Star Trek: The Next Generation's The Royale Sparked A Writer War

In the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "The Royale" (March 27, 1989), the Enterprise encounters a mysterious, uninhabited planet that houses a small bubble of breathable air. When Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner), and Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn) beam down to investigate, they astonishingly find a 20th-century-era hotel/casino called The Royale, populated by people who don't seem to know they're the only humans located on a distant world. 

Through a series of investigations, the Starfleet officers learn that the Royale was constructed by strange, powerful aliens many years before, specifically to house a single human astronaut who left Earth way back in 2037. It seems the off-screen aliens accidentally killed most of the astronaut's friends and shunted his ship through a wormhole. To make it up to him, the aliens scanned a pulp novel the astronaut was reading — a chintzy piece of neo-noir garbage called "Hotel Royale" — and recreated it for him to live in, assuming that's the way humans behaved. The astronaut died 283 years ago, but the Royale was still standing, its manufactured beings still gambling.

"The Royale" was written by the late, great Tracy Tormé, but he is credited under the name "Keith Mills." It seems that Tormé's draft was re-written, without input, by the notorious Maurice Hurley (one of the spikier producers on the first two seasons of "Next Generation") and Tormé hated the new draft so much, he insisted his name be removed. It seems there was a lot of bad blood behind the scenes of "The Royale." Tormé talked about the episode in the 1995 oral history book "Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages" by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross, and it seems that things got personal.

Blue Moon Hotel

Tormé recalled pitching his idea — originally called "The Blue Moon Hotel" — to "Star Trek" producer Bob Lewin. By the writer's description, his original draft was a surrealistic satire with a great deal of humor. It was bigger, weirder, and more ambitious than most of the series had been to date. Lewin liked the idea and Tormé developed his script into what was to be "The Royale." Then, for reasons that aren't made entirely clear, Hurley stepped in and made everything worse. Tormé related:

"One of the executive producers and I had a severe disagreement about how the show should be done, and for reasons which I believe are personal rather than professional, I was informed that I was being removed from the script. At that point, I immediately told them that I wanted my name off the script, because I knew the direction they were going to go in, and I just knew with all my heart that it was a bad choice. I've completely disowned the piece." 

Tormé read about 10 pages of Hurley's re-write and said he "felt a cold chill and had to put it down." Tormé isn't specific about what details were added but he does remember which ones were removed, noting that he was essentially taken away from "The Royale" merely because he and a producer wanted a different angle: 

"Basically, there's one person who had this disagreement with me and removed me. I felt like a lot of the comedy was taken out. A lot of the surrealism was taken out. I feel that it's very heavy-handed now, and it's gone from being a strange episode to being a stupid episode."

"Stupid" has its place, but that wasn't what Tormé wanted. 

'Hollywood is a factory town'

Tormé was especially incensed because just about everyone preferred his early draft over the re-write. He recalled:

"An interesting thing is that the cast, the crew and even secretaries went out of their way to tell me how much they liked my draft, and they asked me in a totally puzzled manner, what on Earth had happened and why we had changed it. All I could do was shrug. Of course this is all my opinion, and you'd probably hear something different from the other side." 

(Hurley was not interviewed for "Captain's Logs.")

The director of "The Royale," Cliff Bole, also said he liked Tormé's draft, but he also had a utilitarian attitude, knowing that schedules and budgeting often didn't allow for artistic integrity. Sometimes you can fight for your vision, but more often, you just have to clock in for the day and get to work. Sometimes, he said, you can push a certain script back into development, provided you have a backup script you can shoot in the meantime. Sometimes you can't. 

"[T]ime just crawls up your back and you have to shoot these every goddamned day. Once you start shooting, it goes straight through until you finish 26 of them. It's like a factory. Hollywood is a factory town, and every episodic show is like that. You can't shut down. 'The Royale' was one of those things that happen in television, where you have an idea and you have to get out there and shoot it because time is coming on you. It was a quickly put together show, but received well."

Tormé authored 14 episodes of "Star Trek: Next Generation" and would go on to co-create the series "Sliders." He passed away on January 4, 2024.