Jonathan Frakes Talks Star Trek Typecasting, And Returning To Direct ‘The Orville’

Jonathan Frakes directing

The official Star Trek site is continuing their series looking at the informal “Director’s School” which gave a number of Star Trek actors a chance to learn how to work behind the camera. Today’s interview is with the first entrant to this program, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Jonathan Frakes, who noted how learning to direct was the right move for him.

In talking about his motivation to learn more about directing, noted it was in part due to concerns over what Star Trek might do to his future acting career:

And I don’t know if I knew subconsciously or consciously that there’d be this typecasting. As Leonard Nimoy famously said, “It’s better to be typecast than not to be cast at all.” But there was a certain thing that happened after the show that you can see evidence of from The Original Series, from our series, Voyager, DS9, Enterprise. The exceptions were Bakula, and Patrick, and Bill and Colm, and Rene and Kate, maybe, to a certain point. Jeri Ryan. More of a handful people were not painted with the Star Trek brush, right? I don’t know what you’d call that in your world, but there certainly is … It was a double-edged sword.

Frakes also spoke frankly about his own ability as an actor, saying “I was fine, but I was certainly not in the top three” when it came to the Next Generation cast. As for moving behind the camera, he said he had no regrets:

I definitely made the right decision to pursue directing. It was actually one of the best decisions I ever made, because I have another craft. I like it better, and I’m better at directing than acting.

Before his time on TNG, Frakes found steady work in the 80s with regular, guest and recurring appearances on a number of television series. It shows a bit of forward thinking on his part to use the opportunity offered by TNG producer Rick Berman to future-proof his post-Trek career with directing skills.

Jonathan Frakes in North and South, Book II (1986), one of his last acting roles before TNG

Supported for his first episode

Frakes also spoke about the support he got from cast and crew when he got his first chance to direct, for the third season episode “Offspring”:

This was the middle of season three, so I’d been shadowing for almost two years. Patiently, consistently. The upside of all that was I was over-prepared, and the company was, for the most part, very much in support of my getting a shot to do this. The sound department gave me a big megaphone that everybody had signed, wishing me luck. All the actors took the piss out of me on the set.

Jonathan Frakes directing Patrick Stewart in the TNG episode "Drumhead"

Jonathan Frakes directing Patrick Stewart in the TNG episode “Drumhead”

Learning a lesson, and returning to The Orville

In retelling a story about how he learned to never release an actor before a scene is done (while shooting “Drumhead”), Frakes also noted that he is again working “now” on The Orville:

Dorn is long gone, and we’re doing a piece of coverage, and where Dorn was standing it couldn’t be clearer that we would see him. Not only see him, we’d see his face. So, the clever and talented Marvin Rush, who I’m now working with on The Orville, I told him the story. I said, “I screwed up. I let Dorn go.” He said, “OK, I got this.” We kicked it around, and he got the piece of coverage. I think it was of Jean, actually. Simmons was talking, and we managed to move the camera in a way where we pushed in, dropped down, got a piece of somebody in Dorn’s costume, and then came back up on the next person. Then we pulled back out, and we thought we felt Dorn in the shot, but we never had to see his face. Marvin Rush bailed me out, and I’ve never released an actor until a scene was done since then.

Frakes also directed an episode in The Orville’s first season and earlier this year he contrasted that show with Star Trek: Discovery. Jonathan Frakes is in the unique position as the only person to have directed for both shows, and he will do so again for both series second seasons, as he is also directing two episodes for Discovery’s season two.

Jonathan Frakes on the set of The Orville

Check out for lots more about directing TNG in the full Frakes interview.

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God I love Johnathan Frakes! He embodies Star Trek in all the best ways possible. And I too aam happy he chose to direct because he does an amazing job. I thought his episode on Discovery was one of the best and my second favorite episode of the season. Can’t comment on The Orville because I haven’t seen his episode yet.

As far as typecasting I completely agree he’s right. Even other Star Trek actors who still had a career after Star Trek a lot of them end up on more sci fi shows. But this is sadly an issue with the genre, its almost if you do sci fi you can’t seem to do anything else outside of it. Like I said many DO have a career outside of it but the majority doesn’t for some odd reason.

