Star Trek writers were prepared for Jean-Luc Picard’s exit from the series following season three, and William Riker would’ve been perfect to replace him.
The story goes like this; Patrick Stewart did not have a contract for season four of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The writers knew this and had to plan for the possibility that Stewart would move on from the project. After all, Stewart was a classically trained actor and thought lowly of the science fiction programming on television at the time. He was not an easy man to work with either, nearly quitting in season two of the series.
So when his deal came due at the end of season three, writers made sure that they could put ol’ Picard out to pasture in the most epic way possible; with his most trusted subordinate (William Riker) giving the order to destroy the Borg vessel that Picard now resided on.
Had that been the last scene of the series, with Picard being killed off by Riker’s orders, then the series would’ve had a drastically different tone going forward. One that may have actually been far more riveting, if not far more divisive than what we got.
Riker could’ve taken on the mantle of the Borg-hating captain, driven to near-madness levels, much like Picard would be. Riker’s quest for revenge would have been just as deep-seated as Picard’s, leading to him being the Ahab of the Enterprise.
The romance with Deanna Troi would have had far more emphasis before the films, as well. As an empath, her concern for the man she cared most about would end up becoming as integral to the storyline as anything. Perhaps leading to a point where Riker has to be brought back from the edge when he encounters the Borg again.
Riker always had a swash-buckling demeanor, and a way with words, not unlike James Kirk, and Riker’s placement as captain would in turn mirror how Kirk got the seat in the 2009 version of the film. It may have been a far more exciting show, and maybe one that lasted longer than just seven seasons.
It also may have been a gigantic failure, but who knows for sure? At the end of the day, a Riker-led Enterprise is a great “what if?” storyline, but it’s not one we’ll ever truly see get played out in any other medium than fan fiction.