Space Ramblings

Star Trek is now at its lowest point since the cancellation of the Original Series

Star Trek is now at its lowest point since the cancellation of the Original Series. In some ways Star Trek is even worse off today since it has a fraction of the fan base Star Trek had back then still left.

Two years ago there were two great white hopes that were going to save the franchise, Enterprise and Nemesis. Both have failed. Enterprise is not gaining viewers but losing them, it’s staying alive but it isn’t doing anything besides surviving. Nemesis was a disaster of colossal proportions that will likely bury the film end of the franchise for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

Both of these disasters had creative and marketing components. Enterprise kicked off after two Star Trek series that alienated most Star Trek fans and left a shrinking demographic as well as a perception that the franchise was just a money machine cranking out low quality material with the brand name on them.

By the time Enterprise came around the pilot’s ratings testify that a lot fewer people and critics were willing to give it a chance. Where during the TOS era, Star Trek had the aura of a daring and promising show canceled before its time, by the time Enterprise premiered the situation had long since reversed itself and now had the aura of a soulless franchise that nobody but geeks and nerds still liked and that should have been put to sleep years ago.

Star Trek has accumulated a lot of ill will over the years from SciFi fans from its own fans and from mainstream viewers. Enterprise’s shaky first season and lack of engrossing material has not helped either. Now Enterprise is yet another dwindling SciFi series dismissed by everyone and propping up a shaky network which itself exists only through corporate stupidity.

Enterprise has gone where DS9 and Voyager have already been. Not only has Enterprise not revived Star Trek, but it’s yet another nail in the coffin of its decline.

Nemesis did have quality problems, mainly due to footage being cut in
a way that damaged the movie’s ability to tell the story, nevertheless
it was and is the best TNG film ever made. It is also the last because
it should have been the first. It should have been the movie that
energized the transition of the TNG franchise to the big screen.
Instead the franchise went with a disastrous attempt to have Kirk hand
over the baton. The next two movies were just as bad in terms of
quality, they had promising elements but they were amateurishly
scripted, amateurishly directed and were more TV productions, than
film productions. And by the time Nemesis was announced, Star Trek
films had come to be viewed the same way that Star Trek TV series had
come to be viewed, as soulless cash cows for a franchise that had gone
on too long.

Paramount misread the situation disastrously when the quality of the
movie and the positive test screening responses led them to schedule
it as their high profile December release where tough competition
prevented it from gaining the publicity and the screens it needed
while gaining the ire of overworked critics trying to protect their
favorite films like Two Towers and Gangs of New York from competition
and regurgitating the popular view of the franchise by critically
savaging Nemesis. And released a mere 5 days before the 800 pound
gorilla that is the Peter Jackson version of LOTR, it was demographic
suicide. Since studio executives rarely take responsibility for their
stupid decisions, Nemesis and Star Trek itself will likely be blamed
instead. And that will almost certainly end the film franchise unless
they actually recognize that the problem with Nemesis was not a
creative failure, as a scheduling failure. But that’s not likely,
nevertheless official Paramount statements on Nemesis should be
watched carefully for indications of the party line the studio will
take.

But with Nemesis bombing and Enterprise dying the same slow death as
every Berman created series, Star Trek is now in real trouble. It has
lost its film franchise and its grip on the TV franchise is only as
secure as its sinking ratings and Paramount’s continuing commitment to
UPN. Neither is all that stable and all that certain 5 years from now.

That leaves us right back where the franchise was between TOS’s
cancellation and STTMP’s premiere, with Star Trek novels which seem to
be the only part of the franchise doing really well, with Star Trek
fandom itself and the fan collaborations, artwork, fanfic,
conventions, discussions and activity that kept Star Trek alive
originally.

Obviously Star Trek’s fandom has shrunk and much of the more committed
fanbase is aging. By the time Enterprise goes off the air, they will
be increasingly less of a factor in any calculations. And in a
franchise whose younger audience has become increasingly disconnected
from the franchise’s roots and now increasingly consists of fragmented
fanbases for the different spin offs, keeping Star Trek alive will be
more difficult. Star Trek’s active fanbase has shrunk. There are much
fewer people who have seen the latest series and many don’t even think
that Star Trek should survive or that there is any point to keeping it
alive.

Many are pinning their hopes on a revitalization of Star Trek. Some
are calling for the removal of Rick Berman, but there is no real
reason to believe that this would improve things. Rick Berman may
indeed move on if he takes the fall for Nemesis and Enterprise, but
statistically speaking, his replacement is likely to be worse, not
better. And in any case revitalizing Star Trek may at this point be
near impossible as the case of Nemesis showed. Star Trek has a bad
reputation, it can’t be changed now by simply putting a good product
out there because neither viewers nor critics will give it a chance.
Even were a talented showrunner placed in charge of Enterprise today
and the show became one of the best series on television, most scifi
fans, let alone critics and mainstream viewers would continue to
ignore it or comment on repeat all the usual cliches about the
franchise.

Still others have proposed taking Star Trek off the air for a while to
build interest again, but in Hollywood that makes something an
irrelevant property. Star Trek today exists for two reasons, because
it’s a franchise that Viacom can market and exploit in different ways
and because it props up UPN. If UPN goes and Star Trek has been gone
from the air for half a decade or so, it will never come back on the
air because attention will have shifted to other properties and Star
Trek will not be revived simply to prop up the merchandising licenses.

So what is to be done? Not much. Star Trek will still remain on TV
through some lucky factors. Star Trek fandom will maintain some of the
franchise’s presence and merchandising sales. Beyond that, all good
things must end. TV shows don’t last forever. There was a time when
Star Trek seemed like it might be special, like it might be the
exception. That time is past. Star Trek in its various incarnations
has gone on longer and done more than any other SF show out there. Its
best stuff has sunk into popular culture, it has inspired kids to
become scientists and astronauts. It’s become a part of history. But
history is the record of things past and keeping Star Trek alive may
now have become impossible. Ultimately Kirk had to face his own
mortality and the time to do so the same may have come for Star Trek
itself.

Of course things seemed pretty hopeless back when Star Trek was first
canceled. There were three networks and Star Trek was an expensive
show to do. The actors, the writers and the producers went on their
way to other jobs sure that the whole thing was over. It wasn’t though
but the set of events that brought Star Trek back on the air were not
predictable back then and the set of events that might revive Star
Trek may not be predictable now. For now Star Trek is still hanging on
and who knows what tomorrow will still bring. It might take careful
watching to spot the Vulcan mind meld and Genesis plot devices that
can create life from lifelessness and cheat death one more time.

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