How A Star Trek Convention Changed Riker Forever In The Best Possible Way

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

There are few things quite as fascinating in Star Trek history as Commander Riker’s beard. Not only did growing the beard out completely transform Jonathan Frakes’ face, but fans have spent decades using the length of Riker’s beard as an indication of how good an episode will be (fittingly, he had no beard for that awful first season of The Next Generation). Fans have often wondered why he grew it in the first place, and it all goes back to a Star Trek convention where Gene Roddenberry personally saw how much the audience liked Riker with a beard.

The Beard

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In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Riker was a babyfaced Starfleet commander, but by the time season two rolled around, he now had a beard. It took the show many years to provide an in-universe explanation–in this case, the character grew tired of people telling him how young he looked. Out-of-universe, Frakes was motivated to grow a beard for the same reason that most men are: he really hates shaving.

Fans Liked The Soup Catcher

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During his off time after the first season of The Next Generation, Jonathan Frakes grew a beard. He ended up attending a Star Trek convention with franchise creator Gene Roddenberry.

Events like these were the first time fans had a chance to see Riker’s new beard, and Roddenberry was understandably curious how the fandom would feel about it.

At this particular Star Trek convention, Roddenberry solicited direct input by asking the audience how they felt about Riker having a beard. This resulted in a huge cheer from the crowd, and that was enough to convince him that Picard’s first officer should become a bearded man.

While little details like that were basically Roddenberry’s call back in the day, it didn’t take long for Frakes to win over others who were working on the show.

The Producers Agreed

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As with all television shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation required rehearsals well before the actual episodes were shot. Frakes showed up to the first of these rehearsals rocking his new facial hair.

Like the audience at the Star Trek convention, the producers loved the idea of Riker having a beard, and this soon became a major part of his character.

Growing The Beard

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While this wasn’t Jonathan Frakes’ intention when he showed up to the Star Trek convention with his dramatically different appearance, Riker’s beard ended up making television history.

As we noted before, Star Trek just got better the longer Riker’s beard got, with it assuming its thicker final form in season three, arguably the best season of the entire show.

Television audiences ended up dubbing this phenomenon “Growing the Beard,” a trope that is the opposite of “Jumping the Shark” because it identifies the point at which a show gets really good.

Now Everyone’s Doing It

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He didn’t need the approval of a Star Trek convention or Gene Roddenberry, but Deep Space Nine star Avery Brooks eventually followed in Riker’s footsteps by growing a beard for his Captain Sisko character.

As with Riker before him, the arrival of Sisko’s beard coincided with DS9 turning into truly unforgettable television. 

Will growing a great beard make everything better, both on TV and in real life? We can’t say for sure, but it’s never too late to petition Jonathan Frakes for a revival of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction.

He and his glorious facial foliage might be able to answer this burning question once and for all.

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