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A continuing Enterprise

By Stephen HumphriesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 21, 2001

Stardate 09/26/01.

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UPN syndication, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the new "Star Trek" series "Enterprise." Its mission: to seek out new audiences and boldly go where no "Star Trek" has gone before.

No space shuttle launch in recent memory has received anywhere near the attention being given to the imminent maiden voyage of the starship "Enterprise." There's a lot riding on UPN's blastoff (Wednesday, 9-10 p.m.) of the latest spaceship in the fleet of the "Star Trek" franchise. The future of "Trek" on television screens may well hinge on whether the new series - to borrow a Vulcan saying - is able to "live long and prosper."

Though "Star Trek" generates multimillions of dollars for Paramount Pictures, thanks to licensing of merchandise and TV syndication sales, the last two TV series, "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager," have played mostly to the hard-core faithful.

With brows at Paramount furrowing like a Klingon forehead, the studio desperately needs a hit to attract new viewers and bring back casual fans.

Expect "Enterprise," which stars Scott Bakula ("Quantum Leap") as Capt. Jonathan Archer, to reinvent "Star Trek." The new show is set a full century before Captain Kirk sets out to "explore strange new worlds." But, unlike Kirk's crew, the new cast won't be dressed like they're on their way to a galactic slumber party.

The pajama-catalog fashions of the '60s series will make way for utilitarian baseball caps and jumpsuits with pockets and zippers - a first for a "Trek" uniform.

Gone, too, will be the open spaces and sterile smoothness of previous starship bridges.

The design of this "Enterprise" has been modeled to resemble a rough-and-ready modern-day military submarine, but with a futuristic feel. (Still no sign of any seat belts, so don't be surprised if this crew is violently tossed about the bridge every time the ship comes under fire.)

But the changes on the new show aren't all on the surface. "Star Trek" is having to adapt to the way the world has changed in the 35 years since Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. "Bones" McCoy were first beamed down onto TV sets. That pioneering show arrived at a time when man was going to the moon.

"Star Trek" producer Gene Roddenberry presented a compelling vision of how the future might build on Neil Armstrong's "one small step." Distant worlds orbited by multiple moons would, sooner or later, be scanned for life signs by Spock's "tricorder."

In 2001, the fervor of excitement that initially greeted space exploration is likely to remain largely in stasis until further exploration of Mars. Star trekking isn't in vogue. "Star Trek" featured palm-size gadgets, portable communication devices that were a novel idea in the '60s. But rapid advances in technology are now taken for granted by teens who own cellphones that flip open just like Captain Kirk's. "We've become blasé," laments Bob Justman, associate producer of "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." "Things don't excite the interest of the public in the way that they used to when everything was unknown."

Making up for lost ground

The last two series, "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager," have also faced a threat more troublesome than a spaceship full of Tribbles - namely a plethora of competing science-fiction series, like "Babylon 5," "The Lost World," "Andromeda," "Earth: Final Conflict," and "Farscape."