But I have a feeling he’s going to be around a looooong time, especially with all the new Star Trek stuff coming. Although it sounds like he doesn’t miss acting much so I do wonder if Stewart does come back for another show if he’s interested in coming back as Riker? I can’t see how he wouldn’t do it but he may have moved on from playing the character if he’s really just happy directing.

If Frakes were to direct episodes of this potentially upcoming Picard series (quite an awesome thought BTW), using this opportunity to throw in at least some small Riker cameos would be an obvious thing to do – I mean, he would be right there on the set anyway!

LOL let’s hope so. I DO have a feeling though if the Picard show is a TNG continuation of some kind its going to be hard for Frakes to pass up being Captain of the Titan if offered the chance. ;)

Can’t help it, but I have lost a bit of the great respect I have held for Frakes in the past with him for going over to that Orville sitcom/unlicensed version of Trek. I will take some heat for saying this, but this is how I feel; so let the chips fall where they may.

Guy gotta eat like all of us, right?

And since many people on past Trek already work on the show I don’t really see the issue. It would be different if he turned his back on Trek completely.

Just to be clear, I have lost a bit of respect for the others who have went over to The Orville as well. Please don’t overact to this though — I still have respect and like these people, but the level of respect I had had for them has just been lowered a tad, but is still there.

You can counter this all you want, but you are not going to change my opinion on this. I literally feel sick to my stomach watching the Orville…it’s like an Alex Peter’s fan film, but with bathroom/bedroom humor jokes from Three’s Company added in.

Frakes is a great guy though — I have talked to him one-on-one a couple of times at conventions. If it’s a cash thing, I get that…but then I have the right to lose a little of my personal respect if that’s the reason…that’s my personal opinion, which I am allowed to have.

That’s fine but a job’s a job, right? Most of the “others” you speak of will probably never work in Star Trek again. They shouldn’t be expected to be starving artists in the meantime. Not that it matters but I like both shows for different reasons.

Yea, I get that.

In this industry, there is a fine line that you walk between working on projects that you take because you need to put food on the table and not taking a job because of your personal convictions. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to have an opportunity to work on a show like this because your friends and colleagues are working on it, which seems to be the case here.

I had opportunity to work on both series last year doing VFX. While my time on both series was limited, I count myself blessed for the experience and the opportunity to work with friends in the process.

And why shouldn’t you Matt they’re both great series! I’ve never bought into this idea of treating a similar show like a rival football team – it’s okay to enjoy both and of course it’s okay to work on both! Otherwise we might as well all criticise Walter Koenig for taking on a prominent role in Babylon 5.

Yes this is where people take this stuff a bit too seriously. I like the Orville and while I think DIS IS a better show overall what I like about Orville is that it captures traditional Trek and explores social issues as well as just being about exploration. Its not perfect but it does strive to be more than Family Guy in space which is what I originally feared and had no intention watch because of it. Thankfully I was wrong.

But its aim and stories have surprised me even if it still gets a bit silly at times. I haven’t watched the entire first season yet, I seen most of the episodes including the finale and I have to say I probably enjoyed those episodes overall compared to DIS only because they feel a bit more uplifting and positive. But its still not Star Trek in the sense we don’t get the Federation, Romulans and the Borg so why I’m not as into it as I am DIS because it at least gives me the world of Trek again. I just wish it did it better.

That’s a false analogy though as Babylon 5 was not a ripoff/carbon copy of Star Trek.

I watched the first ep of “Babylon 5” the other night. I thought it was a lot like DS9, but not nearly as good. [sigh]

Try watching the full run, it gets a lot better in Seasons 2 through 4.

B5 and DS9 were created in parallel by different studios and creative teams and premiered the same year, so while we can see similarities, neither could have copied the other.

To me, the period when DS9 and B5 were both on for the same period was my personal golden age of scifi TV. I am now getting a little of that vibe with The Expanse and DSC being on during the same period, but their schedules have not overlapped yet.

Ok, I hear you. I’m just personally fine with it.

