When Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” signed on to produce “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he came up with some very specific rules about what was and was not allowed on the series. In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Roddenberry’s right-hand man Rick Berman discussed some of Roddenberry’s biggest rules for the show.
The foundational rule that Roddenberry laid out was that humankind was beyond “petty arguments.” He insisted that the members of the Enterprise crew would never squabble with each other or have any kind of drama. All the conflict in the show had to come from an external source. Roddenberry also believed that the future would be secular rather than religious and that the show should reflect this belief. The last cardinal rule was that the writing always needed to be scientifically sound — either supportable by real-life science or the consistent rules the writers devised.
Roddenberry also had some random rules about which topics, tropes and characters should be avoided. For example, according to “The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years.” Roddenberry wanted to avoid alien species that had been heavily featured in “The Original Series,” like the Vulcans.
After Roddenberry’s death, Berman took it upon himself to ensure that Roddenberry’s rules for the franchise were followed. Every once in a while, though, Berman decided to break one of the lesser rules for the sake of a good story, which is exactly what happened with the TNG episode “Gambit.”
In an exclusive interview with Heavy this week, the episode’s writer, Christopher Hatton, told the story of his rule-breaking script.
Absolutely No ‘Space Pirates’!
Since the birth of “Star Trek,” Roddenberry was adamant that he would never do what he called a “space pirate” story. Roddenberry thought the concept of pirates in space was too silly and too campy, even for “The Original Series.” Roddenberry also banned Western-style stories for TNG, even though he’d explored the concept in TOS. According to “The Next Generation Companion,” everyone on the writing staff knew about the bans, so they steered clear.
The ban on space pirates in “Star Trek” lasted over thirty years, and even outlasted Roddenberry himself. However, when the writers received a spec script submission from novice writer Hatton, they decided it was time to bring “space pirates” to the Trekverse.
Making ‘Gambit’ & Living a Trekker’s Dream
Hatton discovered TOS when he was very young. He watched the reruns obsessively and fell in love with the worlds the writers were creating. Though he liked TNG well enough when it first aired, he thought that the show had lost some of the whimsy that made TOS so lovable.
When he was in college, he heard about “Star Trek’s” open submission program. The program allowed novice writers to submit spec scripts to the TNG writer’s room and get the chance to create an episode. Hatton decided to submit a spec script that would bring some of the fun of TOS into TNG.
Of course, Hatton had no way of knowing about the ban on “space pirates.” So, the story he submitted was about Captain Jean-Luc Picard being abducted by, essentially, space pirates. After a long wait, he received a letter informing him that they wouldn’t be moving forward with his script. Hatton was disappointed, but he quickly moved on.
A few months later, he received another letter. This time, the letter was from Jeri Taylor herself, one of the lead writers and producers for the show. The letter informed him that the writers couldn’t “get this idea of yours out of our heads!”
The letter ended with an offer to buy the script. Of course, Hatton agreed. Though he didn’t get to go to the set to watch his script get played out, Hatton did get to give his input on the episode to Taylor.
As is often the case with spec scripts, a fair amount was changed. Hatton told Heavy that his original script was more lighthearted than the episode, “Gambit,” turned out to be. In his original story, Picard and Riker found that they actually quite liked being space pirates. Hatton said that he envisioned them having a lot of fun and getting a little too into their roles. However, he was still happy with how it turned out and delighted to be a true “Star Trek” writer.
From there, Hatton pitched the writers a few more ideas and had one more picked up. That pitch became the fan-favorite episode “Thine Own Self.”
Berman’s Apology for Breaking the Rules
After “Gambit” broke the decades-long ban on space pirates in “Star Trek,” Berman told Hatton that he had a little ritual he engaged in every time he broke one of Roddenberry’s rules.
Berman kept a small sculpture of Roddenberry on his desk. Whenever the writers wanted to talk to Berman about an idea that broke one of Roddenberry’s rules, Berman put a blindfold over Roddenberry’s eyes. It was his symbolic way of acknowledging that Roddenberry wouldn’t want to hear or see the story.
Berman told Hatton that he definitely blindfolded the Roddenberry statue when Taylor first brought him the idea for “Gambit.” Berman told the authors of “The Next Generation Companion,” that “Gene always said he’d never do space pirates, and this is a space pirate story, and I don’t want Gene to see it or hear it!”
Though Roddenberry had to be metaphorically blindfolded for “Gambit” to make it to production, the episode was made. It remains one of the most popular episodes of the show.
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