Star Trek Thoughts: How TNG Became Center of Franchise's Universe
Following TOS, Paramount looked to make the Star Trek spinoff "The Next Generation" the center of the franchise's universe - here's how.
Perhaps it was poetic when Gene Roddenberry originally conceived Star Trek's first spinoff from The Original Series to The Next Generation. After all, a franchise's longevity is only as sustainable as it maintains relevance in future generations, which is why I believe it's been the intention of the creatives to tie most of the narratives to the TNG crew. There are several examples throughout the franchise's history since the spinoff's original creation in 1987. There is no Next Gen without TOS, but right off the bat, we got a passing of the torch moment in TNG's premiere episode "Encounter at Farpoint" with DeForest Kelley reprising his role as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy conversing with the ship's resident android crew member in Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) and given his non-emotive ways, reminds him of Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Speaking of which, Nimoy and James Doohan (Scotty) made physical appearances on the show, not to mention William Shatner (Kirk), Walter Koenig (Chekov), and Doohan appeared in the crossover feature Generations in 1994. Unfortunately, Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) would be left out from future on-screen canon while George Takei (Sulu) would appear in Voyager & Lower Decks.
Star Trek: Things Come Back to The Next Generation More Than TOS
Going back to TNG, the series became the model for all future syndicated Star Trek shows with two cast members Colm Meaney (O'Brien) and Michael Dorn (Worf) would move to Deep Space Nine. Aside from Armin Shimerman's (Quark) cameos, there hasn't been an actor from that series to make a live-action return to Trek. The only live-action continuation from DS9 took place in the third and final season of Picard, with the Borg-Changeling conspiracy as the fallout of the Dominion War. Even when you break down the other parts, the final TNG feature Nemesis (2002) featured a cameo from Voyager's Kate Mulgrew, which ironically foreshadowed how much the UPN series would get back involved with the cast's willingness to reprise their roles for the most part in the Paramount+ era. Jonathan Frakes (Riker) made appearances in every syndicated and network Trek series in DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise. Marina Sirtis (Troi) made appearances on Voyager & Enterprise. LeVar Burton appeared in Voyager, and Brent Spiner continued his Soong story playing his 22nd-century ancestor in Arik Soong in Enterprise. Again, the Soong family narrative was first established on TNG.
We've also seen many TNG guest stars, including John de Lancie (Q), Jennifer Hetrick (Vash), and even Majel Barrett, TOS holdover, embrace bringing TNG favorite Lwaxana Troi from DS9. Dwight Schultz's neurotic Lt. Reginald Barclay and de Lancie made their return on Voyager. In the Paramout+ era, Picard is the one true legacy TV sequel of TNG, regardless of how star Patrick Stewart felt going in before finally embracing season three's reunion. So why has TNG become the go-to series of modern Trek? There's the prevailing mindset of letting TOS characters get played by new actors, as indicated by J. J. Abrams Kelvin universe timeline films, Discovery with the introduction of Ethan Peck's Spock (which featured an archived clip of Nimoy in TNG), and Strange New Worlds. Not to mention the fact there are only three surviving main cast of TOS on top of the tainted legacy stemming from Takei & Koenig's turmoil against star Shatner. On the DS9 front, star Avery Brooks hasn't indicated anything as far as any interest in revisiting Benjamin Sisko.
There hasn't been any interest outside of Lower Decks that saw the animated series bring back four DS9 characters in not serious guest roles, like how fans can conveniently ignore Frakes & Sirtis' guest roles on the show too. We literally haven't heard anything from DS9 alums in Meaney's O'Brien or Alexander Siddig's Bashir, whose characters are best friends on the show. Not much can be said about Odo or Nog since Rene Auberjonois and Aron Eisenberg passed. Aside from Easter Eggs, Enterprise hasn't been revisited in any other capacity with any of the actors, and no, I'm not counting Very Short Treks in any of this discussion since we're talking about a live-action front (and for other reasons). Even James Cromwell's Zefram Cochrane (first played by Glenn Corbett in TOS), who appeared in the 1996 TNG film First Contact, continued his legacy in Enterprise when he could have easily been recast for the UPN series.
As much as there are two TOS prequel series in Discovery & SNW, it's more about rebranding that era to fit within the paradigm of modern Star Trek and embrace more of what was built from the TNG era. When it came to the other shows in the current timeline, what remained of Voyager in live-action has largely been absorbed into the TNG universe. Guess, in the end, it helped the TNG cast remain the best of friends and remain close. Prodigy might be the first series that fully steps away from TNG in favor of Voyager, but I won't hold my breath since we don't know what's in store for season two when it drops on Netflix.