In the late 1980s, conversations about how to continue the Star Trek franchise were happening within the walls of Paramount Studios. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise, the studio had produced Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which is widely considered one of the franchise’s most successful films. According to The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, the behind-the-scenes chronicle of the Star Trek franchise written by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman, the studio wanted to capitalize on the success of the film by launching another television series. However, they didn’t have the budget to bring back the all-star cast from The Original Series (TOS).
So, the idea of a new show, with a new cast and mission, was born. Originally titled, Star Trek: The New Adventure, the new series aimed to recapture the glory of TOS while updating the franchise for an 80s sci-fi audience. However, this was long before the days of constant spinoffs, reboots, and prequels. Bringing back a show was hardly ever done, and reboots were rarely successful.
Everyone involved was a little skeptical of the idea, including Star Trek’s own creator, Gene Roddenberry. In fact, when Paramount proposed the new show to him, Roddenberry said no. However, the studio found a way to get him on board, at the expense of another showrunner.
Who is Greg Strangis?
Strangis comes from a Hollywood family. His father, Sam Strangis, was a celebrated producer who worked on shows like Batman, The Odd Couple and The Brady Bunch. His aunt, Judy Strangis, was a well-known television actress. Strangis followed his father into the production business, often working on projects with him.
By the time Strangis started talking to Paramount about a new Star Trek series, he’d already produced two major series and several episodes of other popular shows. He was an up-and-coming showrunner with a powerful family name behind him.
So, when Roddenberry said he wasn’t interested in doing another Star Trek series, Paramount turned to Strangis and asked him to put together a pitch for the pilot.
Strangis’ Vision for ‘Star Trek’
Strangis jumped at the opportunity and got to work immediately. A Paramount memo that The Trek Files posted to Facebook in 2018 revealed that Strangis’ concept for the new show, eventually named Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), was far different than what fans eventually saw. Though the guiding principle of trying “to better understand the enigma of mankind by examining new lifeforms” remained the same, the premise was very different.
Strangis’ pitch centered on a holographic, Vulcan captain and his mostly non-human crew. Strangis wanted to include several non-humans on the bridge crew, including a Klingon, another Vulcan and an entirely new lifeform that hadn’t been introduced in TOS. Though there were multiple human members of the bridge crew, the deliberate focus on including more non-humans than humans would have been a significant break from the precedent set by TOS.
Strangis also had a very different storyline in mind. As he told the writers of The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, he wanted to tell the story of an ongoing battle between the good guys and the bad guys of the universe, basically Starfleet and their allies against other non-human species. Strangis envisioned the flagship of Starfleet, initially called the U.S.S. Odyssey, as a battlecruiser which was sent on important diplomatic missions through an unstable interstellar political landscape. He pictured the crew as “a naval academy on a starship.”
In the pilot he pitched, which was included in the Paramount memo, the crew of the Odyssey embarked on a dangerous mission to deliver a Klingon officer meant to play a crucial role in peace talks between multiple species in the quadrant to a mysterious planet. To get there, the ship would have to travel through contested sections of space, which could put them in conflict with several aggressive species, including the Romulans.
Strangis told the writers of The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years that when he submitted his pitch to Paramount, he thought that everything was going well. Unfortunately, there was a lot going on at the studio that Strangis didn’t know about.
The Bait and Switch
Though Roddenberry had turned down the new show, Paramount didn’t give up on getting him as the showrunner. Insiders quoted in The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, hinted that Paramount used Strangis’ pitch as leverage to get Roddenberry on board.
Richard Arnold, a Star Trek archivist and consultant on TNG, told the authors that when Roddenberry found out Paramount was moving ahead with a Star Trek series even though he’d turned them down, he was furious. According to Arnold, Roddenberry demanded to meet with the studio execs. During that meeting, he told them that he would sue unless they got his approval on all aspects of the new show. At that point, one of the execs made a seemingly offhanded comment about how nobody could make a new Star Trek show successful anyway, which enraged Roddenberry even more. Roddenberry insisted he could make it work, and agreed to produce the new show on the spot.
The Paramount memo seems to corroborate Arnold’s story. The memo was addressed to Roddenberry and included a full view of what Strangis had planned for the series. It makes sense that Roddenberry would ask to see these materials ahead of the meeting he called with Paramount. The cover letter of the memo even makes reference to a meeting between Roddenberry and the studio, which might be the meeting where Roddenberry decided to produce the show himself.
Though Arnold didn’t straight out tell the authors of The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years that Paramount used Strangis’ pitch to rile up Roddenberry and get him to sign onto the show, the series of events seem to point to that scenario.
Strangis, on the other hand, did come right out and say that he believes that’s how things went down.
“You have to understand those executives at Paramount; they’re devious and like ex-CIA when it comes to working false flags, fake left, go right. They were really, really smart. For Gene to accept the idea that someone else was going to take his baby forward — without him being involved — would’ve been impossible for him.”
After all his work, Strangis got a call, notifying him that he was off the project because Roddenberry had signed on. He remained on TNG as a consultant, but soon left when Paramount asked him to produce the War of the Worlds television series, which he called his “consolation prize.”