In “Best of Both Worlds,” Picard is assimilated by the Borg and his knowledge is used to destroy many Starfleet vessels. Riker gets a field-commission to Captain and stops the Borg. Then, Picard is reinstated and everything continues status quo ante bellum.
What if, instead, Riker finally completes his arc and becomes captain of the Enterprise? What if Picard becomes an ambassador at large, assigned to the Federation flagship and using his diplomatic knowledge to represent The Federation?
Without that, Riker enters a holding pattern. He was known as an ambitious officer, but gets fixated on being the captain of a single ship. Meanwhile, he’s constantly unprepared to be captain. An ambitious, competent officer like Will should be doing more than cooling his heels doing Picard’s admin. Making Riker the captain will let his character develop and give him new challenges. Also Data or LaForge would make a fine first officer.
Meanwhile, Picard slowly, nobly sucks up the limelight as a moral paragon. Those speeches literally become Picard Speeches, when there are seven other characters who could deliver them. A lot of that is because Patrick Stewart is such a fine actor, but no one else on the cast is a slouch. If he’s an ambassador, he can focus solely on diplomatic functions and share time with the new Captain.
Would season four be that different? Not really. Mostly the effect is sharing the attention given to Picard between Riker and Picard. List of Season 4 episodes with notes on how they might change is below the cut.
The Best of Both Worlds, Part II & Family: Nothing different, really.
Brothers: Data episode. This doesn’t change too much. Riker doesn’t lead away teams anymore.
Suddenly Human: If Picard is a diplomat, he has every reason to take this kid in and to represent The Federation in a dispute with the Talarians. Alternatively, Riker has to make those decisions with input from Picard.
Remember Me: Dr Crusher episode. Picard: “An ambassador and a doctor are all this ship ever needed.”
Legacy: Ensemble episode. More Picard/Riker sharing.
Reunion: It makes more sense for a Federation ambassador to handle Klingon succession issues than a Starfleet captain.
Future Imperfect: The marginal changes in the lives of the TNG crew are so embarrassing that the slightest changes invalidate this 12-year jump. Riker is an Admiral. Picard has grown a beard.
Final Mission: It makes more sense for an Ambassador to handle a mining dispute than a full-fledged Captain. Without rank in the way, Wesley and Picard can be a little less formal.
The Loss: This is three good Deanna episodes crammed into a single bad one.
Data’s Day: I’d love to see Picard arrange “diplomatic support” for this episode’s climax while Riker/Frakes delivers the brinksmanship speech.
The Wounded: It’s a bit complicated, but consider Riker having to call out a senior Captain–a war hero with combat experience. Picard advises Riker on dealing with the Cardassians. Alternatively, maybe Picard never dealt with them, but Riker did.
Devil’s Due: This works so much better if Ardra is trying to seduce Riker. Ladies are his whole thing. If Picard was on Ventax when the unrest happens, you can cut out the scientist guest-star entirely (sorry, Paul Lambert); Picard is instead seized by the natives during the riots and the audience is instantly invested.
Clues: If Data is your new executive officer, then it suddenly raises a lot of questions about him and his trustworthiness. We also see that he’s just as loyal to Riker as he was to Picard. The “clues” thread comes from Picard, so you could transfer that to Riker or actually have some conflict between the two as Picard convinces Riker to look into stuff.
First Contact: Again, Picard’s role in this episode fits perfectly into that of an ambassador. Instead of Riker, consider Worf being trapped on the planet. Dorn gets to act out from under less makeup.
Galaxy’s Child: This is a Geordi episode.
Night Terrors: Inasumch as this episode was about any one character, nothing matters.
Identity Crisis: This is a good Geordi episode.
The Nth Degree: Barclay episode.
Qpid: Picard giving a dissertation on archaeology stuff would fit in just fine with him being an ambassador, though it’s less of a fish-out-of-water role for him at this point (or maybe he’s still settling in).
The Drumhead: This is irreconcilable. The lynchpin of this episode is Satie throwing Picard’s Borg experience at him and him intellectually, emotionally, and Britishingly decimating her in response. It requires reengineering of the entire episode from the ground up to save that but–and it might be sacrilege–maybe Frakes or Sirtis could do it.
Half a Life: Deanna/Lwaxana episode. Diplomatic and command things would be meted out between Picard and Riker.
The Host: You could still put the symbiote in Riker. You could also write in a good reason to put it into Geordi or Worf.
The Mind’s Eye: There’s a diplomatic/command interest of the Enterprise here and it can be easily split between Picard and Riker.
In Theory: There was never a reason for Picard to pilot that shuttle. Riker or Geordi would do fine. Why did this happen?
Redemption: Diplomatic/command stuff here could be split between Riker and Picard.
It’s kind of a waste to reimagine stories that were written and filmed twenty-five years ago, but it’s come up a bit lately in different threads. Hope some folks really like this idea. Maybe there’s something I missed? Lemme know.