Gene Roddenberry liked a bearded Jonathan Frakes so much he made William Riker grow one for Star Trek: The Next Generation too.
Star Trek is always going to be a series where the silliest of reasons will lead to generation-defining characteristics, features, or iconography. So when we talk about why Star Trek: The Next Generation saw its second-male lead, William Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes) grow a beard randomly in season two, it wasn’t because of any other reason than because Gene Roddenberry liked it.
As told in the Star Trek: Next Generation Companion book, Frakes had gone on vacation after the end of filming for season one. This coincided with the Writer Guild of America strike of 1988, which delayed the filming and airing of The Next Generation until late November. This gave Frakes even more time to work on the beard that would come to define his looks.
When he returned to be recording the second season of the series, Roddenberry and producers loved the beard, and Roddenberry himself requested that Frakes retain the look for the show. It’s a look he’s never really changed from in over 30 years. Save for his turn in Insurrection.
Gene Roddenberry birthed Jonathan Frakes’s iconic look for Star Trek: The Next Generation on accident.
It’s rather fascinating to think about it as happenstance but that’s really what it was. Had Frakes not gone on vacation, had the writers never struck, had Roddenberry not seen Frakes until after Frakes shaved, and so many other variables, then Riker would’ve never been remembered for his iconic bearded look.
Star Trek is funny like that, constantly falling into things by accident or by necessity. Think about the iconic Borg, do they get created if the Ferengi were better developed and executed? Probably not. It seems unlikely that the Next Generation crew would’ve given them so much time and energy when they could’ve just defaulted back to the Ferendig for any and all major plot lines.
It’s funny how one decision can change everything.