Chaos on the Bridge is a 2014 documentary, written, directed and hosted by William Shatner, which takes a look at the rather difficult rebirth of the Star Trek Franchise on TV during the late 1980s, after the silver screen success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It does this by way of exploring the turbulent production and writing issues during the first two and a half seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, during the years of 1986-88, before the show finally managed to properly find its footing with its third season.
It was a time marked by frequent creative clashes and struggle for control over the show's direction between Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry, Roddenberry's infamous lawyer Leonard Maizlish, writer/producer Maurice Hurley and the general writing team, and Paramount Studios. At the receiving end of all this was the cast of the show, who at times had to try their damnest to ride off the storm.
Of note, the documentary features an extensive interview with Maurice Hurley, who was willing for the first time to put his side of the story about the early years of The Next Generation on record. It would prove a timely event, as Hurley passed away a year later.
- Amoral Attorney: Leonard Maizlish is described as being this. Hired to enforce Roddenberry's vision (due to avoid being screwed over by Paramount again as he had been done on the Original Series), he went so far as to rewrite scripts behind the writers' backs (which was a violation of WGA rules). By the second season, he was banned from the studio, but he somehow managed to sneak back in. Roddenberry's personal assistant Susan Sacker describes him as an "unsavoury character".John S. Pike, Paramount Television Executive: He himself could be a movie-of-the-week. I can recall one day when Leonard was almost clutching his chest, and I'm saying, "I hope you DIE!"
- David Gerrold thought to himself upon seeing him by an open window:David, go do it, go push that bastard out of the window, they'll give you a medal!
- David Gerrold thought to himself upon seeing him by an open window:
- Creative Differences: All production staffers from The Original Series that Roddenberry had brought in to work on the new series ended up quitting by the end of the first season. According to everyone asked in the documentary, it was because they all universally found Leonard Maizlish and his constant meddling in their work to be completely insufferable.
- Executive Meddling: A frequent frustration discussed by members of the writing team for the first and the second season, was that both Roddenberry, Maizlish, and Hurley would often interfere with their work. Roddenberry would issue the occasional Executive Veto, Hurley was employed to enforce Roddenberry' vision, and Maizlish was infamous for at times straight up sneaking into offices and stealing scripts, both complete and incomplete, and rewriting them — in blatant violation of the Screenwriter's Guild's rules — according to what he claimed was Roddenberry's wishes.
- It Will Never Catch On: Patrick Stewart relates the story of how his agent predicted that The Next Generation probably wouldn't last for much more than a season, and how he more or less felt the same, to point where he at first refused to unpack any of the suitcases he had brought along.
- Kicked Upstairs: It is discussed how Gene Roddenberry originally faced this fate after Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and how the structure of the production of The Next Generation actually allowed him quite a bit of creative control again. In the end though, Roddenberry would, due to fading health, face the same fate during the production of Season 3, where he was eventually replaced by Rick Berman and Michael Piller.
- King on His Deathbed: Gene Roddenberry was not in his best health when production on The Next Generation started, and he steady deteriorated both mentally and physically as the show went on, eventually dying during the production of Season 5. The film openly questions at several points how much control Roddenberry actually had over some of the more controversial creative decisions in the early seasons, before his bad health lead to him getting Kicked Upstairs, and how much it of was due to the people around him taking advantage of his weakening condition and trying to assert creative control with the excuse that they were only trying to enforcing his wishes.
- Troubled Production: The subject of the documentary is the one that happened during the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.