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Ruminations - "It's dead, Jim..."

Ruminations - "It's dead, Jim..."

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Ah, those immortal words as uttered by DeForest Kelley in his role as Dr. Leonard McCoy, chief medical officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701. This time, I fear he is truly correct and that the show will not be back.

In case you missed it, UPN and Viacom's Les Moonves pulled the plug this week on "Enterprise" -- the latest incarnation in the Star Trek franchise. Here's the press release as it appeared on StarTrek.com on Wednesday afternoon:

Star Trek: Enterprise Cancelled!

"After four seasons, Star Trek: Enterprise has reached the end of its mission ...

PRESS RELEASE

UPN and Paramount Network Television have jointly announced that this will be the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise on UPN. [Production will continue until the end of this season, which will finish shooting in March.] The series finale will air on Friday, May 13, 2005.

"Star Trek has been an important part of UPN's history, and Enterprise has carried on the tradition of its predecessors with great distinction," said Dawn Ostroff, President, Entertainment, UPN. "We'd like to thank Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and an incredibly talented cast for creating an engaging, new dimension to the Star Trek universe on UPN, and we look forward to working with them, and our partners at Paramount Network Television, on a send-off that salutes its contributions to The Network and satisfies its loyal viewers."

David Stapf, President of Paramount Network Television, said, "The creators, stars and crew of Star Trek: Enterprise ambitiously and proudly upheld the fine traditions of the Star Trek franchise. We are grateful for their contributions to the legacy of Trek and commend them on completing nearly 100 exciting, dramatic and visually stunning episodes. All of us at Paramount warmly bid goodbye to Enterprise, and we all look forward to a new chapter of this enduring franchise in the future."

A prequel to the original "Star Trek" series, STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE premiered on UPN on Sept. 26, 2001, and aired for its first three seasons on Wednesdays (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT). On Oct. 8, 2004, STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE moved into its current time on Fridays (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT). Through its four-year run, STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE produced a total of 98 episodes and earned four Emmy Awards."

There is a fair bit of irony in this story that even the most devoted Trek fan is sure to appreciate. Just as the original series needed a boost from fans to make it into a third season on NBC back in its day, the same was true of "Enterprise" for its fourth and final season. But fans don't always equate to revenue and falling ratings tell the tale more than they might wish to acknowledge. Another similarity that ties the two shows together was the move to a Friday night timeslot in their final seasons. While it may have worked over on Fox for the "X-Files." it wasn't the case for the crew of the NX-01.

Audiences are fickle for even the highest rated of shows, and "Enterprise" was no exception as ratings were all over the map. In a move that was all too little too late, the writing of the show went back to that original series to find story lines that might tempt viewers back in front of their televisions on Friday nights. Even the addition of a favorite such as Brent Spiner in a multiple episode appearance as Dr. Arik Soong?an ancestor of Data's creator Dr Noonien Soong (both roles Spiner appeared as on "Star Trek: The Next Generation") didn't help boost interest by viewers enough to help.

I'll step up and say here that "Enterprise" was a gamble from the start, and as such was a big risk to take. While "S:TNG" may have been a cornerstone when UPN was first taking to the airwaves, the Trek series that followed it had their own ups and downs. None of them found what might be considered respectable ratings, even compared to Fox. UPN wanted to get a piece of the prime time pie, and the various Trek franchises allowed them to do so. But as the years passed, it became obvious that viewer preferences had changed as ratings became lower and lower. That proverbial piece of the pie was becoming leftover crumbs.

Let's face it. We had seven seasons for "S:TNG," seven for "Deep Space Nine," seven for "Voyager" (although I know a number of fans who tuned out after the first season) and now "Enterprise" will finish out a fourth. Count your blessings, folks. In many cases, very tired story plots were recycled by writing staffs who could not go beyond the formula that the various series seemed to be stuck in. That's not to say that there were not gems among the placebos. All four series have episodes that bear watching again. Thanks to syndication, and now the DVD releases, that option will likely keep Trek plugging along for some time to come, even if it's not in prime time or on the big screen at a theater near you. But there were more malfunctions in stories than there were gems.

My old buddy Nicholas Lancaster has seen his way around the many Trek incarnations and shared a few thoughts about " Enterprise."

