GiantFreakingRobot has a list of six reasons why he believes Voyager never really worked. His first mistake is pointing to Voyager as the beginning of the end for the franchise. Actually DS9 was the beginning of the end. It was the first TNG spinoff and its ratings plummeted badly requiring repeated reboots. Toward the end it had a fraction of its former ratings.
The reasons themselves? Janeway was more Kirk than Picard, at least a crazy unbalanced version of Kirk. She charged in a lot of the time and threw her weight around. Except for the last two reasons, the others are too stupid to comment on. The only one that matters is did Voyager really make full use of its premise. No it didn’t and the easiest way to see that is to compare it to Stargate Universe which took a similar premise and tried to live it. Or Enterprise’s third season. Neither of them were perfect but they were much more committed to the concept.
Some of Voyager’s best episodes used the premise, like The Void. But it also managed great standalone episodes that didn’t, like Blink of an Eye, which could have popped up on any of the Star Treks. Voyager doesn’t get enough credit for its good episodes, but at least unlike DS9 it wasn’t constantly being rebooted from Exploring the Wormhole to War Show to Sisko as the Chosen One Fighting the Red Devil Orbs.
Robot is close enough when he says that the problem was the characters. They were a big part of the problem. None of the post-TNG shows ever had a cast that really meshed together naturally. It was a bigger problem on Voyager, because unlike DS9 and Enterprise, not only didn’t the cast mesh, but most of the characters were either unlikable or not very interesting.
DS9 had actors who could carry the bad material. Enterprise’s actors were congenial enough that the bad stuff wasn’t as irritating. Voyager had few buffers except for the HoloDoc and Picardo’s prickly charm. Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Kim, Tuvok, Seven and most of the cast were irritating one note characters and the actors couldn’t or wouldn’t bring anything to tone them down.
Robert Picardo and Ethan Philips seemed to be the only actors on the show trying to be sympathetic. Mulgrew went the other way. Beltran had occasional flashes of charm but mostly phoned it in. Robert Duncan McNeill decided to go as obnoxious as possible. Garret Wang couldn’t really act too well. Jeri Ryan was playing an emotionless sexbot with minimal nuance. Tim Russ has a great sense of humor, but chose to disregard a lot of what Nimoy did with Spock, and between the abrasive writing, made Tuvok as unlikable as possible.
It may not be completely fair to blame the actors for a show’s problems, the premise and the uneven writing were at fault, but the cast really did not step up to the task. Sure they mostly had one note characters, but they didn’t really try to bring any nuance to the material. They never made it come alive and they never made the show come alive.
DS9 didn’t really have great writing, but it had a supporting cast of people like Coombs, Robinson and Alaimo who would make the most of a single throwaway line. And that made up for Brooks and Visitor’s bad acting. It had Colm Meaney who could walk through the most banal material and still make you feel something. It had Rene Auberjonois who did with a similar character what Tim Russ failed to do, make him seem vulnerable despite his abrasiveness.
Imagine the actors switching places for a moment and suddenly Voyager would start looking better and DS9 would start looking worse.