Maybe it’s where his comfort zone lies for directing. Maybe he just likes the show or the team working on it. Maybe he has bills to pay. Maybe he just wanted an excuse to check out how they were filming such a similar show. Maybe it was nostalgia for directing TNG and this was a pretty close substitute. Maybe he wants to direct as many Trek (or Trek like) episodes as he can in case his name gets thrown in to direct a Trek movie again (this was heavily rumoured for Beyond).

As you can see, there are a million possible reasons for directing the show. I don’t think any of them merit losing respect for him. It certainly wasn’t like it was some big dig at Trek over a petty quarrel. Most likely it was just money or seemed like a fun job.

That’s all fine. And I think it’s fine if my opinion on my admiration for him slightly moves down a peg for making that choice, for whatever reason he did it. It’s not like I now dislike the guy or don’t respect him at all — far from it.

Could you clarify what it is about him doing his job as a director that caused you to lose respect for him? Is it that you don’t like the Orville? I’m not saying that you can’t feel that way, but I’m just curious what it is that causes you to feel that way.

Sure, Matt. To me that show is a blatant rip off of the Star Trek franchise, and I guess the only reason Paramount couldn’t sue over it is because McFarlane started out acting like it was kind of a comedy satire of Star Trek like Galaxy Quest. However now he seems to be moving the series in the direction of the next generation 2.0 – I.e. a complete rip off of the Star Trek franchise — Including signing a lot of the creative talent from star trek to support his series.

So does this bother me? Hell yes, it does!

Respectfully, that’s not how copyright works. Nobody owns the idea of people on a spaceship exploring the universe anymore than one studio owns the rights to cop shows or medical dramas. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a comedy or not. Nobody gets to own broad concepts or block others from exploring similar space. Imagine if no one was allowed to create a superhero after Superman!

Respectfully, that is simply not true. Please Google Fair Use and Parody.

Galaxy Quest and the initial season of The Orville are essentially copying Star Trek, but are protected given their humorous parody elements by The Supreme Court 1994 ruling, Campbell vs. AcuffRose Music.

The first season of The Orville is essentially a sitcom parody version of TNG. However, now, with the show signing up all this past talent from Star Trek, and with it seems MacFarlane taking the show in more of a serious direction closer to a standard Star Trek TNG-like series, they could very well be at legal risk.

Indiewire said it best last year with this headline: “‘The Orville’ Review: Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Star Trek’ Rip-Off is Creatively, Morally, and Ethically Bankrupt.” And a quote in their review put it best: “Seth wanted to cosplay being captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. And Fox let him do it.”

I’d love to see CBS ask a federal judge for a restraining order. I doubt it will happen given the show is already heading in Season 2 and that action would generate a lot of bad press for CBS, but I can always hope.

Seth MacFarlane is kind of like Alex Peters, but with much, much better Hollywood connections, as well as a competing network backing him up.

I don’t think ORVILLE needs to rely on Campbell v. AcuffRose. That case would protect out-and-out use of characters such as Kirk and Spock in the parody context — think SNL’s recent parody of TOS when Chris Pine hosted, and they actually *used* Kirk and Spock (along with “Spocko”) in the skit. I think ORVILLE would be less likely to fall into the parody bucket, and you’d do an actual infringement analysis.

True that. In the Orville threads a number of people were wondering why CBS doesn’t take legal action when the reason is there is no law against using the genre. Just as no one holds copyright over dr shows set in hospitals. Literally anyone is free to do a show about future explorers on a military-ish space ship with no fear whatsoever of legal action.

Please see my response above to The River Termec. I am happy to resume discussions with you, but I would humbly request that you please do not grossly exaggerate or distort anything that I say on this thread and going forward. Let’s please engage in discussion that is honestly based on actual things that we actually write, without distortion. Peace!

I was responding to Termarc’s response to yours. When I exaggerate, I do so to emphasize points. In the past, while you did not actually bring up a number, you did imply that number. It was your own words. When I asked for you to clarify or deny what you said you refused/ignored. Not much I can do about that.

