Wednesday, February 8, 2023

What Could Have Been

Recently this 1987 internal memo from Paramount began making its way around the internet, listing the studio's various casting ideas for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I knew about some of these, as I've been reading behind the scenes info on TNG for decades now. Others were news to me, and pretty surprising. It would have been a VERY different show indeed if some of these casting choices had come to pass!

One other surprising thing I noticed about this memo— it's dated April 13, 1987. The series premiered on September 28th of the same year. That means they to cast all the roles, get everyone and everything in place and shoot the pilot in just six short months! Seems like they were cutting it pretty close!

Anyway, let's run through the memo and take a closer look at the potential casting.

Top row, left to right: Patrick Stewart, Mitch Ryan, Roy Thinnes. Bottom row, left to right: Yaphet Kotto, Patrick Bauchau.

Patrick Stewart of course won the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but it wasn't easy. The TNG producers all thought he was a phenomenal actor and wanted him for the part, but Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry outright rejected him. 
His reason? Stewart's lack of hair (!). Roddenberry believed that by the 24th Century we'd have figured out a cure for baldness, and didn't want a chrome-domed captain on the Bridge (this was particularly ironic, as William Shatner famously wore a toupee as Captain Kirk in The Original Series)!

Roddenberry also wasn't thrilled with Stewart's age, as he wanted a younger Kirk-like hero. He was just 47 at the time, so I honestly don't know what Roddenberry was squawking about.

Fortunately, Stewart was in appearing in a play in LA around that time, and the producers pressured Roddenberry into checking him out. Impressed with his talents, he finally relented and cast Stewart.

Ah, but Roddenberry wasn't done yet! He insisted that Stewart wear a toupee, as well as speak his lines in a thick French accent. Supposedly this caused him to look and sound ridiculous, and Roddenberry eventually relented and ordered him to lose the wig and 
use his own British accent— and the rest is TV history.

As for the other contenders, Mitch Ryan is a prolific character actor who's been in tons of movies and TV shows. As an alum of Dark Shadows, he was already familiar to genre fans. He'd have made a quite different, but adequate, Picard.

Roy Thinnes is probably best known for starring in the 1960s sci-fi series The Invaders, which is likely why he was considered. I feel like he'd have been a distant an unemotional captain.

Yaphet Kotto would have been an interesting choice. The media went crazy in the early 1990s when Avery Brooks was cast as Captain Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, so it's interesting to see that the producers were considering casting a black actor as captain several years earlier. Kotto's Picard would have been intense to say the least.

Patrick Bauchau is a Belgian actor, who rose to fame as a Bond villain in A View To A Kill. I'm not really familiar with his work or don't know if he'd have been a good choice or not.

Top row, left to right: Michael O'Gorman, Gregg Marx, Jonathan Frakes. Bottom row, left to right: Ben Murphy, Billy Campbell (who's not mentioned in the memo but added by me)

Back in the 1960s, many Star Trek fans complained that it was unrealistic for Captain Kirk to beam down into a potentially dangerous situation each week. Supposedly the TNG producers addressed this concern by adding Commander Will Riker (originally spelled "Ryker") to the crew, to lead hazardous Away Team missions and keep the Captain from harm. Eh, sounds legit.

Michael O'Gorman guest starred on an episode of Miami Vice, and did precious little afterward— apparently retiring from show biz in 1991. In fact it was tough to even find a pic of him! I'm totally unfamiliar with his work, so I have no idea if he'd have made a decent Riker.

Gregg Marx was a soap veteran, starring on Days Of Our Lives and As The World Turns. Again, never seen the guy.

Jonathan Frakes got the job of course. He'd been guesting on numerous TV series, and rose to prominence in the North & South miniseries.

Ben Murphy also starred in numerous TV series, such as The Name Of The Game, Alias Smith & Jones and short-lived sci-fi series Gemini Man. He'd likely have been fine in the role.

Billy Campbell is a prolific actor who's probably best known for playing Cliff Secord in The Rocketeer. Supposedly Campbell came very close to beating out Frakes for the part of Riker.

I'm gonna go out on an unpopular limb here and say I'd have much preferred Campbell in the role. I never quite warmed up to Frakes, as he had an air of smugness and arrogance that rubbed me the wrong way. 

Campbell on the other hand had a natural charisma the character desperately needed, and would have given Riker a devilish charm— much like Han Solo. Too bad he didn't get the gig.

Campbell did  end up with a small consolation prize though, as he guest starred in the TNG episode The Outrageous Okana.

Deanna Troi
Left to right: Denise Crosby, Susan Gibney (
(who's not mentioned in the memo but added by me).

