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Old May 12th, 2005, 04:34 AM   #1
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Star Trek The final, final frontier

From The State:

The final, final frontier

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

By BOBBY BRYANT
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 TrekWeb.com, 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.)

WOLF AT THE DOOR

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.

A TIRE BLOWS OUT

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.
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