Gates McFadden was one of the original cast members of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Her character, Dr. Beverly Crusher, appeared in the first episode of the series. She also appeared in every season of the series, except one.
During the second season, Dr. Crusher was notably absent. The in-universe explanation for her disappearance was that she took a position as the head of Starfleet Medical. However, by the third season, Dr. Crusher was back on the Enterprise-D, where she stayed for several more years.
Though it would be logical to assume that McFadden needed a year off for personal reasons, the real reason she left the show was much more dramatic — and so was the reason she returned.
The Backstory: The Rise of Maurice Hurley
Maurice Hurley was part of “TNG” almost from the beginning. According to “The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years,” “TNG” creator Gene Roddenberry admired Hurley because he had a wide range of experience in the television industry. Hurley was initially hired as a writer for the show’s first season.
The majority of the writers that worked on the first season of TNG quit before the completion of the season. Several of those writers told the authors of “The Fifty-Year Mission” that Roddenberry was extremely difficult to work for. Rick Berman, one “TNG” producer, said that after the mass exodus from the “TNG” writers’ room, Hurley was one of the only writers left. So, he became Roddenberry’s “right-hand man in the writing area.”
Berman and Hurley told the authors of “The Fifty-Year Mission” that over the course of the first season, Roddenberry started to step away from day-to-day management of the show. He gave most of the control to Hurley and Berman.
Soon after, Hurley was promoted to co-executive producer on the show, giving him much more control behind the scenes. Many “TNG” writers told the authors of “The Fifty-Year Mission” that Hurley didn’t use the power given him very judiciously. They said he was extremely controlling, and many people didn’t get along with him.
Hurley ‘Got Rid of’ McFadden
One of the people who really didn’t get along with Hurley was McFadden. In an interview with IGN in July 2021, McFadden revealed that she and Hurley constantly clashed on set.
“Maurice Hurley who was the only one I didn’t get along with … got rid of me, but that’s because I would speak up,” McFadden said. “If I thought something was racist or sexist, I would just say it. I was used to that, having taught at a university for years. You speak up. And that’s not the way you do it in Hollywood.”
During a Q&A session at a Toronto ComicCon, McFadden remarked that giving the writers feedback on her character got her fired. Though she didn’t name Hurley as the one who fired her during that panel, this has been confirmed by others who worked on the show.
Berman told the authors of “The Fifty-Year Mission” that Hurley “hated Gates.”
“He disliked the whole character of Dr. Crusher and he wanted to get rid of Gates and replace her,” Berman said. “He didn’t like her acting and he didn’t like her.”
Berman went on to say that he told Hurley firing McFadden would be a bad idea, but Hurley apparently didn’t listen. He managed to convince Roddenberry to let McFadden go, and she was abruptly fired before the second season. This led to the introduction of Dr. Pulaski, played by Diana Muldaur.
Berman told the authors of “The Fifty-Year Mission” that fans of “TNG” were very upset with Dr. Crusher’s departure from the show, and most of them really didn’t like Dr. Pulaski. When Muldaur told the show’s producers that she didn’t want to continue on the show, they had to figure out what to do about the role of the ship’s doctor.
The decision became clear when Hurley decided to leave “TNG” after the second season.
“When Hurley left at the end of season two, the very first thing I did was to rehire Gates,” Berman said. “I mean, literally the day Hurley left, Gates was rehired.”
Though McFadden was happy to be back on the show, she still had issues with the way her character was written. She felt that the female characters on “TNG” lacked depth, as she told StarTrek.com in 2012:
Any time there was any crisis with Wesley, it was always a male character who talked to him, who gave him the wisdom. I felt that was something that bothered me. And I just said, “It seems to me that you can be a strong woman and you can also be a loving woman.” I feel that now people are portraying that very well. I see that all over in things that are written. But there [were] times I did feel that there was writing that was not as nuanced for the female characters.
However, McFadden’s dissatisfaction with the writing for her character didn’t keep her from continuing with the show through its finale five seasons later. McFadden reprised the role for all of the “TNG” movies, and she’s said that she’d be willing to reprise the role in “Star Trek: Picard” if asked.
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