Logging Off : 'THE NEXT GENERATION' IS ALL GROWN UP, WITH ONLY MOVIES LEFT TO GO

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As far as TV series finales go, the last week of filming "Star Trek: The Next Generation," may not be one for the log books. Cast members move back and forth between TV and feature film wardrobe fittings and contract negotiations for the movie in which they'll reprise their syndicated TV characters. That film, "Star Trek: Generations," already has begun shooting on an adjacent sound stage, even as the successful syndicated series is winding down.

In the middle of all of it is a media feeding frenzy chronicling the end of the popular show, as the cast deals with very personal emotions. Saying farewell to fellow cast and crew members, who felt more like family after working together for 16-hour days, five days a week, 10 months a year for the past seven years, would not be easy.

And not insignificantly, cast members have to focus on the real task at hand: filming the exhausting two-hour series finale, a time-traveling adventure that finds them 25 years in the future. Patrick Stewart, who plays Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, asks to be excused from interviews in order to concentrate on his work--resulting in gossipy reports about his behavior on the set (see related story).

LeVar Burton, who plays Lt. Geordi La Forge, calls all the attention to the filming of the final episode a major inconvenience.

"What happens here is that the most important thing tends to get left behind, and that's the work," he says with a sigh.

But outside the sound stages, where the cast trailers back up against each other to form a cozy sort of trailer park, a different picture presents itself.

"I am really sad it's over," says Marina Sirtis, sitting in her trailer the afternoon before the final day of shooting. "I'll probably be the one who shows it the most," says the actress who plays the empathetic Counselor Deanna Troi. "I'm getting a bit misty thinking about this being the end. It's been the best time of my life. I feel like part of me is being amputated."

Brent Spiner, coated with yellow makeup for his role as the android Data, pokes his head into Sirtis' trailer. "I'm sorry I couldn't make it last night," he says, remorseful over missing a birthday celebration for Sirtis.

"Don't worry," Sirtis says. "You sound so guilty."

"Guilt is my religion," he replies.

Later, as Spiner relaxes inside his trailer, Gates McFadden's 2 1/2-year-old son toddles up to the screen door and waves enthusiastically: " 'Bye, Uncle Brent!"

McFadden, who plays Dr. Beverly Crusher, asked Spiner to be her son's godfather. Spiner smiles at the boy.

" 'Bye, Jack," he says like a child. "I'll see you!"

Asked what he'll miss the most, Spiner answers quickly: "Without question, the people. There's this huge bunch of friends who I come and play with each day. Not just the actors, but the crew and production staff. I have never had an ugly moment with anyone connected with this show."

McFadden, just back from shooting an hour ABC pilot called "Mystery Dance" in Oregon, is wistful.

"When I was on location in Portland," she says, "I wasn't hanging around a studio, like I've been doing for years here, where your trailer opens up to someone else's trailer in the cast, and it's just like a coffee klatch. On location, I had a sense of being much more isolated. I'm going to miss this."

Some in the cast had hoped the successful "Next Generation" would be back for one more season; they were, after all, under contract for eight. But Paramount decided instead to turn this "Star Trek" generation into a feature-film franchise to make room for another TV series, "Star Trek: Voyager," scheduled to premiere on the new Paramount Network next January. ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," another spinoff of the original Gene Roddenberry series, currently airs in syndication.)

The $25-million feature film "Star Trek: Generations" involves a time nexus where Picard meets the original "Star Trek" captain, James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner. The rest of the "Next Generation" cast members say they get rather short shrift in the script, which they see as a transitional passing of the guard. But if the "Generations" movie plays to good box office in November, the "Next Generation" cast could see steady feature work for many years to come, as have the original Trekkers.

Until then, they must adjust to a new reality: a return to the auditioning process. During Spiner's first audition several Sundays ago, for "Picket Fences" creator David E. Kelley's upcoming series, "Chicago Hope," a good-sized aftershock jolted those in the room. Spiner just kept on.

"As I was getting ready to leave, David Kelley said to me, 'Wasn't that incredibly difficult for you, to audition after that experience?' " Spiner recalled. "And I told him--and I meant it--'It was actually kind of good for me, because after the earthquake I wasn't the only nervous person in the room.' "

Many in the cast are nervous about something else as well: falling victim to typecasting, which happened to many of the original "Star Trek" actors.

"Whatever part I play and, hopefully, I'll go on to more successful work, I will always be Counselor Troi to many people," Sirtis acknowledges. "As far as Marina the woman goes, it's OK, yeah. As far as Marina the actress goes, it's a concern, because I want to work again. There is the danger of being so identified with one role that you never do anything else."

"Outside of the marriage I'm in, I've never done anything that has lasted this long," says Jonathan Frakes, who plays Cmdr. William Riker. "It's provided a security that's very rare for an actor, having somewhere to go every morning, knowing when you get there there will be laughs.

"Not having a steady job is going to be an adjustment. You go back seven years, and all of us were new faces. Now we have to go back out on the marketplace, where it's not pretty. I suppose you never get used to rejection, which is what part of being an actor is. But we'll go back out and fight for jobs with all of the same competition, only now we're seven years older."

Michael Dorn, who had to endure an hour of daily makeup as the Klingon, Lt. Worf, looks forward to the change. He feels he was growing stagnant as an actor. "I'm excited because it's ending, and my life is going to start over again. I don't have any idea what's out there. I don't have any idea what the business is like, because it's been seven years. But that's why I got in the business, for the excitement of getting out there and testing myself."

The two-hour series finale of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" airs Monday at 8 p.m. on KCOP.

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