When Star Trek: The Next Generation was being developed, the Ferengi were created to be the main recurring antagonists. They were ominously name-dropped in the series premiere and made their first on-screen appearance going up against the Enterprise crew in the fourth episode, “The Last Outpost.” The fans, writers and producers generally agreed that this introduction was a failure, and the Ferengi didn’t end up meeting the goals set by series creator Gene Roddenberry.
Shimerman sees introduction of Ferengi as a “disaster”
Years before he was cast in Deep Space Nine as Quark, Armin Shimerman was cast to play Letek, who led a Ferengi away team in “The Last Outpost.” In a new interview with Gamespot (promoting the just announced DS9-focused expansion of Star Trek Online) the actor reveals that he takes that early failure of the Ferengi personally, noting:
What we were told about the Ferengi and what we ended up with were like night and day. The Ferengi were going to be the new Klingons. They were never meant to be a comical race; they were meant to be ferocious and menacing. And unfortunately, they hired me to play one of the lead Ferengi, and I failed miserably.
My final performance was not at all what [Star Trek: The Next Generation creator] Gene Roddenberry wanted. By that point, he was rather sick, and he was not on set. But I met him briefly–maybe no more than 30 seconds–when he looked at my makeup and looked at my costume.
“The Last Outpost” was a disaster. And no one one bears the brunt of that mistake more than I do.
Shimerman’s second chance on DS9
Of course the Ferengi were not abandoned entirely, appearing in over a dozen more episodes of TNG over seven seasons. However, it was on Deep Space Nine where they were fully realized, with the introduction of the main character of Quark, along with many memorable recurring characters. Shimerman revealed to Gamespot that he made it a personal goal to rehabilitate the Ferengi on Deep Space Nine, saying:
I didn’t put it behind me for years; it was like sword of Damocles hanging over my head. All of my work on Deep Space Nine, for the first four seasons, was me trying to eradicate that original performance from everyone’s mind. It was my personal agenda to rectify the mistake I made–to take a one-dimensional character and make him a three-dimensional character.
Fixing the Ferengi
Including a Ferengi as one of the main characters for Deep Space Nine was a bit of a controversial decision by creators Michael Piller and Rick Berman. Speaking to TrekMovie interview last year, showrunner Ira Steven Behr revealed he was against the idea, but eventually he found a hook to make it work:
I was not a fan [of the Ferengi] and I thought it was a mistake. The moment it clicked for for me was when I did the pass on “Babel,” which was the first real episode I wrote on DS9. We started out with Rom being the hard-core Ferengi who didn’t want his son to go to “HU-mon School” and frankly I thought that did not work for me. I didn’t like the Ferengi being the nasty hard-line guy.
What I had was a scene with Quark with O’Brien or Odo and Quark said, “My brother couldn’t fix a straw that was bent,” and that line just started me thinking, what if this was a show about brothers, about these two brothers. You have the successful brother and the loser brother. And I started to think of the Ferengi in human terms, 20th century human terms. And that nailed them for me. And that became my push. Not that they were so much comedic – although they were comedic – but more importantly they were 20th century human beings and we could write their relationship as such.
With this more personal and lighter tone, Behr and the other writers were able to flesh out the Ferengi over seven season of DS9, giving us great character moments and lots of world building, such as the Rules of Acquisition, the Grand Nagus and the Great Material Continuum.