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A continuing Enterprise

(Page 2 of 3)

Producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, the current guardians of the "Trek" franchise, are hoping to make up for lost ground with "Enterprise."

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The "Star Trek" franchise has deep roots that may just need a bit of watering. "Trek" is one of the most iconic, if not the most iconic, TV shows ever - and not just in America. Many hugely popular US television shows find that their idioms fail to translate to foreign audiences. Yet "Star Trek" idioms like "Dilithium crystals" and "cloaking devices" face no such cultural barriers: "Star Trek" has been able to create a mind meld between audiences in China, South Africa, Australia, Japan, Brazil, and countries all over Europe. Possibly the world's biggest annual Star Trek convention is held in Germany.

What qualities of the original series and "The Next Generation" resonate with so many people? And will "Enterprise" incorporate them?

Unlike many apocalyptic science-fiction TV shows, "Star Trek" portrays a positive, optimistic view of the future in which mankind becomes more enlightened. "It wasn't just a science-fiction show, it was a morality play," Mr. Justman says. "It was 'do the right thing and do right by your fellow man, and all will be well, hopefully.' "

"Trek" subtly examined an array of ideas. With the Borg, a race who forcibly assimilated others into their collective, the writers were able to explore ideas about individuality, liberty, and notions of collectivism. The half-Borg, half-human character Seven of Nine in "Voyager," and "Data," the android from "The Next Generation," also raised questions about the best and worst qualities of mankind.

Another interesting philosophical question has been raised by recent "Star Trek" series, says Garfield Reeves-stevens, who has co-authored numerous fiction and non-fiction "Star Trek" books with his wife, Judith. "At what point does moral suasion lead to political interference?" According to "The Prime Directive" issued by "The Federation of Planets" in "Star Trek," the crews of starships are forbidden to influence other cultures they come into contact with.

Mr. Reeves-stevens says the "Trek" view that there are limits to judging other cultures from our own cultural reference points provides an interesting perspective to questions like: "Does the United States have the right to tell China how to govern itself in order to get into the World Trade Organization? What is the responsibility of the Western culture to the breakdown of culture in Central Africa?"

Part of the show's international fan base can be attributed to a vision of a multiracial future in which men and women of various cultures and races (including alien races!) work peacefully alongside one another.

" 'Star Trek' says that, in order to succeed in the future, we need your ideas. We need who you are on the inside, not who you are on the outside," says Kurt Lancaster, who has written about "Star Trek" fandom in his book "Interacting with Babylon 5: Fan Performances in a Media Universe" (University of Texas Press).

Even as civil-rights battles raged in the 1960s, the original "Trek" crew featured an African-American woman (Uhura) on the command bridge. Alongside her were a cold war no-no (Russian ensign Chekhov) and a Japanese weapons officer (Sulu).

"In those days, no one had that; it just wasn't done," Justman says. The show even featured TV's first interracial kiss, between Uhura and Kirk.

A token pair of pointy ears, too