“Gene [Roddenberry] didn’t want to do it. Rick Berman didn’t want to do it. Looking back, I’m really grateful we pulled it off.”
The “it” writer Ronald D. Moore is referring to is his script for the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation season four episode, “Family.” This fan-favorite hour of Next Generation centers on the aftermath of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) being assimilated by the Borg in season three’s epic finale, “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I,” and his struggle to re-enter his life with a detour to Earth. “Family” is noteworthy not just for being considered one of the best Star Trek episodes ever, but also as the first true serialized episode of Next Generation — a narrative choice all but forbidden for syndicated episodic series like TNG. (Now, thanks in large part to Peak TV and binge-watching, serialized shows are par for the course.)
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Moore recently shared with The Hollywood Reporter the “Family” history and the challenges he faced in making an unofficial “Part III” to Picard’s iconic Borg storyline.
“Family,” which debuted Oct. 1, 1990, is an outlier among Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes; it’s the only episode with no scenes set on the Enterprise-D bridge or to not feature Data (Brent Spinter). It’s also special in that there is no sci-fi B-plot. It’s an off-premise character drama exploring the lives of Picard, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) as the Enterprise undergoes repairs post-Borg attack while orbiting Earth. What may seem dull on paper is a compelling and, at times, heartstrings-tugging affair that adds much necessary depth and emotion to three of sci-fi’s most memorable characters.
It’s ironic that an episode loved by so many fans was met with disdain by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
“Gene really hated it,” recalls Moore of his initial story meeting with Roddenberry. After Moore wrote the first draft of the story, not the script, Berman and TNG showrunner Michael Piller accompanied Moore to a meeting in Roddenberry’s office. There, Moore stayed largely silent as Roddenberry — according to Moore — “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.’”
At the top of Roddenberry’s list of things he disliked were all the things fans would eventually end up praising about the episode. He was not a fan of what the episode implied about the way Picard’s parents raised him, as dramatized by the bad blood between Picard and his brother, who ran the family’s vineyard in France while Picard explored The Final Frontier. Roddenberry argued that this type of hostile relationship between siblings simply didn’t exist in the show’s 24th century setting; in Roddenberry’s mind, the Federation he envisioned was a utopia with no interpersonal conflicts (which often made it difficult for writers of an hourlong drama to, well, make an hourlong drama).
But, for some reason, Roddenberry believed it was acceptable for Picard to have a fistfight with his father instead of his brother in this conflict-free corner of science fiction.
“We were like: ‘Fight with his father? What?,’” Moore says with a laugh. “You want him to fight with his 90-year-old father or something?’”
That early encounter by then-newcomer Moore, with the guy who made the show he loved, left a three-decades-long lasting impression.
“That hurt. I was kind of stunned,” Moore says. “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.”
Berman and Piller left the meeting with Moore in tow, and stopped in the hallway outside Roddenberry’s office.
“[Gene] had just blew up this idea for an episode that I was really excited about,” Moore recalls, “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.’”
The young writer went off to write the script and never heard anything about it again. Moore assigns the lion’s share of the credit for the success of this episode to Piller, who wrote “Best of Both Worlds” and felt strongly that there was more story to tell after the end credits rolled.
“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,” Moore says. Piller championed the core idea for the episode up to Berman and got approval for Moore to write it. The original plan for a follow-up episode, according to Moore, involved “Picard going home [to Earth] while the Enterprise is repaired in orbit, and then there was a B-story happening on the ship, where Beverly [Dr. Crusher, played by Gates McFadden] was seeing some kind of warp [engine] effects and things were disappearing or something. It was sort of the classic ‘character story’ down below and the [sci-fi] action plot upstairs.” (A similar story structure would be the cornerstone of 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact, co-written by Moore.)
That “Family” subplot, despite Berman’s best efforts, eventually fell by the wayside.
“It became clear that the family storylines were so much better, and so much more interesting.” (Aspects of this Dr. Crusher subplot would be later repurposed in an entire episode, season four’s “Remember Me.”)
Writing the episode, and the meaning it has for fans, is not lost on Moore, who tells THR that being assigned the episode was a combination of timing, luck, and a passion for the idea.
“I was the only writer to stay on from season three, the others left,” Moore says. “I was, oddly enough, sort of the only ‘experienced’ Star Trek writer there. So I think Michael felt comfortable having me write that; I knew the characters well enough and knew the show enough that he could hand me that.”
Piller still did an uncredited final pass on the script, however, and Moore praises his late boss and mentor for how he “really brought the episode up” in terms of quality. “Family” features many unforgettable scenes, including the brawl between Picard and his brother — which culminates in Picard sobbing and lamenting feeling helpless against the Borg implanting them with cybernetics and using him to kill his own people.
That scene stands out for Moore as one of the favorites he’s ever had a role in creating for Trek, and also for what it was able to say and do for the genre at the time.
“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.”
Thirty years later, those choices — and the behind-the-scenes struggles Moore and his colleagues faced in making them — still hold up.