By Devin D. O'Leary
“Star Trek TOS” 1966-69
The Sci-Fi Graveyard is littered with the corpses of canceled TV series. (“Automan,” we hardly knew ye.) In a special section of that hallowed boneyard is a magnificent set of tombstones set aside for the offspring of the late, great Gene Roddenberry. “Star Trek: TOS” (“Star Trek: The Original Series” for you non initiates) and its four followers have all now passed into the great beyond. This Friday night, the United Paramount Network will send the Starship Enterprise on its final mission (which, speaking in a purely chronological sense, is actually one of the earliest missions in the “Star Trek” universe, preceded only by portions of the Star Trek: First Contact film and selected “time travel” episodes of the assorted series, which ... well, let's just leave that off for now).
This weekend, trekkers (or “trekkies” to the old guard) will find themselves without a “Star Trek” series for the first time in 18 years. That's an entire generation of high school graduates who cannot remember a world without “Trek.” Kinda puts things in perspective, don't it?
Despite its eventual cultural impact, the original series was hardly a ratings smash. It never went above No. 52 in the weekly ratings during its three seasons on the air. That changed, of course, after the show went off the air and its massive audience of teenagers (now a much-coveted demographic) turned the show into a cult sensation. Virtually every scientist, astronomer and astronaut on the planet now cites Roddenberry's optimistic series as inspiration.
In the '80s, the show spawned a successful (if uneven) series of feature films, beginning with 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The show returned to television in 1987. Topnotch writing and a popular cast eventually made “Star Trek: The Next Generation” even more successful than its predecessor.
Follow up series seemed to be a case of diminishing returns, however. With “Star Trek: Voyager,” the franchise jumped syndication and became a cornerstone of the fledgling UPN network. Ratings took a slow slide over the next decade. When “Enterprise” premiered in 2001, many fans hoped it would be a return to roots for the franchise. Despite its pre-“Star Trek: TOS” setting, its popular star (Scott Bakula) and its hot sidekick (Jolene Blalock), the show never took off.
Perhaps it was the complicated multi-season story arcs. (Nazis? Really?) Perhaps the show didn't feel “Star Trek” enough. (Where were the mini-skirts?) Perhaps, in today's “invasion rather than diplomacy” world, the Prime Directive felt too naïve. Perhaps it was simple burnout.
The final episode of “Enterprise” will feature guest stars Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis (from “Next Generation”) and will help segue into the Star Trek: Generations film. It's too little too late to save “Star Trek,” but here's hoping it's at least a worthy send-off to one of TV's greatest franchises.
The series finale of “Star Trek: Enterprise” airs Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m. on KASY-50.
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