This story about “Picard” originally appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
In 1994, after its seventh and final season, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was nominated for its lone Best Drama Series Emmy. Patrick Stewart, who anchored the show as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, remembers the nomination well. It was the same year he got a SAG Award nomination.
“Those two were the only two (above-the-line) nominations that we got,” Stewart said. “Next Generation” was nominated for several Creative Arts Emmys—for crafts like makeup, cinematography, sound mixing and more—but was otherwise consistently overlooked. “The fact that Brent Spiner was never acknowledged in that way for his extraordinary work playing an android for seven seasons. And Jonathan (Frakes) and LeVar (Burton) and Marina (Sirtis). We got used to it. We knew there was going to be no acknowledgment…until the very last season.” Which is exactly what happened.
But in the three decades since “The Next Generation,” its follow-up series, Paramount+’s “Star Trek: Picard,” exists in a much friendlier landscape, in which genre storytelling is no longer an outsider to the awards conversation. “Picard’s” third and final season has been critically acclaimed and warmly embraced by fans—though it’s still a long shot to pull off the same coup as its predecessor and score an Outstanding Drama Series nomination. Awards recognition or not, Stewart is excited about the culture shift.
“What is happening is long overdue. And there are now acknowledgments for work—actors, directors, as well as designers and writers. And it’s exciting,” he said. “I watch a lot of television in the evenings. And the roads that some of these series go down are extremely adventurous, dangerous, shocking, even upsetting. I think that’s good for my industry. And certainly it’s good for my profession, because it has brought people in to center stage. Diversity of color, of background, of language is just transforming the industry. I’m 100% in favor.”
In its final season “Picard” took risks. Writer and executive producer Terry Matalas, who joined the show in Season 2, came up with the idea for a grand Season 3 send-off, not only for Jean-Luc but for the rest of the “Next Generation” crew as well. Instead of a portrait of Picard in his twilight years, Matalas finessed an all-out “Next Generation” reunion, with key characters (including Burton’s Geordi La Forge) re-entering Picard’s life. It was a gamble that ran the risk of tarnishing the stellar reputation of the original series.
Stewart admitted that he had “significant hesitations” about the nostalgic tone the reunion created for a show that forever looks to the future. “I know there’s strong sentimental feelings about ‘Next Generation.’ And that’s lovely. It affects me. It moves me. But that’s essentially not what ‘Star Trek’ was about,” he said. “I didn’t want for all of that work to collapse into internal jokes about the previous show or comedic episodes or even romantic episodes.”
Also risky was showing a different side of Picard, now Admiral. In the final season he is downright vulnerable, thanks to the emergence of Jack (Ed Speleers from ‘Downton Abbey’and ‘You’), a mysterious young man who is revealed to be Jean-Luc’s son. (His mother is Beverly Crusher, once again played by Gates McFadden.) Discovering new facets of a character he has played for so long was refreshing for Stewart, as was the creative license that comes with being on a streaming network instead of syndication (like the previous series). “I am told that I even used, and it made its way into an episode, the f-word,” he said. “It was an ad-lib. But that’s just one example of the freedom that all of us began to feel—that we could expose ourselves and expose the characters in human ways that were not necessarily ‘series TV.’ I find that in so much of what I watch these days. And I applaud it.”
Whatever reservations Stewart had, he has long since exhaled, relaxing into the rapturous response to the final season.“I was always a little uneasy that it would just be thought of as cashing in on the success of an earlier series. But it was more than that,” he said. “And that was the work of my fellow producers and directors and showrunners—Terry Matalas in particular for what he created for us.”