In 1986, Gene Roddenberry approached Burton with the role of the then Lieutenant Junior Grade Geordi La Forge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. La Forge is blind, but is granted "sight" through the use of a prosthetic device called a VISOR, which is worn over his eyes. La Forge started out serving as the USS Enterprise's helmsman, and as of the show's second season, had become its Chief Engineer. At the time, Burton was considerably better known than Patrick Stewart in the United States, due to the fame he gained from starring in Roots and Reading Rainbow. The Associated Press stated that Burton's role was essentially the "new Spock."
Burton also portrayed La Forge in the subsequent feature films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation, beginning with Star Trek: Generations in 1994 through 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis.