Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Final Frontier is Cancellation

There is something sadly frustrating in the fact that Star Trek: Enterprise will be ending at the end of its fourth season. The sad part is that they are ending the series just as many of the problems that have dogged it over the years are beginning to be remedied. It was probably too late - UPN had reduced the amount they were willing to pay for the show and had moved it to Friday nights. The frustrating part is that I'm not sure whether anyone at Paramount or Viacom really realises what was wrong in the first place. There's even a bit of irony in that, if the show had been cancelled after the third season I doubt that there'd be much regret; the dominant emotion might perhaps have been relief.

In looking at the various modern Star Trek provides a certain perspective on Enterprise (as the show was originally known). The first season started well enough. Indeed in my opinion (and let's face it,all I have to offer here is my opinions) the early episodes of Enterprise were better than most of the first season episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. People looking at The Next Generation with rose coloured glasses that time provides tend to forget just how wretched much of that first season was. If the show hadn't been carried in so many markets and received such high ratings from people who were willing to cut it some slack because it was Star Trek on logic that "any Trek on TV is better than no Trek", the whole thing might have been written off as a very bad idea. The difference between The Next Generation and Enterprise is that the earlier show improved with age. The second season was better than the first and the third season and beyond gave us more strong episodes and fewer clinkers. Through it's first three years Enterprise didn't improve much and the ratio of poor episodes to good ones was depressingly bad. Many people have said the same about Star Trek: Voyager although even that show improved somewhat over time.

Star Trek fans, be they "Trekkies", "Trekkers" or people like me who just like to watch the shows without getting into philosophical discussions about the "big issues" (in Klingon of course) or dress up in pointy ears and home made uniforms, tend to point the finger of blame for the deterioration of the Star Trek franchise on Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. They were the Executive Producers - the "show runners" - for Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise after rising to leading positions on Star Trek: The Next Generation. They were also heavily involved with the writing process on all of Voyager and much of the first three seasons of Enterprise. By way of comparison, Berman and Braga had little to do with the other series in the franchise Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which I at least consider to be the best of the modern series. Although Berman carried an Executive Producer credit on Deep Space Nine the real "show runner" was Ira Steven Behr, who was also deeply involved in the writing process. In the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise, the "show runner" has been Manny Coto, who has also been highly involved in writing many of the fourth season episodes. The change has been visible.

A lot of fans of Doctor Who place the blame for that series decline squarely on the head of the show's final producer, John Nathan Turner. Turner stayed on Doctor Who as producer for nine years. Previously the longest period of time anyone had stayed on as producer of the show was five years and the average tenure was about three. The accusation made against Turner is that he stayed too long, well after his creative vision for the project had been exhausted. The same can be said about Berman and Braga with regard to Star Trek. Combining their periods on Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise they have been running the franchise on a day to day level for ten years and Berman has been doing it for closer to fifteen years. It is almost impossible not to believe that their creative vision on this particular front has long since been exhausted. If people with a different perspective on the property, like Manny Coto and Ira Behr before him, had been involved with Star Trek: Enterprise from the start, UPN might not have moved it to the Friday night "death slot" or cancelled it for failing to perform.

No comments: