William Shatner & Ira Steven Behr

Preview: William Shatner explores Star Trek chaos

I’m what you’d call a fringe Star Trek fan. I was definitely late to the party with regard to the original television series and its subsequent spinoffs. I have, however, seen every Trek film (The Wrath of Khan is still my fave) and have become fascinated with the behind-the-scenes stuff. I was engrossed in William Shatner’s The Captains documentary, where he chatted with Chris Pine, Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula, Kate Mulgrew and Sir Patrick Stewart about how their roles defined their acting careers.

So it was with excitement that I checked out a screener for Monday’s HBO Canada debut of William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge, a Canadian original documentary from Ballinran Entertainment in which the former Capt. James T. Kirk explores the inner workings of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first (and some may say most successful) spinoff that ran for seven seasons and made Stewart and his co-stars household names.

I think Shatner is at his best in a project like this, drolly voicing over the opening frames that explain how a cult hit sci-fi series spinoff was re-imagined by legendary creator Gene Roddenberry with a major studio behind it and seemed destined for success … until bickering, feuds, distrust and confusion almost derailed the whole darn thing.

It’s a kick to see Shatner strutting around Paramount Studios’ cavernous Stage 8 where the Enterprise bridge once sat, painting the picture of Roddenberry as a man in failing health who was clinging to hold onto his beloved creation. Roddenberry is depicted as an enigma, a man who was–depending on who you talked to–a visionary, stubborn, supportive, deceitful and decent. After years of failed television pilots and relegated to being a consultant on the various Trek feature films, he ended up in the captain’s chair of a new series. It wasn’t smooth sailing, as former Paramount executives recount Roddenberry’s lawyer and the Trek creator’s own health as major hurdles to jump on the way to getting cameras rolling on The Next Generation.

Those revelations, along with interviews with such cast members as Denise Crosby, Jonathan Frakes, Stewart and John de Lancie, paint an incredible picture. The cast weren’t sure they should even be doing an updated Trek series, much less whether or not it would be a hit with die-hard fans who were upset it didn’t focus on Kirk, McCoy and Spock. The briskly-paced one-hour doc covers every facet of the process that followed–from failed network pitches to a ludicrous suggestion that TNG be a miniseries–until the final product hit the air.

I don’t want to give everything away, but the stories that fascinated me the most in Chaos on the Bridge involve the casting of the follically-challenged Stewart (he was not anyone’s first choice as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard), the off-screen shenanigans amongst the American cast, the power struggle in the writers’ room and the positive impact Michael Piller had on the show when he arrived in Season 3.

Whether you’re a Star Trek fan or not, Chaos on the Bridge is a fascinating peek into the struggles that occurred on what’s become an iconic sci-fi television show.

William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge airs Monday, Aug. 25, at 9 p.m. ET/MT on HBO Canada.

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Greg David

For over 15 years, Greg David has been a television critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from countless programs. Survivor winners, Donald Trump, Jerry Bruckheimer ... he has interviewed (literally) hundreds of TV people over the course of his career. He is a member of the Television Critics Association.
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11 thoughts on “Preview: William Shatner explores Star Trek chaos”

  1. Thanks for the info, Greg. Have set up the PVR for Chaos On The Bridge. The Wrath of Khan was one of my faves too!

  2. Star Trek: The Next Generation is the quintessential progressive propaganda show. One episode, Times Arrow, featured Mark Twain. Deanna Troi (the Enterprise’s Freudian psychiatrist) has the following conversation with him:

    Counselor Deanna Troi: Poverty was eliminated on Earth, a long time ago. And a lot of other things disappeared with it – hopelessness, despair, cruelty…
    Samuel Clemens: Young lady, I come from a time when men achieve power and wealth by standing on the backs of the poor, where prejudice and intolerance are commonplace and power is an end unto itself. And you’re telling me that isn’t how it is anymore?
    Counselor Deanna Troi: That’s right.
    Samuel Clemens: Hmmm… Well… maybe… it’s worth giving up cigars for, after all.

