September 28, 1987, remains one of the most-important days ever in Star Trek history. It was that evening that the two-hour pilot "Encounter at Farpoint" kicked of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The series did the impossible -- capturing lightning in a bottle -- and set the stage for decades of additional Star Trek entertainment, including Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, the TNG features and the current films, as well as video games and more, including this site.
To celebrate the 28th anniversary of "Encounter at Farpoint," StarTrek.com has assembled some comments, via previous and new StarTrek.com interviews, from the on-camera and behind-the-scenes talent involved in making the pilot a reality.
PATRICK STEWART (Captain Jean-Luc Picard): I had dinner with Gene Roddenberry at the Bel Air Country Club the weekend before we began rehearsal for the pilot. I’d read the pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” by then and my reason for meeting with Gene was to take from him his counsel and his guidelines as to how I should develop this character. All Gene said to me was, “You know the Horatio Hornblower stories?” And I said, “I did, because I read them as a teenager and enjoyed them.” He said, “I am sending some copies around to you. Read them. That’s all you need to know.” (Laughs). Well, I did read one of the Horatio Hornblower stories and I think I got the idea of what Gene was after. In the pilot episode and throughout the first season I was following that path of a rather heroic, romantic leading officer who was on a voyage of discovery. Then, working with the writers, talking to the writers, different aspects of his character, the rather more complex and at times ambivalent aspects of his character began to emerge.
RICK BERMAN (Executive Producer): What I remember most was that Gene did not want a two-hour pilot. The studio insisted, and he finally agreed. The Q story was integrated, and as we all know, created an unforgettable character. Other than that, my strongest memory was watching the new cast we had just assembled, and with fingers crossed, hoping they'd pull it off -- which they did with flying colors.
JOHN De LANCIE (Q): I actually think the judge’s costume was pulled off another show. They did that kind of thing all the time, especially early on. Studios have a bazillion costumes in stock and they’re just redone to fit whatever’s needed on the next show or movie. So I believe that judge’s costume was a cardinal’s outfit from something else.
DOROTHY FONTANA (Co-writer): I was interested when Roddenberry called me to say Paramount was interested in doing a new ST series as an hour show. That was in late 1986. Gene asked me immediately to read all the materials that had been generated on it so far - by David Gerrold, Robert Justman and by him. I was intrigued and drawn into the process by Gene asking me to create a story that would be the pilot for the new series. That bobbled back and forth between being a two-hour or a one-hour with an additional hour of "Previously on STAR TREK" material. I wound up writing an hour and a half script and Roddenberry rewrote it to include all the "Q" material. My story was about Farpoint and the mystery surrounding it.
BRENT SPINER (DATA): I don't remember much about the day, actually, other than how kind and welcoming De (Kelley) was.
MICHAEL BELL (Groppler Zorn): I'd met Corey Allen, the director, early in my career. He was teaching drama and I became a pupil. I’d just come to Hollywood and was starstruck, of course, and studying with him was a no-brainer. Corey eventually became a successful director and he cast me in a couple of theater projects he directed. We struck up a firm friendship. He was one of the few people in Hollywood who was truly loyal to the talent he worked with, and always remembered to call them in for projects if the role was right. He called me in to read for Star Trek, for Q. I read for him and Gene Roddenberry, who reminded me I worked for him before in the Then Came Bronson pilot. After I finished reading, they both asked me to read for Groppler. The rest is Trek history... at least for me. The pilot was predicated on the success of the original, and that was uppermost in my mind. The role of Groppler was carefully etched -- not patently evil, but certainly unprincipled where his general comfort was concerned, and not unlike many past and present politicians. I loved playing against that and Corey allowed the room to discover. However, even if the character was one-dimensional, I’d never have passed. Supporting actors, unlike major stars, do not have the luxury of picking and choosing.
MICHAEL DORN (Worf): After my last audition -- and I had three -- they told all of us, me and two other actors, "Thank you We'll be in touch.” And as I was leaving, the casting assistant asked me to stay behind because they had a VHS of my work that they wanted to return. As I was waiting outside, the director (Corey Allen) came outside and said, "It's going to be nice working with you." That was how I found out (he'd won the role of Worf and would be starting work ASAP on "Encounter at Farpoint"). I wasn't told who the character was or any back story. They got me into makeup and I was on the set the next week. Only later did I have a small meeting with Gene and I asked him what he wanted from the character. He said "Make it your own. Don't listen to or go by anything you've heard in the past." Which was smart on his part. When an actor has the freedom to create his own character's back story and personality, he has an "investment" in the character and so he is more committed to making it great.