Star Trek fans definitely got their money's worth at New York Comic Con this year. Last Friday night −just a few hours shy of the timeslot that killed off the Original Series − most of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation reunited on stage to take questions from a fan-filled audience, with William Shatner acting as host, moderator, and occasional heckler.
Only Jonathan Frakes (William Riker) and Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) were missing from the group. Otherwise, the show was represented not only by series regulars Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), Gates McFadden (Beverly Crusher), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge), and Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard), but also by first season crew member Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) and frequent guest star John de Lancie (Q). While thunderous applause greeted all of them, it was Patrick Stewart, predictably, who got the loudest response, with LeVar Burton a close second, literally running back and forth across the stage upon his arrival.
Biggest surprise of the evening: 83 year-old Shatner. The man just doesn't stop. He's quick on his feet, smart as a whip, and used his lack of knowledge about The Next Generation to great comic advantage, getting utterly confused when the cast brought up the episode ("Chain of Command") in which Picard was kidnapped by the Cardassians.
"You were kidnapped by the Kardashians?" he asked incredulously. "Which one?"
Another big surprise: Marina Sirtis is a hoot! Having had to play it straight for most of the series (except for a notable drunk scene in Star Trek: First Contact), she had fun telling her favorite bad joke and filling us in on Jonathan Frakes' nickname for Deep Space 9: Deep Throat 9. She described her first season uniform as a "cosmic cheerleader oufit," complemented by the "exploded brillo pad" on her head, which was actually her natural hair. She suggested the combination was better suited to a caged go-go dancer, then demonstrated a few moves for the crowd.
Sirtis also provided her own theory on why Captain Picard − and all of his relatives, and all the French people on Star Trek − spoke with British accents. Apparently the Chunnel is to blame; by the 24th century, so many Brits had made their way to Paris that they eventually took it over completely. Patrick Stewart then revealed that somewhere in the Paramount vaults lurks an audition tape with him doing Picard in a French accent, in which he sounded like Inspector Clouseau.
And while Star Trek audiences get a bad rap as being nothing but nerdy-ridiculous − and yes, there were some in full uniform − they asked a range of intelligent and intriguing questions, jogging the cast's memories and bringing out some of the evening's best moments.
They asked Michael Dorn about the transition from working with his close pals at TNG to joining the cast at DS9, and he confessed that the set was a whole lot more serious than he was used to. He wasn't sure if it was his influence or just time working things out, but said things were pretty wild and crazy by the time the series wrapped up. He compared the early DS9 set to a monastery, contrasting it with life on the TNG set where the cast would sing show tunes right up until the moment the director yelled "Action!"
"Wait a minute," Shatner interrupted. "You spent seven years singing show tunes?"
Of course, this wasn't a surprise to uberfans familiar with Brent Spiner's Ol' Yellow Eyes is Back album: track six features a back-up group called The Sunspots made up of LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, and Patrick Stewart. But it was still a glorious moment when Shatner goaded Spiner into belting out "Volare" to the crowd. They explained that on set, Spiner and Frakes would sing, McFadden would dance, and Stewart would quote Shakespeare.
"And what were you doing while this was going on?" Shatner asked Burton. "I was asleep behind my VISOR," he replied, without missing a beat.
Denise Crosby said the cast's behavior was often so extreme that she had a hard time not peeing herself in her uniform. She added that she didn't always succeed, which could explain Tasha Yar's untimely death in the first season.
Someone else wanted to know how they all felt about the darker turn the various series' seemed to take, which sparked a lively discussion about the changes in tone after creator Gene Roddenberry's death. Despite his opposition to the premise of Deep Space 9 (objecting to its status as a "hotel" and not a space ship), they agreed that the shows and movies still lived up to his original vision.
Fans asked about unforgettable behind-the-scenes stories, which triggered tales from everyone on the stage. Lines they couldn't get through without laughing, Stewart fretting over accidentally grabbing McFadden's breast during an action scene, and earthquakes that shook up the set, resulting in an unprepared Jonathan Frakes giving an Entertainment Tonight interview in an ill-fitting pink frilly bathrobe with a face half-covered in shaving cream, all got recalled in vivid detail.
All in all, fans were well rewarded for the steep ticket price, the Friday night investment, and the challenge of wading through superhero-costumed crowds to get to the Hammerstein Ballroom. We can only hope that the cast all went out together afterwards and drank themselves silly long into the night. I'd bet money on it. And if William Shatner went, I'd wager he was the last man standing.