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Tuned In: Retooled 'Enterprise' hunts better ratings

Thursday, July 24, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

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, that 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 in that department 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.

Braga, who left Tuesday's press conference immediately after it ended and did not stick around for follow-up questions as most panelists do, also defended the pair's stewardship of "Trek."

"Is the franchise waning? Probably somewhat," Braga said. "But it's been around a long time. Is it going away? I, personally, don't think so."

'Guardian' update

Pittsburgh-set legal drama "The Guardian" returns for its third season on Sept. 23 with a resolution to the May cliffhanger that left some viewers reeling.

James Mooney (Charles Malik Whitfield) was shot at the Legal Services of Pittsburgh office, and frustrated Nick (Simon Baker) and his father, Burton (Dabney Coleman), beat up a man who stole their parking space. Some viewers were especially upset with the latter development, but series star Raphael Sbarge defended the script by Pittsburgh native and series creator David Hollander.

"So much of what's on the dial is based on what's safe and what we already know works," Sbarge said. "This was the heroes of the show beating up a guy over a parking space, which is morally reprehensible behavior. That's not shock for shock's sake; it's based in character."

Hollander said he knew he wanted to unhinge his characters thematically last season.

"When else would they appropriately be at their wits' end than when Burton had been humiliated by Shannon's father and then rejected by Shannon and when Nick has told Lulu he loved her and was rejected? What they had left is each other, and then some idiot takes their parking spot," he said. "I knew when I was filming it and when I was writing it, it was ugly, but I felt it was honest, so I lived with it."

The season premiere picks up seconds after the season finale but will wrap up the cliffhangers in short order.

"I didn't want to get into a big plot festival of the Fallins in trouble. I'm sorry I did that last year. I felt it was some of my worst writing in those first episodes," Hollander said. "This year the show is going to be very psychologically driven by what has happened, but it won't be about them getting in trouble because of what's happened. Burton does something incredibly stupid because his conscience really grabs hold of him. If you think about what the next step is for Nick, yeah, he got into that fight, but his next place is to walk into Legal Services of Pittsburgh [where James was shot], where he's going to find something that takes that whole event and washes it away."

A new female character will be introduced in episode two. She'll be a lawyer at Fallin & Fallin. The Nick-Lulu relationship won't be at the forefront early in the season.

"The Guardian" returns to film in Pittsburgh Aug. 18-22 and will shoot some scenes in Donora for an episode titled "Big Coal." Scenes that will be inserted into the first five episodes also will be filmed on location.

"I wanted to kick off the year with Pittsburgh," Hollander said. "I love the way the show looks when we're there. It's a big amount of energy and just makes it look beautiful."

Star Wendy Moniz said she was "kind of giddy" at the reception Pittsburghers gave the cast and crew last fall. Hollander would like to return to Pittsburgh in April to film scenes for May sweeps episodes, but it will depend on the ratings.

"It really depends on the numbers," he said. "If we flatten out, we won't have the oomph to pay for it."

Although the third season doesn't premiere until Sept. 23, Pittsburghers will have a chance to get a sneak peek at the first episode Sept. 13 at the Hilton hotel Downtown. A free screening will be held at 7 p.m. preceded and followed by benefit parties for KidsVoice, the legal services organization founded by Scott Hollander, David's brother, and an inspiration for Legal Services of Pittsburgh in "The Guardian."

Series star Alan Rosenberg will attend the pre-screening reception (cost: $175) at 5:30 p.m., and a director's reception (cost: $125) with Scott Hollander will follow the show.

To obtain tickets to the screening or parties, visit or call 412-391-3100, ext. 142.

Another 'Band of Brothers'

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."

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or

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