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.
Tim Russ has had a nice run as Principal Franklin on iCarly too.
I cannot picture Yaphet Kotto as Captain Picard but JD Roth would have made a better Wesley. I just never liked Wil Wheaton in that role. He was supposed to be in Star Trek: Nemesis (shot scenes and everything) and then they ended up on the cutting room floor. He blogged about it at the time.
I also know that James Avery read for the part of Worf but didn’t get it. He instead went on to do a small stint on Beauty and The Beast before his character was killed off.
Reggie Jackson? THAT Reggie Jackson? Oh no.
Eric Menyuk is a nice guy and I can understand why they were going with height for Data in the beginning. Kevin Peter Hall – he was great, but how would they have explained Data dying three years before the end of the series?
JD Roth? Seriously? Even as a kid he read 10 years older than he is.
The universe unfolded as it should.
Jenny Agutter would have been an interesting choice for Dr. Crusher (though I am quite happy that Gates McFadden got the role)/
Yaphet Kotto is a phenomenal actor, but I think that would have been a very different take on the character.
And someone seriously contemplated putting Mr. October in charge of the engines? How many “I’m blind as an umpire” jokes would have been worked in?
Billy Campbell as Ryker would have been a great choice. He is an excellent actor. Not as wooden as Frakes.
This was clearly just the first round of casting – would be interesting of later memos turn up.
Snipes as Geordie gives me the shivers. And not in a good way. Whoa.