A failing Enterprise: is there hope for Star Trek, or is the franchise dead?

[Originally published in 2004 on a now defunct web magazine]

Once upon a time in the early 1970s, Star Trek was an underground hit. Original 1966-1969 series reruns were being stripped every weeknight at six. New fans were watching the episodes over the dinner table, and catching on in droves.

Star Trek conventions sprang up spontaneously all over the place, and fan fiction was born. Star Wars swept the country, opening up a market for Star Trek movies. And then Star Trek: The Next Generation, starring the fabulous Patrick Stewart, arrived on television in 1987, and enthralled us for seven wonderful years. It was like Star Trek heaven.

After that, to mix metaphors, the owners of the Star Trek franchise started mistreating their cash cow by going to the well too often. The third series, Deep Space Nine, started strong but floundered midstream; in its final seasons, it was finally reduced to ripping off the innovative Babylon 5. Series number four, Voyager, tossed out its best chance at internal conflict during its first season (integration of the Maquis into the crew), and never even came close to realizing its potential. I am a loyal, long time fan of Trek, (I hate the term Trekkie or Trekker, by the way -- I am a Trek fan) and even I had had enough at this point; I actually missed the last year of Deep Space Nine and most of Voyager.

Hope sprang eternal when Enterprise arrived just over two years ago. We were returning to the original series character triumvirate -- Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, in the form of Archer, T'Pol, and Trip -- and focusing once again on exploration of the new frontier by moving the time period back before there was a space station on every corner. They even hired a science fiction icon, Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) to play the lead. Life was good.

Except the series just... wasn't. Consistently good, that is. As far as quality control is concerned, Enterprise has been a roller coaster ride. Enterprise has good characters, a great setting, tons of potential... but you never know what you're going to get when you tune in. Many episodes, like the recent one that explored the moral aspects of cloning, have been absolutely excellent. But many other episodes are just recycled stories from the previous four series. Unsurprisingly, the ratings suck. Die-hard Trek fans are divided: some love Enterprise, but many outright hate it and lobby loudly for some "real" Star Trek. What can they possibly want? Well, I'll tell you.

Rick Berman et al. have been running the Trek franchise since 1991, and he and his merry band ran out of ideas many moons ago. Berman doesn't seem to realize that you can't just recycle old plots and characters, bring in generic "face" aliens, and expect good ratings. He is killing Enterprise, and he will succeed if Paramount doesn't stop him. It may already be too late.

Rumors have just emerged (see TrekToday's article, *Rumours of Sweeping Changes for Trek,*) that Berman may indeed be on his way out. Hallelujah. Firing the heck out of Berman and his team and bringing in new blood can't hurt. Hey, CEOs who don't produce are usually fired at the drop of a hat. Trek fans have been longing for Berman to go for *years*.

But that's not all they need to do. How can they fix Enterprise? How can they inject new life into the franchise? Read my lips: it's the writing, stupid. Story, story, and more story!

Paramount is ignoring a treasure trove of outstanding and truly innovative Star Trek writers -- Star Trek novelists, and (dare I even suggest it?) writers of fan fiction. Most fans would agree that the best Trek novelist is Peter David; he knows the Trek universe like the back of his hand, and he writes terrific stories that are better than the last Trek movie. If I were Queen of Paramount, I would take advantage of the pool of outstanding talent that already exists. I'd offer popular Trek author Peter David the job of head writer, and I'd let him hire anyone he wants. Then... are you ready for this?... I'd give the whole team *creative freedom.* What a concept, huh?

Who knows? Maybe if there is a genuine creative shake-up, Enterprise could return for a fourth season and actually reach its potential. The franchise could be saved. And a fictional world that fans have loved for thirty-eight years will continue to thrill us.

But I'm not counting on it. Paramount has always shown disdain toward their biggest asset: the fans. Maybe, with such shortsighted management, Trek deserves to die.
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Started watching Star Trek in the
'70s when I was 5 and on a B&W TV
no less. To watch how it has been
run into the ground by clueless and
greedy fools is....depressing.

celticmarc said...

Quoting you : "cash cow". And this is the source of the problem. Still furious that Paramount is STILL having an high price on the DVD sets. Get real people. (And they're starting on the blu ray sets. Eyes rolling.)

Loved TNG, especially after mid-season 3. The later years were--almost--a religious experience. DO NOT DISTURB. Had a powerful overdose with DS9 and ST V. Too much and too much commitment. And mixed feelings about Enterprise. Oh heck.

But it is a lucrative franchise...big time; still is today.

(And yes, watched TOS in black and white...)