UPN: Feckless and, now, Trekless
Although it got off to a strong start back in 2001 (drawing over 13 million viewers when it premiered just after the 9-11 attacks) this Wednesday UPN and Paramount jointly announced the cancellation of the low-rated Star Trek: Enterprise after four seasons. The series finale will air May 13, 2005; that date will also mark the first time in some 18 years that no first-run "Trek" series will be in production. It's an astonishing record, made even more remarkable when one considers Trek hasn't been on a major broadcast network since the original "Star Trek" series (barely) ran for three seasons on NBC in the 1960s. (And if you consider UPN a major broadcast network, well, you're certainly no stranger to science fiction!) Enterprise was also preceded by overlapping seven-year runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager, as well as several feature films.
Think about it: eighteen years is a long time. The better parts of Generation X, Generation Y, and now Generation D define science fiction television in relation to "Star Trek": these people are the backbone of today's (and tomorrow's!) society. Trek's impact on popular culture (indeed, world culture) has been well documented, and despite its many shortcomings, the "Star Trek" franchise is the yardstick by which genre television has been measured for more than a generation. Babylon 5 shone brightly because of the contrast; Stargate SG-1 ran with the essence of Trek's franchise model and paused only to plant its tongue firmly in cheek; Farscape succeeded from its sheer delight in breaking all Trek's rules. Plus, from green-skinned dancers to silver catsuits, no television franchise combined skimpy and laughably tacky female costuming like Star Trek. Not even close.
Although my personal relationship to "Trek" has always been testy (Gene Roddenberry's vision of a positive, hopeful future for humanity seemed increasingly Mayberry-like in eras of mutually-assured destruction and pre-emptive war), I've always admired the various shows' dedication to their fans, sense of responsibility to their viewers, and family-like loyalty to their own. Folks like Michael Okuda, J.P. Farrell, Robert Blackman, and Peter Lauritson have been with "Trek" for the better parts of their professional lives; producers love to bring back actors like Tony Todd, Jeffrey Combs, Suzie Plakson, and Vaughn Armstrong in diverse roles; cast members from "Trek" series seemed to make careers as directors in subsequent series. Despite sometimes Herculean efforts by Paramount to disgruntle everyone involved, more often than not, Trek managed to bring out the better side of people.
And "Trek" made lots of people big, shiny piles of money. So it'll will be around for a long time. All four completed "Trek" series are currently running in syndication, with Enterprise's 98 episodes sure to follow. The juggernaut of "Trek" video games, books, memorabilia, conventions, and merchandising is not going to be stopped by the mere cancellation of a television series -- no, the carbonized ashes of eBay will have to be scattered across the solar system before "Trek" fandom grinds to a halt. And after a while -- say, when Trek's peeps have finally had some downtime after eighteen years of continuous television production -- I think you can expect Paramount to say, "Hey, we sure could use some more shiny money. What about Star Trek?"
In the meantime, I'd provisionally recommend the last episodes of Enterprise, even if that's a couple years down the line when you stumble across them in late-night syndication. Although no one's been watching, Enterprise's now-final season has had some well-executed moments, and hardworking series headliner Scott Bakula has been turning in gritty, physical performances, along with occasionally twisting the most predictable of "Trek" dialog into something unexpected. And anything which gives John Billingsley a regular paycheck is OK in my book.
So, goodbye for now, "Star Trek". You'll always be in our thoughts.
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