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'Enterprise' prequel chronicles space explorers before Kirk

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- There's nothing final about the "final frontier" when it comes to "Star Trek," not when yet another series -- No. 5 for those counting -- is about to debut.

The crew of “Enterprise” is composed of, from left, Anthony Montgomery, Dominic Keating, Jolene Blalock, Scott Bakula, Linda Park, John Billingsley and Connor Trinneer. (Upn Photo)

The prospect of another incarnation in a saga whose quality continues to erode won't generate "oohs" and "ahs" from some quarters. But the creators of UPN's "Enterprise" (8 tonight on WNPA), who also piloted the disappointing "Star Trek: Voyager" for seven lackluster seasons, claim the new show will revitalize the franchise.

Even the star of "Enterprise" had initial doubts.

"I don't believe I would have done this show if it had been another version of 'Voyager' 29 years later," said Scott Bakula, who stars as Capt. Jonathan Archer. "But this was a chance to be the first captain. That was a nice character thing and hard to refuse."

And that's the key ingredient to making "Enterprise" a success. It's a prequel, set in the mid-22nd century before the original "Star Trek." Prequels have had a mini-resurgence this season with "The Ponderosa" on Pax TV (a "Bonanza" prequel) and "Smallville" on The WB (Superman as a teen-ager). But "Star Trek" is the highest-profile franchise to get this treatment.

Creators and executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga said that with "Enterprise" the emphasis will be on exploring strange new worlds and the crew's reactions to them.

"The Picards and even the Kirks of the world tended to take meeting alien races for granted," Berman said. "For these seven, it's a pretty spooky occasion. It's always something that's filled with awe and excitement and a little bit of trepidation and fear."

Braga agreed.

"It's a very terrifying place in that everything is unknown to this crew," he said. "The landscape of the universe is virtually unknown to these people, and they will meet many friendly and also many terrifying aliens."

The newness of the strange new worlds isn't lost on this crew either.


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"The joy of the show is that they're all like, 'What is that, some kind of wild ship?' 'Who are those people?' 'Do you think they'll talk to us?' That's something that hasn't been part of the show," Bakula said. "We're not slick. We're just kind of wide-eyed, and I think the show can stand that."

Bakula, 46, acknowledged his character is closest to Kirk in terms of his womanizing and willingness to get into fist fights. But Archer isn't as arrogant.

"His heart's on his sleeve, he's so excited to be out in space," Bakula said. "He's kind of a free-spirited guy. He's not afraid to buck authority. ... This character is bold and brash."

Bakula will lead his crew into these adventures, bringing with him the good will of fans from his previous sci-fi series, "Quantum Leap." He professes a natural love for science fiction, particularly in book form, and he had been developing his own sci-fi series independent of "Star Trek" when Paramount executives came calling.

"It requires a certain kind of belief in the possibilities," Bakula said. "Maybe that's why I'm drawn to them or why I'm hired to play them. I guess the little kid in me is hoping some of this stuff will happen while I can be alive to see it."

Even so, Bakula had some concerns about jumping on the "Trek" train.

"One of my fears coming here was that the crew that had been here just rolled over from the last, huge, final episode of 'Voyager.' They had a week off and then they were shooting our pilot," Bakula said. "But they're so excited. They're reinventing the wheel and they're all really stoked."

Part of the excitement comes from the ability to play with "Star Trek" technology of the future as it exists in a series set in the past. It's also a challenge.

"There's a great irony about developing things that you don't want to be more advanced than things that you know are going to come in 90 years, let's say, at the time of Kirk," Berman said. "The computer that sat on Capt. Janeway's desk was bulkier than the one that sits on my desk now. There are cellular phones that are far more compact than the communicators Capt. Kirk used.

"We're always walking a very thin line in terms of developing things that are less advanced than from the time of Kirk," he said. "But we think one of the most fun elements of this series, especially for our fans, is going to be to watch the development of things like transporters and phasers and tractor beams, etc. We're having fun seeing these things when they don't operate perfectly."

For die-hard fans worried that a prequel may rewrite "Trek" history, it probably will. Real history already has.

"In the original series it was established that in 1996 half the human race was killed in the Eugenics Wars," Braga said. "Well, what do you do? Do you pay attention to that or do you just glide on by? You take it on a case-by-case basis."

"There have been so many 'Star Trek' books written that if you really studied them, you find that they contradict each other," Berman added.

So it's a reinvented "Star Trek" for the 21st century. But, curiously, it doesn't have the words "Star Trek" in its title. Is that an effort to draw fans who might hear "Star Trek," think of costumed geeks at a convention and click on by? Berman said ditching the "Star Trek"-colon-something title is all about making the franchise fresh again.

"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.' "

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