No, I didn't make a mistake here— I really meant Troi here. Denise Crosby was originally one the very few contenders for the role of everyone's favorite Betazoid empath.

I wonder if this was in the days when Roddenberry saw the Troi character as "a four breasted hermaphrodite with empathic powers?" Yeah, he really said that. Roddenberry was quite a piece of work, and if he was still alive today there's no doubt in my mind that he'd have been Me-Tooed into oblivion.

Susan Gibney was also briefly considered for Troi. She didn't get the part obviously, but was eventually thrown a bone and cast as Leah Brahms, Geordi's love interest in Booby Trap and Galaxy's Child. Gibney also guested on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and was even up for the role of Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager!

Of course the role of Troi ultimately went to Marina Sirtis— more on that below.

Tasha Yar
Top, row, left to right: Lianne Langland, Julia Nickson, Rosalind Chao. Bottom row, left to right: Leah Ayers and Bunty Bailey.

I'm gonna save myself some typing here and state that with the exception of Rosalind Chao I know nothing about any of these actresses, and have no idea if they'd been OK in the role or not.

Roddenberry had apparently seen ALIENS in 1986, and was enamored with the character of Vasquez— a tough talkin' female Colonial Marine played by Jenette Goldstein. So he just copy and pasted her into Enterprise-D Security Chief Macha Hernandez. He even wanted Goldstein to play the part! 

After producers pointed out to Roddenberry that Goldstein was Jewish and not a Latina, he changed the ethnicity of the character, and began looking at other actresses.

Lianne Langland starred in a handful of TV movies in the 1980s and hasn't done anything of note since.

Singaporean actress Julia Nickson got her big break in Rambo: First Blood Part II, and went on to star in numerous other TV and movie roles. Despite the fact that she didn't get the Tasha Yar part, she's no stranger to Trekdom. She had small parts in the TNG episode The Arsenal Of Freedom and DS9's Paradise.

Rosalind Chao got her big break playing Soon-Ye, Klinger's girlfriend and eventual wife on M*A*S*H. She's since guested on dozens of TV shows and such films as The Joy Luck Club, What Dreams May Come and the live action Mulan. Chao was actually the frontrunner for Yar, but eventually lost out. It wasn't all bad news for her though, as she was later cast as Keiko O'Brien on both TNG and DS9. She'd have made an interesting Yar.

Leah Ayers guest starred in numerous TV shows throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including Fantasy Island, The A-Team and 21 Jump Street.

Bunty Bailey was "The Girl" in the A-Ha video Take On Me, and did precious little else afterward.

Eventually Marina Sirtis auditioned for Yar and got the part. Then at the last minute Roddenberry took a look at Sirtis and Denise Crosby, realized he'd cast them in the wrong roles and swapped their parts!

Geordi LaForge
Top row, left to right: LeVar Burton, Reggie Jackson, Time Russ, Wesley Snipes. Bottom row, left to right" Victor Love, Chip McCallister (actual spelling "McAllister"), Clarence Gillyard Jr., Kevin Peter Hall

While the other characters all had reasonably diverse casting choices, it looks like the producers were dead set on Geordi being black!

LeVar Burton of course famously ended up with the gig. At the time the show premiered he was the biggest name in the cast, having become a literal overnight success after his role as Kunta Kinte in the 1977 Roots TV miniseries.

Amazingly the producers actually considered Reggie Jackson for the role. Yeah, THAT Reggie Jackson— the Major League baseball player. What the hell? Could he even act? I suspect Jackson was an example of stunt casting, since pretty much ALL the other actors were virtual unknowns at the time (even Patrick Stewart!). Most likely once they saw his audition they realized he couldn't emote and wasn't gonna work out.

Tim Russ spent most of the 1980s guest starring on dozens of TV shows. Although he didn't get the part of Geordi, he still became a member of the Trek family. He appeared in the TNG episode Starship Mine, had a bit part in Star Trek: Generations and eventually became Lt. Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager. Being familiar with Russ only as an emotionless Vulcan, it's hard to say if he'd have made a decent Geordi or not.

Wesley Snipes hadn't quite hit it big yet in 1987, and I can't think of anyone LESS suited for the part! Geordi was supposed to be an upbeat, fun-loving character and sort of the Every Man of the crew— qualities that do NOT come to mind when I think of Wesley Snipes. He'd have made an intimidating and terrifying Geordi— one who'd have scared the audience rather than charmed them.

Victor Love was another unknown, whose resume at the time consisted of one appearance on Miami Vice. Never heard of the guy, so I can't attest to his thespian abilities.

