How One Star Trek Producer Took Control Away From Gene Roddenberry

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

maurice hurley

It’s something of an open secret that Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t really hit its stride until season three. That’s because the early days had many difficulties and much drama behind the scenes, especially when Gene Roddenberry was still the showrunner. Eventually, Maurice Hurley took control after sending Roddenberry on a paid vacation; afterward, Roddenberry stepped down as showrunner, though Hurley ended up causing his own problems for The Next Generation.

Roddenberry Wasn’t The Right Showrunner For TNG

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For this tale of Maurice Hurley and studio intrigue to make sense, we need to contextualize some of the problems that Gene Roddenberry caused for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The biggest and perhaps most infamous one was his rule for writers that the characters aboard the Enterprise should never have any kind of interpersonal conflicts with one another. This severely tied the hands of writers who relied on conflict to develop both characters and stories.

More directly, Roddenberry had a tendency to rewrite scripts so much that veteran writers like D.C. Fontana would request to have their names removed. His lawyer, Leonard Maizlish, once nearly got Roddenberry and Paramount sued because he tried to insert a Wesley Crusher scene (among other things) into an ep and claimed it was Roddenberry’s idea.

Oh, and Roddenberry wanted Deanna Troi to have four breasts, which was almost certainly a function of his weird ideas about women (these ideas also resulted in alleged misogynistic rants with writers and producers behind the scenes). 

Maurice Hurley

maurice hurley

That’s only the tip of the Roddenberry iceberg, but where does Maurice Hurley come into the equation? In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Hurley was brought in to help replace the writers (including the aforementioned D.C. Fontana) who Roddenberry had driven away with his antics. Notably, Hurley had no prior experience working in sci-fi and was basically forced on Paramount by Leonard Maizlish.

Drinking Buddies

maurice hurley

Nonetheless, Hurley quickly established a rapport with Roddenberry (late Trek producer Herbert Wright claimed that they became “drinking buddies’), which was evidenced by the Star Trek creator giving the other man the keys to this sci-fi kingdom. At one point, Paramount paid for Gene Roddenberry and his wife to have a vacation, and while he was gone, Roddenberry left Hurley in charge of the show.

The Man Who Fired Beverly

When Gene Roddenberry came back from vacation, he decided the show was in good enough hands that he made Maurice Hurley the official showrunner for the rest of season one and all of season two. On paper, removing control of The Next Generation from Roddenberry helped make a better show, and season two certainly improved on season one.

Nonetheless, Hurley generated his own fair share of controversies including firing Gates McFadden–when Hurley left TNG after season two, Rick Berman personally invited Gates McFadden back.

Replacements And More Replacements

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By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation’s third season began, the show had yet another new showrunner: Michael Wagner, who briefly replaced Maurice Hurley. Incredibly, Wagner himself was replaced as showrunner four episodes later by Michael Piller, the man who shaped The Next Generation into a classic show and helped launch Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

Frankly, we never waste a chance to praise the late Piller for his contributions to Star Trek, and it truly seems that if either Gene Roddenberry or Maurice Hurley had continued as showrunners, this franchise might have completely died out decades ago.

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