In the 1980s, with the Star Trek movies relatively successful, Paramount decided to develop a new, live-action Star Trek show and turned to series creator Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry decided to set the show roughly a century after the original series. The new crew would feature a Klingon, demonstrating Roddenberry’s utopian vision of how old enemies become friends. The new series, subtitled The Next Generation, would be syndicated and would go on to tremendous success.
In the show’s sixth season, it was joined by a spin-off show, subtitled Deep Space Nine. This series was the first not set on the Enterprise, nor any starship; it was set on a space station and was centered around ethnic tensions and infighting in a way not previously seen on a Star Trek show. Paramount brought The Next Generation to a conclusion with its seventh season and quickly moved the cast into motion pictures, replacing the movies staring the original crew. The following year, a second spin-off, subtitled Voyager, became the first Star Trek series to feature a female captain; it was set on a starship stranded far from home. Ultimately, both Deep Space Nine and Voyager also ran for seven seasons and were concluded rather than cancelled, while the Next Generation crew starred in four movies. With the end of Voyager, Paramount took the franchise in a different direction, replacing it with Enterprise, a prequel to the original series. By then, the third Next Generation film had been a financial disappointment, and when the fourth also disappointed, after a delay, the Next Generation era seemed to be over.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of The Next Generation in Star Trek history. When it debuted, it was only the second live-action show in the franchise (and the third show overall, counting the animated series). It had been 13 years since the previous show concluded, and no Star Trek had ever been produced that didn’t star the original crew. Some mocked the series, including that it starred a bald man. Yet the series went on to wild success. Star Trek was so successful that, throughout the 1990s, Paramount is said to have internally called it simply “the franchise.” The Next Generation inaugurated a 14-year run of three TV shows, each of which lasted more than twice as long as the original series, and each of which were brought to a conclusion instead of being cancelled due to low ratings (as the original show had been). Taken together, these three shows produced 525 episodes, compared to the 79 shows of the original series.
Over time, The Next Generation and its Captain Picard have probably become as important and influential as the original series — a rare feat. To this day, the Next Generation era remains the longest one in terms of hours produced, dwarfing all others.
When CBS revived Star Trek in 2017, its second full-length show was subtitled Picard and continued the Next Generation story. The franchise’s second animated series, subtitled Lower Decks, will also be set during this Star Trek era.