Chip McAllister guested on a number of TV shows, including Police Woman, The Paper Chase, Highway To Heaven and The Facts Of Life. Again, not familiar with his work

Clarence Gilyard Jr. was a regular on CHIPs and The Duck Factory before landing a role in Top Gun. He later became Chuck Norris' partner on long-running action series Walker, Texas Ranger. He'd have made an amiable Geordi.

The strangest potential choice for Geordi had to be Kevin Peter Hall. He was famous for his height, clocking in at an impressive 7' 3"! He was the go-to guy to play monsters in the 1980s, much like Doug Jones is today. He played the Bigfoot in Harry And The Hendersons and the titular alien in the first two Predator movies. He ended up guest starring on TNG, playing Layor the Caldonian, a really tall (natch) alien in the episode The Price. Sadly, he died at the much too young age of just 35 in 1991.

Hall would have made a truly bizarre Geordi, as he'd have TOWERED over the rest of the crew— and caused havoc for the poor cameraman who had to fit him into each shot! Geordi already had a gimmick in his futuristic VISOR that allowed him to see. His character didn't need yet another quirk, and it'd have been way too much to have a 7' 3" blind guy looking down at the captain!

Wesley Crusher
J.D. Roth was one of the very few actors considered for the part of Wesley, which ultimately went to Wil Wheaton. Roth was a child star who appeared in numerous TV series, and hosted kids' shows such as Wonderama and Fun House. He eventually had a respectable career as a producer. Never saw any of his work, so I dunno if he'd have made a better Wesley or not.

Left to right: Mark Lindsay Chapman, Eric Menyuk, Kevin Peter Hall, Kelvin Han Yee

Mark Lindsay Chapman guest starred in numerous TV shows such as Dallas, Falcon Crest and Baywatch. He's probably best known for his appearance in The Langoliers TV miniseries. He has a somewhat aloof manner, and probably would have made a pretty good Data.

Eric Menyuk was an unknown at the time, but he impressed the TNG producers so much he actually got the part. It didn't hurt that the original plan was for Data to be bald, which made the follically challenged Menyuk perfect for the role. Unfortunately right after he was hired, Patrick Stewart was cast as Picard. The producers then decided they didn't want two bald characters on the Bridge, so... Menyuk was let go. All because of his hair— or lack of it! What a bum deal! He got a consolation prize though, as he guest starred on TNG as The Traveller in Where No One Has Gone Before and Journey's End.

The producers also briefly considered Kevin Peter Hall as Data. As with his potential casting as Geordi, his height would have been a major distraction here, as a 7' 3" android would have just been too much.

Kelvin Han Yee was an unknown at the time, but went on to star in dozens of movies and TV shows, such as Nash Bridges, The Bold And The Beautiful, 24, The Young And The Restless and Chuck. I don't recall ever seeing him in anything, so I have no idea if he'd have made a good choice or not.

Dr. Beverly Crusher
Left to right: Anne Twomey, Jenny Augutter (actual spelling "Agutter"), Cheryl McFadden

Anne Twomey appeared in a few TV shows, and eventually guested on LA Law, Seinfeld and Spin City. I'm unfamiliar with her work, so I have no opinion one way or the other.

Jenny Agutter made a splash as Jessica in 1976's Logan's Run (where she became my first screen crush), and went on to star in An American Werewolf In London. She's guested in dozens of TV series over the years in America as well as England, and is still currently working. Agutter would have made an AMAZING Doctor Crusher, and I desperately wish she'd have gotten the part. Why they didn't choose her, I have no idea— maybe she wanted too much money or something, I dunno.

The role eventually went to Gates McFadden, who was using her first name of "Cheryl" here. Prior to TNG she worked in a couple soaps, as well as the Jim Henson Company— where she was the choreographer and puppet movement coach on Labyrinth and The Muppets Take Manhattan

Honestly I never really cared much for her in the part, as her Doctor Crusher always seemed cold and aloof. She also had absolutely ZERO chemistry with Patrick Stewart— which is probably why the Picard/Crusher romance went nowhere.

You may have noticed there're no casting choices for Klingon officer Lt. Worf in the memo. That's because originally he wasn't part of the crew. In fact he doesn't even appear in the early publicity photos of the cast!

Supposedly Roddenberry got the idea to add a Klingon crew member at the very last minute, to show that the Federation was now pals with their former enemies.

Originally Worf was intended to be a minor background character on the Bridge, one who was seen and never heard. The writers were intrigued by him though, and began giving him occasional lines. He struck a chord with the audience, and ended up becoming one of the most popular and important characters in Trekdom, starring in all seven seasons of TNG and four of DS9.

So that's a look at the potential casting for The Next Generation crew. At this point it's hard to imagine anyone else in the roles, but who knows? Would any of these other options have been better choices? Eh, you'll have to ask the fans who live in those alternate universes.

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