"I'm not terribly familiar with 'Enterprise,' having tuned out even faster than I did with 'Voyager,' and may the gods spare us from the after-series apologetics that tried to preserve the franchise after 'Voyager' was done. Great choice in cast, but even a great actor or actress can't spin gold out of dross, and as you pointed out - the scripts were relying on old, tired devices and twists, including time-travel (methinks Brannon Braga has an obsession with that one). But the doctor was a retread of Neelix, a weekly offering of strange medical goop instead of the chef's surprise. All of the characters had strengths and weaknesses, but seemed to become one-dimensional after the pilot. By the time the episode 'Shuttlepod One' occurred where Trip and Reed were stuck in a shuttle wedged on an icy crevasse, I frankly didn't care - even with them spilling their guts to each other.

Still, it seemed like there was very little 'hunger' going on, technology-wise. Earth had made their starship, and they were just happy as could be ... but there was never this feeling that they wanted or needed more, that Archer and his crew were pushing the envelope to go not only 'where no man has gone before,' but farther and faster. American achievement in space has always been about firsts and setting goals - 'Enterprise' seemed to be more of a plateau and a hearty clap on the back. No tension, no growth ... no drama. Click goes the remote."

Kind of sums it up for a fair number of viewers, doesn't it?

Is it time for Trek to enjoy a rest? Probably. Will we miss the efforts of the cast and crew? Sometimes, yes. But when we get Nazi space aliens, well... I don't know about you, but that's a clear sign that trouble was ahead and the end was in sight. Sure it was a plot twist that no one saw coming, but it was largely wasted in a two show story arc that was not really satisfying for even the most fanatic viewer.

Scott Bakula? He had a tough role as Jonathan Archer. He was the first captain of a Starship. His character couldn't be based on any of the other Captains. He had to learn the hard way. And that he did, as Captain Archer got the crap beaten out of him more than any other Star Trek cast member in any of the series. He had to make mistakes so others who came after could learn from them. But I seriously doubt Bakula will be gone from the screen for long. With the Sci Fi Channel reviving "Quantum Leap," he is sure to appear now and then on the small screen, if and when that starts production. Perhaps he will be able to return to his theatrical roots? Maybe even take some time in the studio for an album of some of his favorite music? But I think that any long-term television commitment isn't in the cards. And that's too bad, because he is genuinely a nice guy and somewhat of a natural leader on the set. I never heard anyone connected with the show say anything but complimentary words for him.

The same will likely be true for the rest of the cast. I'm sure we will see them on other shows or in other projects. And "Enterprise" will soon find it's way into the syndication markets as well as life on DVD, where each of the previous series "has gone before"...

I've been a Star Trek fan from way back. I even recall watching a few shows of the original series in their initial prime time showings on NBC. Heck, I even met my wife on the train headed to a Star Trek convention in San Francisco about this time of year over twenty-five years ago. I did my bit working various Star Trek events (even as a member of the Transporter Crew for a stage illusion based on the original show). And like many Trekkers, I sat through "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" knowing all along how much of a turkey it was, yet satisfied that there was Star Trek on the big screen. While it's been more than a few years since I've worn a Trek uniform (or costume), yes... I still have my old vacuformed Communicator in a box somewhere. I may not have succumbed to the temptations of the various DVDs but I do have a fair number of VHS tapes gathering dust from the shows in the franchise.

All that said, I am sure that the last show of " Enterprise" will bring a tear to my eye. It's the end of an era. As much as the end of other television legends such as "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke" or the incarnations of "The Andy Griffith Show," Trek has had its day in the sun.

If there was a message that the original series brought to viewers, it was one of hope for a better tomorrow. Sure, we're not there yet, but we are closer. And if Star Trek has helped us even a small amount along that way, then it's "done good". In the final reckoning, that's something everyone associated with "Star Trek: Enterprise" should be proud of.

Thanks to everyone who reminded me about an error in last week's Ruminations. What I meant to say was that I thought Johnny Depp has used up a lot of Oscar buzz last year and that I didn't think the voters were likely to reward him this year. A fair number of critics didn't care for "Finding Neverland" and they haven't been shy in saying so.

And yes, Sean Penn did win the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in " Mystic River" last year.

Again, thanks to everyone for your continuing support of the Red Cross and other Tsunami Relief organizations. It's enlightening to see that we all can still share when it is important to do so.

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