Star Trek: The Next Generation is thirty years old, and in a new interview with StarTrek.com, Rick Berman spoke about the successor to the original series; including the lead up to the debut and actors who tried out for but didn’t get roles on the show.
Before the premiere, there was some worry that the show would not be received well. “We had three strikes against us,” said Berman. “We were a science-fiction show, which was not at all popular at that time. We were a sequel to another TV show, which had never been successful at the time. We were going to be syndicated, as opposed to on a network, which was unheard of unless you were a cooking show or something.
“So, everybody was a little nervous whether this was going to work as a syndicated sequel to a sci-fi show. That was one side of the coin. The other side of the coin was we had a product that we were extremely pleased with. Gene, myself, Bob Justman, all the people who were involved with the show at that time felt that we had a pretty terrific cast and a great pilot. I think everybody was guardedly optimistic, and I was amongst them.”
Other actors were considered for various roles on The Next Generation, including (among others) Stephen Macht, Tim Russ, and Billy Campbell. “Well, the runner up for Picard was an actor named Stephen Macht,” said Berman. “He was a lovely, lovely man and a really good actor…but the role of Picard was never offered to anyone other than Patrick.”
Another familiar Trek name was in the running for Geordi La Forge. “Tim Russ was definitely one of the top runners-up,” said Berman. “On the other hand, LeVar, he was the most famous of all of our actors because of Roots. … LeVar was our first choice.”
Jonathan Frakes, on the other hand, was a second choice for the role of Riker. “The only role where we had an actor that was our first choice and we were turned down by the studio was Riker,” said Berman. “The actor was…the fellow that played the Rocketeer [Billy Campbell]. He came in, and we had him read for the same people, Pike and the other studio executives. They thought this was not a person you’d necessarily follow into battle. They didn’t reject him one hundred percent, but they wanted to see others, and our second choice was Jonathan Frakes. Everybody loved him, and that was that.”