his work made it impossible to see William Shatner and not think, ‘There goes Captain James T. Kirk!’ (Or, similarly, Patrick Stewart and Captain Jean-Luc Picard.)
But according to Shatner, an actor whose vocal cadence still sounds trapped in the 23rd century, not all was well during the second residency aboard the USS Enterprise. A new documentary titled Chaos On The Bridge, was released this month, and Shatner, who directed, wrote, and narrated the film (which is now available for purchase through Vimeo), deep dives into the then controversial reboot of the Star Trek franchise.
Some of this territory has been well-covered, but Shatner had access to seemingly every executive connected to TNG, from Jeffrey Katzenberg to even John Pike (then head of Paramount Network Television), and their candidness is illuminating.
Whenever you bring back a fan favorite, there is bound to be some gossip. During the second season, after Gates McFadden (Doctor Beverly Crusher) had been fired (only to be rehired for season three) and replaced by Diana Muldaur (Doctor Katherine Pulaski), there were numerous awkward moments between the new doctor and the rest of the cast. According to Muldaur, who appeared on the original Star Trek cast in two non-recurring roles, her new shipmates did not have the acting chops she came to expect from her first Enterprise voyage. “It was a vast technical world with just some characters placed in it,” she says in the doc.
The doc’s main digs, though, are reserved for Roddenberry, and how the creator nearly derailed TNG. Roddenberry’s inner circle constantly cycled throughout the set, and their meddling, always on the behalf of Roddenberry, sowed numerous seeds of discord throughout the cast.
During one telling scene, Roddenberry’s longtime lawyer Leonard Maizlish managed to get into a screaming match with Pike during which the ex-chief yelled at Maizlish, “I hope you die.” (One writer went so far as to fantasize about pushing Maizlish out a window.)
Interestingly, the doc reports that Roddenberry had little to no desire to even relaunch the franchise, and only decided to sign on once Paramount prepared to unveil TNG without him. Once he did re-up, Roddenberry’s creativity had lost much of its patina. Claiming he was friends with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Roddenberry insisted on a utopian world, which hamstrung the show’s writers, who struggled to create drama in a 23rd century without greed, jealousy, violence, or any other hook that breeds story arcs. (The ratings, though, did not suffer.)
There are some lighter moments too — for example, Patrick Stewart was not the initial choice for Picard (Yaphet Kotto was the top option), and he only became captain after auditioning with a wig that had been FedEx’d from London to his Los Angeles audition — and Shatner’s documentary patches together the story of a fading legend who, in spite of his efforts, created another cult classic.