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Star Trek Franchise Not-So-Boldly Goes Off the Air

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Star Trek Franchise Not-So-Boldly Goes Off the Air

Pop Culture

Star Trek Franchise Not-So-Boldly Goes Off the Air

Star Trek Franchise Not-So-Boldly Goes Off the Air

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The last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise airs on television Friday — and for the first time in 20 years, there will no longer be a Star Trek television show in active production. Dallas Observer critic Robert Wilonsky says Star Trek should take some tips from the Star Wars franchise — lay low and plan the comeback carefully.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

The starship Enterprise will make its final voyage tonight. The ship will be decommissioned, as will its crew, sent into early retirement by UPN as the network airs the last episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise." Here to note the program's passage, Dallas Observer critic Robert Wilonsky.

ROBERT WILONSKY:

The cancellation of the fifth series to bear the name "Star Trek" marks the end of an era for those of us weaned on the adventures of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Come fall, and for the first time since the launch of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in 1987, there will be no television show set in the utopian future envisioned by Gene Roddenberry nearly 40 years ago. There is no movie in the works, either, perhaps because the most recent cinematic voyages have, for the most part, made pennies on the dollar.

There is no doubt that the franchise, some 700 hours' worth of programming, needs a breather. The "Star Trek" spin-offs, including "Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager," flooded the market with product. All the shows looked the same, only less so. "Star Trek: Enterprise," for now the last permutation, was set about a hundred years before the birth of Kirk and Spock and is but a monochromatic redo of the Day-Glo original. Worse, Scott Bakula is a poor stand-in for William Shatner, no matter how hard he tries to bluster his way through a scene. Better no show than yet one more to dilute and destroy whatever fond memories we fans of the original have for the good old days when the holy trinity of Kirk, Spock and Bones strode the hallways in their black boots and pajama-top tunics.

But if Rick Berman and Brandon Braga, who have either kept the franchise alive or slowly killed it, depending upon your perspective, really want to rescue "Trek," here is a simple solution: Take it back to where it all began, on a starship populated by icons rather than their poor substitutes. The best and sadly most recent episodes of "Star Trek: Enterprise" referenced classic original "Trek" episodes and featured not only a mockup of the original bridge and ship, but also those groovy blue, red and yellow uniforms, a sight for geeks' sore eyes. But it was too little, too late to draw back in those of us who had long ago written off "Star Trek: Enterprise" as a weak substitute for fond memories.

The fact is audiences are now old, old enough--that is, nostalgic enough--to want what they once had. We have grown tired of shows set in "Star Trek's" bland future, populated by stentorian commanders barking orders in wool jumpsuits. We want those retro uniforms, that bright bridge, that old-ship smell. Berman and Braga should quite simply relaunch "Trek" by creating a series that reveals early voyages of Kirk, Spock and Bones as they boldly went where no one had gone before. After all, why reinvent the wheel when there's plenty of tread left?

You know, a week after "Star Trek: Enterprise" disappears into its black hole, "Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" opens, and at last George Lucas gives his fans what they have longed for: the asthmatic Darth Vader breathing out of his black mask, the furry Chewbacca growling into the heavens and glimpses of spaceships and planets first seen a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away--well, at least in 1977. The circle is complete as Lucas brings his franchise home again. "Trek" could learn a lesson here. In the future, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging your past.

CHADWICK: Robert Wilonsky writes for DAY TO DAY and the Dallas Observer. The final episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise" airs tonight on UPN.

(Soundbite of closing theme from original "Star Trek" series)

CHADWICK: Stay with us as NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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