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.