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'Enterprise' explores another point on 'Star Trek' time line

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- UPN not-so-boldly goes back to the "Star Trek" well for the latest incarnation in the franchise this fall. "Enterprise" lacks the "Star Trek" title because executive producer Rick Berman said it was time for a change.

Scott Bakula describes his "Enterprise" captain as a wide-eyed adventurer who "wears his heart on his sleeve." (Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press)

"Since 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,' we've had so many 'Star Trek' entities that were called 'Star Trek'-colon-something," Berman said at a UPN press conference during the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "Our feeling was, in trying to make this show dramatically different, it might be fun not to have a divided main title like that. And if there's any one word that says 'Star Trek' without actually saying 'Star Trek,' it's the word 'Enterprise.' "

The show has its two-hour premiere Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. on Pittsburgh's UPN station, WNPA-Channel 19.

The new series is set in the 22nd century, 100 years before the U.S.S. Enterprise of Capt. Kirk. Along the "Star Trek" time line, "Enterprise" takes place 100 years after the events in the time-travel movie "Star Trek: First Contact," which depicted the first meeting between humans and Vulcans and Zephram Cochran's (James Cromwell) first Warp speed flight. (Cromwell will have a cameo in the "Enterprise" pilot.)

"There were 200 years where the Earth went from this kind of muddy little village in Montana where our film took place to the world of Kirk and Spock," Berman said. "We have chosen a place halfway in between to create the world of 'How did it all begin?' and 'What was it like for the people who truly were the first people to go where no man has gone before?' "

Even though "Enterprise" was created by the same people responsible for the lackluster storytelling and character development on "Voyager," "Enterprise" benefits from the personable charm of its lead, Capt. Jonathan Archer, played by Scott Bakula. The character is a wide-eyed adventurer who "wears his heart on his sleeve," Bakula said. He's also more apt to get his heart broken as the first "Star Trek" captain since Kirk who regularly romances the alien ladies.

Bakula, who has his own experience with zealous sci-fi fans from his years on the cult time-travel series "Quantum Leap," said he's not too worried about rival fan groups coming into conflict.

"Hopefully we'll all blend together nicely, and everybody will get along," he said.

A tour of the "Enterprise" set revealed a starship that's more compact and less futuristic than any in the series' history.

The Enterprise, which bears the designation NX-01, has the feel of a contemporary naval vessel, complete with hatch-like doorways and decals that feature fonts that don't have a space-age feel to them. The Enterprise bridge has a helm control that's part submarine steering wheel, part joystick. Flat screen computer displays look more like what you find on office desks today than the flat touch pads seen on other "Trek" series set further in the future. Consoles feature dials, buttons and oscilloscopes.

"Enterprise" actually owes a debt to the short-lived "Babylon 5" spinoff "Crusade." A "situation room" off the Enterprise bridge is located just behind the captain's chair, the same as it was on "Crusade." Rather than wearing pajama-like uniforms as in previous "Trek" series, the "Enterprise" cast is clad in flight suits with zippers and pockets, similar to some "Crusade" costumes.

But where the "Crusade" sets looked cardboard-cheap, the "Enterprise" sets are built to last. Metal and chrome surfaces cover the interior walls, giving the ship a utilitarian, ready-for-battle look that's in stark contrast to the U.S.S. Enterprise of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which sometimes felt like a futuristic Hilton Hotel in outer space.

Fox looks good for fall

Of all the broadcast networks, Fox has the best lineup of new series this fall.

I'm not wild about "Temptation Island 2," but when executives weren't busy dreaming up amoral "reality" shows, they managed to develop an impressive slate of new scripted series.

"The Tick," a superhero comedy I've been lauding since its pilot episode was released to critics more than a year ago, will finally find a spot on the schedule (unfortunately it's a suicidal slot at 8:30 p.m. Thursday). "Undeclared," a new comedy from "Freaks and Geeks" executive producer Judd Apatow, shows initial promise. Even though prime-time serials have been in the doldrums since the demise of "Melrose Place," don't count out "Pasadena," a somber, serious soap that stars Dana Delany as the scion of a family made wealthy through newspaper publishing.

