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Sci-Fi May 12th, 2005 04:34 AM

The final, final frontier
From The State:

The final, final frontier

‘Enterprise’ is dead. Can ‘Star Trek’ live?

Staff Writer

Friday night at 9:59, the end credits of the last episode of “Enterprise” will trail away on UPN stations around the nation.

Special effects by ... costumes by ... set design by ... The credits will zip right by. Only about 2 million people will be watching. Then at 10 p.m., “Enterprise” will be off the air, gone, canceled after four difficult years.

And for the first time in 18 years, the “Star Trek” universe will fall silent: No new TV shows. (Or movies, either.) No more boldly going where no man has gone before.

Generations of loyal fans now are having to ask the question they’ve dreaded more than four decades, five TV series and 10 theatrical films: Is “Star Trek” dead?

Many are afraid so. But no one is dressing for a funeral — not yet.

“I’d heard rumors (about ‘Enterprise’ ). It’s sort of sad,” says Remsy K. Munib of Columbia, who discovered “Trek” on TV in the late 1960s. The original series, of course. Kirk, Spock, Dr.McCoy. Action, aliens, adventure, papier-mache rocks.

And the crew was a band of brothers, says Munib, 51, a California native who has lived in the Midlands for 12 years.

“No matter who you were, what you were, you were respected.”

He was hooked, and stayed hooked for four more “Trek” TV series: “Next Generation” (bald captain), “Deep Space Nine” (black captain), “Voyager” (female captain) and “Enterprise” (guy-next-door captain).

“Enterprise,” a prequel to the “Trek” universe set 100 years before Kirk and Spock, was “pretty good,” Munib says. “They were getting to go out and explore.... (The new characters) were nervous about each other, about working together.”

But the series’ ratings collapsed, he says, because fans wanted traditional “Trek” and never gave the show a real chance. “Enterprise” becomes the first “Trek” series to be forcibly retired — to have its head chopped off by the cancellation ax — since the original series died in 1969.

And it has no heirs. That’s the part that disturbs fans. That’s what makes some use the “D” word — “dead.” Not dead like the Vulcan Mr. Spock, who sacrificed his life in 1982’s “Star Trek II” film and was resurrected two years later, as logical as ever. Just ... dead.

Steve Krutzler, a Los Angeles Web developer who runs a big “Trek” fan site called, sees this as more of a long interruption than a funeral.

“It will be a good resting period,” he says. “I have no doubt ‘Star Trek’ will come back,” probably as a movie with completely new characters.

He thinks it will probably take five years, but he notes that the franchise has been “dead” for longer than that — it was 10 years between the end of the original series and the beginning of the “Trek” films in 1979.

“ ‘Star Trek’ isn’t dead and it isn’t dying. (It) has now been returned to the care of its community of fans,” Ron Moore, writer/producer for the Sci-Fi Channel’s gritty “Battlestar Galactica” and a veteran “Trek” writer, said on his Web log. (Moore’s “Galactica” is poised to try to fill that vacuum. For most TV critics, it already has.)


For “Star Trek” fans, the wolf has almost always been at the door.

The original 1966-69 series was constantly on the verge of death; only an impassioned letter-writing campaign by fans kept Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock alive on NBC for three seasons.

The first “Trek” movie in ’79 was a budget-busting bore, but fans swallowed their disappointment and lined up to see it again and again, until it made enough money for Paramount Pictures to want sequels.

When “Trek” returned to television in 1987 as “The Next Generation,” scattered around scores of TV stations as a syndicated series, fans embraced the new faces, forgave the shaky first years and built the show into a big success.

If we love “Trek” enough, the fans realized, if we watch it enough, support it enough, we can keep it alive — keep the wolf from the door. Keep the dream alive. With “Enterprise,” that strategy failed.

“Enterprise” almost worked. The show was a bold gamble, a prequel, not a sequel, with Scott Bakula (“Quantum Leap” ) as a captain first intended to be Joe Average on a starship.

But “Enterprise” bled viewers and ratings almost from its 2001 premiere — it started out with 12million viewers and ends with about 2 million. (By contrast, a ratings king such as “CSI” normally snags about 25 million viewers.)

The show’s rewrite-the-rules approach deeply divided fans — even the mother of all “Trek” fans couldn’t get behind “Enterprise.”

“Nobody in the family likes ‘Enterprise,’ ” Bjo Trimble, whose 1960s letter campaign saved the original “Star Trek” from early death, said in 2003. “I do like the characters,” said Trimble, who lives near Pasadena, Calif. “(But) I can’t see how ‘Enterprise’ could be anywhere close to what (original series creator Gene Roddenberry) envisioned for his concept.”

