Commander Riker was originally forbidden to smile

By: H&I Staff     Posted: September 10, 2021, 2:15PM

Many parts of Star Trek: The Next Generation changed and transformed from its first season. Among the characters and themes that went through the most amount of changes was Commander Riker — and we don't just mean the facial hair.

Compared to the friendly trombone player we would come to know him as in the later seasons, our first look at Riker was a lot more serious and stoic. 

This initial hardline demeanor was a direction that was given by Gene Roddenberry himself. When directing and writing for Riker, Roddenberry's golden rule for Jonathan Frakes was to never smile. This inspiration for a more serious Number One was even drawn from a popular Western figure.

"Gene Roddenberry, the late Great Space Bird Of The Galaxy, had asked me originally not to smile, that he wanted Riker to be played with what he referred to as a Gary Cooper, Midwestern glint — not a scowl, but not smiling. And my nature is to smile, so I looked, or thought I looked, very uncomfortable — certainly in the first season — because I was playing Roddenberry’s wish, his note,” said Jonathan Frankes about his first season direction.

Riker would carry a more serious chip on his shoulder for a good portion of the first season. Following mixed reception from critics and fans of the series, the writers looked to make a few changes in the series. Staring with Riker. To make the character easier to play for Frakes and relatable to the audience, they decided to add a bit more of Frakes's own personality to the character.

"But Maurice Hurley came on the show and sat me down and he said, 'So what do you do?' And I told him about the trombone and the jazz, and then all of a sudden the character started to have a few of the qualities that I could relate to personally."

With just a small tweak and a smile, Star Trek fans found themselves with a new franchise favorite.

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