Much like the original Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation served as the launching pad for many soon-to-be famous thespians, and an interesting stopover for many screen veterans. In many episodes, you’d find a tasty mix of fresh, new talent (at the time) and familiar faces. A quick scan of imdb.com finds the special guest star list to be a who’s who of the small screen, all willing to endure hours of makeup or wear goofy uniforms just to be part of the show’s legacy. And who wouldn’t, eh?
Perhaps the most famous guest was Whoopi Goldberg, who made her Star Trek debut in an episode called “The Child” playing Guinan, a role that she would continue in throughout the series as a semi-regular. Other recurring guests included the great Tracey Walter (Repo Man, Newhart) as Kayron, who made his debut in "The Last Outpost”, and actor/musician Jack Sheldon (Schoolhouse Rock), as the Enterprise’s piano player. “Howling Mad Dog” Murdoq of The A-Team (actor Dwight Schultz) was also a frequent guest on the Enterprise, playing Lt. Reginald Barclay III from “Hollow Pursuits” onward.
Robocop character actor Ronny Cox played Captain Edward Jellico for many an episode, beginning with “Chain of Command: Part 1,” which also found character actor David Warner (Tron) guest starring as Gul Madred.
Other famed actors to watch out for include Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian, Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as Boothby in “The First Duty”, Twin Peaks star Ray Wise as Liko in "Who Watches the Watchers", and Babe star James Cromwell as Prime Minister Nayrok in "The Hunted". Plus, “Deja Q” featured Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer and LA Law’s Corbin Bernsen, as Capt. Morgan Bateson and Q2 respectively. And remember, Patrick Stewart was, to most viewer's eyes, just some bald guy with a funny accent before the show’s 1987 debut.
Yet it wasn’t just screen vets who littered the Star Trek role call sheet. Many now-famous actors made some of their earlier TV appearances on Next Generation. Desperate Housewives star Terri Hatcher played Transporter Chief Lt. Bronwyn Gail Robinson in "The Outrageous Okona" before she swept Superman away as Lois Lane in Lois and Clark. Esteemed actor Ashley Judd played Ensign Robin Lefler in "Darmok", while Office Space/News Radio/King of the Hill star Stephen Root began his career as recurring character Captain K'Vada beginning in “Unification: Part 1". You can also catch Lost’s Terry O'Quinn as Admiral Eric Pressman in “The Pegasus”, character actor Olivia d'Abo as Amanda Rogers in “True Q", and future mutant hottie Famke Janssen (X-Men) as Kamala in "The Perfect Mate".
Next Gen ain’t above pulling a few stunt casting coups either, and getting some unlikely celebs to play bit parts. Like, it’s weird enough that in the future space ships will have stand-up comics, but even weirder that former Saturday Night Live alumni Joe Piscopo would get that gig (“The Outrageous Okona"). It’s as if they cryogenically froze him just so he could do his Frank Sinatra imitation all those years in the future. And if technology has advanced to a point where drummer Mick Fleetwood (as Antedian Dignitary in "Manhunt") is still alive and well when space travel is the norm, then maybe Vulcans, cyborgs and Tribbles ain't so far fetched!
Yes, there are many stars in the galaxy of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some big, some small. But one thing is for sure, by traveling in that particular sci-fi TV universe, these actors have guaranteed themselves a seat at Star Trek and sci-fi fan conventions for the rest of their lives, where super-fans will forever worship them as gods and gawk at them like circus freaks. Thank you, Gene Roddenberry, Thank you.