People often talk about Star Trek ‘dying’ but even in human beings
death can be ambiguous especially when the patient is in a comatose
state as some might argue is the state the Star Trek franchise is
currently in. There’s brain death, there’s the inability of the major
organs to operate on their own and so on and so forth.
Since with Nemesis we’ve witnessed what is likely to be the death of the film portion of the Star Trek franchise and blows to the book and various merchandising divisions of Star Trek along with the usual TV ratings decline, it does seem like a timely question to ask.
Let’s project a not entirely implausible scenario here.
Flash forwards to ‘May 2007’. Enterprise has been on the air for five years and like both of its predecessors suffered increasingly declining ratings until it was no longer the No 1 show on even UPN. UPN announces that unlike TNG, DS9 and Voyager; Enterprise will not run for 7 years but will end after its fifth season. Rick Berman tries to soften the blow by claiming that Enterprise had a five year mission and the storylines will be wrapped up after 5 years but nevertheless it can’t help but be seen as a cancellation. Berman makes some noises about another spinoff maybe on cable but a year or two go by with no action on that front. Berman meanwhile has moved on to another project as has everyone associated with Star Trek but they do promise that they will come back if another show ever happens. But that looks increasingly less and less likely.
Will Star Trek be considered dead by this point?
Optimists will argue that Star Trek didn’t die when TOS was cancelled and that it will recover. In the meantime they will point to the occasional Star Trek novel and fanfic as proof that the fan culture is still alive. Pessimists will claim that Star Trek died a long time ago. But from a practical standpoint Star Trek will be as dead as Sliders or Babylon 5 or Earth 2 which also have thriving fan cultures but no television shows still continuing on to base them around. And for the mainstream, Star Trek will be considered permanently dead. And worst of all for the large number of Star Trek fans who have never bothered watching any of the spinoffs over the last ten years, it might as well be.
The thing is of course that such a scenario is not very farfetched. Neither is the possibility that ViacomCBS will decide that the fifth network was nonviable and finally fold up the tent leaving Star Trek with its high budgets with no prospective cable home. At some future date in time a cheap ‘retooled’ version of Star Trek might be launched into syndication by Paramount to cash in on its license but considering the botch that has been made of even the existing versions of Star Trek, it’s better not to imagine what such a show might look like. (Think Andromeda or Starhunter and be very frightened.)
And as Star Trek’s death becomes a more realistic possibility, we’d have to ask what event would finally be unanimously considered Star Trek’s death? For me Star Trek was born on television and if it is gone from television, it is dead. Those fans more committed to fandom and the social life of fanfic and conventions might believe that Star Trek is alive as long as fans care about it and involve themselves with it. Other fans believe that Star Trek was only alive when it was popular and that when TNG ended, so did Star Trek. There will likely be many answers depending on the individuals and their particular relationship to Star Trek. But it would rather nice if things were such so that the question wouldn’t have to be asked at all…