William Riker might have been clean-shaven for all of TNG, if not for an unexpected event that Jonathan Frakes grew his beard for.
- Riker’s iconic beard in Star Trek: The Next Generation was a result of Jonathan Frakes’ dislike for shaving and the 1988 writer’s strike.
- The writer’s strike also affected TNG’s second season, leading to a shorter season, a reduced budget, and recycled scripts from the canceled Star Trek: Phase II project.
- Riker’s beard symbolized the improvement and evolution of TNG, distinguishing it from the original series and becoming a metaphor for television show’s improvement.
Commander Will Riker was clean-shaven in Star Trek: The Next Generation season 1, and Jonathan Frakes reveals why Riker adopted his signature beard. Riker’s smooth face in TNG season 1 was a callback to Star Trek: The Original Series, with the USS Enterprise-D’s First Officer originally planned as TNG‘s version of William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk. When TNG came back for season 2, Riker sported a new beard, but that might not have been the case if production on TNG had gone as planned.
In the Star Trek oral history “The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years” by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross, Jonathan Frakes cited the 1988 writer’s strike led him to grow a beard because “I hate to shave,” which led to Commander Riker’s iconic look. Indeed, Frakes’ earlier television appearances, such as a 1980s Twilight Zone cameo, featured his famous beard, suggesting that Riker might have had a beard much earlier if it had been up to Frakes alone. However, the visual appearance of TNG‘s characters was determined in part by the show’s producers, and the TNG cast, including Jonathan Frakes, had to abide by their decisions. Read Frakes’ quote below.
The writers’ strike happened second season, and I hate to shave, so I let the beard grow. During the strike we had a meeting with Roddenberry and Berman and Hurley, who was the producer at the time, and Roddenberry kept looking at me and said, “I really like this, it looks nautical.” What ensued was this bizarre executive beard trimming contest. It became absurd in terms of the length and the shape and everything else. Gene wanted the beard to be decorative and it stuck and I’m very glad to have it. Fortunately, my wife liked it, or else I’d have had real problems.
7 Versions Of Riker In Star Trek
Thanks to transporter accidents, alternate timelines, and changes in facial hair, several different versions of William T. Riker appear in Star Trek.
The 1988 Writers’ Strike Changed Star Trek: TNG Season 2
The 1988 Writers’ Guild of America strike that Jonathan Frakes mentioned changed Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2. Riker’s beard was an indirect but ultimately beneficial result of TNG‘s halted production, but the 1988 strike was also responsible in part for TNG‘s truncated second season and its dwindling budget. Scripts from the nixed Star Trek: Phase II project were recycled, including TNG season 2’s premiere, “The Child”. The TNG season 2 finale, “Shades of Gray”, spliced together scenes from TNG‘s first 2 seasons in a clumsy patchwork focusing on Riker’s memories. Neither has been nearly as well received as Riker’s beard.
Star Trek‘s only clip show, “Shades of Gray”, brought TNG‘s season 2 episode count to 22, down from a typical 26-episode season order.
Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2 also marked the beginning of TNG‘s improvement, with additional changes for the better. The striking visual difference of a beard helped Riker to be seen as much more than a thinly-veiled substitute for Kirk, and Riker evolved into a more familiar version of himself. Riker’s beard became a symbol of the rise in overall quality that came when Star Trek: The Next Generation stopped trying to mimic Star Trek: The Original Series, and “growing the beard” even became a metaphor for any television show’s improvement — all thanks to Jonathan Frakes’ break from regular shaving.