Longtime fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation are already familiar with the show's early struggles, from the shuffling of showrunners to the early difficulties in cementing exactly what the show would be, but William Shatner's new documentary Chaos on the Bridge is shedding new light on both familiar tales and new details of the tumultuous early years of the show. The film, which is available digitally now, chronicles everything from creator Gene Roddenberry's early ideas to troubles in the cast, and, among other things, it reveals one interesting tale: Patrick Stewart almost got written out of the show.
Stewart was famously The Serious One among the cast in the show's early days, and wasn't pleased when the other actors took time to goof off on set, but his stern focus apparently hit a new level early in Season 2 when he refused to read a particular line in a script. In Shatner's film, showrunner Maurice Hurley claims that, when he got the call from the set that Stewart was refusing to go on, he responded with "Fire them all," and declared he would blow up the Enterprise and rebuild the second season with an entirely new crew.
The issue with Stewart eventually went up the ladder to John Pike, head of Paramount Television, who decided he'd settle the matter through a lunch meeting with Stewart. Pike, who knew how to play the Hollywood game, scheduled the lunch when he knew Stewart wouldn't have time to change out of his costume, and deliberately arrived 15 minutes late, so Stewart would have to sit alone in the executive dining room on the Paramount lot dressed as Captain Picard. When Pike finally arrived, he wasted no time.
“I say, ‘Patrick, let’s just cut through it. I do know that you’re creatively not being taxed. You’re going to have to bear with us for a couple more weeks, but we have already put the script in the works and we will write your character out,'" Pike said.
Stewart asked Pike, "What are you talking about?" and Pike responded, "The one thing I don't want is my lead actor unhappy." Instead of calling Pike's bluff, Stewart apparently relented, and according to Pike, he "never had another discussion" with Stewart about the issue.
In the documentary, Stewart says he doesn't recall that meeting, but he does recall that once, after he refused to appear on Good Morning America because the weatherman appeared in a Picard uniform (a bit of silliness that he'd been assured wouldn't take place), Pike first rebuked him for leaving the set, then said, "By the way, off the record, I totally understand why you did what you did."
So, if Stewart had called Pike's bluff in that lunch meeting, who knows what would've happened to the show? As it is, Stewart stayed, and we got an icon.
Chaos on the Bridge is available to buy or rent digitally now.