The Star Trek franchise originated in the late 1960s, with the Star Trek television show which ran from 1966–1969. Star Trek: The Next Generation would mark the return of Star Trek to live-action broadcast television.
As early as 1972, Paramount Pictures started to consider making a Star Trek film because of the original series' popularity in syndication. However, with 1977's release of Star Wars, Paramount decided not to compete in the science fiction movie category and shifted their efforts to a new Star Trek television series. The Original Series actors were approached to reprise their roles; sketches, models, sets and props were created for Star Trek: Phase II until Paramount changed its mind again and decided to create feature films starring the Original Series cast.
By 1986, 20 years after the original Star Trek's debut on NBC, the franchise's longevity amazed Paramount Pictures executives. Chairman Frank Mancuso Sr. and others described it as the studio's "crown jewel", a "priceless asset" that "must not be squandered". The series was the most popular syndicated television program 17 years after cancellation, and the Harve Bennett-produced, Original Series-era Star Trek films did well at the box office. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy's salary demands for the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) caused the studio to plan for a new Star Trek television series. Paramount executives worried that a new series could hurt the demand for the films, but decided that it would increase their appeal on videocassette and cable, and that a series with unknown actors would be more profitable than paying the films' actors' large salaries. Roddenberry initially declined to be involved, but came on board as creator after being unhappy with early conceptual work. Star Trek: The Next Generation was announced on October 10, 1986, and its cast in May 1987.
Paramount executive Rick Berman was assigned to the series at Roddenberry's request. Roddenberry hired a number of Star Trek veterans, including Bob Justman, D. C. Fontana, Eddie Milkis and David Gerrold. Early proposals for the series included one in which some of the original series cast might appear as "elder statesmen", and Roddenberry speculated as late as October 1986 that the new series might not even use a spaceship, as "people might travel by some [other] means" 100 years after the USS Enterprise. A more lasting change was his new belief that workplace interpersonal conflict would no longer exist in the future; thus, the new series did not have parallels to the frequent "crusty banter" between Kirk, Spock, and Leonard McCoy. According to series actor Patrick Stewart, Berman was more receptive than Roddenberry to the series addressing political issues.
The series' music theme combined the fanfare from the original series theme by Alexander Courage with Jerry Goldsmith's theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Some early episodes' plots derived from outlines created for Star Trek: Phase II. Additionally, some sets used in the Original Series-era films were redressed for The Next Generation, and in turn used for subsequent Original Series films. Part of the transporter room set in TNG was used in the original Star Trek's transporter set.
Syndication and profitability
Despite Star Trek's proven success, NBC and ABC only offered to consider pilot scripts for the new series, and CBS offered to air a miniseries that could become a series if it did well. That the Big Three television networks treated Paramount's most appealing and valuable property as they would any other series offended the studio. Fox wanted the show to help launch the new network, but wanted it by March 1987, and would only commit to 13 episodes instead of a full season. The unsuccessful negotiations convinced the studio that it could only protect Star Trek with full control.
Paramount increased and accelerated the show's profitability by choosing to instead broadcast it in first-run syndication:123–124 on independent stations (whose numbers had more than tripled since 1980) and Big Three network affiliates. The studio offered the show to local stations for free as barter syndication. The stations sold five minutes of commercial time to local advertisers and Paramount sold the remaining seven minutes to national advertisers. Stations had to commit to purchasing reruns in the future, and only those that aired the new show could purchase the popular reruns of the Original Series.:222
The studio's strategy succeeded. Most of the 150 stations airing reruns of the original Star Trek wanted to prevent a competitor from airing the new show; ultimately, 210 stations covering 90% of the United States became part of Paramount's informal nationwide network for TNG. In early October 1987, more than 50 network affiliates pre-empted their own shows for the series pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint". One station predicted that "Star Trek promises to be one of the most successful programs of the season, network or syndicated". Special effects were by Industrial Light and Magic, a Division of Lucasfilm. The new show indeed performed well; the pilot's ratings were higher than those of many network programs, and ratings remained comparable to network shows by the end of the first season, despite the handicap of each station airing the show on a different day and time, often outside prime time. By the end of the first season, Paramount reportedly received $1 million for advertising per episode, more than the roughly $800,000 fee that networks typically paid for a one-hour show; by 1992, when the budget for each episode had risen to almost $2 million, the studio earned $90 million from advertising annually from first-run episodes, with each 30-second commercial selling for $115,000 to $150,000. The show had a 40% return on investment for Paramount, with $30 to $60 million in annual upfront net profit for first-run episodes and another $70 million for stripping rights for each of the about 100 episodes then available, so they did not need overseas sales to be successful.