Since August (with an intro in July) I’ve been taking a detailed look at the story bible for Star Trek: The Next Generation season one. The final draft is available online, but a later season draft is up on the official Roddenberry website if you want to check that out. The story bible reviews I’ve done so far are about comparing the original intentions to what actually appeared on-screen. It’s what I did with Batman: The Animated Bible and it’s what I did here. This is what I find fascinating going into these old story bibles for canceled shows and if I get to review another one that’s also what I’ll be looking to do. And if anyone knows a good one in my wheelhouse let me know and I’ll see if I can make something of it.
This last article is a wrap-up of my thoughts. If you want to go into more detail, feel free to check out the rest of the series. I’m going to summarize how I thought the Writer’s Guide did versus what we saw on-screen in that first season. Shows and characters evolve as a series continues on but how did it start off?
I guess “starshipbuilding” or “galaxybuilding” would be more accurate but that’s not the term. The main duty of a series guide for writers and directors is getting across the tone and lore. It starts by showing the world they’ll be inhabiting. Since this is a sequel series set a century after the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Animated Series as well as the theatrical films (which I treat as a “third series” in classic Trek) there is a base to work from but what if a writer is new to the franchise? It’s possible even with something as tied to pop culture as Star Trek is, and pop culture can influence other cultural subsets…but you’d have to ask someone who studies culture and cultural subsets more about that. So while a writer going into TNG may have at least a passing idea what the Star Trek universe is and how it functions, unless you’re a fan you won’t be informed enough to actually continue the universe. That’s how you end up with Enterprise or worse, Discovery–shows that barely, if at all, continue the main universe. (The Abrams movies are a completely different continuity and thus don’t count in this discussion.)
So the guide has to explain the general concepts exclusive to this continuity properly, and it does a good job at that. It goes into transporters and phasers and warp drive and anything else a writer needs to know to properly portray the universe built upon in previous series. Newcomers may not care but the fans will, and if the newcomers become fans and go to see the previous incarnations (which Paramount, the owners of the franchise at the time, and CBS, who currently owns the TV and merchandise rights–long story, should want to happen for home video and TV rerun sales) find a confusing mess they won’t be happy either.
Additionally they have to go over the changes in the past century. We aren’t the same people we were in the early 20th century even by the late 20th century and certainly not now in the early 21th century. We will probably be a different people in the late 21st century, if we haven’t killed each other over political and social misunderstandings by then, or if the robot apocalypse happens. While there is a base to start from, there is still plenty of new lore. TNG has families aboard the ship, although I don’t think they took advantage of that in the first season and barely in later seasons. (You have Keiko and that one episode where a planet steals some of the kids and that was pretty much it–and Keiko was less of a presence somehow on Deep Space Nine, and I’m betting that’s why her actress left. Whether it was her idea or the producers I couldn’t tell you.) The ship is a product of the current mindset and mission. It’s more relaxed and comfortable for the longer voyages, hence the families as well as the holodeck and more “homey” decor. Although the guide suggested there would be shrubbery along the walls and that didn’t make it in.
It was an interesting read just to learn from an official source how a tractor beam or transporter works, although some info was obviously outdated or not explored enough. Plus we have wikis now for that.
Lore is nice, but if you don’t have interesting characters the best you came up with was a thought exercise in story design. Star Trek was built on good characters. It’s also dying from a lack of them since Voyager. The guide introduces the potential writers and directors to the new crew, although Worf hadn’t been conceived even at that late stage and thus wasn’t in the guide. It wasn’t until after the cast had been chosen that Roddenberry had the idea of a Klingon officer to show how the relationship between the Federation and Klingon Empire had evolved since Star Trek VI. His absence from the guide is notable in hindsight.
Also in hindsight are the differences in character interactions. Some still made it to the actual show. For example, Data (whose name actually was intended to be pronounced as Dr. Pulaski tried to pronounce it, rhyming with “that-a” rather than “theta”) and Geordi were always meant to be best friends. I wonder if people thought they became friends too fast? The guide was written before “Encounter At Farpoint”, the pilot episode that showed Geordi just joining the crew along with Riker and the Crushers. It’s possible they just became friends fast. Also they had Riker and Deanna having been involved years before but season one never really did anything with that. The “romantic tension” never really showed through. Also, Riker was supposed to not be comfortable with an android crewmember, something that not only wasn’t in the show but a trait later given to Pulaski.
