I would say that there are few Trekkies in the world who don't appreciate Star Trek: The Next Generation at all. The show not only gave us many great moments during its seven seasons, but also helped bring the franchise back to television after almost two decades of being something fans could only experience during an occasional trip to the movie theater. TNG has a special place in the hearts of many fans, who also have a selection of episodes which are considered essential viewing. Now, though, Ronald D. Moore, who wrote for the show, is talking about the fan-favorite episode that Gene Roddenberry, apparently, hated.
Writer and executive producer Ronald D. Moore has become known more recently for his work on shows like the sci-fi hit Battlestar Galactica and time-traveling romance Outlander, but he got his start as a writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1989. It's now been a little over 30 years since the classic Season 4 episode "Family," which Moore wrote, aired, and he spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about not only how it came about, but how much Star Trek's creative mastermind Gene Roddenberry absolutely hated his idea for the episode.
The second episode of Season 4, "Family" was tasked with showing how the crew of the Enterprise got back to normal after its fight with the Borg (and after Captain Picard was briefly assimilated by the powerful and feared collective), and the episode went on to become beloved by viewers. It focused on three characters, Picard, Worf, and Wesley Crusher, all dealing with some family issues as their ship is undergoing repairs after the attack. But, Roddenberry had several big problems with the action of the episode, which doesn't even feature any time at all on the bridge of the ship.
Ronald D. Moore had a story meeting with Roddenberry after writing his first draft, with TNG showrunner Michael Piller and executive producer Rick Berman in tow, and according to him:
Gene really hated it. [He] just kind of went off on how bad the story was. He hated the concept, said ‘I don’t get this, this has no place in the 24th century.’ He basically said, ‘We can’t do this show.’...That hurt. I was kind of stunned. I didn’t understand how he couldn’t see the potential for what could be a great episode. It was only my second year on the show, and the only creative meeting I ever had with Gene Roddenberry was on "Family." I just kind of kept my mouth shut for the most part, but I felt a little crushed. Michael fought really hard to convince Rick to go forward with it.
So, what could have been the problem with an episode which is remembered so fondly by fans of TNG? Well, one of Gene Roddenberry's big complaints was the relationship between Picard and his older brother, Robert. In "Family," Picard takes leave after his ordeal with the Borg, and goes home to France, where is brother, sister-in-law and young nephew are looking after the family vineyard.
But, Robert and Jean-Luc clearly do not get along in the slightest. Robert is quite jealous of how his little brother broke all of the rules when they were kids and still had the favor of their parents (especially as be began to excel in school and once he joined Starfleet), as he tried to be responsible and hold on to their family's traditions. In Moore's story, this conflict leads to an actual, physical fight between the siblings, which Roddenberry felt was a no-go because of his ideal vision of life in the 24th century, where such interpersonal conflicts simply don't exist.
Moore's proposed episode also had some other oddities that made it quite unique for TNG. Aside from featuring nothing on the bridge of the Enterprise, Data wasn't in the episode, either. "Family" was also the first real serialized episode of the series, where it wasn't the end of a two-part episode but also wasn't completely stand-alone, and it has no actual science fiction plot, even though Berman had originally thought of one (which would go on to become its own episode, "Remember Me").
This was a completely character-driven installment in the show, which sought to do a lot of new things, and I can see where it would make Roddenberry and others nervous. Luckily, as Moore noted, Michael Pillar saved the day after that messy meeting:
Michael felt that Picard couldn’t go through an experience like that and just ‘go back to work’ the next week as if nothing happened...[Gene] had just blew up this idea for an episode that I was really excited about, and they just looked at each other in some silent way, and Mike just turned to me and said, ‘Just go write your script. And we’ll handle Gene.'...We were able to do a show like Star Trek, with sci-fi ideas, and still do a very character, intimate piece that had no action. I’m very proud of the fact that it’s the only episode in the history of Star Trek to never go to the bridge once. The only threat was the character drama, and what was at stake for them as people.
Obviously, not only was Ronald D. Moore on the right page with his idea, but Michael Pillar and Rick Berman did right by the young writer in eventually convincing Gene Roddenberry that "Family" was a solid move for TNG.
You can revisit "Family" and all of Star Trek: The Next Generation right now on CBS All Access or Netflix, but if you're looking for more to watch in the coming weeks, check out our guide to fall TV!