Just so we’re clear, Star Trek: The Next Generation, better known simply as TNG, is as popular as ever, thank you very much. I found this out the hard way. Irony of ironies, I have been railing against CBS for underestimating the brand, relegating Star Trek: Discovery to a streaming service when it should be on television, adding some much-needed intelligence, estrogen, and melanin to their lineup. (My ire was only compounded when I heard about The Orville, a straight mimicry, landing a spot on Fox.)
So, call it a cosmic pluck upside my head when I “underestimated the brand” on Dragon Con Day 3, showing up with the proverbial cup of Starbucks to the TNG panel like 20 minutes before it was set to start. As the line that extended into oblivion was being quickly ushered inside, my companion and I decided we’d have to get up early and see them on Sunday. And that’s exactly what we did. We arrived 2 hours early. Again, we were schooled on the enduring pillar that is TNG’s popularity, finding our place on a line that snaked back toward the front of the hotel.
Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, and Michael Dorn did not disappoint that afternoon. They also didn’t have a single damn amongst them to give. It was kind of wild actually, like when it’s the holidays and your eccentric aunts and uncles are commanding the attention that is their due.
To start, Jonathan came out and did a circuit around the ballroom, taking pictures with kids and talking with families. When he neared my section, Garrett Wang (Ensign Harry Kim from ST:Voyager), the Trek Track Director and panel moderator came to collect him.
Still, the load-in was bleeding into the panel’s allotted time. Marina came out on stage and yelled at the people who were holding everybody up by arriving late. To be fair, these people weren’t late; the panel was just popular so the line was long. See? No damns. Before heading backstage again, she threw out the first of about 4 middle finger salutes for the day. Apparently, it was a running joke all weekend, a way to be subversive on Dragon Con TV. It was all in feisty jest but certainly not in league with the almost saccharin nature of TNG’s whole vibe. I was living.
When all of the panelists came out on the stage there was a lot of yelling and just bedlam. At one point Gates was standing up on the table. We were seated pretty far from the front so it was hard to understand what was going on. After a while Garret was able to coral everyone into their seats so they could start taking fan questions.
TNG Pannel Highlights
When asked if it was hard to play multiple parts in TNG (Data, Lore, and Doctor Soong), Brent quipped that it was hard trying to get paid for playing multiple characters. After the laughter died down, Marina offered the age-old, “Learn your lines, hit your marks, and don’t bump into the furniture.”
A fan told them they are pursuing a PhD in Star Trek, and everyone on the panel seemed genuinely, hilariously perplexed by this. The fan’s question led to an insightful answer, however. They asked what aspects of TNG resonated with the actors the most. Gates loved the Prime Directive, the idea of not interfering with other cultures. She did say that she values when people can come together to help each other though. She lamented that all one would have to do is change the names in current news stories and it would sound like the Middle Ages. I feel you, Gates.
A fan asked them if they could live in another time when would it be. Marina rejected the concept, stating that it’s unhealthy to dwell on such things. To her, wishing you were somewhere/somewhen else robs you of the now.
Marina confided that Majel Barrett was the one who got her into doing conventions. Troi was always in danger of being cut from the show, so Majel thought it would be a good way to build up her popularity so she couldn’t be fired. When the other actors would ask how it went, she told them to only do them if they liked being adored for two days straight.
It took Gates a little longer to get comfortable with the crowds because she revealed that she’d been stalked when she was younger. Now she really enjoys them.
Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett treated Marina like a daughter and she misses them terribly.
At one point, Michael walked off the stage, and a cheeky fan began with, “This question is for Michael.” When he returned, Garrett said Michael whispered to him that he had to, “tinkle so bad” before excusing himself.
The hardest thing to deal with on set for Gates was when she was 8 months pregnant and had to wear a corset. For Marina it was every day because she’s so opposite to Troi. In fact, the episode that was the easiest for her was “The Loss” because she got to get testy about losing her powers. Her husband asked her, “Why does powerless Deana Troi act like Marina Sirtis?”
The hardest aspect of working on TNG for Michael was the makeup. He vowed he’d never do it again, and then they called about Deep Space 9 and he was like, “How much?” While on the subject of DS9, Michael was asked the biggest difference between the two sets. He said that TNG folks were silly and loud and cut up a lot. In fact, one director from the first season refused to come back and work on TNG because they were so incorrigible. Conversely, DS9 was extremely quiet, almost like a museum. He assured us they loosened up a bit after having him on the set for a good 6 months.
Johnathan prefers directing to acting.
The panel dished about a particular ‘difficult’ director. The cast frequently complained about the amount of smoke they had to inhale on set. It never made sense to them that there was so much haze pumped into the set every time they went down to a planet. OSHIA even came out when Patrick complained about it. Then when it was Patrick’s time behind the camera, he made it the smokiest episode they ever endured. Marina recalled, “At one point it looked like the set was on fire!”
What a great afternoon! Star Trek has meant so much for my entire adult life. Granted, DS9 is a peerless jewel to me, but TNG is the Trek that brought me into this universe, and I’m so glad I got to celebrate 30 years of TNG with much of the cast and a few thousand other fans.