For my part, going forward, I am going to strive to “not puts words in your mouth,” as you specifically called me out on that in the past. I would request that you do the same and not have “a different set of rules for yourself,” because that was exactly how I took your gross exaggeration of what I was saying in that other thread.

If you can’t meet me half way and treat me the same way that you expect I treat you, then there is not much I can do about that.

Well, I never “put words in your mouth”. There was one time when you thought I did but I explained that away. And it would help if when asked to confirm what you said to NOT ignore it.

You said EXACTLY:

“He claimed that he has personally interacted with thousands of fans at conventions and other such events.

I NEVER SAID THIS AND YOU KNOW THIS! This is an utterly ridiculous exaggeration of what I said — an order of magnitude greater exaggeration of what I had originally said. You would have had a complete hissy fit if I had twisted what you said in this manner, and you know that as well.

So yea, you falsely put “thousands” as a word in my mouth…fact!

But you DID say that you have spoken to a large enough sample to conclude how well STD was received by fans. (of course further cementing it when asked to confirm or deny you said that you avoided answering every time) In order to do that one would need thousands of fans for a baseline. Or one thousand at the very least. You and I both know that was highly unlikely. Therefore, you were the one who “put the words in your mouth”. All I did was define the meaning of what you said. So please, enough. I’m done with you on this. Do everyone a favor and drop it. Please.

You said I “claimed that he personally interacted with thousands of fans,” which is a ridiculous gross exaggeration of my statement that I interacted with “many” fans in the late 80’s such that I felt I could “reasonably” take “the pulse” of fans opinion on the first season of TNG. It strains all credibility for me to have said that and for you to then say that I actually claimed to you that I had polled “thousands” and then falsely also infer that I suggested I conducted a scientific survey with a “baseline”, etc??? Seriously, dude??? That is total BS, and you lied about what I said to twist and belittle my original statement, and then you proceeded to take it further out of context to apply it to today’s opinions about DSC, which makes no sense, as I was clearly refereeing to the late 80’s typical fan opinion of season 1 of TNG. And I completely stand by my original modest statement on that.

I realize no apology or even minor admittal that you overreached is coming. Fine, I am taking note of that, but please think twice before you grossly mischaractetize what I write in the future.

This will be my last post on this, unless you feel the need to drag this on with another response.

I’m done with this subject. It is quite obvious you have no intention of admitting that you were wrong to think that the meager number of folks you interacted with were not enough at all to draw the conclusion you did. I’ll just leave you with either admit your mistake or choose your words more carefully.

Good day to you, sir.

I love how you claimed you were done with this two posts ago, and were not going to post anymore, and scolded me to not post again, yet here you go again with your self-aggrandizing additional message to drag this out further??? Seriously???

Are you really done this time? (please just move on — ENOUGH ALREADY!)


[scrolling down]

LOL Yep!

Except for the fact that they go around infering (and definitely not denying) that it’s a takeoff/homage of Star Trek, and hire a bunch of talent that worked on Star Trek. Thus I think it’s they would have a reasonable case to bring if they ever wanted to challenge Fox in court. Basically, everyone knows it intended to be MacFarlane’s version of Star Trek, not just a show about about future explorers on a military-ish space ship.

Here are a sampling of headlines from various publications that show what the general view is on this, which backs up my view:

“One-note Trek parody ‘The Orville’ never hits warp speed” – CNET

“The Orville’ should be retitled ‘Star Trek: Rip-off’” – The Salt Lake Tribune

“How Seth MacFarlane could save his terminally bland Star Trek clone The Orville” – The Verge

“Seth MacFarlane’s ‘The Orville’ Is The ‘Star Trek’ Show Fans Have Been Waiting For” – Forbes

“Seth MacFarlane’s ‘The Orville’ Is a Shameless, Humorless ‘Star Trek’ Rip-Off” – The Verge

“Discovery May Be an Official Star Trek Show, but The Orville Could Wind Up the Truer One” – Gizmodo

“Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Star Trek’ Rip-Off is Creatively, Morally, and Ethically Bankrupt.” – Indiewire

You see, basically “EVERYBODY” gets that The Orville is an unlicensed Star Trek series.