But the show with the most buzz is the unique, mystery-filled action-drama "24." Each episode of the series covers a single hour. When all 24 episodes are put together, they make up a single day as a C.I.A. agent (Keifer Sutherland) attempts to stop an assassination attempt on an African-American presidential candidate (Dennis Haysbert).

Conceptually, "24" feels a bit like ABC's "Murder One," an ambitious legal drama that played out a single murder trial over the course of its first season. The show lasted only two years and suffered from a time slot opposite NBC megahit "ER."

Like "Murder One," "24" requires an investment from viewers willing to stick with the serialized story as it's told over the course of the season.

"I see the shows as very different," said Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman. "I won't sit up here and not embrace the serialized nature of the show, but I must let you know part of the show will be close-ended stories. We think the audience will be satisfied. This is not a plodding legal drama. It's an action thriller, and I think that, in and of itself, will cause an audience to be interested and to come back the next week for the excitement level the first episode generates. Our obligation is to keep the stakes high enough to keep the audience coming back."

In addition to an aggressive marketing campaign for the series, "24" may see additional runs on Fox-owned cable networks (most likely FX) in the same week it airs on Fox Broadcasting to further juice awareness and ratings.

For viewers accustomed to falling for serials only to see them canceled before they reach a conclusion, Fox's initial commitment to "24" is no more or less promising than to most first-year dramas. Only 13 episodes have been ordered, so it's possible the show's hour-by-hour story may expire after 1 p.m. on the day the series encompasses.

"I don't think our commitment to the audience is any different with '24' than any other series," said Sandy Grushow, chairman of the Fox Television Entertainment Group. "If the audience shows up and supports the show, then obviously we'll continue to invest in it. If they don't support the show, then they will have sent us a pretty strong message and it will be tougher for us to support the show at that point in time."

In other words, get hooked at the risk of disappointment.

Creators re-sign

Chris Carter has agreed to executive produce yet another season of the once-great Fox drama "The X-Files."

David Chase has signed with HBO to extend the run of the still-great mob drama "The Sopranos" to a fifth season. "The Sopranos" just concluded its third season, and the fourth season won't air until next June at the earliest, making the critically acclaimed show ineligible for next year's Emmy awards competition.

Bogey wants work

Mike Boguslawski, former consumer reporter for WPXI, wants to get back on Pittsburgh TV. "Bogey," as he's known in Los Angeles, has made a splash doing consumer reports for CBS-owned KCBS. He called to say he contacted new KDKA news director Al Blinke, who previously worked at Channel 11, about flying to Pittsburgh weekends to tape segments for CBS-owned sister station KDKA.

"I want to come to Pittsburgh to handle consumer complaints and do consumer stories as I did when I was at Channel 11," Boguslawski said. "I had a conversation with Al Blinke and he liked the idea. ... I always had great support in Pittsburgh."

But Blinke said Boguslawski won't be back.

"Mike is not coming to work here," Blinke said.

Beggy show off

Timmy Beggy, the Pittsburgh native and "Road Rules" star, developed a reality show for UPN's fall lineup, but it didn't make the cut. UPN president Dean Valentine said the show won't be revived for mid-season.

"We passed on it," Valentine said. "The show just didn't work. He's incredibly talented, but the show felt more like a cable show than a network show. We may work on something else with him."

Good news for 'Bad News'

An FX series I wrote about a few months ago has gotten its second official green light. "Bad News, Mr. Swanson," a comedy about a man dying of cancer, has been picked up for 13 episodes. And this time executives say they mean it.

It was already given a go-ahead once, but the boss of those at FX backing the show got cold feet. Getting network higher-ups to agree to finance the program proved difficult because of its unlikely conceit: The absurdities that arise when someone learns he doesn't have long to live.

"This just hasn't been done on television before," said Kevin Reilly , FX Entertainment president.

The pilot episode will likely be reshot with some recasting and a greater emphasis on comedy.

More 'Grace'

Fox Family Channel announced Saturday it has picked up an additional 13 episodes of the half-hour dramedy "State of Grace," which premiered in late June to some of the network's highest ratings and critical acclaim.

The story of two girls growing up in the '60s South -- one Jewish, one Catholic -- "State of Grace" will return with new episodes in January.

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

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