HOLLYWOOD - Maybe it has not-so-boldly gone to the same well too often. Maybe after more than 500 hours of television, Star Trek needs a rest. But the producers of UPN's Enterprise aren't ready to steer the franchise into dry dock. Instead, they'll retool the show for its third season, promising more action as Capt. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and his crew attempt to save Earth from annihilation.
“It's no secret that our [rating] numbers fell last year more than we expected them to,” said executive producer Rick Berman. “Obviously, we, like any other responsible producers, wanted to do what we could to try to lure back some of our viewers.”
Berman said the more successful Trek films - No. 4, The Voyage Home, and No. 8, First Contact - dealt with the impending destruction of Earth.
“Our thought was, rather than just have a general mission of exploring space peacefully, it might be interesting to do a portion or maybe an entire season where we had a very specific and a very immediate and a very dangerous situation,” he said. “In this case, a terrible attack on Earth, with the promise of a greater attack coming.”
The first attack was launched in May's second-season finale. Now the Enterprise is headed into an uncharted part of space to hunt down the attackers before they can strike again. Any similarities to the Sept. 11 attacks on America are purely coincidental, Berman said. “We are trying to be vigilant not to make comparisons that seem unwise.”
The new direction calls to mind Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the least heralded, but in some quarters the most critically acclaimed, of the Trek series. DS9 featured serialized story arcs and even sent its characters into a war.
“It seemed to me that this has followed a natural progression with this franchise,” Bakula said, “but it didn't come out of, `Oh, my God, we've got to change the show.' It came out of, `Where do we want to go?'”
Bakula said having a new, more dangerous mission has made Archer more driven.
“There's a certain darkness to him now, a little bit of tunnel vision,” Bakula said. “We have to figure this out, and we may lose people. We may lose contact with Earth, and we may have to make huge sacrifices. The idea of being peaceful - `We come in friendship from Earth' - that guy is gone.”
The evil aliens, the Xindi, comprise five distinct races: humanoids, reptiles, sloths, insectoids, and aquatics. Two of the races will be computer-generated characters.
“We didn't want them to just be another group of people with bumps on their foreheads,” said executive producer Brannon Braga. “They had to be something special, something complex.”
In addition, Starfleet Troopers known as MACOs - Military Assault Command Operations - will join the Enterprise crew as semi-recurring characters.
The temporal cold war-Suliban story line, introduced in the series premiere, will return toward the end of the season, and time travel will play a part in the year-long story.
Vulcan T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) will get a makeover, including longer, “more girly” hair, Blalock said, and a new wardrobe. She'll also experiment more with her emotions and may get some help from ship's engineer Trip (Connor Trinneer).
Enterprise, which has its third-season premiere Sept. 10, is a prequel set before the other Star Trek series, which made no mention of this pending war. One critic smartly asked, “Can't we assume that they just won it?”
“We deal with time lines and things can change,” Berman answered. “By the time this arc plays itself out, it will be explained why the Kirks and the Picards haven't discussed it.”
Neither producer would speculate on a reason for the show's declining ratings.
“I don't think, creatively, we were doing anything wrong,” Braga said.
The most recent Star Trek film, Nemesis, bombed at the box office last year, and a video game manufacturer with a long-term contract to produce Trek-themed games has sued Trek's corporate owner, saying Paramount allowed the franchise to wither.
“I don't think the franchise is in trouble,” Berman said without commenting on the lawsuit.
Hollywood trade publications report the Emmy-winning team behind HBO's Band of Brothers - Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks - will join forces again for a 10-part war miniseries for HBO about battles in the Pacific during World War II.
Band of Brothers was based on a book of the same name by Stephen Ambrose, but the new miniseries will not use a single book as its source. Variety says this miniseries will follow Hanks' 13-part miniseries about the American Revolution based on David McCullough's John Adams.
Don't expect to see American Idol judge Simon Cowell on CBS's Cupid in future episodes. He was only expected to appear in the first two anyway, and now that he has an overall deal with Fox, he's unlikely to appear on a rival network series anytime soon.
“Personally, I don't care for it,” Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman said of seeing Cowell on CBS. “I wouldn't worry about that happening again.”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, who is on the Television Critics Association Press Tour, is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.