That’s Just Crazy Talk: A Picard-less Next Generation?

I’ve had this thought for a while…that maybe, just maybe, Star Trek:  The Next Generation would have been a better series in the long term if the events of The Best of Both Worlds had resulted in Will Riker permanently becoming commanding officer of the Enterprise. 

What?!  That’s just crazy talk!

I know, I know.  I wasn’t even the biggest fan of Riker back at the time the show was originally on, and I probably would have been unhappy back in 1990 had this taken place, but I’m not thinking this because Riker was so awesome and Picard was  lame.  Quite the contrary…Family proved as well as anything else that Picard was still awesome.  But the series would have made more sense, in the long term.  The show was pointing to Riker being ready to take command (of something, anyway) and having him return to being a First Officer after the events of Best of Both Worlds, part 2 seems like a clear step backwards for the character, and thus for the series.

But what about Picard?  What about all the stories he’s in?  How would taking him out of the picture possibly make the series better?

Well, I’m not suggesting that it would have been better for Picard to be gone entirely.  But Next Generation was always an ensemble show.  While there are plenty of episodes that Picard was central to, there were others that he barely appeared in.  And there were more that he was around for, but basically just to fulfill the functional role of Captain of the ship.  In many of those stories, Patrick Stewart would not have been essential.

So my idea is that it would have been better if at the start of the fourth season of the show, once the cliff hanger was resolved, Riker had been promoted to full Captain of the Enterprise, with Commander Shelby staying on as First Officer.  Picard could have been promoted to “Ambassador” or “Fleet Captain” or even “Admiral”, and could have made regular return visits to the Enterprise, maybe as much as 8 or 9 times a season, to star in the episodes that he really mattered to (Chain of Command, Inner Light, etc.)

I’m going to start adding into my comments thoughts on how individual episodes would have fit into this concept.  I understand, of course, that not every episode could have remain more or less untouched in this alternate universe.  We would have had to have some stories about Riker in his new command, about Shelby exploring her back story, and that included some meta-narrative which showed what Picard was up to now (maybe something to do with the Klingons and Romulans).  Even the aforementioned Family would have to have had some adjustments to the ending…but a lot of the same tone could have been retained by having Picard’s brother argue to him to return to Starfleet as opposed to returning to the Enterprise.

But it’s my notion – as crazy talk as it is – and I’m arguing that even if there would have been the odd story here or there that would have suffered from not having Patrick Stewart present, that the show as a whole would have felt more real, more alive, more genuine, if this development had taken place.

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5 thoughts on “That’s Just Crazy Talk: A Picard-less Next Generation?

  1. Absolutely not. Picard have some more time than just a quick shore leave to recuperate, yes. But leave, never. He was still the top captain in starfleet, then more than ever, and they needed him captaining their flag ship.

    MUCH more real, genuine, etc. would have been for Riker to leave and take a new ship. In fact, within the story, its complete and utterly irresponsible that he didn’t. Starfleet had just lost a host of officers and ships – not admirals. They would have badly needed guys like Riker, and even Shelby, to step up to captaincy. In many ways, it frustrated me that after Wolf 359, Star Fleet was still so strong. I think they could have followed a “starfleet being rebuilt” line more, and mined that for some more good stories. But it would not and should not have been the enterprise. He’d earned a command, not command of the flagship.

    And this is all arguing within the show’s universe. Never-mind that in the real world, Patrick Stewart was becoming a major star, and even weirdly being called a sex symbol. ST:TNG was Picard’s story more than any other character. Getting rid of him, or moving him into the kind of role you suggest would have caused real damage to the show.

  2. In truth, I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on this, and actually I largely agree with your comments, particularly as they pertain to the real world. For sure, doing what I’m suggesting would have hurt the show’s success, and would have been foolish unless it had been made necessary by Patrick Stewart leaving or something.

    But you could argue just as strongly for what I’m saying in-universe: most of Starfleet’s ships and commanders are no more, Picard is out of action for the time being, and Riker is a hero to the whole Federation and especially earth – so the Admiralty wants him front and centre.

    But threats are looming with the Romulans and the continued destabilization of the Klingons, and so Picard, when he is able, is needed not to ferry ambassadors around and to conduct studies on pulsars, but to oversee Starfleet’s whole strategic direction, etc. Though the franchise wasn’t really up to telling a story that ambitious yet.

    In the end, I don’t really wish that this had happened, but I do think there would have been something more real and genuine about it than the return to the status quo. As for the option of having Riker promoted away, I just think the story of a new Captain sounds more interesting than that of a new First Officer (ie like the story of seeing Wally West become the Flash as opposed to the story of whoever is going to be the next Robin).

  3. It’s an interesting concept … and now that you bring it up I do feel like I’d like to somehow get hold of the DVD set from the alternate reality where this actually did happen. You know, so we still have ST:TNG as we all remember it but can also watch how it all went differently after “Best of Both Worlds”.

  4. That’s probably the best way to view the idea, and indeed both of the posts I’ve done so far under the “That’s just crazy talk” banner – an interesting alternate universe to visit, but not one you’d actually want to live in.

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