Thursday, February 03, 2005

Enterprise Envoi

After this season, new episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise will not be made for UPN. Immediately after the series was cancelled on February 2, Star Trek producer Rick Berman was talking about a pause of at least three years before another Star Trek series might begin.

The ratings for Enterprise hadn't improved enough, and the new Friday lineup on the Sci-Fi channel was further draining audience away. Before cancellation was announced, syndication rights had been sold to Enterprise for next year, and its first season is to appear soon on DVD.

Cancellation of the fifth Star Trek series at the end of its fourth season came at a nadir in the fortunes of the franchise. The last two feature films have not met expectations, and sales of nearly all kinds of Star Trek merchandise are down. The original series episodes are seen in mostly off-peak time periods on the Sci Fi Channel, while The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine repeat on afternoons surrounded by auto races and wrestlers on the former TNN, now Spike TV, which may be going through yet another transformation (its prez resigned, citing disagreement with its direction.)

There seems to be more going on than changes in television, or even in the most appropriate media for the future of Star Trek, and this cancellation signals more change. Yet there is still a lot of life in Star Trek and its audience, as responses to this cancellation are already beginning to reveal.

But that is fodder for future posts. Enterprise will be in production for another month or so, and we will be seeing new episodes until May. I've posted in detail my appreciation for the first nine episodes of this season. In one of the sadder ironies, the second episode since the break, "The Observer Effect," was one of the best of the series, ranking with better episodes of any Star Trek series, even though it was also the lowest rated episode to that date.

Remaining episodes should tie Enterprise closer to the original series and other Star Trek, as producer Manny Coto promised, ending with an episode planned to be "a Valentine," according to Berman, who is writing it with Brannon Braga.

There was some rumor and remains speculation that this will include appearances by Next Generation characters, and perhaps characters of other Star Trek series. Now that there's no reason for me to wait to be asked, I may as well spring my idea: although it's been established that Zephrane Cochrane is believed dead, his younger "First Contact" assistant, Lily Sloane, could still be alive in Archer's time. That in fact is the premise of a story by compatriot Morgan Dash, which you can find here.

As for Enterprise, several fan groups are already advocating that another network continue it. (In fact, one might wonder why the Sci Fi Channel counter-programmed against Enterprise so aggressively on Friday night.) We recall that in science fiction, there are always possibilities.

But given the economics of television, it is more likely that production will shut down. With no new series in sight, it will mean that a production team that has worked together on Star Trek for decades will dissolve. That more than anything will signal the end of an era. As an admirer of their work, and as someone who will continue to enjoy its fruits, I am thinking mostly of them now.

Of them, and those who've joined Star Trek to work on Enterprise: a cast of not only fine actors but fine people, it seems, in the best Star Trek tradition. There must be a different kind of difficulty for those who ascended in the last year or so, such as Manny Coto and the Reeves-Stevens, and who made their mark in such a short time.

For the next several weeks they can concentrate on making the best episodes possible, while appreciating the privilege of working and being with each other, for as long as it lasts.

9 comments:

Billy Bob said...

It is sad that Enterprise is coming to an end, but truth be told, it could not hope to survive on UPN, a network that caters to teeny-boppers and those who actually enjoy realty tv.

If you ask me (and I've suspiciously noticed that no one has), Enterprise, and all of Star Trek should be sold to the SciFi Network, who's original shows Stargate (both of them) and the new Battlestar Galactica are very good and very successful. While a lot of that success goes to the producers of the three shows, moving Star Trek to SciFi would give them the corporate support that they need.

I think it's about time to give Star Trek back to those who understand Science Fiction.

ThinkerX said...

I really agree with moving it over to the Sci-Fi channel. UPN's programming is so sporadic anyway it can barely be called a network. I was never happy seeing it move from syndication on my local FOX affiliate to UPN anyway.

As a whole though, the entire franchise just didn't seem to stay with the economic times. Viewership for networks is no longer based on variety so much as on niche programming built around niche networks. Sci-Fi channel could be a perfect sell for Enterprise and other Trek shows.

Meanwhile in Paramount's attempt to appeal to a mass audience rather then milk their base, the first few years of Enterprise had little appeal. Up until this fourth season, with the return to continuity, to species viewers knew and loved and the formation of the Federation did they really see fan excitement. Unfortunetly it became too little, too late.

So to sum it all up, the base is there, the story ideas are there, the economics can be converted. It just won't reflect the corporate model it seems Paramount is striving for and so the fans seem ready to suffer.

Billy Bob said...

I was reading up on the cancellation of Enterprise, and I came across something that made my blood boil.

The powers that be indicated that it would be impossible to move Trek to a cable network because of Trek's budget, which requires a substantial investment from the network. According to Rick Berman,

"First-run has been relegated now mostly to shows with far lower budgets than we have. They're usually produced in Canada [heaven forbid], and they're done on a budget less than half of what Paramount has been so generous to give us."

Yet despite the miniscule budget, SciFi has managed to produce three quality shows in SG-1, Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica. It just goes to show that good SciFi doesn't need to be expensive. It just needs to be thoughtful.

Perhaps that's where UPN and the producers fail to understand what SciFi fans want. We don't want explosions and top of the line special effects (although we don't mind). We want thought provoking stories that explore the universe and our place in it.

Do you think the original Star Trek is so popular because of the special effects? As ground-breaking as they may have been at the time, I didn't fall in love with the original because of the effects... I fell in love because of the stories.

Captain Future said...

I don't know what the economics of the situation are, and I'll be interested to see comments on this from people within the industry. (Maybe it's actors' salaries more than effects?) But I certainly agree that Star Trek has always been more about stories than effects, and in fact that's exactly what Leonard Nimoy told me. "Story, story, story, not effects,effects, effects."

I also agree about the science fiction aspect, rather than simply an action adventure with futuristic weapons. As for the Sci-Fi Channel, I've heard contrary things about its willingness or ability to host Star Trek, though it would seem to be its natural home in the current TV spectrum. And my reporter's instincts have me wondering about the intent of their choosing Fridays to cluster their most popular programs. I hope someone asks that question.

Anonymous said...

It is important to note that the SciFi Channel's Friday lineup predates Enterprise's move from Wednesday. It is also important to note they repeat all their programming:

8pm SG1
9pm Atlantis
10pm Galactica
11pm SG1 (same as 8pm)
12am Atlantis (same as 9pm)
1am Galactica (same as 10pm)

So a conflict at 8 alone wouldn't thwart the serious SciFi fan or Tivo. You can simply watch Enterprise at 8 and watch SG1 at 11. Or, at least in the local market, you can catch the same Enterprise at 7pm on Sunday.

What is more confusing is why UPN would put it on Friday against SciFi's stong lineup.

Frankly, I have to agree with other posters. Paramount should have milked the base instead of trying to grow it. Instead, they annoyed the base, and the base left. They should stop trying to annoy us fans!

-Steve

Geoffrey Roberts said...

Just a slight nitpick.
Zephraim Cochrane is not exactly dead. His whereabouts are unknown (and undoubtably he is presumed dead). We learn his final fate in TOS episode "Metamorphosis" click here. The fact the Cochrane disappeared is also alluded to in ENT season 2 episode "Future Tense".

dash said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Captain Future said...

Thanks for the great comments, and you're right of course, Z. Cochrane is "believed dead" at this point. I've corrected the post, and thanks for catching it.

By the way, the deleted comment above was actually this comment but signed incorrectly.

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