Star Trek: The Next Generation was to focus on three main characters.
If you were to ask the casual fan who the main hero of Star Trek: The Next Generation was, they’d probably say Jean-Luc Picard. While that may be true for the most part, the fact is that isn’t exactly the case. At least not originally. The original idea of the show was to have both Picard and William Riker as duel-lead characters according to the Star Trek: The Next Generation’s writer and director’s guide.
This was something that was highlighted and looked at throughout the show’s run but the ensemble cast really became more prevalent as the show progressed to the point that the series had more than just those two “heroes“.
Before the series expanded to focus on more characters like Data, Worf, and the like, the focus was to be kept on Picard, Riker, and the third main character of the series; The Enterprise-D. In an exert from the writer and director’s guide, it clearly states that the ship is to be viewed in the same light as Picard and the rest.
"Please remember that a major hero of Star Trek has always been the starship Enterprise and her mission."
Star Trek: The Next Generation nearly lived up to its original premise
It’s fair to say that as The Next Generation moved along, it no longer just focused on Picard or Riker, though they were a heavy presence in the early days of the show. Yet, around the time of the third season’s final days of filming, there was genuine concern that Patrick Stewart, the man who brought Picard to life, was about to leave the show.
The showrunners and execs were so convinced that Picard wouldn’t agree to a new contract, that they wrote the season three ending specifically in mind to kill off Picard if need be.
Had that been the case, then the show’s focus on Riker and Picard would have truly come to fruition, with Riker replacing him as the captain of the Enterprise for the rest of the series.