Well, and MacFarlane can act, as opposed to Peters.

Correction to my post: meant “CBS” of course, not “Paramount”

rip off of ST? don’t mention ‘forbidden planet’ then.

Frankly, I wish there were more ripoffs being made. If Roddenberry hadn’t ripped off Forbidden Planet and a dozen other things, we wouldn’t have the “original” Star Trek.

“and a dozen other things”


Is was an amalgamation of influences, not just an obvious attempt to create his own carbon copy version of an existing TV series where he got to cosplay Kirk/Picard.

Georg Lucas said Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress influence him to create C3PO and R2D2, but that many other things influenced the rest of SW. Nothing wrong with that!

In contrast, Sergio Leone copied the exact same plot from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo to create A Fistfull of Dollars, and was sued and had to settle with Tojo/Kurosawa even though the characters were Western-based, not Samurai…this is reasonably analogous to this situation with The Orville as compared to Star Trek.

Thanks for unintentionally reinforcing my point.

Right, and hopefully The Orville will pull from other sources as it goes forward. That’s what I like ripoffs to do.

As for reinforcing your point, well, I’m happy to unintentionally give you an ego boost. Keep on keeping on.


I must admit my first viewing of “Forbidden Planet” was a little … surprising

I’m no fan of Orville. I watched the first season and will not tune in for the second. But I have no problem with Frakes directing episodes of the show. He’s a director and it is a directing gig. You don’t turn down work like that. Same goes for any other the others like mcneil or dawson. The more exposure they get, the better. I’ve always liked Frakes, he’s a very down to earth guy. I’ve had a chance to interview him a few times in the past.

Firstly, CBS owns Trek, Paramount licenses the film rights, both companies stated such in legal filings during the Axanar suit. Secondly, Macfarlane didn’t “get around” anything, Fox is paying a fee to CBS, who is perfectly happy to take it. Thirdly, Frakes has also directed episodes in the first 2 seasons of Discovery as well, so can it with the jumping ship nonsense.

“Secondly, Macfarlane didn’t “get around” anything, Fox is paying a fee to CBS, who is perfectly happy to take it.”

Please provide a reference that shows that Fox is “paying a fee to CBS” to pay for avoidance of any legal issues here? I highly doubt this is true, but I would certainly be willing to “fall on my sword” here if you can substantiate this?

It was flatly stated by a Fox exec when asked if they had any concerns about CBS and any reactions to the Orville, the exec in question elaborated that this was a preemptive measure taken due to the fallout from the Axanar suit. Frankly I don’t care of you doubt it, if there wasn’t such a deal then action would have been taken already (at the least to force them to prove “fair use” in court).

Additionally to that, you are wrong about the show in just about every way concievable.

Ah, you can’t a produce a single link or refererence to substantiate this piece of information that none of us have ever read.

My, how convenient! Lol

That’s silly. I’m far from a tremendous fan of the Orville, but why should he turn down a directing gig?

Ah OK, sorry, I didn’t realize that unlike every other profession on the planet, Director’s don’t pick, choose and discriminate on job offers, but instead automatically take any open offer if their calendar is clear. Yea, how silly of me to not know that. (-;

PS: if he needed the money, of course I get that.


This reminds me of when really good actors appear in a bad movie and people condemn them for it.

Maybe they knew it wasn’t so great when they read the script. Maybe they had a contractual obligation, or maybe, as Lawrence Olivier said, they were making a “bread and butter” movie, to support their families.

I don’t discount an actor because they do a bread and butter movie, and I don’t discount directors who do the same thing either.

Have you watched the show? I only ask because after watching it I feel like The Orville holds truer to the style of star trek’s story-telling with underlying substance. Not just an action fest which I feel is Discovery’s direction. Although I have been watching both and will continue to :-)

That kind of proves my overall point.

No heat given, but my respect for Frakes remains intact. Wishing him the best in all he takes on.

