Enterprise Wasn’t a Failure, Paramount’s Network Was

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The season finale of Picard was a celebration of all eras of Star Trek, including the show that ended it last time. The fourth series from Rick Berman and co-created by Brannon Braga has the dubious distinction of being the only second-wave era series to not make it to seven seasons. Yet, Star Trek: Enterprise was not a failure. United Paramount Network (UPN) was, and it sunk the show. Berman and Braga both say “franchise fatigue” played a role in the show’s lukewarm reception, and they make a fair argument.


From the beginning of The Next Generation in 1987 there was at least one Star Trek series on TV for the next 17 years, sometimes two. That’s more than 600 episodes of television. Also, when Gene Roddenberry fired up the warp engines again, TV “franchises” didn’t really exist. one hand, Enterprise was nothing new. It was a crew on a ship meeting weird aliens and killing or hooking up with them. On the other hand, it did a lot of new things with the storytelling in the franchise. One of those was adapting serial elements. Starfleet was a human-only organization, and far from the “perfect future” Roddenberry envisioned. The only unforced error was the theme song, which was a reworked soft rock song. While well-intentioned, it robbed the series of the gravitas an orchestral theme it provides. Star Trek musical legend Dennis McCarthy scored the series beautifully, but everyone remembers that song.

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How UPN Failed Star Trek: Enterprise and Then Blamed the Show

Star Trek: Enterprise shows Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) at a starship console

From the launch of UPN in the late 1990s to the time of Enterprise, then-Viacom purchased Paramount causing executive upheaval. Longtime Paramount executive Kerry McCluggage was both a big supporter of Star Trek and the dream of UPN. However, starting a network is very difficult. when Enterprise debuted 12.5 million people watched, won the night, beaten Law & Order, The Amazing Race and Lostand an NBC game show, according to The Los Angeles Times. Ratings, however, fell by 60 percent into the second season. Bakula, who is friends with McCluggage, blamed the network for not promoting the series in 2003, according to TrekToday.com. When the eventual corporate shakeups happened, the new executives who took over blamed the show rather than the network.

The irony is that, according to Bakula, Enterprise was always the “highest-rated show on the network.” It was a consistent performer, and even the much-maligned Enterprise the finale brought in more viewers than UPN had for years, also according to TrekToday. The problem wasn’t with the show itself but, rather, the programming direction. They would air multiple new episodes in a week, then pre-empt the show for sporting events. Some UPN affiliates still have local programming, and Enterprise wouldn’t even water in primetime. The marketing department also made strange decisions, such as only promoting Enterprise on UPN itself. A trailer was attached to Star Trek: Nemesis along with a contest for a guest-spot on the series, but no one showed up to that film either.

In fairness to the network, Enterprise was an incredibly expensive series. They used fully computer-generated models for ships and alien characters back in 2001. Also, Berman and Braga spent the past decade-and-a-half making TV by the skin of their teeth. Scott Bakula, however, was used to a better working environment than that. He pushed to have the season shortened, but he couldn’t do anything about late scripts or long days on set. Ultimately, despite being the top show on UPN, the network itself continued to lose money. Fans at the time tried to save the series, using the website TrekUnited.com since crowdfunding didn’t yet exist. The campaign was unsuccessful, but it raised a whopping $32 million, according to Mark Phillips in Star Trek Magazine #49.

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Fatigue Didn’t Kill Second-Wave Star Trek – It Was ‘Franchise Confusion’

Star Trek's Enterprise NX-01 seen in space

Despite the familiar elements in the show, Enterprise did try to do something new in Star Trek. Berman and Braga revealed they wanted to wait until the first season finale to even launch the NX-01 — a series that depicted Vulcans as antagonistic. Who love fans Star Trek Vulcans like Tuvok or Spock didn’t like this, though it made perfect sense. The Vulcans were responsible for bringing humans to the galactic party. If humans go out there and start wrecking holy temples and creating galactic incidents (which they did), that’s on them. It gave the Vulcans another layer, and created one of the best on-ship Vulcan characters in Jolene Blalock’s T’Pol. Being the first Vulcan to live in such close proximity to humans, it allowed for dramatic character moments the other series could never pull off.

Of course, the only changes weren’t to the narrative tone. Voyagers was the first Star Trek show to air on UPN, but Enterprise was the first one made for it. Previously, because The Original Series was such a strong performer, the new Star Trek shows were sold directly into syndication. Both Berman and Braga believe that if Enterprise had one of those older syndication deals, it would’ve gone for seven seasons or more. Of course, UPN didn’t even last seven seasons after Enterprise debuted. One year after the show was cancelled, UPN and the WB merged into The CW, co-owned by Warner Bros. and CBS until Nextstar purchased the network.

In the age of streaming, casual fans are much kinder to Enterprise. In fact, there were rumblings in the fan community that Netflix might have brought the series back like it did with Arrested Development. Though, given how that turned out, maybe it’s best they didn’t. However, the time may be right for a reunion movie special, like Michelle Yeoh’s announced Star Trek movie. With a whole new company wrapping up CBS and Paramount, perhaps Enterprise might get another go-around. Especially since old crews taking out classic Star Trek vessels for one last adventure are pretty popular these days.

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