The other children of the original 1960s “Trek” all had been success stories, to varying degrees.

“Next Generation” ran a healthy seven years and voluntarily bowed out in 1994 at the top of its game. It spun off “Deep Space Nine” in 1993, and that syndicated series also ran seven seasons, also ending its run in top form. A fourth series, “Voyager,” launched in 1995 on UPN, and it, too, made seven seasons — though it limped to the finish line.

“Enterprise” began production as “Voyager” wound down. The plan was that “Enterprise” would run the standard seven years and then, probably, hand the torch to yet another “Trek” series. (“Trek” without end, amen.)

But no.


How did this happen?

• The movies bombed. For years, the “Trek” franchise was running strong on two separate tracks: theatrical movies and TV series. But the movies blew a tire in 1998, with the ninth feature film, “Insurrection,” a critical and commercial dud. The next film, 2002’s “Nemesis,” thudded even more loudly. (And they killed off the beloved android Data, to boot.)

• Everybody’s gone high-tech. On the original “Trek” series, it was impressive to see Spock and Kirk whipping out their “communicators” and conferring, wirelessly, over vast distances. Now your grandmother’s cell phone can outperform Starfleet technology, and your PC is smarter than the Enterprise computer. (By next year, your car likely will have warp drive.) Science fiction has lost its sexiness.

• We’re at war. After 9/11, “Trek’s” optimism — its mellow 1960s attitude that “aliens” are only alien until they’re understood — became a tough sell. It’s no coincidence that the Sci-Fi Channel’s dark and brutal “Battlestar Galactica” is catching fire just as “Enterprise” is fading out. (On “Galactica,” they torture aliens and blast them out of airlocks. Is this a future you’d want to live in? No. Is it powerful TV? Yes.)

By 2003, the “Trek” franchise — a property that had earned billions for Paramount in movies, TV, home video and merchandising deals — was reduced to one struggling series on one struggling network. By 2004, UPN was looking at the numbers and sharpening its ax: “Enterprise” was about to be canceled.

Paramount saved it by drastically cutting the fee it charged UPN for producing each episode. That meant smaller budgets for each “Enterprise” episode. That meant even fewer viewers. That meant death for “Enterprise” — the cancellation was announced in February, long before the networks’ usual May round of setting up the fall seasons.

Sci-Fi May 12th, 2005 04:35 AM



The immediate fan response, in postings to one of the big “Trek” Web sites, was mostly cynical:

• “Thank God this horror of a show is off the air. It was not ‘Star Trek.’ ”

• “You can all go stick plasma injectors in your warp cores! ... If you had treated it like ‘Star Trek’ and rooted for it to be good, like a good fan, it would ... never have been canceled.”

• “Why should people have treated it like ‘Trek’? They purposely left out ‘Star Trek’ from its title in the first season — great way to distance yourself from the fans.”

• “I guess it hasn’t hit you guys yet. You say good riddance and you hope next time, it will be done right ... Well, this is it! ‘Star Trek’ is over. There will be no more shows.”

No more shows? Ever? Not likely, says executive producer Rick Berman, who has spent 18 years churning out “Star Trek” series for Paramount.

Berman told USA Today that he saw this as only a hiatus for the “Trek” franchise — maybe for three years or so, but not permanently. Not even counting the original 1960s series, “We’ve done 624 hours of ‘Star Trek’ over the last 18 years,” Berman said in February. “You can take one too many trips to the well.”

The fans aren’t surrendering. Steve Krutzler isn’t taking down his Web site. The original Trekker, Bjo Trimble, thinks “Trek” can rise from the ashes if people such as Berman and other “unimaginative” execs at Paramount will just go away.

And there’s a scene from one “Trek” movie that we should keep in mind.

The wolf is at the door — the Klingons, Romulans, whoever, are on the rampage — and things look grim for the original Enterprise crew.

“We’re dead,” Scotty moans.

“I’ve been dead before,” Spock says.

And so he has. And so “Trek” has. On the final frontier, there are always possibilities.


Our picks for the best episodes from nearly 40 years of “Trek” TV

“The Menagerie” (“Star Trek: The Original Series,” 1966): Intricate two-parter built around the very first “Trek” pilot episode, 1965’s “The Cage,” in which the intense Jeffrey Hunter played captain of the Enterprise.