I’m curious. Paramount, Viacom, or Bad Robot has no interest in Star Trek in the eyes of Gene Roddenberry vision or better yet TNG. Better yet, Seth pitched the Orville(probabbly a different name) to CBS first. They said No. So, Seth went to make his own ship, crew, and show. If previous ST people said they want to jump on board then power to them. Don’t hate on the guy or people for that.

Where did “hate” come from? I think I made it painstakingly clear that I still have respect for Frakes and like the guy. My previous very high level of respect just took a modest hit with this, that’s all.

But you’re ok with all the people working on the bastardised version of Star Trek known as ‘Discovery’ right?

Yes, 100%, and without reservation. However I don’t accept your negative characteriztion of DSC that you chose to I guess to try to (unsuccessfully) put me on the defensive with. Lol

Some people will never accept DSC as Trek. Too bad they’re missing it, but [shrug].

My recommendation… Unless you are a giant Trek enthusiast and can’t get enough of any Trek or are so into the franchise that you are compelled to watch whatever they put out, skip STD. I have a friend who like Trek but is not nearly as into it as I am ask me very recently (I’ve never discussed the show with him) if he should check the show out. I told him if he was already subscribing to CBSAA for some other reason then it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. But if he was subscribing just to see Trek then he should not waste his time as the show was not very good at all. He’s not missing out. And for the record, he was not a CBSAA subscriber and opted to skip STD.

Offtopic but is there way to subscribe to email notifications of new (front page) posts on this site?

He has such a healthy sense of self — strengths, weaknesses, talents, capabilities, possibilities. I truly admire that about him.

“Bakula, and Patrick, and Bill and Colm, and Rene and Kate, maybe, to a certain point. Jeri Ryan.”

I assume “Bill” is Shatner. So that’s four of five leads and two or three others. Interesting.

Also, I wonder who he thinks the “top three” were. Stewart, certainly, and probably Spiner and then…Burton?

After Stewart, the acting level drops off considerably. I’d say Spiner would be next but after that it pretty much falls over the cliff. Burton, Frakes, McFadden… All mediocre at best. Terrible at worst. Which is funny… In my eyes Stewart was the best actor playing one of the least interesting characters yet Dorn was one of the lesser actors playing the most interesting character on the show.

I wish the writers in TNG gave Dorn better lines to work with:

Picard: “Suggestions?”

Worf: “Blow it up!” or “Don’t trust him/her/it/them!”

Really, Dorn should have said something about his crappy lines. Maybe he was just happy to have a gig.

Plus, you just knew he was going to lose almostevery fight he got in during those many scenes!

Worf, the perpetually irritated Klingon! Got old…

FASAfan, I will give you that Worf lost an unreasonable number of fights. But what you say about Worf I can say about Troi. She offered less than Worf did on the bridge! In fact, at least he had a reason to be there. She had none.

Typical Troi situation… Viewscreen conversation between Picard and some planetary figurehead…

Picard: Where are our crew?
Figurehead (usually with nervous gestures): We don’t have your crew, Captain.

Troi: He’s hiding something but I cannot tell what.

Thank you, Commander Worthless.

I never liked the character of Riker, but I love the holy living tribbles out of Jonathan Frakes!

So stupid these actors get typecast. I would love to see him in more shows and movies. He’s an actor I know and like so why wouldn’t I want to see him in other shows? Short shortsightedness on Hollywood’s part.

This guy is the best thing about Star Trek right now. And I had a feeling he liked being behind the camera better than in front.

I like that he talks about type casting and then rattled off a list of people who weren’t type cast. The thing they had in common? THey were really good actors.

Well, but Nimoy was a really good actor. Typecast, though.

I do agree with his self assessment that he is indeed a better director than actor. That is not a shot at him, btw.

I loved his work on First Contact!

I love The Orville, I hope Trek can return to this fun, light, optimistic approach. I watch sci-fi as escapism after a hard days work, Discovery makes me want to self harm.

I, too, like Orville. I think the show works much better when it leans more towards the light comedy, however. That, to me at least, is what sets it apart from others of it’s ilk.

Interesting. It’s quite sad about the type-casting. Many of them are extremely talented. I think they might have better luck doing indie films; even though they don’t pay well, they could jump start their careers.