    The Communist rhetoric is depressing. They even get in a progressive jab against smoking. In the very first episode, Picard and Q mock the American military. Q appears in a World-War II military uniform, and the following conversation ensues:

    Q: Captain, thy little centuries go by so rapidly. Perhaps thou will better understand this.
    (A flash of light and he is wearing a 20th century US military uniform, with a cigarette in his hand)
    Q: Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the commies. All it takes is a few good men.
    PICARD: What? That nonsense is centuries behind us.
    Q: But you can’t deny that you’re still a dangerous, savage child race.
    PICARD: Most certainly I deny it. I agree we still were when humans wore costumes like that, four hundred years ago.

    The show is full of Eastern religious thought but is violently opposed to Christianity. In one episode, Hide and Q, Q appears as a Catholic monk. Holding a rosary, he says, “Let us pray…for understanding and for compassion.” Picard replies, “Let us do no such damn thing!”. In Who Watches the Watchers, Picard is mistaken for a God by a Vulcan-like race called the Mintakans. Apparently religious people are naïve idiots. The following nonsensical, atheist conversation ensues:

    BARRON: The Mintakans wish to please the Overseer [GOD], but they can only guess what he wants. They need a sign.
    PICARD: Are you suggesting?
    BARRON: You must go down to Mintaka Three.
    RIKER: Masquerading as a god?
    PICARD: Absolutely out of the question.
    BARRON: The damage is done. All we can do now is minimise it.
    PICARD: By sanctioning their false beliefs?
    BARRON: By giving them guidelines. Letting them know what the Overseer [GOD] expects of them.
    PICARD: Doctor Barron, I cannot, I will not, impose a set of commandments on these people.
    BARRON: Like it or not, we have rekindled the Mintakans’ belief in the Overseer [GOD].
    RIKER: And are you saying that this belief will eventually become a religion?
    BARRON: It’s inevitable. And without guidance, that religion could degenerate into inquisitions, holy wars, chaos.
    PICARD: Horrifying. Doctor Barron, your report describes how rational these people are. Millennia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement, to send them back into the Dark Ages of superstition and ignorance and fear? No! We will find some way to undo the damage we’ve caused.

    But the show loves Buddhism. “The Traveler” is a Buddhist alien who informs Wesley Crusher that he can manipulate reality with his thoughts (arghh!).

    The Klingons are barbarians. They are misogynistic morons who love to start wars. They are also religious. Their anti-progressive beliefs are so extreme that they often reach the level of absurdity. The Klingons are a ridiculous, irrational representation of Conservatives. The message here is that any culture that challenges progressive ideology must be barbaric and stupid.

    The show is actually racist. The Ferengi are greedy capitalists. Some people have told me that they are a stereotypical, racist representation of Jews.

    Anyway, I’ll stop there.

    1. What is wrong with making fun of plagiarizers lies in the form of religious books. That is expected of smart normal people that do not like to see others robbed of cash or their minds.

      For someone to allow them to continue,,, well you are a criminal then.

  3. The crushing banality of having to view absolutely everything through a dog-whistle, “our way of life is under threat!” lens is so completely depressing.

    I wish we could forward the 10 years it’ll take for the FOX-news fed, unthinking conservatives to die out.

    We need a political balance for progressives that isn’t simply reactionary, anti-science, permanently threatened and achingly stupid.

    Once upon a time, Republicans thought ending poverty was a pretty good idea too. Because it is. If you don’t want to kill your middle class and crater your economy. But whatevs. Yeah. TNG is communist.

    As Malcolm Tucker would say, “f***ity-bye!”

    1. So obviously if you’ve got a problem with the Next Generation, then don’t watch… Isn’t that what the liberal left of society is always preaching when they push the envelope of television or movies? More sex, more violence more convoluted writing and we’ll defend it by saying to all those nay-sayers that if you don’t like our television shows or movies, then don’t watch them. Which is my advice to you sir. And dare I say that the word “liberal” could be substitued for “conservative” in much of what you said anyway as we’re having a nice enough conversation about TNG and it’s you that has to turn things political.

  4. Hey Greg, thanks SO MUCH for the preview & reco of this doc. Might have slipped through the cracks. The TMN GO player was terrible and choked all the way through it, but the backstage intrigue of the first couple seasons, and the presentation using animation and photos was first rate. A textbook way to do a behind the scenes doc like this that isn’t all fluff and flummery. And really eyeopening for any and all of us who toil in writers rooms. Thanks for previewing this wonderful Canadian-made production!

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