Published Dec 26, 2019
The Story Behind 1988’s Trek Holiday Wish List
An interview with Jonathan Frakes from 1988 reveals the impact of the first major line of TNG toys.
By Joe Bergren
“I think we've arrived.”
Five months after the debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation, this is what Jonathan Frakes had to say upon being asked how it feels to have his own action figure. The actor spoke to Entertainment Tonight while making a guest appearance at the American International Toy Fair on February 8th, 1988. With the series having already been picked up for another season, this event solidified for Frakes that they had made it to the big time. Before the new year, let’s take a moment to reflect upon the winter of 1988, one of Star Trek’s most-unique holiday shopping seasons.
“I thought it was wild we were on the back of the Cheerios box, but now to see a little action figure — it's wonderfully absurd,” Frakes told ET at the event. Two months earlier, Frakes could be seen riding on a float in Los Angeles during the Christmas parade. Also, the toy company Galoob was about to unveil a new line of action figures and playsets inspired by The Next Generation.
Frakes took a moment as well to reflect on the beginning of an incredible series of events that led up to that day. The previous year, it took seven auditions over the course of six weeks before he received a congratulatory phone call to inform him he’d landed the role of Commander Riker. “Roddenberry called me directly, which I thought exhibited great class on his part,” Frakes told ET. He added, “It's the best job I've ever had.”
The Toy Fair
The American International Toy Fair is an annual trade show in New York City attended by representatives from companies all over the world. In 1988, other pop culture-inspired toys on display included Alf and Garfield dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, Willow swords, and an L.A. Law board game. On the original end: Bouncin’ Babies, Couch Potato and Flash Ball — an early predecessor to Wii tennis — also made their debut. Later that year, E.T.’s release on VHS would break every home video sales record on this planet and probably E.T.’s, for that matter.
Star Trek toys had been in a purgatory-like state for a number of years preceding this release. Not only did The Next Generation bring the Star Trek universe back to TV, it also ushered in a fresh era of toy lines and merchandise. Alongside a pre-bearded Frakes, David Galoob, CEO of Galoob, unveiled his company’s new toys based off the Star Trek franchise’s first TV spin-off. Galoob stepped up to the podium and elaborated on his company’s new endeavor:
“When we announced that Galoob was going to do the line of Star Trek toys, we literally had thousands and thousands of calls from Trekkies, old and new, wanting to know when the new toys were going to be on the market," he said. "I'm happy to say that in the next two weeks, we'll start actually delivering new Star Trek toys to the retail shelves all over America.”
Grandma Trek herself, Shirley Maiewski, was also hand to share a few words about the occasion. Her speech was followed by Frakes, who remarked that he probably had a few Star Trek questions he should run by her. After commenting on how his action figure resembles President Reagan, Frakes gave the word and a curtain rose, revealing Galoob’s toy line.
The Toy Line
There’s something to be said for toy companies that, for better or worse, decide to hitch themselves to a brand-new TV series that hasn’t even premiered yet. Galoob deserves all of the credit that comes with the risks and courage of going where no toy line had gone before.
Keeping all of that in mind, history has not been kind to these four-inch action figures, especially the phasers that were permanently molded in their hands. Picard, Riker, Data, Worf and Geordi encompassed the first year’s lineup. And even though Denise Crosby would film her last episode as a regular cast member that same month, Tasha Yar was also featured among the toy line. Frakes predicted that one character in particular was destined to be the standout.
“I think the kids will fight to be Data,” Frakes explained to ET, with a smile. “So, they'll get stuck playing with Riker if Data is already taken.”
To accompany the Next Generation crew, more characters were added to the action figure lineup that August, including an Antican, a Ferengi and a Selay — along with Q, whose costume is instantly recognizable as his wardrobe from “Encounter at Farpoint,” even if the colors are a bit off. In addition to the dolls, Galoob was also promoting its Flying U.S.S. Enterprise Starship — a frisbee shaped liked the NCC-1701-D, as well as a four-foot long inflatable Enterprise (neither of these items was ever officially released).
By 1989, soft sales numbers led Galoob to cancel production on the next toy line in development and the company’s brief stint in Roddenberry’s universe came to an end. Playmates took over the Star Trek license and their 90s toys would become fan favorites. Overall, the consensus seems to be that Galoob’s offerings left a lot of be desired. The company’s limited resources and tight schedule proved to be too much in the face of creating toys for a TV series that hadn’t established itself yet. The final results were underwhelming — understandably so.
And not for nothing, but some amateur web sleuthing will reveal that Riker and Data’s action figures now hover around the same price more than 30 years later.
Joe Bergren (he/him) is a writer and media coordinator for ET Live. His interests include "Star" related franchises and retro celebrity scandals, as well as niche subjects like his very cool dog.