“City on the Edge of Forever” (“Star Trek: The Original Series,” 1967): Kirk and Spock chase a crazed Dr. McCoy through a time portal back to 1930s Earth, where Kirk falls for a young Joan Collins, who must die if history is to live.

“Amok Time” (“Star Trek: The Original Series,” 1967): Like a salmon, Spock must go home to Vulcan to take a wife, or die.

“The Doomsday Machine” (“Star Trek: The Original Series,” 1967): The Enterprise must stop a planet-killing machine that resembles a colossal, horizontal ice cream cone.

“Mirror, Mirror” (“Star Trek: The Original Series,” 1967): The bridge crew gets tossed into a parallel universe, where Spock has a beard and the Federation is a bloodthirsty empire.

“The Best of Both Worlds” (“Star Trek: The Next Generation,” 1990): Capt. Picard is turned into a Borg and the “Next Gen” crew comes into its own in this epic two-parter.

“Chain of Command” (“Star Trek: The Next Generation,” 1992): As the Federation stands on the brink of war, the Cardassians capture and torture Picard for information. This should have been one of the “Next Gen” movies.

“All Good Things ...” (“Star Trek: The Next Generation,” 1994): Picard hopscotches through time in this immensely complex two-hour finale to “Next Gen’s” seven-year run.

“Trials and Tribble-ations” (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” 1996): The DS9 crew goes back — literally — into the 1960s episode that introduced those purring balls of fur, tribbles.

“Fight or Flight” (“Star Trek: Enterprise,” 2001): The new crew runs into a starship full of slaughtered aliens and realizes that space can be a very scary place.

— Bobby Bryant


Even if the sun sets on “Star Trek” as a film and television franchise, it’s likely to keep going for many years in the format that’s cheapest to produce — paperback books.

The first “Trek” novel — James Blish’s tight and terse “Spock Must Die!” — appeared in 1970. Blish also did a series of slim paperbacks adapting the original 1966-69 series. Since then, the universe of “Trek” books has exploded. Book series are set before, during and after virtually all of the TV series and films.

We did a quick Internet search and turned up about 500 “Star Trek” books — a total that includes both original novels and adaptations of the various films and TV series. Paramount Pictures, which owns the “Trek” franchise, says no other fictional literary universe is that huge.

— Bobby Bryant


A guide to the shows that built a 40-year TV franchise

“Star Trek: The Original Series,” 1966-69, NBC. Time frame: the 23rd century. The captain: James T. Kirk (William Shatner). The catch phrases: “Beam me up,” “He’s dead, Jim,” “The engines canna take any more!” This is the show that started it all, but producer Gene Roddenberry’s vision of an egalitarian future suffered from low ratings and died after three years.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation,” 1987-94, syndicated. Time frame: the 24th century. The captain: Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The catch phrase: “Make it so.” Proof that “Trek” could be a long-term TV success.

“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” 1993-99, syndicated. Time frame: the 24th century. The captain: Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks). The catch phrase: none, but this spin-off set on a space station was, week in and week out, the best-written “Trek” show.

“Star Trek: Voyager,” 1995-2001, UPN. Time frame: the 24th century. The captain: Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew). The catch phrase: none. By the time the lost starship Voyager found its way home, most fans had quit caring.

“Star Trek: Enterprise,” 2001-05, UPN. Time frame: the 22nd century. The captain: Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula). The catch phrase: none. This prequel to the original series was set a century before Kirk and Spock.

— Bobby Bryant


What went wrong with the franchise? Some “Trek” actors think they know:

“Paramount has gone to the well too often, because the franchise has been such a huge cash cow for the studio, for decades.”

— Jonathan Frakes, Will Riker of “Next Generation”

“(After the first ‘Trek’ film in 1979,) ‘Star Trek’ was like a beached whale. I think something similar is happening now. ‘Star Trek’ is in this stranded situation. The ideas that were propelling it have run dry.”

— Leonard Nimoy, the original series’ Mr. Spock

“As soon as one series ends, the next one begins. ... How can you sustain that? The bar has been raised so high with sci-fi films. I’m not talking just about special effects, but interesting, elaborate tales. You need to step back and refocus on what’s pertinent to this moment in time.”

— Denise Crosby, Tasha Yar of “Next Generation”

“ ‘Star Trek’s’ just not special enough, not anymore. They need to shut the whole thing down, wait five years, create an interest, an excitement, a hunger for it again.”

— LeVar Burton, Geordi LaForge of “Next Generation”

— From wire reports


The final two episodes of “Enterprise” will be broadcast from 8-10 p.m. Friday on UPN, cable channel 13.

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