Speaking of changes while we all called Picard having the hots for Beverly, in the guide she held a resentment to Picard because he brought her husband’s body home (being his captain I think aboard the Stargazer) and seeing him just reminds her of that. It was even suggested that as the Chief Medical Officer she could force him to step down if necessary, but planned to somehow stay professional. Even she acknowledged, according to the guide, that it wasn’t Picard’s fault and she was wrong for thinking that way but it still motivated her. This never showed up on the show. Also not showing up was any aspect of Wes and Tasha’s relationship. No, not a romantic one, although after hearing years ago that she considered him a “beau ideal” I got that impression. Thanks to this article series and the proclamation in the guide that Data considered Starfleet a beau ideal I finally looked up the term and it’s more about aspiration than romance. Wes had a relatively normal childhood despite his father’s death (and presumably little presence as a member of Starfleet) while she grew up on a planet so messed up they actually had “rape gangs”. The guide referred to her world as a “hell planet” (Tasha’s term) but the “rape gang” idea came from “The Naked Now”, an episode poorly timed and frankly not very good anyway. So she saw Wes as the kind of kid she wish she had been, the life she would have liked to have, and “she treats this boy like the most wonderful person imaginable” because of this. The two characters rarely interacted before Denise Crosby left the show over creative differences involving her character.
Not that they knew what to do with young Wesley at all. I don’t think you have to write Degrassi High or even Saved By The Bell to be able to write a teenage supergenius in a time where being smarter than today’s kids are the norm to begin with and wasn’t necessarily a “geek” according to the guide, just a bit awkward. The writers never figured out how to write for Wesley and didn’t think to ask anybody so instead he became a character so unlikable even Wil Weaton has gone back and taken a negative view of him. While I could comment about the differences between a character’s visual profile and the actor cast to play the role, that’s probably happened more times than we know in TV and movie history.
One of the interesting things about reading through the Batman: The Animated Series story bible was seeing a list of potential story ideas for writers to work with and how many of them actually made it to the show. Unfortunately the guide doesn’t have much in the way of that. There was a suggestion about Wes eventually becoming acting ensign (and I still think he should have worked in engineering instead of OPS…oh yeah, we learned what CON and OPS was too) but no actual potential plots.
The Technical Stuff
I don’t mean the terms and things. That’s part of worldbuilding. I mean what the producers were looking for in their stories. It told what worked as a story in general (or at least what they’re looking for) and the tone specifically for a Star Trek story or the show they were trying to create, free of network censorship but still in the rules of general TV censorship. It also goes into the format of the show, how Stardates work (they’re made up and only follow a general formula but aren’t meant to help follow the show chronologically), and how to layout a TV script for an hour-long show in the Star Trek style. It even goes into submitting scripts and who is or isn’t wasting their time trying. So the guide does hit every major point if you’re chosen to write an episode of the show.
If you’re a fan of the show and are curious how the show was created or early intentions, then the guide will be interesting. If you want ideas for writing a Star Trek story properly or just writing a TV show in general this is worth looking into. And if you’re looking into creating a story bible for a project you’re working on, this is one possible guide to look up, although comparing to the other one I’ve looked at there are similarities and differences depending on the project or possibly even the media format. It also probably varies between creative teams.
However, these are the only reasons to bother. If you’re a casual fan or have no interest in Star Trek or just The Next Generation, or if you aren’t interested in comparing intent to result, and have no goals in creating your own bible or TV script for any project, you won’t find anything of interest here. I don’t know what the other Star Trek shows have for a production bible, and I would love to review one of them someday as well, or even another series I enjoyed. These are interesting pieces of history and study in the differences between what is intended and what ends up happening. So if you can think of a story bible out there in the internet that you want to see me do, let me know. I may decide to track some down in the future as well. For now…I’m going to have to decide what to do for Friday nights again, aren’t I?