Once a TV show’s become successful and been on the air for awhile, it becomes difficult to imagine how other performers could have played the characters.
That’s certainly the case with Star Trek: The Next Generation and its memorable cast — Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), Gates McFadden (Crusher), Wil Wheaton (Wesley), and Michael Dorn (Worf).
Still, back in early 1987, those performers weren’t locked in to play those roles and had to audition like everybody else. Take a look at this internal memo that The Daily Wh.at dug up that lists the contenders.
There’s several interesting things to note…
Picard: All of the candidates have ended up having long careers though obviously Stewart has had the most visible. Ryan ended up guesting as Riker’s father.
Riker: The spelling of the character’s last name is listed as “Ryker.” Is it a typo or did they change the spelling later? Supposedly Billy Campbell was also considered but he’s not listed in the memo. Frakes has recalled attending a cattle call.
Data: They seemed to be looking at various physical types for this role. Menyuk recurred on the series as Wesley’s friend, The Traveler. Hall is 7’2″ and played Harry on Harry and the Hendersons, among other roles. Interestingly, Spiner is not on the list.
Geordi: Hall was up for this role as well but got neither. (If he were helping to drive the ship, it might have been difficult seeing around him.) Russ would go on to a regular role on Star Trek: Voyager. Snipes had a big career in feature films in the 1990s and Gilyard became a regular on Andy Griffith’s Matlock.
Troi: Crosby was the only actress being considered for Troi but ended up playing Tasha (and leaving the show during the first season). No mention of Sirtis.
Tasha: Chao ended up as a recurring character on the series and then on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Keiko O’Brien. Leah Ayers played Marsha Brady a few years later on the short-lived Brady Bunch dramady, The Bradys.
Crusher: Gates McFadden was billed as “Cheryl McFadden” prior to 1987.
Wesley: Wheaton, who was a big name after Stand by Me, isn’t on the list. Roth has gone on to host several kid game shows and produce series like The Biggest Loser.
Worf: The Klingon crew member is not listed and was not initially intended as a regular character. He was not even included in a cast photo taken on June 1, 1987.
What do you think? Some of these casting alternatives are certainly interesting. Are there any that really spark your imagination?
Image courtesy Paramount.